Celebrating Satoru Iwata: Programmer, CEO, Nintendo President, and gamer at heart

Nintendo announced yesterday that Satoru Iwata, 55, had passed away. Let us celebrate what a badass he was.

For most gamers and fans of Nintendo, it was a shock when the company announced late yesterday that Satoru Iwata, president of the company, had passed away from a bile duct tumor.

Here is the official announcement from Nintendo:

Iwata Death AnnouncementMany have been saddened by the loss of the quirky, talented man. But we should celebrate what he achieved in his life and contributed to the world of video games, instead of mourning his loss.

Credited with programming, producing, or directing more than 300 games, Mr. Iwata started his career in video games with HAL Laboratory, Inc., as a part-time programmer. While Mr. Iwata cannot be credited with creating the character Kirby, when he did become HAL Laboratory's president he ultimately decided to create Kirby's Dream Land, and did some behind the scenes coding for HAL Laboratory's original hit, Super Smash Bros. This kept the company out of bankruptcy.

HAL Laboratory, Inc. Logo

Satoru Iwata also reworked the coding for Earthbound, sequel to Mother, in around a month, which is quite impressive. While still president of HAL Laboratory, and on the board of Creatures, Inc., one of the companies that worked on Pokémon Red, Blue, and Green, Mr. Iwata also remade the entire Pokémon battle system on the N64 for Pokémon Stadium. He did this without documentation of the system of any sort, which is stunning.

On top of all that, he wrote the compression technology for Pokémon Gold and Silver that shrunk down Johto enough to allow Kanto to be included, making the games some of the most memorable in the Pokémon series.

Pokemon Silver Slowpoke Well

After 20 years at HAL Laboratory, Mr. Iwata was hired at Nintendo, and in 2002, he was promoted to the position he held until his death as President of Nintendo. He was the fourth President of Nintendo and the first not related by blood to the founder, Fusajiro Yamauchi.

If this were not enough, he continued to work on their new games even as the president. Namely, he contributed to developing Super Mario Sunshine, Animal Crossing, Metroid Prime, and The Wind Waker. He also did some significant debugging on the well-loved Super Smash Bros. Melee, which, without his help, might have been delayed.

Super Smash Bros Melee

He also brought the industry the Nintendo DS, which has been the most successful video game handheld to date, and has overseen many excellent games including many Pokémon, Zelda, Fire Emblem and Mario titles.

“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

As he moves beyond the final level, perhaps we should all take a moment to enjoy the games Mr. Iwata put so much energy into.

And we will all miss Satoru Iwata, who brought so much to the industry and truly believed that video games should be fun for everyone and anyone, not just a business. And we will hope his legacy lives on, not just through the games he worked on, but through Nintendo.

Satoru Iwata and the 3DS

Published Jul. 13th 2015
View Comments
  • Chai Chien Liang
    The work he did, especially with Gold/Silver was amazing! Was expecting the game to end after the Elite Four, then I saw that you could go to Johto and challenge their gym leaders culminating with a showdown with Ash Ketchum himself!
  • Autumn Fish
    Featured Correspondent
    A lot of these accomplishments are mindblowing. And to think he managed to do all of this in 35 years of game development! There's no doubt that many Nintendo games wouldn't be the same without him. He's an inspiration to people in all corners of our industry.

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