Today, I was woken up by a Skype message from a gaming buddy linking me to the official notice that Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata has died. I’m usually not affected by news like this and the only other incident that had the same effect was when I learned Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys had passed away. It’s an odd feeling; I’ve never met or known Iwata-san in person yet it feels like grieving for an old friend. It made my chest hurt and I cried for a while.
I’ve been playing games since I was three (with the Donkey Kong double screen Game & Watch), but I got really into it when my mom got us a Family Computer. Gaming has become an integral part of my childhood as I’ve never really played with other kids or my brothers (I was usually excluded because they only play basketball or general rough housing with each other) but I was able to entertain myself with video games. My eldest brother (who has passed away) was my main influence in my early gaming days and he let me play a lot of Nintendo games. One of our all-time favorites was Balloon Fight. We played it more as a PvP game (popping each others’ balloons) rather than co-op, which mostly led to actual physical fights that was patched with candy or ice cream.
Mr. Iwata wasn’t just a suit who knew business, he was also a very good programmer. Most importantly, he was a gamer.
Later on, I graduated to more complicated Nintendo games on the NES (Golf, which was Iwata’s first game in Nintendo), SNES (Legend of Zelda), Gameboy (Pokemon), Gamecube (Animal Crossing) and so on. Of course, I only found out about Iwata-san being a part of these games later on in life when I became obsessed with video games. Gaming became a big part of my life when I had to deal with real world problems like bullying and family loss.
Not a lot of people knew, but Iwata-san was a programming badass. He helped out in the programming of Earthbound, arguably one of the best RPGs ever made, when its original coding was found to be a mess. He was known to port the battle code of Pokemon Stadium to the Nintendo 64 without any reference documents. Gamefreak (the developers of Pokemon) gave him a special shout out in Pokemon Gold and Silver games because he helped them compress it to fit the Kanto part of the game. Let that sink in for a bit; he compressed a game when even the game’s own developers couldn’t figure it out. He wasn’t just a suit who knew business, he was also a very good programmer. Most importantly, he was a gamer.
Iwata-san had that infectious enthusiasm for games. He delivered Nintendo Direct to the fans and we all loved how he presented it with humor and fun. We all looked forward to all the new games and even though some were let-downs, the way he presented them softened the blow for us. He also ran Iwata Asks, a forum where he interviewed game makers and shared his experiences in the game industry to avid fans. Recently, Nintendo in E3 2015 presented the ‘Triforce’ (Miyamoto, Iwata, Fils Aime) as puppets and it was a fun and fresh take on delivering new content that fans can look forward to in the next few months. Unfortunately, not a lot of people appreciated the effort but Iwata-san had addressed on Twitter that they are listening and will do better. I’m speculating that Iwata-san was not well enough to do an actual presentation in E3 around this time and honestly it breaks my heart knowing that one of his last online statements was apologetic. I hope he did not leave the world thinking we did not appreciate his efforts.
Today is a hard day for gamers all over the world, young and old. A legend has left and the industry will never be the same. Even rivals acknowledge that they’ve lost someone important.
I’m still heartbroken and I’m coping by watching old videos and playing my favorite Nintendo games, ones that have touched the lives of many. Things will get better, but it will not be the same. Thank you, Mr. Iwata, for being a part of my childhood, for helping me cope with my problems by letting me escape in your creations. It has been an honor.