Monday, 13 July 2015

A Tribute To Satoru Iwata

One of the great microchip alchemists of our time is dead. No. More than that. Satoru Iwata might have started as a tinkering programmer, weaving vast formulas and concepts throughout various experiences over the history of Nintendo. Then something else happened entirely. He became a businessman, the President. The face of this company that launched a thousand words about alchemy and Valya and destruction, a second-in-command to Lady Capitalism. Here, as Jim Sterling put it, was a man in charge of one of the most popular and powerful video game companies on this planet... and yet he was not afraid to have a little fun. To wear Luigi hats, to hold bananas on camera, to have a dancing Muppet of himself made in his absence. He was a fun man who livened up Nintendo Directs or E3 announcements... and his legacy will live on. Not just in the company that he helmed to massive profits, but in the games he worked on. Let's take stock in some of them, in tribute of him. Here are the ways in which Satoru Iwata, a tinkerer from Japan who I never met, changed my life for the better.


My cheat sheet says Iwata was a "technical advisor" on this one. I suppose that means that, as a HAL Laboratory employee, he oversaw other programmers and helped them crunch out difficult programming tricks. Arcana, then, is HAL's take on a dungeon crawler. It's very linear and it has its problems, but it was my first real introduction to the genre. Having a guide book with all the maps certainly helped, too. It isn't perfect, but I love it. I was going to suggest it for the next SnS Plays, which is where I also got the idea of playing The Final Fantasy Legend. Maybe we can still do it.


Iwata produced this one, and a slew of other Kirby games. Kirby as a series just exudes charm... but this one? This is the finest moment that the NES had in its post-SNES days. It's beautiful, innovative, technically impressive... and then it also had to inspire the old Nintendo blog, huh? This, combined with two people getting engaged, are what really sent me tumbling into the Gonzo Age of the Nintendo blog, with the Goddess Valya lighting up the world with her grace. I paid tribute to the one source of inspiration in those engaged kids, and now that Iwata is gone, I am only now just paying tribute to another. Maybe, in some distant land in a 1993 long past, he came up with that cool spinning Butter Building trick. I'd like to believe that.


Well, now I pay my proper respects. This is getting into Super Nintendo Project territory, but this is no magical exorcism. This is gratitude to a ghost. The Donkey Kong Country games were a cornerstone of my childhood. My SNES was packed in with the first game, and I remember Christmas morning... being WOWED by the amazing graphics being played on my television screen. After staring at Bayou Billy and Simon's Quest for five years, it was like looking at the face of God. It took me a week to beat it. That's nothing compared to what happened when the sequel came out. Donkey Kong Country 2 is a contender for my absolute favorite game of all time. Something about its platforming, its clever use of stage hazards, and its collectables being plentiful but not overwhelming sold me on it. Totally and completely. The third one... well, it's my least favorite. It's the start of Rareware being more obsessed with collecting all the things, and I never liked Kiddy Kong. Still, I had fun, and I got everything in that game in a pre-Internet world. Those three games are a solid series with its ups and downs, and Iwata was right there at the end of them all. Executive Producer. Thank you.


The soul of Earthbound is the result of Shigesato Itoi. The chassis, the machine code body that the soul pilots? Iwata and friends. I have also lumped in Pokemon Gold/Silver here, because both of these are examples of how Iwata was a goddamned wizard when it came to programming. Legends say he worked out most of the kinks in Earthbound, and made the game actually work... to say nothing of Gold and Silver. Their big surprise claim to fame, the revisitation of the lands of Pokemon Red and Blue? That would not have been possible without Iwata coming in and creating elaborate compression algorithms. He made Johto compact, code-wise, so that Kanto could be slotted in. One of the secret joys of my childhood, and one of the hidden joys discovered via my days as a teenage ROM fiend. Iwata, behind the code of both. Wow.

I think that's all I need to say. Certainly, according to this page, he tinkered and worked on so many other things. Hell, he's even credited for working on the Famicom Mini port of Ghosts n Goblins. The man's even involved in one of my favorite hard game series. Dare I say that Iwata is a Nintendo god in his own modest way? He is the secret history, his name in the credits of many of Nintendo's greats. The threads of fate cross between Kirby, between Donkey Kong, between Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem and Star Fox and Mother and Yoshi. I could go on forever about all of the games he's worked on that have touched me personally... but it's here I leave Satoru Iwata to rest. In 55 years of life on planet Earth, you helped create computer video games that resonate with a billion video game players across the world. I can't thank you enough for it. I suppose I'll close by talking about Mother, since Shigesato Itoi posted a lovely farewell to you. Satoru Iwata did not work on Mother... but just a few weeks before he died, it finally arrived on our shores. Earthbound Beginnings exists now. I close with two things. Lyrics from Catherine Warwick... and this image of a rainbow over Nintendo HQ in Kyoto.

'Cause I still believe in miracles,
I swear I've seen a few.
And the time will surely come
When you can see my point of view.
I believe in second chances,
And that's why I believe in you!

Rest in peace, Mr. Iwata.