As President and CEO of Nintendo, the late, great Satoru Iwata was an extremely busy man. In spite of this, it seemed like he always had time to lend a helping hand to others. There have been numerous stories over the years about Iwata stepping in to lend his programming skills to struggling developers, but today we have a story that shows off another side of his helping spirit.
A Nintendo fan who goes by kumozawa1203 on Twitter recently uploaded a letter he received from Iwata in 2013. He had chosen Nintendo as the subject for a school project and wrote to Iwata for advice. Iwata took the time to reply, sharing some of his own personal experiences and offering words of encouragement. You can read his letter below.
“Hello. This is Iwata from Nintendo. Thank you for the letter. I’m very happy that you chose Nintendo for your “Hello Work at 12” project.
“In middle school, I developed an interest in computers, and before long I’d decided to study computers seriously in college. While I was a college student, I realized how fun it was to make video games, and chose that for my job.
“Making video games is a job that requires a lot of energy, but for me it was even more fun than playing them. That and the fact that other people could also enjoy what I’d made gave me a sense of purpose.
“Game development requires the drawing together of many different fields. You need people to think up game designs, people to draw pictures, people to make music and sound effects, people to program, people to test the game people to make sure that the whole team is working together well, and so on.
“That’s why I don’t think there’s a right answer to the question of what you should study. I do think that you’ll be able to find what you’re good at by thinking deeply about all the things you’re interested in, not settling for spending your days without increasing your knowledge, making lots of discoveries, and repeating that process. While what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing might not necessarily be the same, I’ve had the experience of others recognizing things I’m good at, even if I didn’t actually like it at first. That’s one reason why you should continue studying and gaining experience without bias.
Mother 3, the sequel to EarthBound, had a notoriously difficult development process. Ideas were scrapped and projects restarted time and time again as development shifted from Super Nintendo to Nintendo 64DD to Game Boy Advance. After twelve years and numerous re-imaginings, the game eventually saw release, and along the way, it inspired another franchise that would dwarf it in popularity.
The latest episode of Did You Know Gaming does an excellent job breaking down Mother 3‘s troubled development, eventual release, and obscure references and Easter eggs. Along the way, they reveal that creator Shigesato Itoi’s original vision for the game was eventually transformed into a new IP.
Itoi initially pictured Mother 3 as taking place entirely in a single town. The protagonist would have been a detective living above a supermarket. In order to progress the plot and collect new evidence for crime-solving, the detective would have to build relationships with the townspeople, and the town would accordingly change over time. This idea would later serve as the basis for the Animal Crossing franchise, with the late Satoru Iwata calling it the “realization” of Itoi’s dream.
For this and more insights into Mother 3, check out the latest episode of Did You Know Gaming by clicking above!
On July 11th, 2015, then Nintendo President Satoru Iwata tragically passed away due to complications from a tumor. Despite struggling with health issues for more than a year after his initial surgery forced him to miss E3 2014, Iwata continued working diligently right up until the end, even from a hospital bed. It is now the 11th in Japan once again, marking three years since Iwata’s heartbreaking death.
Even though Iwata is gone, his influence has been an undeniable factor in Nintendo’s recent success. Nintendo Switch, Nintendo’s mobile games, and their upcoming film projects (like the upcoming Mario movie) and theme parks were all set in motion by Iwata prior to his death. In fact, Tatsumi Kimishima (Nintendo’s President from Iwata’s death until just last month) considered it his personal mission to bring Iwata’s vision to fruition, and he has wonderfully succeeded in that quest.
Over the decades, Iwata’s incredible programming skills were crucial to the development of fan favorite games like Pokémon Gold and Silver and EarthBound. As Nintendo’s President, he led the company to its most profitable era ever with the success of Wii and DS, and he voluntarily took pay cuts during the low period that followed with Wii U. He was loved by many for starring in the Nintendo Direct video presentations, and he always focused on bringing smiles to as many faces as possible.
Iwata’s mindset as a corporate leader is best summed up in one of his most iconic quotes: “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.”
If you’d like to know more about the incredible life of Satoru Iwata, there are numerous retrospectives you can check out. A personal favorite of mine is the Gaming Historian’s take, which you can watch above. It covers some of the most memorable stories about Iwata from his early childhood right up until the end, focusing on “his life, his accomplishments, and why he was important to the video game industry.”
On September 16th, 2015, Tatsumi Kimishima was faced with an impossible task: filling the shoes of Satoru Iwata. Nintendo’s former President was a gaming icon and a beloved figure, and his sudden passing was a tragedy that shook the industry. In taking the torch from Iwata, Kimishima inherited a company that was not only brokenhearted, but also struggling financially. Kimishima was not Iwata’s first choice for the job, but he stepped up to the plate when no one else was prepared to do so. Three years later, Kimishima is preparing to step down and turn the Presidency over to someone new. Looking back on his brief, but important stint as President, I believe Satoru Iwata would be proud of what he accomplished.
From the beginning, Kimishima understood that his tenure at the helm of Nintendo was to be a transition period. At the age of 65, he began his term as President when most executives would be thinking about retiring or taking on reduced roles. He stepped into the role knowing that his job was to bring Iwata’s projects to fruition, maintaining his vision for the company while searching for a more suitable long term leader.
In one of his first interviews after being named President, Kimishima pledged to stay the course and finish what Iwata started. That’s no small task when you consider how many irons Iwata had in the fire, but over the past three years Kimishima has lived up to his word in many ways.
Nintendo Switch is unquestionably the most important of the projects started by Iwata and finished under Kimishima. Iwata first teased the mysterious “NX” console just months before his passing, and two years later it launched to an incredible reception. Switch sales were driven by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild but also by strong marketing. Under Kimishima, Nintendo made the decision to invest millions into the company’s first ever Super Bowl commercial just before Switch launched, and they’ve continued to give it a strong advertising presence ever since.
During Iwata’s final months as President, he had a change of heart regarding mobile games. Iwata had previously pledged that Nintendo would stay out of the mobile market, but in 2015 he announced a partnership with DeNA and plans for five mobile games. Under Kimishima Nintendo has already released Miitomo, Super Mario Run, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Dragalia Lost and Mario Kart Tour are both on the way, and there have even been rumors of a Zelda game for mobile. There’s still plenty of room for improvement and growth, but Nintendo’s mobile division pulled in ¥39.3 billion last year, or around $358 million. That’s not too shabby for a division that didn’t exist just two years ago.
Iwata’s vision of a broader Nintendo entertainment company is unfolding right before our eyes, and Nintendo’s brand recognition is the strongest it’s been in years. Combine these new ventures with a top-selling new home console and a growing mobile market, and you’ve got a Nintendo that Iwata would be proud to see.
In addition to facing the daunting task of replacing Iwata and completing his projects, Kimishima had to restore Nintendo to financial stability. When Iwata passed in 2015, Nintendo was just starting to recover from three straight years of operating losses. Iwata took the fact that Nintendo lost money under his watch very seriously, even going so far as to slash his own pay in half voluntarily.
Fast forward three years to today and it’s a night and day difference. Nintendo’s latest financial report to investors shows that the company had an incredible operating profit of $1.6 billion for the past fiscal year—the most for the company since the height of the Wii and DS craze in 2010. Nintendo was never truly at risk of going bankrupt any time soon, but their bank account has a lot more padding these days. Nintendo reported cash and deposits of $4.465 billion back in 2015, but that number is up to nearly $7 billion today.
The company’s place in the hardware market was not strong in 2015. Wii U was a commercial catastrophe, selling far less than any major Nintendo home console before it. 3DS was certainly no failure, but its slow start (which led to a massive price cut just months after launch) cost Nintendo deeply, and it couldn’t compare to the selling power of the original DS.
Once again, the difference three years makes is almost unbelievable. Nintendo Switch has sold nearly 18 million units in approximately 13 months, which is about 4 million more than Wii U sold in its entire life cycle. You might think that would spell the death of 3DS, but Nintendo’s dedicated handheld is still selling well enough that Nintendo plans to support it until at least 2020.
The continued sales of 3DS, record-breaking first year for Nintendo Switch, and growing mobile division have all put Nintendo back on the map in a big way. This is never more apparent than when looking at their stock, as Nintendo shares have risen from ¥21,055 to ¥46,180. In other words, the company’s value has more than doubled under Kimishima. If Iwata felt responsible for the company’s financial struggles from 2012 to 2014, he’d be relieved and thrilled to see how profitable they’ve become since then.
Preparing for the Future
As a transitional President, Kimishima’s job was twofold: finish Iwata’s work and prepare Nintendo for the future. Kimishima began work on the latter almost immediately. Iwata’s death left Nintendo with a massive gap in leadership, so Kimishima set out to create a future-proof system of creativity and decision-making at Nintendo.
As soon as he was promoted, Kimishima announced a massive restructure for the company. This shake-up included the decision to combine Nintendo’s two most important development branches into a single group led by Shinya Takahashi. It was also at this time that Shigeru Miyamoto and Genyo Takeda stepped back from their roles as General Managers. Both men still serve as advisers, but Kimishima believes it’s time for younger talents to have more decision-making power.
Since this initial restructure, Kimishima has stayed true to his word on the subject of promoting talent. Kimishima promoted Shinya Takahashi to be the head of Nintendo’s Entertainment Planning & Development Division, and under his guidance they just delivered two of the top-rated Nintendo games of all time: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. This excellence did not go unnoticed, and Takahashi has already been promoted again, this time to Senior Managing Executive Officer. At 39, Takahashi is much younger than many of Nintendo’s key decision makers in the past.
Yoshiaki Koizumi, who serves as Takahashi’s Deputy General Manager, has also been promoted for his hand in Nintendo’s recent success. When Koizumi wasn’t helping Takahashi oversee the development of Nintendo’s biggest games, he was serving as the lead developer of Nintendo Switch hardware. Due to the console’s immense success, Koizumi has been promoted to Executive Officer. Kimishima clearly prioritizes giving more influence to those who have proven themselves.
Lastly, Kimishima’s preparing for the future by choosing his own replacement. Kimishima promoted Shuntaro Furukawa to Nintendo’s board of Directors in 2016, and since then the two have quietly been planning Nintendo’s future behind the scenes. As Kimishima has worked to make Nintendo’s internal leadership structure more in touch, efficient, and effective, Furukawa has been by his side, advising him on how to put more power in the hands of Nintendo’s younger creatives.
Furukawa, much like Iwata, will be more than just the President of a company that makes games. Iwata famously once said “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.” I believe he’d be happy to know that his long term successor is an avid gamer who has been obsessed with Nintendo since the days of the Famicom. If Kimishima is to believed, Furukawa also has a firm grasp of Nintendo’s core philosophy that won’t allow him to stray from what makes Nintendo special.
No one could ever truly be expected to replace Satoru Iwata in the hearts of Nintendo fans, but Kimishima has accomplished more in his brief stint as President than anyone ever could have imagined. Under Kimishima’s leadership, Nintendo has launched a record-setting console, made a splash in the mobile market, branched out into theme parks and movies, and launched some of its highest-rated games of all time.
Nintendo has progressed from bleeding money to drowning in it, and there’s still more to come. In just three years Kimishima successfully capitalized on nearly all of Iwata’s ideas, elevated Nintendo from financial turmoil to tremendous profitability, and promoted some of the company’s brightest young talents to leadership roles to ensure Nintendo’s continued success in the future. Looking back over Kimishima’s Presidency, I’m sure Iwata would be proud.
Satoru Iwata wasn’t like other CEOs. The beloved former leader of Nintendo was a long-time programmer who had management thrust upon him, but he was always a maker and player of games at heart. After his death, Tatsumi Kimishima was appointed as his replacement, and in his first interview he declared he would not run the company by numbers alone. In the eyes of one former Nintendo employee, Kimishima hasn’t lived up to those words.
Remember how much fun you had stretching Mario’s face out on the title screen of Super Mario 64? Giles Goddard is the man you have to thank for that feature. The London native got his start working for Nintendo after helping with the original Star Fox at Argonaut Software. Goddard’s work on Star Fox eventually led to him becoming the first ever Western employee at Nintendo EAD, where he was employed from 1996 to 2002.
Goddard recently met with Eurogamer for an interview and discussed his time working on Star Fox and eventually joining Nintendo. Goddard had high praise for the people he worked with and under, but criticized the rigid culture of the company, which he believes is restrictive to creativity.
You have an image of Nintendo – or certainly I did – that it’s like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, this magical world where all the games come from.
No, it’s a factory.
Was there any sense of occasion, that you were doing something big?
Never. We had this game, we had a schedule and we had to do it otherwise… Well, who knows what would happen.
So there was no sense of magic?
Not at all. I don’t think there is now either. It’s such a clinical, rigid way of working. It amazes me they get so much creativity out of that place, with Zelda and Mario. You go there and it’s white, it’s clinical cubicles and bells ringing for lunch and for going home and that’s it. How they get any creativity out of that place is beyond me. But they do do it.
This problem, Goddard believes, has always existed in the past for Nintendo and continues today. However, he sees Nintendo suffering a new problem in the post-Iwata era.
“It did change a bit after Iwata-san passed away. Now it’s very focussed [sic] on money. Iwata was adamant that their core philosophy should be on the game, not on the money. Now it’s almost entirely the money, which does worry me a bit.” — Giles Goddard
Earlier in the interview, Goddard noted that Iwata reduced the amount of overtime employees often worked under his predecessor, Hiroshi Yamauchi. If Goddard believes that Kimishima is to blame for Nintendo’s (perceived) shift away from a love of games to a love of money, he should be happy to know that Kimishima is stepping down. His successor, Shuntaro Furukawa, has been an avid gamer for decades, just like Iwata was.
Do you think Nintendo has changed for the worse since Iwata’s passing, or are you pleased with the direction Kimishima took the company during his brief stint at the top? Sound off in the comments!
A while back, a hacker discovered a hidden NES game, Golf, inside the firmware of the Nintendo Switch, but someone has finally made a way to play it. Judging by the date and methods required to launch the game, it seems as though the inclusion was intended to be a hidden tribute to the former Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, who passed away two years ago.
The homebrew method requires users to install software on their PC in order to trick the system into synchronizing with a particular web page, hosted by the software. The method also requires that users be on a firmware between 2.0 and 3.0.
If you’re technically savvy, you can check out a guide to try it yourself here on the GBATemp forums.
Disclaimer: Any modifications to your Nintendo Switch, including this one, could lead to the warranty on your console being voided. It could also lead to your system becoming non-functional. While these scenarios are unlikely, attempt this at your own risk.
Do you wish Nintendo would officially release the NES’s Golf on the Switch? What other retro games would you like to see on the Switch? Let us know in the comments!
Ever since hackers discovered that a copy of NES Golf is present on every Nintendo Switch console this past weekend, countless individuals have been working to uncover why it was placed there and how Nintendo intended for gamers to be able to naturally access the easter egg. Now, some members of the community believed they’ve figured it out, but it’s going to take a while for most of us to test it out. And that’s because, if they are correct, this is no mere easter egg—it’s a touching tribute to late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata himself.
After exploring the code and working through numerous scenarios, the consensus is that NES Golf is designed to only be accessible on one day of the year: July 11th, the anniversary of Satoru Iwata’s passing. You can’t just fake this by resetting your system clock, however—it turns out that the Switch has a hidden secondary clock, one that automatically syncs up to the current date whenever the system first connects to the internet. This is the date that the NES emulator checks against, meaning that if you have ever connected your Switch to the internet at all, you’ll be unable to check this out until July 2018 rolls around.
But the date isn’t the only thing needed to access this, and it’s not the only connection to Iwata. Once the date is correct, gamers must go to the home menu, detach their two Joy-Cons from the system, and then make a very specific motion with their controllers: Iwata’s iconic “directly to you” hand motions. That is, you hold your Joy-Cons horizontally in front of you, pointing forwards, then move them to point vertically. Hold them there for a bit, and the Switch should accept the input and open the emulator and NES Golf for you.
Note that if you haven’t connected to the internet, you’re in luck; in that case, the emulator will check against the system clock that you can reset that at will. This has allowed at least one person to accomplish these steps already, and you can check out the result in the video below.
Furthermore, whether this was Nintendo’s intention or not, it seems the Japanese side of the internet believes this game’s inclusion to have an even deeper meaning than just being a tribute or easter egg for fans to find. According to Justin Epperson, the Senior Associate Producer for 8-4 (a Japanese localization company), many think that Nintendo included the game to function like a Japanese shrine charm—one that will keep the spirit of Golf‘s original programmer, the one and only Satoru Iwata, watching over the system forever.
“Golf is imbedded in the Switch firmware and JP internet is calling it an “omamori” or charm from Iwata (he coded the game himself)
“In Japanese culture omamori are bought at shrines for various reasons, if you keep one close to you it will protect you or give luck
“So the idea is Nintendo imbedded Iwata’s game to watch over every unit and thats fuckin me up good rn. That man was loved.” — Justin Epperson
Dang… I first learned about this story an hour ago and have been thinking about it ever since, and even with all that time to process this, I’ve still got tears in my eyes from writing that last part. I honestly don’t care if Nintendo intended for it to be an omamori or not; that’s my head-canon now. And no matter what, it’s definitely looking more and more like this is an elaborate and beautiful tribute to one of gaming’s greatest creators and innovators, one for whom Nintendo still holds the greatest of respect and love to this day.
I know I’m not alone in believing that Iwata will watch over the Switch, and whatever Nintendo consoles may follow it, for a long time to come. Feel free to share your own thoughts, beliefs, and tears in the comments below.
In June 2015, about halfway through the development of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Satoru Iwata, the former president and CEO of Nintendo, tragically passed away due to complications from bile duct cancer. This was hard for the development team behind the game, who saw Iwata as a great inspiration and were deeply motivated by his memory in the years following his death. Recently, a Nintendo fan and YouTuber known as Seaniccus discovered a secret in Breath of the Wild that seems like it could be a hidden tribute to Iwata and his strong parental influence over Nintendo.
Seaniccus believes that Botrick, a watchman who patrols the area around Outskirt Stable, bears a striking resemblance to Nintendo’s former president. He wears the same square-rimmed glasses as Iwata (particularly noteworthy in a fantasy world where glasses are extremely rare) and has the same simple bowl cut. Botrick stands out from the other watchmen, as he patrols his area without a horse and constantly gives wise advice, and he seems to be a serene person who is deeply connected to the world around him.
More importantly, Botrick encourages the player to explore the nearby Satori Mountains. The mountains are named after the Japanese word “satori,” which translates to “awakening” or “comprehension.” “Satoru,” Iwata’s given name, is derived from this same Japanese term. Botrick speaks of a mysterious creature known as Lord of the Mountain, who watches over the Satori Mountains and appears there on certain nights.
If you visit the peak of the Satori Mountains on one of these nights, you may encounter a number of celestial beings in a mystical grove which surrounds a large cherry blossom tree. The largest of these beings is the Lord of the Mountain, a powerful steed who is described as a loving figure that “watches over all animals who make their homes in the forest.” The Lord of the Mountain is said to be the reincarnation of Satori, a sage who passed away on the mountains.
You can see this for yourself in the videos below!
What do you guys think? Have you run across Botrick or the Lord of the Mountain in your travels? Do you think that this is a tribute to Iwata, or are the fans reading too much into it? Personally, I definitely believe that this is a tribute to Iwata’s memory. It can’t just be a coincidence; rather, this is a respectful, loving tribute to one of the most influential figures in gaming history.
The passing of Satoru Iwata was a difficult time for many in the gaming community, from the millions of fans who were raised on the games that he helped create to the hundreds of developers at Nintendo and HAL Laboratory who worked alongside him for years. Iwata’s presence is still clearly felt at Nintendo, and almost two years after his death, he’s still a great inspiration to many at the company. In a recent interview with The New Yorker about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Shigeru Miyamoto spoke about how Iwata was an important source of motivation for the game’s development in a deeply spiritual way.
When asked about Iwata’s death, which came about halfway through the development of Breath of the Wild, Miyamoto said the following:
“When he passed away, there were moments we’d come up with an idea which we’d be excited to talk to Iwata about. Then we’d remember he was no longer here.”
“This is approaching spiritual talk, but we had the sense that he was watching over our work. That became a source of motivation, a drive for us to improve and be better.” —Shigeru Miyamoto
The New Yorker interview also included Hidemaro Fujibayashi, the director behind Breath of the Wild, who spoke at length about all the new ideas that were crammed into the game. Breath of the Wild required a complete re-imagining of many Zelda series staples. Fujibayashi claimed that his team went through many of the games in the Zelda series and “wrote down all of the stress points, the things that make Zelda games less enjoyable, and replaced them with new ideas.” Often, this meant that the team had to go against established principles, “tearing up Miyamoto’s original blueprint” for the series along the way.
What do you guys think? Are you happy to see that Iwata is still so strongly missed at Nintendo? Do you think that this restructuring of the Zelda formula was for the best? Let us know in the comments below!
Often, when we remember people, we tend to think only about what they accomplished in their lifetime. However, many great figures leave lasting impressions and help contribute to something that won’t be completed until after they pass. Such is the case with the Switch and late Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata. Shigeru Miyamoto sat down with TIME magazine earlier this month to discuss all things Switch-related, including just how much Iwata influenced the development of Nintendo’s next big idea.
Though Miyamoto had a hand in developing Switch, he says it was Iwata who really drove the console’s design. When asked if there was anything in particular about Switch that reflected Iwata’s involvement, Miyamoto suggested that it’s the device’s emphasis on being portable that Iwata really pushed for.
“I mentioned that Mr. Iwata, Mr. Takeda and myself provided feedback and made decisions, but ultimately Mr. Iwata was the head of development, so he put a lot of thought and time into Switch. I think that the idea of Nintendo Switch being a device you can take out and anywhere, and the idea of it being a system that really allows networking and communicating with people, I think that’s something Mr. Iwata put a lot of emphasis on.” — Shigeru Miyamoto
According to Miyamoto, Iwata also played a huge role on the technical side, such as incorporating mobile devices and making network capabilities fun.
“Because Mr. Iwata was tech-savvy, a lot of our discussion involved trying to figure out how to make the technical things like network capabilities or servers or whatever fun. For example, think about when we added the ability to use a browser on the DS [Nintendo’s two-screen gaming handheld—the browser was added to North American systems in 2007]. As time goes on, all of these services become more and more advanced, and so we need to think about ‘How do we incorporate mobile devices or new browser features that come up?’ That’s something Mr. Iwata and I discussed a lot, really trying to decide what to do and what not to do in our hardware.” — Shigeru Miyamoto
I think it’s pretty safe to say that without Iwata, the Switch as we know it might not exist. Only time will tell whether or not this goes down as one of his many shining accomplishments. I certainly hope it does.
Nintendo DS is the highest-selling dedicated video game handheld of all time, and the second highest-selling video game console of all time behind PlayStation 2. The DS’ two-screen, clamshell design has been a huge hit with millions of players around the world, and Nintendo loved it (and the gameplay opportunities it created) so much that they made their next two consoles (3DS and Wii U) use a two-screen design as well.
Nintendo was passionate about promoting DS and the benefits of two-screen gaming, but that wasn’t always the case behind the scenes. According to Satoru Okada, a Nintendo employee for more than 30 years and the former general manager of Nintendo Research & Engineering, everyone at the company initially hated the design. Speaking with Retro Gamer, Okada gave us some insight into the early days of the DS’ development.
“Actually, after the SP, we were working on the newest model in this range. The code name for this new Game Boy was IRIS, like the flower. The explanation for this name is simple: since it was for us the fifth generation of Game Boy, we chose the symbol of May (the fifth month of the year). In the Hanafuda playing cards, the month of May is symbolized by the iris.
“The project was moving forward at a good pace but during the development, something at unexpected happened. President Iwata then came to see me. He was obviously bothered and he said: ‘l talked to Yamauchi-san over the phone and he thinks your console should have two screens… A bit like the multi-screen Game & Watch, you see?’ Everybody is aware of this, but what people do not know is that at the time, everybody hated this idea, even Iwata himself.
“We thought it did not make any sense. Back in the Game & Watch days, it was different because a second screen allowed us to double the playing area and the number of graphic elements on display. But with the modern screens, there was no point. We were free to choose the size of our screen, so why bother splitting it into two? Especially considering that it was impossible to look at both screens at the same time. This is why we did not understand his idea.” — Satoru Okada
The idea of two-screen gaming seemed confusing and pointless to many Nintendo employees at the time, but they stuck with the idea, and eventually they began to realize all of the ways they could take advantage of the new handheld. Nintendo DS went on to sell over 154 million units worldwide. Its successor, 3DS, has sold over 61 million units to date.
It’s been well over a year now since former Nintendo President Satoru Iwata tragically passed away, and those who knew him continue to share fond memories and warm sentiments even to this day. Longtime Nintendo developer and executive Shigeru Miyamoto recently sat down for a Super Mario Run interview with The New Yorker, and Miyamoto was asked what piece of advice from Iwata he cherishes the most.
As Miyamoto explains, Iwata’s ability to see a vision through to the end, his motivational skills, and his constant optimism have all left an impact. Here’s his full answer:
“He had this unique ability to rally people around a vision. Similarly, to then put them into a structure that could make that vision a reality. I always remember his ability to take something, give it shape, and then to motivate people. That always impressed me about him.
“He was a technologist – a programmer originally. And typically, you go to a programmer and tell them what you, as a designer, want to do. They then tell you all the reasons why they can’t do what you want. Mr. Iwata was different. Instead, he would say he was going to figure out how to make it work. He’d always be positive, always try to make the impossible happen. I still remember that to this day.” — Shigeru Miyamoto
Iwata was known for achieving the impossible, often saving games from cancellation with his programming prowess. He was no ordinary programmer, and he was certainly no ordinary corporate President.
Back in September, Nintendo teased the existence of a game called Miitopia. The upcoming 3DS title is getting its own Nintendo Direct in Japan in just a few days, but a fan cut together some footage to create trailers in the meantime. Miitopia blends RPG elements with social interactions somewhat comparable to Tomodachi Life.
Players import their Miis as the heroes (and apparently villains as well) of Miitomo, then build relationships between those Miis in order to strengthen them in battle. YouTube user Kubuskwal has demonstrated some of the gameplay mechanics using the Miis of Nintendo’s executives, including the late Satoru Iwata, Satoru Shibata, Reggie Fils-Aime, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Bill Trinen. You can check out a pair of trailers (with English subtitles) showing the bizarre game in action by clicking below.
Although Satoru Iwata is most well-known for his role as the President of Nintendo, he also had a long history as a programmer for both Nintendo and HAL Laboratory, the company responsible for Super Smash Bros. and Kirby’s Dream Land. During his early career, Iwata had a reputation for being an extremely skilled programmer and developer, and he famously worked on several important titles, like Pokémon Gold and Silver.
Nintendo recently published an interview with Yoshio Sakamoto, the creator of the Metroid series, in which Sakamoto recounted several anecdotes from his first years at Nintendo, including the story of his first experience working with Iwata. The interview was originally conducted in Japanese, and was later generously translated into English by a fan named Nick Mosier. The full English transcript is available here.
At a certain point of the interview, Sakamoto discussed the development of Balloon Fight, a classic game for the Nintendo Entertainment System that he worked on with Satoru Iwata. Gunpei Yokoi, a respected Nintendo developer that was responsible for the creation of the Game Boy, was the producer for this game, and therefore the boss of both Iwata and Sakamoto.
According to Sakamoto, at a certain point during the game’s development, Yokoi paid a visit to Iwata while Iwata was working on Balloon Trip, a small mini-game that Iwata designed for Balloon Fight. After Yokoi tried out the mini-game, he asked Iwata to make a few changes. For any other team of programmers, these changes would have taken hours to carry out, as they would require an extensive revision of the game’s code. Yokoi was clearly expecting Iwata to have some difficulty implementing the changes, so he started to make his way out of the room to get some coffee, preparing to settle down for a long work session. However, before he could even get up, Iwata exclaimed, “Wait just a second,” and implemented the changes in a moment. Yokoi and Sakamoto were both shocked at Iwata’s speed, and even today, twenty-three years later, Sakamoto continues to be impressed by Iwata’s accomplishment.
Nintendo: “On Balloon Fight, Mr. Yokoi was the producer and Mr. Iwata was in charge of programming the Famicom version. Do you have any memories relating to those two?”
Sakamoto: “I do… here is a story I saw unfold for myself:
“Just as we were making Balloon Trip mode…
Nintendo: “Balloon Trip is the side-scrolling single player mode in Balloon Fight. I heard Iwata was able to make it in only three days.”
Sakamoto: “Yeah, that’s it. Balloon Trip was an idea Mr. Yokoi had mentioned and Mr. Iwata brought it to form in three days. Around the time it was pretty much complete, Mr. Yokoi joined myself and Mr. Iwata. At this point they had been acquainted so Mr. Yokoi said, ‘Thank you for your hard work,’ and began to play it for a long time as we expected.
“After he had finished playing through it, he said what he wanted fixed but it wasn’t something that could be easily done. In those days, programs were worked out on paper and modifications would be made after consulting a bundle of papers about as thick as a phone book… even if you wanted to make a tiny change it could take an hour. So after Mr. Yokoi said what he wanted changed, he pulled up his own chair and went to grab some coffee to drink.
“Just as he made his request, Mr. Iwata said, ‘Wait just a second,’ and started typing. Then it was done.
“I was surprised he could make the changes that fast. Mr. Yokoi was also surprised when he said, ‘It’s done already?’ I remember that well, even today.
“Mr. Iwata knew the whole program from front to back.
Nintendo: “It is often said that Mr. Iwata had a natural gift for programming. When I hear stories like that I think it must be true.”
Sakamoto: “It really is.”
This is just one short excerpt of the full interview. If you’re interested in reading the rest of Mosier’s translation, you can do so here.
What do you guys think? Were you aware of Iwata’s skill as a programmer? Let us know in the comments below!
Beloved Nintendo icon Satoru Iwata passed away over a year ago now, but his presence continues to be felt. Even in recent months we’ve heard new and touching stories about the former Nintendo President, including the fact that he continued working for Nintendo until the very end and that he took the time to write reflective messages to many of his employees in his final year. Since his passing, we’ve seen many retrospectives and tributes recounting the incredible story of his life, and Did You Know Gaming is the latest to highlight some of those key moments.
Their latest video touches on his early days as a computer enthusiast, purchasing the world’s first programmable calculator, the many roles he assumed at HAL Laboratory (including his promotion to President of the company), the numerous games his skilled programming rescued from development hell, and the way he changed the game industry as President of Nintendo. You can view it by clicking above.
At an Apple event earlier this month, Nintendo revealed Super Mario Run, the first ever Mario game for mobile devices. Super Mario Run is an auto-running platformer, similar to other mobile titles like Temple Run and Subway Surfer; in the game, Mario runs through a number of platforming challenges, and players tap the screen to make him jump to avoid obstacles.
Recently, in an interview with Yahoo! Finance, Shigeru Miyamoto was asked how his team came up with the idea for Super Mario Run. He explained that Super Mario Run was actually created by the late Satoru Iwata, back when he was first negotiating with Apple about Nintendo’s future on iOS devices.
Both it and Miitomo, actually, came from meetings between Apple executives and Satoru Iwata. Miitomo was Nintendo’s first collaboration with Apple, and it was released in March 2016, less than a year after the negotiations.
“It started when we were working on Miitomo, or before that when Mr. Iwata was still with the company. Apple invited him to have a conversation about how the two companies could work together and they started working on ‘Miitomo’ and then this opportunity came up.” — Shigeru Miyamoto
If you’re interested in reading the rest of the interview, you can go here. It covers much of Nintendo’s history with mobile devices, from Miitomo to Pokémon GO, as well as the company’s expectations with Super Mario Run.
Since the passing of the late Nintendo President, we have heard some interesting things about Satoru Iwata’s actions before his death. Among these we have learned that Iwata continued to work on projects from the hospital until the very end. Iwata also wrote messages to many employees in the year before he died.
The messages included Iwata’s thoughts on what he had learned from other senior directors, his memories with the third Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi, and some deeply personal matters. It appears that he planned to pass down to others things he inherited from his predecessors. One employee remarked that it wouldn’t have shocked him if Iwata’s secretary had stopped some of the personal messages. Iwata seemed to know his time was drawing near, and those messages reflected as much.
Satoru Iwata passed away in July of 2015, and he continues to be missed to this day.
Joust, the oldest of these titles, was the first game that Iwata worked on after being hired by Nintendo. The code for the game was single-handedly written by Iwata, and the game was supposed to launch in 1983, as part of a partnership between Nintendo and Atari. The partnership was cancelled before the game ever came to light, and Joust was instead released by HAL, Iwata’s old employer, in 1987. This board for Joust was the first piece of code that Iwata ever wrote for Nintendo, and according to Cifaldi, might be the only known prototype of an unreleased first-party Nintendo game in existence.
There are a few images of the Famicom boards purchased by Frank Cifaldi in the gallery below. Cifaldi did state that there’s a small chance that these boards have been forged by the man he bought them from, but he does not believe this is the case. Regardless, the code inside of the boards could not possibly have been forged, so even if the boards aren’t authentic, they still contain Iwata’s earliest work on these games.
Just over a year ago, Nintendo and the video game community as a whole suffered a tremendous and tragic loss when then Nintendo President Satoru Iwata passed away at the age of 55. Although Iwata held an executive position at the company for many years, he began his career as a game developer (and especially as a programmer), and he never lost sight of that part of himself, often lending his skills to struggling development teams and performing tasks well below his pay grade.
Iwata’s passion for game development never waned, even to the very end. According to Japanese publication Nikkei, Iwata “continued to work in a hospital room until the last moment.” Armed with his favorite PC, Iwata pressed on despite his worsening condition. Nikkei specifically mentions that he and Tsunekazu Ishihara (President of The Pokémon Company and a close friend of Iwata’s) continued to discuss ideas for Pokémon GO during Iwata’s time in the hospital.
Iwata was truly an incredible and unique member of the game development community, and he won’t soon be forgotten. Even in his final moments he was working to make people happy all over the world, and Pokémon GO (despite a few bugs and setbacks) is now doing exactly that.
But his memory still touches those same people today, and many are coming together online once more to remember the man and the legacy he left. While it is with heavy hearts that we remember this passing, it is also with joy and celebration that we reflect on the life of a man who was revolutionary in shaping the gaming industry as we know it today. Though Iwata has departed from this planet, he still lives on in all of our hearts.
Iwata accomplished many things in his storied career, though he never forgot where he came from. He had a huge hand in game development, having contributed to numerous titles such as EarthBound, Kirby, and Super Smash Bros. Without Iwata, Pokémon Gold and Silver would be completely different, as the Kanto region would have been absent from the final launch.
As a corporate president with HAL Laboratories, Iwata saved the company from financial destruction. As Nintendo’s president, Iwata truly shined however, leading the company by bringing the DS and the Wii, two of the gaming industry’s most well-received systems, to market. Before his untimely passing, Iwata also helped bring Nintendo into the mobile market by partnering with DeNA to create apps based on Nintendo IP.
Despite these positions, Iwata never left his gaming roots. He understood what gamers wanted. His presence in Nintendo Directs always made them more enjoyable to watch. The Iwata Asks series gave us an inside look at the development of some of our favorite games. Iwata was not only the president of Nintendo—he was a beacon for what we as gamers wanted Nintendo to be. As a future businessman, I can only hope that I’m at least a fraction as in tune with my clients’ needs as Iwata was with ours.
From Colin McIsaac, Editor-in-Chief:
“If we continue down the same path as we have in the past, people may become tired of gaming.” — Satoru Iwata
So many of Iwata’s words are eternally powerful, but this one jumped out to me today. I see too many Nintendo fans scared of new ideas, clinging to tradition as if it any alternative would destroy what we cherish in the now. But Pokémon games have been so similar for so long, and in a few short days, Pokémon GO made it cool to like Pokémon again. Zelda games have been treading the same path for so long, and Breath of the Wild is now one of the most widely-anticipated games of the generation.
At their best, Nintendo takes everything we love and boldly builds it anew. Their audacity can simultaneously expand the gaming population and inspire those of us who already play. Whether we realize it or not, it’s why every single one of us loves them in the first place.
“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.”
— Satoru Iwata
Please join us in the comments below to pay tribute to a man who gave us all so much. We’d love to hear your favorite Iwata moments. If you have a particular quote that means a lot to you, let us know. Share your art with us. This is a time of remembrance, so let us do just that.