Nintendo's former president Satoru Iwata is one of the most universally beloved figures in gaming history. He was not just a brilliant and visionary man, but someone who also had a special kind of charm, a way of helping people see the world another way. "Please understand," he would say, and any viewer felt they owed it to try.
Mr Iwata died on July 11 2015. He was 55 years old. It was a shock then, and still feels like some sort of cosmic injustice. Nevertheless Mr Iwata's achievements and legacy include the large-scale revitalisation of the company, a slew of world-beating devices and new ideas about how to approach software, and the foundation that subsequently saw Nintendo make yet another great comeback with the Switch.
IGN has published excerpts from a Japanese book called Iwata-san, in which some of some of his colleagues share their memories.
“To me, he was a friend more than anything,” says Shigeru Miyamoto. “It never felt like he was my boss or that I was working under him. He never got angry; we never fought about anything.”
“Since he passed away, Nintendo has been doing just fine. He left many words and structures that live on in the work of our younger employees today. The only problem is that, if there is some good-for-nothing idea I come up with over the weekend, I have no one to share it with the next Monday. That I can no longer hear him say ‘Oh, about that thing...’ is a bit of a problem for me. It makes me sad.”
The author also speaks to Shigesato Itoi, the creator of the Mother series of RPGs (on which Iwata worked), who became great friends with Mr Iwata.
“Iwata said that the vision behind his business was to make everyone happy: himself, his friends at work, and his customers,” Itoi recalls. “He used the English word for ‘happy’ instead of the Japanese word, which charmed me. It’s funny how you remember the most insignificant things, but whenever Iwata used the word ‘happy,’ he would show you the palms of both of his hands. That’s something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”
“All we would do is talk, to the extent that my wife once said something like, ‘All men ever do is chat!’ In Kyoto, I would come up with an excuse to meet him somewhere in town and have a chat, and then we would continue our conversation over lunch, and we would still be talking after coming back home. I remember how Iwata would throw a ball for my dog while talking, then my wife would take the dog for a stroll and when she came back we were still talking. Sometimes a conversation that started in the afternoon could last until after 9pm.”
“As the head of a big company, he probably should have been accompanied by someone, but Iwata always came over to my office just by himself,” says Itoi. “He would grab a cab, and as he rolled his suitcase, I can still hear him say ‘hello there’ with that high-pitched voice of his.”