In what could be be described as sudden and profoundly saddening, Nintendo has announced that its current president, Satoru Iwata, has passed away. They explain in a very short message that his death was due to a bile duct growth. He had surgery to remove this growth last year, which concerned many since it meant that he would skip out on last year’s E3. Upon his return, it seemed like everything was fine and that the surgery was a success. That is until today when Nintendo told us the news. According to their “Notification of Death and Personnel Change of a Representative Director (President)” (PDF) document, Iwata had actually died last Saturday, July 11th, and waited until today to fully confirm the news and relay the message to the public.
Iwata started his career at HAL Laboratories. One of the earliest games he was involved with was Balloon Fight. He would go on to aid Masahiro Sakurai as the producer of the much beloved Kirby series of games, as well as aid Shegesato Itoi in being both the producer and programmer of Earthbound. His work on Pokemon Gold & Silver was groundbreaking for the rest of the series as he aided Game Freak in programming the game. His programming knowledge helped to cut the memory usage of the game so much that they were able to fit all of Kanto into the game as well. This would become the norm for future Pokemon games to visit a previous gen’s region.
And then of course there’s Earthbound. The game was in development hell and neared cancellation multiple times. When Iwata and his team at HAL Labs stepped in to help Shigesato Itoi and his team at Ape, the project was saved. The team was split into groups, with HAL Labs handling much of the programming duties. If it wasn’t for Iwata, we would’ve never seen Earthbound‘s eventual release, Mother 3′s release, the VC release of Earthbound Beginnings, and possibly Ness’ inclusion in Super Smash Bros.
Iwata talked more about his early life and career at HAL Labs during his keynote speech at the 2005 Game Developers Conference.
In 2002, former president Hiroshi Yamauchi stepped down as president of Nintendo, with Iwata filling the role. The Gamecube, Wii, Wii U, Game Boy Advance, DS, and 3DS were produced during his tenure as president, with the Wii and DS being the most successful console and handheld Nintendo has ever produced. Unlike the previous president, Yamauchi, Iwata was much more lenient on his employees, pushing more for creative and innovative innovative projects and hardware at Nintendo. When the company’s profits were down for 2013, Iwata cut his own salary in half to save the jobs of many of his employees, citing that if he started firing people, they would be more afraid of their own job security than making great games.
When Nintendo began producing Nintendo Direct broadcasts, Iwata would be one of the hosts of the show, presenting games directly to fans, as well as asking fans to “please understand” when a game got delayed. He also hosted Iwata Asks, where he would interview Nintendo employees as well as third party guests on upcoming projects.
And just like his predecessor Hiroshi Yamauchi, his name was always the last name listed when you finished a Nintendo game.
Satoru Iwata was 55 years old.
I leave you with a quote from Iwata during a keynote speech he held at GDC 2005.
“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.”