It feels a little odd that the death of a Japanese business executive is affecting me so deeply. Since learning of Mr. Iwata’s passing, I’ve cried more than a few times. Yes, I am a passionate and lifelong fan of Nintendo games, but this really goes beyond that.
I can honestly say that my life would likely be completely different were it not for his work.
In 1995, Nintendo released a quirky game called Earthbound (Programming Director: Satoru Iwata). It quickly became (and still is) my favorite game of all time. It has an amazing, hilarious, and at times tragic story layered upon a simple but addicting battle system. It’s an absolute masterpiece. And it was the first game that really drew me into its world. Yes, I could play Super Mario Bros 3 forward and backward and still know every secret in the game, but Earthbound was different. It inspired me. I started coming up with my own ideas for games. I wrote stories, drew characters. I wanted to make my own Earthbound. Because of that, I started learning how to program. I spent hours in front of a computer screen staring at the bright blue QBasic interface, learning the ins and outs of coding. I was only 11 and the internet wasn’t really a thing, so I taught myself through help files and by dissecting the code of the included games Gorillas and Snake.
Programming became a passion of mine. When I started college, it was with idea of becoming a game programmer at Nintendo. Even though that dream is long in the past, part of me still hopes that one day that dream will become a reality.
That quirky little hobby of mine opened up a world of career opportunities. I can now proudly say I have a job I love at an amazing little software company, and although we don’t make games, I know that I am where I am because of Earthbound.
But that’s not the only way Iwata has impacted my life. Some of my earliest memories are of playing Balloon Fight (Programmer: Satoru Iwata) with my dad. Even today, when I play that game I get a little overwhelmed by those memories.
He was also an amazing programmer. Read this story about how he pretty much single handedly saved the Pokemon franchise. He also did the work of debugging Super Smash Bros Melee.
However, more than any of that, I feel like we’ve gotten to know him over these past few years. Iwata had put himself out in front of the public in a way that most executives never will. He was the face of Nintendo with his Nintendo Directs and Iwata Asks segments. He was willing to be silly and fun in an industry that is trying its best to be “mature” and serious. As he said, “Video games are meant to be just one thing. Fun. Fun for everyone.”
So sleep well Iwata-san. You will be missed.