Two of your Comcastrodors (if you’re not already using that Max you are now, deal with it), myself and Maximüs (he loves being called that because he finds it easy to picture himself as “that dreamy Russell Crowe just before he ends Joaquin Phoenix”), work in the software sector. I’m sure that the two of us have had similar experiences when it comes to bosses, but I’m not going to speak for Max because he is a grown man and can speak for himself. I will speak for myself. I’ve had a few different jobs. I spent some time at the Georgia Tech Research Institute working under a guy (not giving his name out) who really missed coding. He was in charge of a bunch of us younger coders and just spent a lot of times in meetings and not so much time coding. Based on what I have read, I feel that Satoru Iwata went through the same thing.
People are going to talk about how Iwata was the driving force behind Smash Brothers (so I guess he kind of indirectly ruined countless friendships because screw Jigglypuff – it’s cheap and I am still never talking to you again and I don’t even want to play this game and….) and Earthbound (I was a Sega kid so comment below if you want to blast me for not having an SNES and never playing that game) and the whole portable gaming angle Nintendo has taken in the past decade (for Pete’s sake – STOP MAKING KINGDOM HEART GAMES FOR PORTABLE NINTENDO PLATFORMS – I’M NOT GOING TO BUY ONE). I mean, those things themselves make him a certified badass. Nintendo was having some serious problems when they hired Iwata and he turned that ship around. Since Comcastro is basically an educational channel I thought I would talk about one particularly impressive feat Iwata accomplished. OK, maybe several, we will see how far I can get before my food gets here (someone ordered Beef and Broccoli from the Golden Buddha in Decatur, GA! Tell them Comcastro sent you and they will say “who?”).
Pokemon. Go ahead – run the cartoon theme song through your head. Ahhh, nostalgia. Remember Pokemon Red and Blue? So many hours surfing up and down the coast trying to get the perfect Missingno. Running through Victory Road. Twitch playing Pokemon. All good stuff – but what was Iwata’s big contribution to it? In this day and age we have forgotten the constraints of the cartridge. Mortal Kombat used so many different colored ninjas because it saved on memory. Old side scrollers using the same enemies over and over again through all of their levels? Memory! When Pokemon Gold came out, it took place in the Johto region. Pokemon, as all of you should know, was a Gameboy game. Johto was a completely different region than Kanto (from the first game) so it was planned to be the only region in Gold and Silver. Iwata would have none of that though. He sat down and found a way to include the entire Kanto region and fit it onto the cartridge using some extreme compression. I’m not going to go into the details of how he did it (because I admittedly do not know), but hats off to him for squeezing more into those cartridges than anyone thought possible.
Pokemon Stadium: Remember that N64 game where we got to battle Pokemon on a TV instead of on a Gameboy? Sure, it seems simple enough to take something running on a little Gameboy and make it run on the N64… but it wasn’t. For those other coders reading this, you know how sometimes we write some slick code but fail to document it? Well, that happened with Pokemon. Like all of it. So what did Iwata do? He sat down with the Pokemon source code, read through it and figured out how to port that code over for the N64. He did it with no documentation. Do you guys have any idea how obnoxious it can be to port shit when you HAVE complete documentation? If someone came up to me and said, “Port this from C to Java; there is no documentation,” I would laugh, assuming it to be a joke. If it were not a joke, I would probably cry and then post my resume to Monster. Iwata was a stronger man than I. He just sat down and did it… all in about 1 week. This guy was the definition of a badass. I feel like someone should start a social media campaign to have his picture next to badass in the dictionary.
Iwata understood software better than any other executive in the field. He realized that console arms race was not a field he could win… and he really didn’t give a damn about it. If you just keep shoving faster processors and bigger GPUs into consoles, are you really innovating? Moore’s Law predicts that the number of transistors in processors would double every 2 years or so. When you think about that, a faster processor in your next console just means you are using new parts. Iwata took a different approach. He wanted to make games that were fun to play. (Not that Halo isn’t fun, but if I get sniped one more time so help me….)
Here is how I have seen Nintendo’s two major console competitors over the years. Sony gives us these big immersive worlds through Final Fantasy games ever few years. We can get lost in 100s of hours of playtime. However, it can feel kind of like a chore. At some point, you ask yourself, “Do I really need to completely cover the sphere grid?” (The answer is yes, yes you do. No halfassing. You spent $50 on that game and you had better get 200 hours out of it!) I guess Sony gives us other worlds that we can just drop in on. Now, Microsoft. Oh those sons of bitches. Microsoft seems to think everyone is stressed out from their jobs and trying to keep their significant others from realizing that they can do way better and leave you for that cute barista with amazing cheekbones. (When s/he smiles the line gets about 28 inches longer.) So how does Microsoft like to help us cope with that stress? By giving us shit to blow up. Halo: Combat Evolved. They give you a bunch of guns and a suit that you can jump out of a spaceship and stick the landing WITHOUT the use of a parachute. Badass, right? Still can’t figure out how a single pistol whip kills you though. You would think they would take care of the weak spot on the back of the neck.
So, considering Microsoft and Sony were always in a pissing contest, and considering that the Game Cube was about one notch above the SEG Saturn (someone is going to flame the shit out of me for that one) on the shitty-console-scale, Nintendo decided to go in a totally different direction.
Iwata basically created a market segment for Nintendo with the Wii and the DS. Portable gaming wasn’t a new concept or anything, but Sony and Microsoft were not doing it. Also, this was a way to get physical activity integrated into video games – that was new. I seem to remember a lot of people thinking it was going to flop. But, before you knew it, Microsoft was all like, “Oh, we gots to get a piece o’ that pie.” They tried to break into that market using the Kinect. Anyone remember that Star Wars Kinect game? Here is a reminder:
I feel kind of bad for reminding everyone about that. Sony tried the PSP and Vita. Why did the DS do so much better? Nintendo make games that were only available for the DS. Playstation had console version of several Vita games. Iwata used exclusive software to sell Nintendo hardware. Very sneaky.
Really, what Iwata did was expand his own market segment and make his competitors irrelevant. Brilliant. I’d like to think that Nintendo will continue to try and do this in the future, but we just won’t know until they official hand someone the Golden-Mario-Hat (I assume that is what the president of the company gets).
Satoru Iwata was not just some businessman tapped to save a sinking Nintendo. He was a guy who understood every aspect of what gamers wanted. He was a designer, developer and visionary. He designed, wrote and produced games for gamers and he understood what gamers wanted because, in his heart of hearts, he was a gamer. I guess, considering everything he did, I can forgive him for making Jigglypuff so damn op.
One more thing, and this is mostly for me. There are two things I am not supposed to talk about here: sad stuff and fight club. But, we just talked about the untimely passing of Satoru Iwata, and I have about 10 minutes before I have to leave for fight club, so I figured why not. Max gave me a column (that was his second mistake), so I’m gonna say something real quick. This past weekend my friend Ashleigh lost her battle with Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Hearing that news hurt like a sonofabitch. It was like getting punched in the gut. If you look at my Twitter feed, my cover picture has a pink Bender head on it. I made that pink Bender suit when I first heard that she was sick. She was one of the nicest people I have ever met and the world seems a little dimmer today. Death is part of life. But it really sucks whenever anyone goes too early, be it the President of a video game giant or some awesome girl that you met the first day of college orientation so many years ago who would go on to touch so many people.