Satoru Iwata – One of Gaming’s Greats

iwata wii u“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.” – Satoru Iwata

With the sad passing of Nintendo President Satoru Iwata on July 11th the gaming industry lost one of its greatest influences. From his early days as a programmer for HAL Laboratory Inc., to his 13 year tenure at the helm of Nintendo he was vital in the development of some of the most important games ever created and has undoubtedly left a permanent impression on the industry.Iwata discovered he had a talent for game design at a young age. During his school years he would create games for his friends to play using just a programmable calculator. It seemed only natural that he would then decide to continue on and study computer science at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. It was while he was attending here that he first found himself working for HAL Laboratory as a freelance programmer. Upon his graduation he was able to begin working for the studio full-time and play his part in the development of a number of classic games.

Balloon Fight
Balloon Fight

When Iwata joined HAL in the 1980s it was a small studio and he was 1 of only 5 employees. Here he worked on Balloon Fight, one of his earliest hits. Having been inspired to believe in the potential of games by one of the most famous games of all time, ‘Space Invaders’, this arcade hit held special meaning for Iwata. Released in arcades in 1984 it was then released on the Famicom/NES in 1985 (Japan), 1986 (North America) and 1987 (Europe). It was the start of a great career and he continued on to work on a number of better known titles including Earthbound and of course the adorable Kirby. Pokemon fans in particular will appreciate the hard work of the talented programmer. While his role in Pokemon Stadium is worthy of respect his work on Pokemon Gold/Silver were crucial to game development. With the team struggling to fit the game onto a Game Boy cartridge Iwata’s exceptional compression work allowed the game to arrive on shelves without comprising the size and scope of one of the most popular entries to the franchise.

He became the President of Nintendo in 2002. It was not a good time for the company. The Gamecube was selling poorly as the PlayStation 2 dominated the market. He decided that Nintendo needed a new approach. His philosophy was that games should be fun and should be enjoyable to all. Believing the industry had become too exclusive he focused on creating hardware and software that would appeal to all types of player. It was this philosophy that led to the development of the DS and Wii and while many gamers would say the Wii was stumbling block for the company it became the best selling console of all time, even topping the tremendous success of the PlayStation 2. These new systems did exactly what Iwata had set out to do and provided an inclusive and appealing gaming platform that saw Nintendo share prices double.

Iwata banana
Iwata showing his lighter side at E3 2012

For many gamers Iwata was a breath of fresh air. His sense of humour and humble nature made him an immensely likable figure. Despite his high profile career his passion was always for the development of fun games. As the industry continues to grow and advance we often forget that games should be fun. When we discuss games we tend to focus on story, graphics, framerate, size. Fun has too often been relegated to the background. While developers try to convince us that their next game is going to be “epic”and their next character is going to be “iconic” Iwata simply promised that it would be fun, and he always delivered.

Of course his fun loving character made his Nintendo Direct appearances a simple joy to watch. It’s hard to imagine any other CEO acting out a mock fight against his American counterpart in order to celebrate the upcoming release of Smash Bros. Just last month we got to see him get turned into a muppet for Star Fox at E3. Going back as far as E3 2005 we have him announcing to the world that “I’m about making games and I’m about playing games. Last night, I played Super Smash Bros. That’s my game. I kicked some… you know what and I took his name. His name was Reggie. As Nintendo president, I’m also all about asking questions. So Reggie, I have a question for you. Who’s your daddy?” In a very enjoyable interview o Game Centre CX, which you can watch below, he discussed his career and his passion for games in a true Iwata style that is sure to bring a smile to your face. Busy running the company he sadly didn’t have the time to develop games anymore but development remained his greatest passion. From his earliest day programming games on a calculator and onwards through his time as President of Nintendo, fun was always his priority and because of that our we all had a little more fun in our lives. Thank you Mr. Iwata for all the memories and for all the games your legacy will inspire.

“Video games are meant to be just one thing. Fun. Fun for everyone.” – Satoru Iwata

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