Satoru Iwata of Nintendo and HAL, dead at 55
July 12, 2015 5:42 PM   Subscribe

Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo and former president and star programmer at HAL Laboratories (he was one of their first programmers), main coder of Earthbound, programmer of NES/Famicom Balloon Fight, coder on some early games in the Kirby series and many other games besides, and the author of the Iwata Asks columns on Nintendo's website, has died at 55 of a bile duct growth. Kotaku article. The Verge.
posted by JHarris (117 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by Artw at 5:43 PM on July 12, 2015


Iwata had an amazing career. Do you know how rare it is for a former programmer to head such a large company? I'm still uncovering things he worked on. A lot of HAL's early work, like Eggerland/Lolo, probably involved him.
posted by JHarris at 5:44 PM on July 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


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posted by srl at 5:45 PM on July 12, 2015


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Always came across as an extremely genuine, enthusiastic and kind person.
posted by selfnoise at 5:45 PM on July 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Giant Bomb on HAL Laboratory.
posted by JHarris at 5:45 PM on July 12, 2015


Wow.

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posted by i_have_a_computer at 5:46 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by p3t3 at 5:46 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by Token Meme at 5:48 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by Reyturner at 5:48 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by faethverity at 5:49 PM on July 12, 2015


A list of games he worked on.
posted by Artw at 5:49 PM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ah, fuck no. What genius he was.
posted by boo_radley at 5:49 PM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


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posted by neuromodulator at 5:49 PM on July 12, 2015


The Iwata Asks article on Splatoon. I always thought it was awesome that the president of the company himself posted public interviews with his own developers about the making of their games.
posted by JHarris at 5:50 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by acb at 5:50 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by Darken Skye at 5:52 PM on July 12, 2015


According to ArtW's link, he actually coded on Hole In One Professional, NES Open Tournament Golf, NCAA Basketball and Earthbound. But the news that he personally worked on Balloon Fight came out during the Nintendo World Championships at E3, which had a Balloon Fight stage. I suspect that there are more games than just that, that he had a hand in even if he wasn't officially credited.
posted by JHarris at 5:53 PM on July 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


🎮
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:54 PM on July 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


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posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:54 PM on July 12, 2015


Iwata is known for single handedly compressing the Johto section of Pokemon Gold/Silver so they could fit Kanto on the cartridge as well, something the programmers at GameFreak thought was impossible. He also got his hands dirty fixing bugs in Smash Bros. Melee to make sure it shipped on time.

Iwata was a dev to the core, and a perfect CEO for Nintendo. He will be missed.
posted by JimBennett at 5:57 PM on July 12, 2015 [30 favorites]


Among many other things, he was lead programmer on Mother 2 / Earthbound. That alone is enough to get him into the pantheon of greats, as far as I'm concerned.

The guy oozed sincerity and love for his craft. And he never forgot what it was all about: that spark of childlike wonder. A true legend.

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posted by naju at 5:57 PM on July 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Sayonara, Iwata-sama. So sad that he died so young.

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posted by clockzero at 5:59 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by Elementary Penguin at 6:00 PM on July 12, 2015


Just gonna sit and cry for a while.

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posted by gucci mane at 6:00 PM on July 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ah, this hurts my heart.

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posted by buriednexttoyou at 6:00 PM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can't believe how much this human being whom I've never met impacted my life so intensely :/
posted by gucci mane at 6:01 PM on July 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


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posted by figurant at 6:02 PM on July 12, 2015


Part of me wonders if there's going to be some sort of pile of flowers out front of Nintendo headquarters in Kyoto, but that really doesn't seem their style.

Was kind of hoping that "extremely popular president turns company around then dies at a remarkably young age" wouldn't wind up getting added to the list of things that Nintendo and Apple have in common, though.

: (
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:03 PM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Iwata Asks on Pokemon, where they mention he worked on compression tools for Gold/Silver.
posted by JHarris at 6:08 PM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I've ever seen a corporate document that expresses pain. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it's what I see in the announcement linked in the FPP.
posted by figurant at 6:08 PM on July 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh no!
posted by oceanjesse at 6:09 PM on July 12, 2015


Figurant, the "deeply regrets" is almost certainly just a fairly literal translation of the more or less standard Japanese phrasing.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:09 PM on July 12, 2015


D:
posted by sexyrobot at 6:11 PM on July 12, 2015


This page mentions his work on Balloon Fight, plus reveals he appeared on an episode of Game Center CX!
posted by JHarris at 6:11 PM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


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posted by Smart Dalek at 6:13 PM on July 12, 2015


His products have enabled me to push off srs bsns (adulthood) and virulent capitalism to this very day. Much too soon.

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posted by Purposeful Grimace at 6:14 PM on July 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


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posted by absolutelynot at 6:15 PM on July 12, 2015


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He looked so thin and different the last time I saw video of him. He'd been hospitalized somewhat recently and I optimistically tried to take it as simply a slow recovery. I hope there is some kind of public memorial. I feel awful that one of his last experiences was the internet disappointment-storm over the recent E3. He personally tweeted that they'd try to do better next time. While he was secretly dying. I can't imagine. But of course he had so much to be proud of, and spent most of his life highly and justly esteemed for it. I don't know how to finish this comment exactly, except to say that I'm going to keep trying to be kinder to people.
posted by jinjo at 6:15 PM on July 12, 2015 [18 favorites]


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posted by ultranos at 6:21 PM on July 12, 2015


Holy crap, the man worked on debugging Super Smash Bros. Melee, despite being Nintendo's president at the time.
posted by JHarris at 6:24 PM on July 12, 2015 [14 favorites]


also, kudos to JHarris on putting together a much better obit than I slapped up. Something about him making a better obituary for the president of Nintendo feels appropriate.

the news still sucks, though
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:25 PM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Iwata on Game Center CX
posted by srl at 6:27 PM on July 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


Ah! Ah! Here's the Balloon Fight segment of Game Center CX, with Iwata himself!
posted by JHarris at 6:27 PM on July 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


T-T
posted by needled at 6:27 PM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Heh heh, good timing srl!
posted by JHarris at 6:28 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by drezdn at 6:31 PM on July 12, 2015


Ah, I was mistaken (the tweet I scavenged the link from said he was president), he wasn't yet president when working on Melee, "only" a high-ranking manager, the "General Manager of Corporate Planning." It mentions that it was the last time he "worked as an engineer 'in the field'", so no stories of the guy ditching board meetings in order to type out command lines, unfortunately.
posted by JHarris at 6:31 PM on July 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


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posted by Small Dollar at 6:32 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by Proofs and Refutations at 6:34 PM on July 12, 2015


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What an awesome person who will be sorely missed.. I loved that he personally hosted Nintendo Direct.
posted by Dr-Baa at 6:38 PM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oooh. Please watch that video srl and I posted. Please. This man at the time was the head of a multi-billion dollar company. It's got subtitles, but persevere.
posted by JHarris at 6:39 PM on July 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's not really a "segment" so much as a special episode of GCCX produced for the Nintendo e-Shop in Japan (accessible through 3DS and Wii U). Still, though, it was extremely awesome seeing Iwata show up for that to chat about his own personal history, given his usual position as the interviewer.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:41 PM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


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posted by spinda at 6:46 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by brecc at 6:46 PM on July 12, 2015


Oh no. Terrible.

Let's remember him by enjoying in his amazing stint as a Muppet.
posted by painquale at 6:56 PM on July 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


<(;_;<)

Iwata-san has brought fun, joy and love to the gaming world.
As a huge Nintendo fangirl (especially of the Kirby series... always something to cheer up whenever I feel upset)... I'm sad that he's gone. He's worked wayyyyyyy too hard.

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posted by Tsukushi at 6:56 PM on July 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


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posted by motty at 6:58 PM on July 12, 2015


Honestly, I only knew him as an affable president who was willing to take big, fun risks like the Wii and not worry about chasing whatever "core gamers" were supposed to be on about.

Just a few minutes ago, I learned of his incredible career as a developer, and he seems like a man after my own heart. Except him being so legendary, maybe it's more like my heart is a heart after his own man?

Either way, a great loss of the kind of person we need more of.

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posted by ignignokt at 7:11 PM on July 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


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posted by gc at 7:26 PM on July 12, 2015


(>;_;)>
posted by numaner at 7:33 PM on July 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


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posted by Going To Maine at 7:39 PM on July 12, 2015


Let's remember him by enjoying in his amazing stint as a Muppet.

Oh my god, what a bunch of nerds.

My heart is breaking.
posted by figurant at 7:52 PM on July 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


He was just so charming. It crossed oceans and more.
posted by grobstein at 8:10 PM on July 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


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posted by dances with hamsters at 8:30 PM on July 12, 2015


He was the kind of boss I'd kill to have right now. What a guy.

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posted by Hermione Granger at 8:35 PM on July 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


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posted by eruonna at 8:36 PM on July 12, 2015


🍄
posted by elr at 8:41 PM on July 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I guess you could say that, right now, Iwata is in that bonus round where you pop rising balloons to catchy music, and is just nailing it.
posted by JHarris at 8:41 PM on July 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was fascinated by games as a kid, but it wasn't until 1989 that I'd have an NES of my own—and the very first game I could call my own was HAL Laboratories's Adventures of Lolo. Twenty years later, I positively confirmed that my favorite game of all time was a game in the EarthBound franchise. Satoru Iwata's work has shaped both my first and my best gaming memories.

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posted by jsnlxndrlv at 8:59 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by Meatafoecure at 9:01 PM on July 12, 2015


Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:04 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by NMcCoy at 9:09 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by aroweofshale at 9:16 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by danb at 9:22 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by Canageek at 9:24 PM on July 12, 2015




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posted by BlackLeotardFront at 9:35 PM on July 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


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posted by FarOutFreak at 9:45 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by bluecore at 10:15 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by brennen at 11:00 PM on July 12, 2015


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posted by Pendragon at 11:52 PM on July 12, 2015


"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." - GDC 2005 Keynote
posted by Gary at 11:54 PM on July 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


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posted by bdz at 12:02 AM on July 13, 2015


Splatoon's Miiverse is jumping with Iwata RIP posts too.
posted by JHarris at 12:14 AM on July 13, 2015


An Earthbound tribute, because I can't think of any other fitting tribute to post, and Earthbound is just one of many incredible games he stepped in to personally save.

I believe in make believe
Fairy tales and lucky charms and
I believe in promises
Spoken as you cross your heart, oh
I believe in skies forever blue
Why shouldn't I believe the same in you?

posted by sandswipe at 12:23 AM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


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posted by Quilford at 1:17 AM on July 13, 2015


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posted by Martijn at 1:20 AM on July 13, 2015


In my view, Iwata was one of the only people standing in the way of some seriously negative forces in the video game world, from exploitative free-to-play mobile games on one side, to chasing a narrowing audience with ever more homogenized violent, set-piece oriented shooters with a bare minimum of gameplay on the other.

Nintendo's recent years have been entirely focused on making games that are more inclusive and expanding the audience by creating (actually good) games for underserved demographics.

He died way too soon. He was just getting started.
posted by zixyer at 1:44 AM on July 13, 2015 [17 favorites]


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posted by kewb at 2:58 AM on July 13, 2015


An Earthbound tribute...
If you're the sort of person who might be in need of some music to cry to, I offer this version.
posted by NMcCoy at 3:30 AM on July 13, 2015


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posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:23 AM on July 13, 2015


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posted by motdiem2 at 5:18 AM on July 13, 2015


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posted by drworm at 5:18 AM on July 13, 2015




When I saw the news my heart sank. This definitely affected me upon hearing it more than most celebrity deaths. He always seemed so sincere and earnest. So authentic and humble.

I didn't hear that he was dealing with cancer, so this came out of nowhere for me. Charting new territory and made Nintendo relevant to a mass market with a new console, risen from the programming ranks, cutting his salary in half until Ninty recovers.

They made plenty of mistakes, but the man always had his heart in the right place. I hope the new leadership continues to be bold, but also maybe can listen to the market and can adapt the NX to be what people want out of a console.

RIP Mr. Iwata.
posted by symbioid at 5:40 AM on July 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


https://yomuka.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/shigesato-itoi-reflects-on-his-friendship-with-satoru-iwata/

Shigesato Itoi is a pretty good writer, as it turns out.

Also, Yoshinori Ono (the director of the Street Fighter games) just tweeted that he heard the news of Iwata's death while at San Diego Comic-Con. By coincidence, a year ago he was seated next to Iwata on a Tokyo-San Francisco flight, and they spent the trip talking about video games. It was, apparently, a very educational experience for Ono.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:10 AM on July 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


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posted by cashman at 6:36 AM on July 13, 2015


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posted by Theta States at 6:44 AM on July 13, 2015


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posted by joedan at 6:52 AM on July 13, 2015


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posted by chinesefood at 6:55 AM on July 13, 2015


Oh, so terribly young! What a talented programmer, artist, and person.

Nintendo's recent years have been entirely focused on making games that are more inclusive and expanding the audience by creating (actually good) games for underserved demographics.

+1000
posted by bluefly at 7:06 AM on July 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


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posted by schmod at 7:12 AM on July 13, 2015


Damnit DoctorFedora, that link made me tear up. GAH!
posted by symbioid at 7:58 AM on July 13, 2015


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posted by jiroczech at 8:26 AM on July 13, 2015


My nana died of the same thing not even a year ago. I hope he passed painlessly. He is missed.

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posted by chaosys at 8:43 AM on July 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel there is a lot one can learn about how to approach life and business by studying the work of Mr. Iwata. Much respect.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:14 AM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


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posted by glhaynes at 10:52 AM on July 13, 2015


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posted by sharp pointy objects at 11:04 AM on July 13, 2015


I have a lot of respect for Nintendo's philosophy that games should be about fun and gameplay regardless of what the rest of the industry is doing. I have a lot of admiration for the oddball curiosities and the rpg renaissance of Nintendo DS. I found Nintendo Direct with Mr. Iwata presenting more engaging than run of the mill marketing. And, mot importantly, I have fond memories of Kirby and Balloon Fight. May his successor fill his shoes, the way he did Yamauchi's.
posted by ersatz at 2:05 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Iwata Asks article on Splatoon. I always thought it was awesome that the president of the company himself posted public interviews with his own developers about the making of their games.

These were so wonderful and so candid and interesting. I know that Nintendo has PR people like everyone else, but Iwata Ask seemed way realer than anything else in the big-money games industry. I certainly can't imagine Sony or Microsoft or EA doing something like it.
posted by grobstein at 8:03 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Iwata Asks series is an incredible series, both as a history of games and a lesson in game design. I'd love for them to all be released in a big book with lots of high quality reproductions of old design documents and the like.
posted by dng at 9:25 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Someone on Tumblr linked to a ton of Iwata Asks interviews, some fan translated. (In one of those weird coincidences, the place where I found out about it referred to it as a megapost.)
posted by JHarris at 10:30 AM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]




I'm usually not affected by the deaths of people I don't know, but I've really been grieving over the past couple days. I think it's because from reading the Iwata Asks over so many years, I feel like I know Iwata as a real person.
posted by zixyer at 1:06 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


He is responsible for putting both of the worlds on Gold/Silver, and was the main coder for Earthbound??? What a hero ;_; RIP
posted by yueliang at 3:06 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


A week later, the producer of Game Center CX provided a brief eulogy of sorts as an editorial. Here's my translation of it: http://greg.lescoe.net/post/124737390451/game-center-cxs-producer-says-goodbye-to-satoru
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:07 AM on July 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


My favorite part of DoctorFedora's translation:

The two enjoyed playing Balloon Fight. President Iwata enjoyed seeing Arino’s unsuccessful tries. When he told us about how, if he had the chance, he’d like to make a game by himself one more time, you could really hear the game creator in him talking.
posted by JHarris at 3:13 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


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