Satoru Iwata, the company president of Nintendo, has passed away after a long battle with cancer. This is one of gaming's saddest ever days, as we are losing one of the fathers of the modern console ecosystem, who was also one of the funniest and honest men we've seen in the industry.
Iwata started his career with HAL Laboratory, becoming their software production coordinator in 1983. He worked on some of the big classics to emerge from the studio, including Earthbound, Balloon Fight and Kirby. He went on to assist in the development of other Nintendo subsidiary studios, as well as lend a hand in other games that went on to become big hits, like Pokemon.
Iwata's involvement in Pokemon was a small one, but incredibly crucial one. It was during the development of Pokemon Gold and Silver that Nintendo was trying to put together development for the N64 game Pokemon Stadium. Iwata was president of HAL Laboratory at the time, and despite not having any ties to the development of either game, he ended up helping out with Stadium in order to take some of the pressure off of the Gold and Silver team. Although there was no design documents available, he managed to port the original battle system from Pokemon Red into Stadium, rewriting the Gameboy source code into something usable for the N64. After that, he wrote a new compression software to allow more assets to fit on the Gold and Silver cartridges. It was during this time that the internal staff at Nintendo recognised Iwata as more than a "good coder and businessman" and more of an extreme talent that they were lucky to work with.
However, it wasn't until 2002 that Hiroshi Yamauchi, the legendary figurehead at Nintendo who had helmed the company since before the NES-era, stepped down and Iwata was named as his replacement. It was the first time a member of the Yamauchi family wasn't in charge of the company. Despite taking on the undertaking of the whole company, he still remembered his origins and continued to advise HAL Laboratory's on their projects throughout the years.
During this time, Nintendo were not the juggernaut company they had been in recent years, with the Gamecube under-performing against the PS2 and the X-Box. His first big success with the company was the release of the Nintendo DS, as Iwata put in place plans to surprise gamers with new experiences that were only available on Nintendo. The two screens of the new portable console was supported by some great software, meaning it was never seen as a novelty and became one of the biggest systems in the world, with millions clambering to play the unique titles on offer. Iwata pushed forward with the idea of different experiences, and decided that utilising advancement in motion controls would be a fantastic basis for the next console.
The Nintendo Wii was released in 2006, and was an instant success. Shops struggled to keep up with demand as people clambered to get their hands on the small white console. Despite sporting inferior hardware to its competitors, the Wii outsold all other consoles on the market, and became a household staple for many. Nintendo's stocks doubled during this period.
While the most recent console to be seen under his reign as president, the WiiU, has faltered in sales, it's worth recognising the great leadership Iwata has displayed during this period. He halved his salary to help with their declining finances, and made a deal with mobile game publishers to broaden the Nintendo family out to other platforms, something which people thought would never happen. Due to some smart business decisions and making sure games were always a priority, the WiiU has been slowly gaining speed, and is well on the way to becoming another success in Nintendo's history.
At GDC 2005, Iwata 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."
For me, this sums up what made Iwata so great. He was a great maker of games and a fantastic businessman when it came to running the company, but above all he held a great love for games. In an industry that's becoming so fascinated with numbers and finance, having one of the key companies still run by someone who just wanted to make fun and interesting games for people was such a treat.
So thank you Iwata, for everything. You will be missed, not just by me but by the gaming industry as a whole. Your legacy will forever be remembered, and I hope the values you preached while at Nintendo continue to guide the company forevermore.