Is the Noid really the villain this time? Or is he the true hero we all need?
With the recent and untimely passing of Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, many people from all across the video game industry have come forward to offer their respects to the man who led Nintendo. these came from both fellow game company higher-ups like Shuhei Yoshida and Phil Spencer, as well as big-name game designers like Hideki Kamiya and Swery65. The hashtag #thankyouiwata was started on Twitter in his honor, and many gaming sites have put up articles in tribute to him. However, the most moving words came from those close to him. Below are several quotes from his friends and coworkers. Each is a heartfelt message about Iwata and how great of a person he was. These words of love and admiration are the best possible tribute to a man whose compassion for gaming changed the face of the industry forever.
“Mr. Iwata is gone, but it will be years before his impact on both Nintendo and the full video game industry will be fully appreciated. He was a strong leader for our company, and his attributes were clear to most everyone: Intelligence, creativity, curiosity and sense of humor. But for those of us fortunate enough to work closely with him, what will be remembered most were his mentorship and, especially, his friendship. He was a wonderful man. He always challenged us to push forward…to try the new…to upset paradigms—and most of all, to engage, excite and endear our fans. That work will continue uninterrupted.”
One of the biggest regrets I now have is that I will never be able to meet Iwata in person. However, with the way he interacted and communicated with fans, it feels like I already met him before. Iwata took the time to “directly” talk to Nintendo fans using the ingenious Nintendo Direct. These regularly released shows talked were Iwata’s own version of the Fireside Chats, speaking to the fans about future projects involving Nintendo hardware and software. He had a connection with fans that the higher ups at other companies lacked.
This was furthered by his Iwata Asks series, where he would directly interview people working on projects involving Nintendo. His words were insightful and always kept fans informed of what was happening next. He always asked the right questions and made it interesting and fun to read. While not every move made by Nintendo under Iwata presidency has been popular, rarely has he come off as out of touch or uncaring about Nintendo’s customers.
“I am surprised at this sudden news and overcome with sadness. The entire development team at Nintendo will remain committed to our development policy which Mr. Iwata and we have been constructing together and to yield the development results which Mr. Iwata would appreciate. Just as Mr. Iwata challenged us to always push forward, we will ensure his legacy lives on through our ongoing work to always surprise and delight our fans. At this time our thoughts are with his family.”
One of the biggest things that set Iwata apart from his predecessor at Nintendo was that he started out as a game developer. He was the man behind the code for games like Balloon Fight and NES Open Golf Tournament. One thing Iwata always lamented was that he was never involved in the creation of Mario games. However, shortly before his passing, he discovered that his coding in Balloon Fight was the basis for the underwater levels in Super Mario Bros.
These skills never dulled. When he was presented with Balloon Trip Breeze (a Nintendo Land minigame based on Balloon Fight) in 2012, Iwata remarked that there were some problems with the way the characters moved. He then surprised everyone by going right in and fixing the code himself to better replicate the feeling of moving through the sky from the game he programmed decades ago.
“Nintendo President Iwata has passed away. He was my boss at my last company, and even changing positions and locations, he was the person who most understood me. As a hard worker and a virtuous person, he always quickly derived balanced summaries and proposals. I thought that he was the best possible leader. I pray for his happiness in the next world. … It’s not a normal day and it’s not a normal mental state, but I came to work and threw myself into development as normal. It’s also for Iwata-san. I’m doing what I have to do.”
When Iwata stepped up as president of then failing HAL Laboratory in 1993, he managed to save the now-famous second-party developer from financial ruin using his unique design philosophy. Iwata always pushed the idea of making games fun and accessible to a wide audience, a focus which led to the creation of Kirby’s Dream Land on the GameBoy. While the pink puffball himself was created Sakurai, it was Iwata who set out to create a game that was short, easy, and simple so that anyone of any skill level could play through the game and beat it. Without his guidance and direction, Kirby wouldn’t have become the prolific series it is today, and HAL Laboratory would be a footnote in video game history.
Kirby was not the last time that Sakurai and Iwata combined their efforts to create a popular series either: During the development process for what was originally called Dragon King, Iwata came up with the idea of making the fighters into Nintendo characters. The game and idea eventually grew, blooming into what is now one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises.
He also made sure Super Smash Bros. Melee got out on time by stepping in and helping to program the game for 3 months. He still continued doing all of his normal job requirements during this intense debugging process. This extra effort got the game out on schedule and under christmas trees of gamecube owners everywhere.
“Right now, I’m returning to Tokyo from Kyoto. The wake was held yesterday and today among large tears from heaven. Iwata-san, people from around the world are sad. There were so many things I still wanted to work on alongside you. There were so many things out there I still wanted to show you. Iwata-san, thank you. Please rest in peace.”
The Pokemon series owes a lot to Iwata as both a board member for Creatures Inc. and as a skilled programmer. During the development of Gold and Silver, Game Freak had a lot of trouble getting all the content for the new Johto region to fit onto a gameboy cartridge. With only a meager four programmers on staff, it’s understandable that they had a harder time with this massive undertaking. After hearing about their problem, Iwata stepped in and compressed the game down so much that they were able to put in the entire Kanto region from the previous games onto the cartridge as well. Gold and Silver, considered by many to be the best in the series, wouldn’t have been possible without Iwata’s help.
Gold and Silver wasn’t the only time Iwata stepped in to help Game Freak. One thing that the original Pokemon games are notorious for is the high number of bugs and issues within its programming. When it came time to port the battle system over to the Nintendo 64, Iwata came in to help out so that Game Freak could focus on getting Gold and Silver out on time. Despite discovering that there was no reference document for the system at all, Iwata managed to recreate it from memory in only a week without the many of the problems contained in the original code.
“No matter the farewell, I think the most appropriate thing to say is, ‘We’ll meet again.’ We are friends so we’ll see each other again. There is nothing strange about saying it. Yeah, we’ll meet again. Even if you didn’t have the chance to put into words how sudden it was going to be, how far you’d be traveling, or how you went much earlier than expected, I know you went wearing your best. You always put yourself second to others no matter what, helping anyone who needed it whenever they needed it. You were that kind of friend. Although you may have been a little selfish for the first time ever by taking this journey.
The truth is, though, that I still don’t believe any of it. I feel like I am going to receive a message from you inviting me out to eat at any moment. I wouldn’t mind if you were to ask me like always if I had some free time. If you did, I’d ask you as well. Still, “we’ll meet again.” It would be great to hear from you whenever and wherever; I’ll being calling to you too. I’ll call if I have something to discuss or I want to tell you a great new idea I’ve had. We’ll meet again. Then again, you’re here with me now.”
Out of all the quotes listed here, this was the one that most moved me to tears. These were the emotionally charged words of a man who has lost one of his dearest friends. Considering how Iwata helped his creative vision get realized, it’s easy to see why Itoi hold him in such high regard. When Earthbound (aka Mother 2) was in development over at Ape, its coding proved to be a mess. This led to delays, putting the game in danger of entering development hell. However, Iwata dove in and saved the the game from cancellation.
Iwata made an offer to Itoi: Either continue to try and fix their current code, or let Iwata redo it from scratch. Iwata explained that trying to salvage their current code would take two years, but that Iwata could get them back on track with fresh code in six months. Itoi accepted Iwata’s offer, and Iwata bought his team from HAL on board. Iwata lead HAL in recreating the code for Earthbound in 6 months while Ape worked on smaller parts of the game. After 6 more months of polishing by both teams, the game was released. It has since become a true classic, and still holds up two decades since it first came out.
“It is difficult to put into words the sadness we feel at this time. Mr. Iwata was a strong leader, a unique figure in the gaming industry and an important part of Nintendo’s history. He was a visionary in every sense of the word and we will miss him dearly. Just as Mr. Iwata challenged us to always push forward, we will ensure his legacy lives on through our ongoing work to always surprise and delight our fans. At this time our thoughts are with his family.”
When Iwata took the reigns of Nintendo as its new president in 2002, he inherited the company’s current difficulties. At the time, the GameCube was falling behind the popularity of the PlayStation 2 and while also going up against the newcomer Xbox. He did his best in the face of adversity, making connections with companies like Capcom to get games like Resident Evil 4 on the console. After this, Iwata led the charge during the next generation of consoles with the Wii and DS. These two successes rocketed Nintendo back to the top.
Iwata was there to share in both the highs and the lows. When the Wii U failed to meet sales expectations, Iwata didn’t try and deflect the blame onto others. Instead, he acknowledging some of the mistakes made along the way with the system. After poor sales and profit slumps hit the company, he opted to take a 50% pay cut instead of allowing for anyone to get laid off. He took responsibility for the low sales and took the hit instead of letting other absorb the blow for him.
While Iwata has sadly left us too soon, his influence and ideas will continue to influence the company for years to come. He pushed the company forward, forging a partnership mobile content provider DeNA to bring Nintendo onto smart devices. In addition, he announced plans for a new generation of Nintendo hardware, the mysterious new “NX” platform. While not much is known about it at this time, it’s being hyped as a game changer for Nintendo and the industry at large. The most important thing he has left us, however, is his legacy of fun gaming and the ideas he put into everything he worked on.
While many of the above quotes do a great job eulogizing Iwata, I believe the best quote to describe him is one he said himself.
“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.”