Please Understand, You Will Be Missed

Iwata Bow

BEGINNINGS

“Let’s call him Satoru,”  said a proud mother, holding her newborn son.  What had started out as a normal December day in Sapporo, Japan had quickly become anything but.  The world had welcomed its newest member, Satoru Iwata, into its ranks.  Although highly unaware of his surroundings, Iwata had just begun what would be a truly magical journey.  His father smiled, looking down at his kin.

“Satoru.  I like it,”  he said quietly.  “‘Understanding’ is a truly fitting term.”

A DREAM AND A CALCULATOR

Iwata sat in the cafeteria.  High school was a slog, but he found enjoyment in watching his friends play a game.  A game he had created with a Hewlett-Packard pocket calculator.

“This is amazing!” said one of his classmates, fully engrossed in the creation.  It was a baseball game, but there were no graphics.  Gameplay (everything, really) was represented by numbers.  Yet, every day, his friends would ask to borrow the calculator to play.

“Seriously Satoru, how did you come up with this?  You gotta show me, ” said another friend as he watched over his pal’s shoulder.  Iwata beamed with pride.  His calling was becoming more and more clear with each passing day.  His passion could not be quelled.

“I’ll gladly show you sometime,” Iwata said with a laugh.  His friend nodded and continued to watch the game of numbers play out, fascinated with the process.  Iwata could do nothing else but smile.

NO SLEEP TILL HAL

A motorcycle pulled into the parking lot of the Tokyo Institute of Technology.  Removing his helmet, Iwata waved to some friends as he ran to meet them.  Although there were no real game development classes on campus, he had managed to find likeminded students with a passion for game creation like his.

Renting an apartment in town, the group stayed up all hours of the night to create what they loved: games.  Surprisingly, no one’s grades suffered.  2001: A Space Odyssey was a favorite film of the group, and the sentient computer would eventually make its mark as their future company’s namesake.

A SMASHING PRESIDENT 

Formed in 1983, with Iwata being only the fifth full time employee, HAL Laboratory was well underway.  Although it had its fair share of bumps, the company had managed to create many successful franchises such as the series of Kirby games and Mother 2, known as Earthbound in the states.  He was eventually promoted to President and made solvent a nearly bankrupt HAL, but that did not stop him from constantly working on video games.

Walking down the office hallways, a young and bright employee came up to Iwata.

“Satoru, if you have a moment, I’d like to show you an idea for a game I have been working on.”

Iwata nodded.  “Of course!  I’m excited to see what you’ve got.”

Masahiro Sakurai smiled wide.  “Imagine a four-player fighting game, but with a twist…”

NEVER CONTENT WITH ONE JOB

Iwata sat at a computer, crunching numbers and data in his head as he ported over the game logic from Pokémon Red & Green to the Nintendo 64 for Pokémon Stadium.  Not even a year ago, he had compressed the data of Pokémon Gold & Silver under 2 MB, fitting in what was essentially a second entire game map.

He wiped sweat from his forehead, bit into his burger, took a swig of soda, and continued working.  At the corner of the room, Shigeki Morimoto looked on in awe.  “Is that guy a programmer?  Or is he the President?”  he thought to himself.

Iwata was, apparently, both.

A SECOND TERM

After working at Nintendo for two years, Iwata was informed that Hiroshi Yamauchi had decided to step down as President of Nintendo.  With prior experience running HAL and a pedigree in the gaming industry no one could overlook, Iwata was offered the position.

“Your office, sir,” an aide said as he opened the door for the new CEO.  Iwata walked in slowly, somewhat unsure of how he got here.  As the aide closed the door, he ran his hands across the desk that three Presidents had sat behind before him.  Light came through the window leisurely.  He pulled back the chair that would become his home and slowly assimilated with it.

All he could do was smile.

INFINITELY QUOTABLE 

“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.”  The crowd at the 2005 Game Developers Conference applauded wildly for Iwata’s opening statement.  Although suffering from a sore throat, he was glad to be the keynote speaker at the event.  He discussed his early days in development, his college experiences, and HAL.  A picture of a young Iwata flashed on the screen behind him.  He sported longer hair, larger glasses, and was giving a big thumbs up with a stone faced look of determination.

“Like all game creators, I was extremely cool, too, don’t you think?”

The audience laughed along with him.  He continued for an hour, discussing his life and such topics as emotional responses in video games, his multiple roles at HAL, and how software sells hardware.

“While our industry has made hit games with names like Spider-Man and James Bond and NFL Football, I think we should be proud that our best games are those whose hero and world we invented ourselves.”

He spoke about graphics, Nintendo’s Four I’s (Innovative, Intuitive, Inviting, and Interface), and even invited Bill Trinen on stage to play through some new games, including Mario Kart DS and Electroplankton.

“Everyone of us here today is identical in the most important way.  Each one of us has the heart of the gamer.  Thank you very much for your attention.”

The crowd erupted.  Iwata, whose hand was touching his own heart, bowed.

IWATA ASKS, DEVELOPERS RESPOND 

In a small meeting room, Iwata sat down and extended his hand.  The man across from him, Shigeru Miyamoto, shook it firmly.

“Are you ready for an interview my friend?”  Iwata asked.  Miyamoto laughed and flashed a big grin.

“Ask away!” he said happily.

Iwata flipped open a pad of questions, cleared his throat, and began.  “In this interview, we’re going to talk about New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but rather than diving straight into a discussion of the new title, I’d like to begin by talk about Mario’s roots.  There will of course be a lot of readers who know all about this, but I think there are also people who are completely in the dark about how Mario began.”

“Yes, you’re right,”  Miyamoto responded.

“Shall we begin by talking about the period of Mario’s initial conception, when he was known as ‘Jumpman’?”

DIRECTLY TO YOU

Iwata stood in front of a white backdrop.  He straightened his suit coat, nodded at the cameraman in front of him, and waited for the signal.  After a brief countdown, a finger pointed in his direction and he bowed.

“Hello.  This is Satoru Iwata from Nintendo.  It looks like I’ll be delivering the first Nintendo Direct of 2014 directly to you.”  As he finished his sentence, he placed his hands on either side his face before jutting them forward.  This became his trademark move.

“Please take a look,” he said as he bowed once more, his hand presenting the upcoming video to the viewing audience.

THE LAST HURRAH 

Puppet versions of Iwata, Miyamoto, and President of Nintendo of America Reggie Fils-Aimé walked down a hallway together.  Swelling music from Super Mario 3D World played underneath as the puppets from The Jim Henson Company started what would be Nintendo’s E3 press conference.  Iwata, at home in Japan, watched from his computer.  He was feeling ill, but the images on screen we’re filling him with pride.  He could do nothing more than smile.

LEAVE IWATA TO HEAVEN

The weather was partly cloudy during the morning hours in Kyoto, Japan.  Satoru Iwata had passed away just a day earlier and the gaming world was in shock.  Flags were being flown at half staff as his peers and those who respected him grieved his loss.  However, on that particular morning, a rainbow was spotted above the Nintendo headquarters.  It shined as brightly and with as much passion as the company’s former President.

It was dubbed the Rainbow Road to Heaven.  Iwata rode it up proudly and with ease.

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