Rieko Kodama, the pioneering developer behind Sega classics including Phantasy Star and Skies of Arcadia, has died. She was 59.
The rumors began after a memorial message to Kodama was spotted in the credits of Mega Drive Mini 2. Asked whether the message was indeed intended to indicate that Kodama had died, Sega producer Yosuke Oskunari said that she had.
Finally, the staff credits include a memorial message for Rieko Kodama. She started as an artist on games such as Alex Kidd In Miracle World, Phantasy Star and Sonic The Hedgehog, and was the producer for Skies Of Arcadia, 7th Dragon and most recently the Switch Sega Ages games. pic.twitter.com/v6xk8oUNYO
— Nick Thorpe (@HKT3030) October 26, 2022
“As you understand it,” Okunari wrote. “We respected her.”
Sega subsequently confirmed that Kodama died in May, but was unable to share any further details out of respect for the privacy of her family.
A pioneering woman in the games industry
Known as Phoenix Rie in her early works, Kodama broke into the games industry in the mid-1980s, where she served as a graphic designer and then later as a producer and director. Her credits include the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Skies of Arcadia, but she is best-known for her work as one of the creative leads of the Phantasy Star series, serving as the director of Phantasy Star IV.
Though lauded as a pioneer in an industry dominated by men, Kodama was famously averse to the spotlight, deflecting credit to the rest of her team when she was awarded a Pioneer Award at the Game Developers Choice Awards.
As you understand it. We respected her.
— Yosuke Okunari /奥成洋輔 (@okunari) October 27, 2022
“I’m not sure if it’s because of Sega’s corporate culture or what, but I’ve never felt that I was at a disadvantage just because I’m a woman. I’ve been working on various things related to game development for over 30 years now, and since joining Sega I haven’t been treated any differently from men,” Kodama said in an interview.
In another interview, she said that she didn’t think it was that unusual for women to play games, observing that girls often gravitate toward RPGs. One of her most notable works, Phantasy Star, stood out because it was one of the very few games with a female protagonist.
“As I’m a woman myself, when I make games, I try not to just have them be male fantasy figures, as people needing to be rescued. I like to make female characters people of both genders can relate to. But we are seeing more strong-willed women in games geared towards female audiences,” Kodama said at the time.
Kodama remained active in the games industry through the 2010s, continuing to work on games incuding 7th Dragon and Sega Ages. She leaves behind a legacy as one of the foremost female developers in gaming history, her 35-year career in the industry serving as inspiration for many women to follow.
Thumbnail photo credit: Game Developers Conference
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.