In Memory of Nintendo’s President, a Genius Programmer and ‘fun guy’

Yesterday was a solemn day as Nintendo’s President, Satoru Iwata died at just 55. The brief statement from the company appeared rather blunt:

Nintendo Co., Ltd. deeply regrets to announce that President Satoru Iwata passed away on July 11, 2015 due to a bile duct growth.

But as the news filtered down, some charming stories began surfacing. There are light hearted and genuine ones, such as an ex-employee’s memories posted on Reddit:

I saw him up close once, when he came to NOA for an event promoting Wii Sports internally. He jogged in the room to some energy-infused music (might’ve been the Rocky theme?), pumping his fists high in the air along with the Wii Remote and nunchuk that he held. He got up in front of everyone and boxed against Reggie (the NOA president–I think he had just recently been appointed to the position) in Wii Boxing while a jam-packed room of employees cheered him on. I don’t remember the exact outcome, but I think Iwata-san won best 2 out of 3. He was a genuine, fun, and nice guy, and Nintendo will be hard-pressed to find another leader like him.

Most interestingly is the revelation that he was a genius programmer, perhaps one of the best in the company, before he was promoted to the executive team, and even during his role as president. This exchange between him and GameFreak programmer Shigeki Morimoto tells of how he repeatedly amazed his colleagues.

Right. (laughs) You decided to release Pokémon Stadium for the Nintendo 64 and the first task was to analyze the Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green battle logic and send it over to Miyamoto-san and his team. You’d normally expect there to be a specification document, but there was nothing of the sort…
I’m so sorry! (laughs)
No, no, it’s fine! (laughs) Studying the program for the Pokémon battle system was part of my job.
I created that battle program and it really took a long time to put together. But when I heard that Iwata-san had been able to port it over in about a week and that it was already working… Well, I thought: “What kind of company president is this!?”(laughs)
I was saying things like: “Is that guy a programmer? Or is he the President?” (laughs)

In Iwata’s own words:

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.