On July 11th 2015 one of the gaming world’s brightest stars passed away as a result of a bile duct cancer that had ravaged his body for over a year.
Satoru Iwata was the reigning President of Nintendo and had overseen the enormous successes of the Wii and 3DS, while also guiding the company through tougher waters with the releases of the Gamecube and Wii U.
Before all of that, however, Iwata was a virtuoso programmer working for Hal Laboratory. While there, he played a key part in bringing players the wonderful Kirby games alongside a host of other titles. His programming genius was cemented during the development of the classic RPG Earthbound, when he advised the team that the way they were working on the game would lead to it taking upwards of two years to complete. Starting the whole thing from scratch, Iwata single-handedly made massive strides towards completing the game, allowing it to be released in a year instead.
His many qualities did not go unnoticed and it was not long before he began to work with Nintendo in an unofficial capacity. It was during this tenure that he began to play a large part in the famed Pokemon series, single-handedly adapting the battle code from Red and Blue for Pokemon Stadium before creating the compression technology that allowed the team behind Gold and Silver to cram the region of Kanto into the sequel, offering gamers so much more bang for their buck in the process.
The Nintendo Years
In the year 2000 Iwata finally became an official member of the Nintendo family, heading up the corporate planning division of the company. A mere two years later he became the fourth President of the company, and the only one to not be a part of the Yamauchi bloodline up to that point.
Even in this role his programming acumen was put on occasional display. When Super Smash Bros Melee ran into trouble and looked like it may have been in danger of missing its release date, Iwata took over the reins for the debugging team and fixed practically every major coding issue that the game had in less than a month. It really is no wonder why he was so highly respected both in the company and by fans of Nintendo.
His best was yet to come though. When it became apparent that Nintendo were going to struggle to win in a toe-to-toe battle with Sony and Microsoft, Iwata was the man who introduce the “blue sky” thinking that led to the development of the Wii.
Instead of directly competing, Iwata and Nintendo positioned their new console as something that casual gamers and those looking for a second console could easily afford. It also broke new ground and became one of the most revolutionary consoles in the history of the industry, earning Nintendo enormous profits in the process.
Though his later years have been somewhat more difficult than those halcyon days, Iwata’s love for the industry that he gave his entire adult life to has always been clear. Only last year, in the wake of a disappointing financial report, Iwata elected to cut his own salary by half rather than have to lay off any Nintendo staff.
Though he was taken from us too soon, Satoru Iwata will always be remembered as a man who truly loved gaming and had programming skills that surpassed practically everybody else in the industry. If Shigeru Miyamoto is the soul of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata was most definitely the heart and the company are going to truly struggle to find a replacement for him.
Lee Price is a freelance writer and general miscreant who enjoys video games, movies and making dreary situations better by adding copious amounts of alcohol. Follow him on Twitter @Mr_Lee2112 to read his random musings.