Gaming

In Memory Of Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata: A Man That Transformed Modern Gaming

On 11 July, the gaming world lost a legend: Satoru Iwata, CEO of Nintendo, died at the age of 55.

An accomplished programmer with a handful of game credits to his name, Iwata has had a far bigger influence on the landscape of gaming than many button bashers may realise. In the same way that Steve Jobs is credited for overseeing the creation of some of Apple's most famed devices, Iwata has helped Nintendo produce some of its most famous consoles - all in the name of having fun.

Here's a quick summary of the legacy of the great Satoru Iwata.

Pokémon Gold & Silver

Iwata's first major influence arrived in the pockets of gamers in 1999. A programmer at HAL Laboratory, the video game developer responsible for much of the Kirby series, Iwata had led development on 1992's popular Kirby's Dream Land, the first Game Boy title in the series.

Iwata's knowledge of the Game Boy format proved itself key to creating Pokémon Gold and Silver: the game's designers had used up too much of the game cartridge's capacity to include the title's prologue chapter, which would allow players to journey through the original world of Kanto and battle gym leaders from the original Red and Blue games. Iwata managed to compress the game's programming, freeing up space to include the all-important prologue sequence. 

Super Smash Bros Melee

Iwata became the Director of Nintendo in June 2000, with the company busy working on its all-important N64 successor, the disc-based GameCube. One title that was seen as crucial to the launch of the console was Super Smash Bros. Melee, a title he was familiar with from his days at HAL. 

During develpoment, the Melee title was littered with bugs that threatened to delay its release and harm the early sales of the GameCube. Rather than delegating the problem to another part of the company, Iwata stepped in to fix the game himself. It was released on time, becoming the first GameCue title to sell one million copies, collecting several "Game of the Year" titles in the process.

Nintendo DS

In 2002, Iwata was promoted to the role of President of Nintendo. The GameCube had failed to gain a competitive foothold in the console market, outgunned by Sony's PlayStation 2 and Microsoft's Xbox.

With the company in need of a hardware boost, Iwata helped oversee the launch of a new, exciting handheld device, the Nintendo DS. A successor to the Game Boy Advance, the DS' two screen build allowed game designers to create more complex hand-held titles. "We have developed Nintendo DS based upon a completely different concept from existing game devices," said Iwata, "in order to provide players with a unique entertainment experience for the 21st century." 

The DS went on to become the second best-selling console of all time, shifting some 154 million units worldwide. Only the PlayStation 2 has sold more at 155 million.

Nintendo Wii

"We're not thinking about fighting Sony, but about how many people we can get to play games. The thing we're thinking about most is not portable systems, consoles, and so forth, but that we want to get new people playing games."

This statement, delivered by Iwata in December 2006, perhaps best sums up the direction which Iwata took Nintendo - as a video game company that looked to introduce gaming to people who didn't consider themselves gamers. Iwata believed that games were supposed to be fun, accessible, and not limited to a "hard-core" group of fanatics. The Nintendo Wii encapsulated this approach, eschewing the approach adopted by Sony and Microsoft that favoured bigger polygon counts and faster games, for a family-friendly, accessible gaming system. The Wii proved popular with existing gamers, as well as entertaining for an audience unschooled in gaming, as its motion controllers and titles like Wii Sports proved readily playable.

Nintendo goes mobile

While there have been successes under Iwata, Nintendo has struggled to succeed in an increasingly competitive market. In response to finance reports that indicated a dip in sales, Iwata took a significant pay cut, and suggested that the company embrace the mobile market that it had long avoided.

We're still awaiting the first fruits of this latest shift in direction, but should you find yourself hammering through a Super Mario or Kirby title on your iPhone in the next few years, you'll have Iwata to thank.