Monday, July 13, 2015

In Memory of the Late Satoru Iwata, CEO of Nintendo

This is the official QR code for Iwata's Mii, usable in 2DS, 3DS
and Nintendo WiiU. 
Satoru Iwata, age 55, passed away last week. He started in game development for Nintendo, was appointed company president in 2002, and then assigned the role of CEO for Nintendo of Japan in 2013. He was not only the first CEO that was not a member of the company's founding Yamaguchi family to be given the position, but also the very first CEO to come to the position from a game development background.

His game development history started at HAL Laboratories, a company that has worked closely with Nintendo since the early '80s. His first game developed for Nintendo was the NES version of Baloon Fight. The character movement on the home console was so much smoother than the arcade version that the arcade developer ended up coming to Iwata for advice on how to improve the game!

This wasn't the only time his development prowess awed his team. Even when he was president of HAL, Iwata wasn't afraid to step in and do the heavy lifting on programming by himself to help out. When HAL was working on Earthbound for the Super NES, the development team kept running into lots of difficulty. Iwata, recalling the story in 2013, said he told the team
"I don’t think you’re going to be able to finish if you go on like this. I can help you if you would like but there are two ways to proceed. If we use what you have now and fix it, it will take two years. If we can start fresh, it’ll take half a year".

Iwata helped the team start from scratch and pitching in with the coding himself, revamped the code that Earthbound ran on in about a month.

When Super Smash Bros. Melee's release in 2001 looked uncertain due to stubborn bugs and glitches that threatened to overwhelm the development team and push back the game's release date, Iwata was moving into posh offices in Kyoto as the head of Nintendo's corporate planning. Instead of just letting the problem grow worse, he headed to HAL Laboratories in Yamanashi, and became the acting head debugger. As he told 4gamer:

"I did the code review, fixed some bugs, read the code and fixed more bugs, read the long bug report from Nintendo, figured out where the problem was, and got people to fix those.. All in all, I spent about three weeks like that. Because of that, the game made it out on time".

Not only a talented programmed, Iwata was also a passionate game player and compassionate boss. When asked why he didn't resort to layoffs in 2013 when Nintendo's financials looked shaky that year he said,"I sincerely doubt employees who fear that they may be laid off will be able to develop software titles that could impress people around the world." In a keynote speech in 2006, for the GDC, Iwata said about video games, "Video games are meant to be just one thing. Fun. Fun for everyone."

Reggie Fils-Amie, President and CEO of Nintendo of America released this statement:

"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."

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