“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.” – Iwata GDC 2005
Nintendo’s president, Satoru Iwata, passed away on July 11th due to a tumor growth.
Nintendo has been having a hard few years since the launch of the Wii U, but in all of the conversations through the industry, not one person supporting or dismissing the company’s efforts would ever want Nintendo as an entity to fail.
Nintendo holds a special place in the hearts and minds of children and adults who’ve played games through their lives, and Satoru Iwata was there to witness the company’s growth since the 1990s and was always one for striving to innovate outside of the box.
Like many contemporary artists in our world, akin to how Stan Winston and Ray Harryhausen’s effects are responsible for memories made by monster movies, Iwata-san’s earliest work at HAL Laboratories was relatively unknown by many, but he’s largely responsible for creating games that are still impressive in their uniqueness: Balloon Fight for the NES, the creation of Kirby, and the cult classic RPG, Earthbound (or Mother in Japan) in the 1990s. Even when he began to take on the role of director, or president, he still largely involved himself in coding, taking it upon himself to assist debugging Super Smash Bros. Melee in 2001, and we all know how that game turned out.
Iwata took pride in Nintendo upon taking a leadership role, because he knew what made these characters and game styles special in the first place, and he always–ALWAYS–put gameplay first. For those who were still kids or teens through the 2000s, we have his unique perspective of innovation to thank in the creation of the Nintendo DS, the Wii, the 3DS, and, most recently, whether you enjoy it or not, the Wii U.
Nintendo as a company has deep pockets thanks to the successes of Mario and Pokemon alone. But when the Wii U launched in 2012 at a loss, and didn’t particularly improve moving forward, Iwata literally cut his own paycheck to soften the blow. Not only that, but when the company began their Nintendo Direct series for online announcements of upcoming product, he was always front and center to greet gamers. The last decade of Nintendo may not have the broad reach of fans as it did in the 1980s and 1990s, but thanks to Iwata’s passion for the fans, and for his understanding of what made games great years ago, Nintendo (for better or worse) became a time capsule of game design while the rest of the industry moved on to yearly graphical upgrades, drab art direction, and shooting things.
Between his dedication to design, his humility, and Nintendo’s continued legacy, there’s a lot to thank Iwata for. Maybe you can start by playing Earthbound.