VG Tribune

Remembering Satoru Iwata

July 12, 2015 / 10:28 PM

By: Zack O'Neill

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With the sudden news of Satoru Iwata’s passing, we at VG Tribune think it is only right to take a look back on the memory of Iwata-san and the legacy he has left behind. What many don’t seem to know about Iwata is that he is very responsible for many of the great franchises we love today, as well as the great memories we had as children playing Nintendo games.

Immediately after finishing university, Mr. Iwata went to work full-time at HAL Laboratory as a programmer, becoming their coordinator of software production in 1983. During his time at HAL, he created the classic Balloon Fight and was responsible for programming all of the early Kirby titles as well as singlehandedly re-coding Mother 2 (EarthBound) from scratch midway through development, completely saving the project from being destroyed. In the middle of it all, he was promoted to being the CEO of HAL in 1993. Being a programmer at heart though, that never stopped him from working on games.

And not only did he work on games at HAL, but while he was CEO of the company, he helped Nintendo and other devs make their games the best they could be. Many remember Pokemon Gold and Silver as being the best ones (due to them actually having two regions). This is something that no other Pokemon game had done before…something that ultimately wouldn’t have been possible without Iwata. When Game Freak was developing Pokemon Gold and Silver, they used up too much space; it wouldn’t fit on a Gameboy cartridge. Mr. Iwata then came in and made a new compression technique that allowed Game Freak to fit the whole game on the cart and still have a whole 2 MB left over (a lot of memory, at the time), and that allowed them to add Kanto as an additional region at the end of the game. Before that, he helped out with Pokemon Stadium, programming the game’s battle program in a week. Keep in mind that the battle program is the primary function of Pokemon Stadium, meaning that he made the most important part of the game in only a week.

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And for those of us who are still enjoying Super Smash Bros. to this day, Iwata played a crucial role as the co-creator of the first game, working on it with Masahiro Sakurai in their spare time. And for Super Smash Bros. Melee (arguably the best title in the series), Iwata did his last work as a programmer…all during a time when he had already moved up to the role of “General Manager of Corporate Planning” at Nintendo. Near the release of the game, there was a massive amount of bugs in the game that could have potentially delayed its release. Iwata went in to help the programmers at HAL and spent three weeks assisting them to fix bugs, resulting in an on-time and extremely successful launch of the magnificent game we know and still play today.

Following his work as a programmer, he took the role of CEO and President of Nintendo in 2002 after the retirement of longtime CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi. Even during his tenure as CEO, he allowed time to assist with projects all over the board, including games in the Mario and Legend of Zelda franchises. It is, of course, important to note that he was put in the position of CEO at a time that Nintendo was failing. The Nintendo Gamecube had just recently released and was proving to be a financial/commercial flop. The first pieces of hardware that Nintendo released under his command: the Nintendo DS and the Wii. These two systems launched Nintendo back up to massive success. The DS became the most successful gaming handheld of all time, and the Wii proved itself to be a massive success as well, becoming the highest-selling console of the generation.

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When Iwata later took over as CEO of Nintendo of America, he made the decision to stop doing large press conferences at big events like E3 and instead, convey announcements of their games directly to the fans in their beloved Nintendo Direct conferences. This was something that was unimaginable at the time; E3 has always been known as the most important part of the year for games, and Nintendo pulling out from doing big conferences seemed like a bad sign. However, it ended up being the best decision they could have made. It allowed them to put more work into editing the videos for their announcements and making sure that everything ran smoothly. As a result of this, Nintendo’s ND (Nintendo Direct) conferences at E3 may not have always had the best announcements, but have undoubtedly been the most fun part of E3.

There was a time a while back during a Nintendo leadership meeting where shareholders were complaining that Iwata and other higher-ups at Nintendo were focusing too much on video games and how they were planning on making better games, but they wanted to know more about quarterly earnings and such. To myself and many other Nintendo fans, that was fantastic news…that was all we wanted to hear. We were happy to know that, in an industry full of people who cared about money, there were still professionals like Iwata. Professionals who cared enough about the fans playing the games to make big companies like Nintendo all about ‘making good products’. The loss of Iwata-san is a devastating one, and it will have an impact that will be felt by gamers worldwide.

Mr. Iwata, we will miss you. You had an incredible impact on all of us who grew up playing Nintendo’s games, and are better people because of it. Thank you for your dedicated work, and on behalf of all Nintendo fans, I want to deliver my respect directly to you.

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About the author /


Zack started working at VGTribune at 15 years old and has been gaming since the the age of 2. He is currently in college studying film and technology with plans to continue in the game industry. He’s also really good at Counter Strike.

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