Farewell Satoru Iwata: Nintendo Loses a Beloved President

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The fourth president of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, died on July 11th at the age of 55. He took on the position in 2002 and was instrumental in the release of the DS and Wii. CNN reported him saying, ‘”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,” he said at a conference for game developers in 2005. The socialverse has been mourning this loss for days with the  hashtag #ThankYouIwata. A hacked rom of Balloon Flight, one of Iwata’s first titles, has been released with him as a character. Nintendo was a part of many childhoods, and by extension so was Satoru. Join us in saying farewell to this president as a we share our Nintendo memories.

Rachel J. Stevens: It was only after he died that I found out that Iwata had a history of programming and actually worked with Nintendo’s programmers side by side. He apparently was directly responsible for compressing Pokemon Red/Green’s data (Red/Blue in the US) into such a small size that the map for Kanto from the first game could fit into the Game Boy data game cartridge along with the Johto region from Silver/Gold, the sequel.

For the longest time, Silver was my favorite Pokemon game and quite possibly the most important game I’ve ever played. I put over 200 hours into that game in one file alone, before the game’s battery died. I raised my starting Pokemon, a water reptile named Totodile, into a caveman looking brute called Croconaw, and then helped it become an enormous kaiju-esque creature called Feraligatr. I felt a bond with it and leveled it all the way to 100. I didn’t do what many did, and optimize its stats, or choose the best moveset. I gave it four Hidden Machine moves, which couldnt be overwritten, so that it could help me go anywhere. It still destroyed the opposition with Cut, Surf, Whirlpool, and Strength. I went through the entire game without much struggle because of how strong my partner was, and I explored a whole new world and defeated Team Rocket and the Elite Four for the first time.

See, the thing is — I never beat Pokemon Blue. It was too hard, and I got stuck multiple times. Never beat the Elite Four in it, never defeated Giovanni, never caught Mewtwo. Still, I made it pretty far in, and I got the gist of what did happen. Enough so, that the changes to Kanto in Silver shocked and delighted me. Gym leaders changed, the world’s geography changed in the two years between games, the characters changed. The series was getting older and changing like I was. Being able to take a train between countries…it blew my mind. Seeing my old rival as a gym leader, fighting my implied character from the previous game/Ash from the anime in Mt. Silver, knowing they succeeded where I or Ash never would….and then defeating them with my partner, like I defeated everyone else, was amazing.

I didn’t have friends when I was a kid. I was bullied every day for being overweight, for being a nerd, for a lot of different reasons. I was lonely as hell, and I didn’t have anyone to trade Pokemon with or battle with. So, instead, after I did everything else in the game that I could, I’d do the activities in the game over and over. I’d keep doing the bug catching contests, I’d pick Apricorns and turn them into Poke Balls, and I’d fight the daily Trainer challengers in Kanto. I don’t remember when or why I stopped turning on the game, other than I did do other things like read books and watch cartoons, but when I came back to my cartridge years later, and the battery died, I was the smallest bit heartbroken. I got over it, though — I still have my memories of the game, and that’s good enough.

I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that without Satoru Iwata. Nintendo’s systems and games still resonate with me, and I owe countless good memories to him and the teams of programmers he worked with. That we won’t get any more art from his guidance is a travesty.

Carly Smith: I can’t really find the words to express how sad I am over Satoru Iwata’s passing. I’m going to do my best to focus on his eagerness to entertain others and make people happy. That’s why I’ve always loved Nintendo; even when they make mistakes and are slow to change in certain ways, the people at Nintendo—especially Satoru Iwata—care about the people playing their games. The fact that Iwata’s ideal was for games to be about fun says a lot. I know when I play a Nintendo game, I’m going to have fun.

My first Nintendo game was Pokemon Blue, and I did end up catching all the Pokemon through perseverance and few other games to play at a young age. Iwata’s involvement in several Nintendo games blows my mind—how was he able to rework all of those games?! Simply amazing.

Beyond his brilliance, the man was hilarious. The Nintendo Directs have been hilarious. Can you really top Iwata pensively staring at a bunch of bananas out of nowhere? No… well, that is until you see him as a muppet at this year’s E3!

I wish all the best for his family and his colleagues.

Jules Low: Pokemon Stadium and Super Smash Bros. are the games that helped me have friends. They’re the games that made me reach out to others and ask for help or ask for companionship as a kid. I was overweight, occasionally picked on, incredibly shy, and early on I found it so hard to connect with other kids. The first Pokemon games were the start of me talking with others but it wasn’t enough. Then my grandfather gave me an N64 and with Stadium and Smash, I finally had a reason to play with others.

Some of my fondest memories with video games come from the time spent with those two titles at my house, and friends’ houses, chatting excitedly about them during recess and lunch, and figuring out all of the hidden gems and best tactics and moves with others. And yesterday I found out how crucial a role Iwata played in making those games what they are. He figured out the Pokemon Red/Green (Red/Blue) battle system in a week. He helped Masahiro Sakurai program the prototype for Smash, and later helped debug its sequel, Melee. I still have those cartridges. I always kept them close because of how much of an impact they had on me as a child. Now comparatively they’re a bit clunky, unpolished, imperfect as games but as monuments to my happiness they stand strong and tall.

Those friendships didn’t last–I moved a lot as a kid–but my childhood did. My memories are of porting over my best Pokemon into Stadium, finding out that reversing their names gave them new colour schemes, figuring out that I’m the biggest Link/Fox player in Smash, sneaking out of bed late at night and trying so hard to unlock the bonus characters. What can I possibly say to one of the men responsible for making me as happy as I was as a kid, to someone whose job and duty they felt was to make games for everyone, to a person who helped re-establish my connection to Nintendo. All I really can say is that I hope his family and friends are well, that they make it through this time time together. And thank you.

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About Author

Carly is a freelance writer and editor, often working on various publications at once. She loves cats, games, and anime — maybe in that order — and adores cosplaying. Follow her on twitter at @roseofbattle.

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