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Satoru Iwata's Legacy: Let's dig through the sources!


Sep 23, 2006
Shared a cab with Iwata in 2001 or so before he was CEO. I asked him what he did, and he said 何でも屋 "a bit of everything." He certainly did.
Scot Ritchey, Treehouse

Satoru Iwata's legacy most certainly is a bit of everything. In this thread we try to capture this bit of everything at the various points in his career, with plenty sources for further readings and/or watchings. Mostly thanks to his Iwata Asks, but also other appearances and sources, we can find his various contributions. Another good source may be his lengthy interview on 4gamer.net that still hasn't been translated completely.

For easier digesting the list is sorted chronologically (usually by game release date).

~ 1959 ~

Born December 6 in Sapporo, Hokkaido

~ 1976 ~

Buys a Hewlett Packard HP-65, a programmable calculator.
Hobonichi - Learn from the president! (Japanese)

~ 1978 ~

Enters Tokyo Institute of Technology Faculty of Engineering

Buys a Commodore PET from his university admission presents.
Hobonichi - Learn from the president! (Japanese)
Commodore PET and VIC 20 both use the same 6502 CPU that the later Famicom/NES would use.

~ 1980 ~

Car Race ][ (Commodore PET): game programmed for the PET Users' Club
Car Race ][ - Mobygames

From the book Commodore: A Company on the Edge, interview with Yash Terakura who was the head engineer of Commodore Japan at the time.
Tramiel was using intense competition to bring out the best in his people. The biggest rivalry occurred between the systems group at MOS Technology and Moorpark in Silicon Valley. Now, he brought Commodore Japan into the competition.
Notes: Jack Tramiel was founder and head of Commodore, Moorpark was their own R&D, MOS Technology in Pennsylvania, producer of the 6502 CPUs, was bought in 1976.
Terakura was largely unaware of the political battles between the east coast and the west coast when Tramiel asked him to design a color PET computer. "I don't recall him ever getting caught up with anybody's politics" says Peddle. Tramiel asked Terakura to bring his prototype to the upcoming Hanover Fair in April 1980.

To add color to the PET, Terakura replaced the 6845 video chip with a standard color video chip similar to the Texas Instruments TMS9918 chip. This was not a plug-in replacement, forcing Terakura to rewire the video section of the board. "It was a mockup with experimental stuff," says Terakura

The engineer recived help from a group of young Japanese PET 2001 owners, who frequently stopped by the Commodore Japan office. "All those kids from high school and collage, they all owned a PET", he says. "It was pretty expensive, like a $3000 machine, but everybody had one." At home, the kids used their primitive PET 2001 computers with only eight kilobytes of memory and a rubber calculator-style keyboard. When Commodore released the more expensive PET computers with more memory and real keyboards, the kids yearned to use the better machines. "They had smaller machines and wanted to have bigger and better machines, so they came over to my office to use the better machines we had."

One of the young engineers was 21-year old Satoru Iwata, the future CEO of Nintendo. "Iwata was one of these kind of groupies when I was in Commodore who used to come to my office all the time" says Terakura. "He tried to get all the information from me about the new type of machines."
Although curiosity brought the young programmers to Commodore Japan, they eventually became unpaid interns for the company. "His job was to come to my office and kind of clean everyting up, making backup files of the different software," laughs Terakura. "Those days we had a bunch of floppies, so he had to check everything and make sure everything was updated. He was pretty much my own secretary."

Terakura was something of a mentor to the young Iwata. "He was going to school at the time in college. So on the way home he always stopped by our office, almost every day. There were a few of them like that. That was before the Nintendo days and everybody wanted to work on a PET."

When Tramiel gave Terakura the assignment to design a new color computer, Iwata and the other groupies were understandably excited. "Being a software engineer, he wanted to get all the inside information I guess" he says.

Iwata's intense interest in the machine was apparent, and soon he was helping code the ROM software in the prototype. "He was a very good software engineer and he was helping me develop some of the test programs," says Terakura. "Actually he helped me design the software side of the Commodore ColorPET, the one I built."

Hangs out at Seibu Ikebukuro store in Akihabara to program among like minded people. A clerk wants to found HAL with him. Works part-time at HAL Laboratory as a sophomore, is the first programmer there.
Hobonichi - Learn from the president! (Japanese)

Iwata: We were exactly the same in that sense. Ubisoft was named after Ubiquity because you wanted to be everywhere in the world and HAL was named as such because each letter put us one step ahead of IBM! (Laughs)
What Is And What Isn't Possible

~ 1981 ~

Star Battle (Commodore VIC 20): programmer
Star Battle is based on Galaxian, which Commodore did have the license to, but only for Japan. It was taken off the market because of this, so it's a little tough to find.

Immediately after Commodore Japan's copyright is a programmer credit for Satoru Iwata, hidden between 0x29A and 0x2F6:

Star Battle – The Cutting Room Floor

~ 1982 ~

Graduated at Tokyo Institute of Technology Faculty of Engineering
Joining HAL Laboratory as 5th full time member (Source: GameCenter CX video below)

~ 1983 ~

Visits Nintendo asking to be able to program for the Famicom, gets to work on software right away, first works being Pinball and Golf.
Hobonichi - Learn from the president! (Japanese)

~ 1984 ~

Member of Board of Directors at HAL (aged 24)

Golf (NES): programmer
Shimamura: Ok. What I really want to tell game fans about are the golf courses in the game. Veteran gamers are probably familiar with the very first Golf game for the NES.

Iwata: I know it! I worked as the programmer on that game! (laughs)

Shimamura: That's right! (laughs) We've actually taken nine of the best holes from the original 18 on NES Golf for Wii Sports Golf, and brought them back to life in 3D. So people now in their 30s, some of whom may not have played video games for years, will be able to enjoy taking a trip down memory lane when they see what those old-school courses look like in 3D.
Games That Even the People Watching Can Enjoy

~ 1985 ~

Balloon Fight (NES): programmer, smoother NES port with addition of new Balloon Trip mode
GameCenter CX guest appearance
GameCenter CX producer Tsuyoshi Kan about the circumstances of the recording

Super Mario Bros. (NES): inspired smooth physics, momentum
Iwata: I'm going to ask you all about what happened after you were thrown into the Super Mario series in a moment. But casting my mind back, I believe I met you just prior to that.

Nakago: That's right. What sticks in my mind in particular is the guidance you gave me at the time of Balloon Fight.

Iwata: Ah yes. At that time, there was an arcade circuit board called the Nintendo Vs. System that used the same chipset as the Famicom.

Nakago: The Vs. System! That really takes me back! (laughs)

Iwata: There were a lot of games that were developed both for the arcade and the Famicom. HAL Laboratory worked on the home console version of Balloon Fight while SRD…

Nakago: We worked on the arcade version. Then after we'd completed it, we wondered why the player's movements were smoother on the home version developed by HAL and asked Iwata-san for some advice.

Iwata: That's when I told Nakago-san everything I knew. One thing I recommended was that instead of calculating the character's position using integers, they should also calculate it using decimal points, thereby doubling the precision. In this way, calculating gravity, buoyancy, acceleration and deceleration all become more precise and the movements look smoother. That's the kind of thing I explained at the time.

Nakago: When Iwata-san explained all this to me, the scales fell from my eyes! (laughs) But I remember Miyamoto-san complaining: "Why do you have to go to another company to find this stuff out?" (laughs)

Iwata: I was actually really pleased to be asked.

Nakago: Is that right? (laughs)

Iwata: Well, I hoped it would prove useful, and I believe that it did when you came to work on Super Mario Bros.

Nakago: Yes, it proved incredibly useful. The reason why Mario moves so smoothly in the underwater stages is thanks to the guidance I was given by you.

Iwata: At that point, I had been involved in the development of a whole variety of software while working at HAL Laboratory, but I'd always thought: "It's only the main Mario series that I've had nothing to do with." But it turns out that because of what I told Nakago-san all those years ago, I was actually indirectly involved in a Mario title. When I found that out, I was rather pleased! (laughs)
It All Began In 1984

Super Mario Bros. (NES): water levels physics verbatim from Balloon Fight
Iwata: …And swim in the sea.

Miyamoto: In terms of the game's structure, the swimming part is Balloon Fight.

Iwata: You're right. That's exactly what it is.
Letting Everyone Know It Was A Good Mushroom

~ 1988 ~

Famicom Grand Prix II: 3D Hot Rally:
Miyamoto: I suppose so. To go way back, I even made a 3D Famicom game on disk that you played wearing goggles. We made that with you, Iwata-san.

Iwata: Right, right! (laughs) The first work Miyamoto-san and I did together was a racing game for the Family Computer Disk System that you played wearing goggles.

Itoi: Oh, really?!

Iwata: A game called Famicom Grand Prix II: 3D Hot Rally.

Miyamoto: To explain how it happened, there was a racing game that the company Iwata-san was at, called HAL Laboratory, Inc., had made. HAL Laboratory had always been strong in technology, so they made a racing game with courses featuring ups and downs like you’d never seen before. But…it just wasn’t fun.

Iwata: Yeah.

Everyone: (laughs)

Miyamoto: They thought it was really awesome, but probably wouldn’t sell the way it was, so I got involved.

Iwata: In other words, you fixed it. (laughs)

Miyamoto: It was a normal racing game, but I remade the overall structure of the rallies and made the main character Mario. In other words, it became a game in which Mario races a buggy around courses with a lot of intense ups and downs.

Itoi: I see.

Miyamoto: Then I thought, “Let’s make that pop out.” I made an image for the right eye and an image for the left eye, and…

Iwata: You made special goggles with a liquid crystal shutter.

Miyamoto: That was the first work we did together.

Iwata: We had been acquainted before, but Famicom Grand Prix II: 3D Hot Rally was the first game we worked together on closely.
Satoru Iwata Talks About Past Projects

~ 1989 ~

Dragon Warrior 1 (NES, Western localization): programming director (uncredited)
Yuji Horii tweet (Japanese)
Iwata Asks: Dragon Quest IX (Japanese)

~ 1991 ~

Representative director at HAL, starts management restructuring, initiates creation of "Tinkle☆Popo" resulting in Kirby's Dream Land
Hobonichi - Learn from the president! (Japanese)
Tinkle☆Popo - Japanese Secrets!

~ 1993 ~

President at HAL (aged 33)
Mission to repay a debt of 1.5 billion yen (today over US$ 24 million) within six years.
Hobonichi - Learn from the president! (Japanese)

Kirby's Adventure: producer
Iwata: Earlier, when we made Kirby's Adventure, we made the Copy Abilities system for the first time, but when I consulted Suga-san, who was the main programmer and leader, he said something I will remember my whole life. He said, "Are we…really going to do this?"

Kawase: If the programmers had said it was impossible, I would have given up, but Nakano-san thought a moment and said all cool-like, "It can be done!" Just like you once said, Iwata-san! (laughs)

Iwata: The legend of the programmers who never say no continues. (laughs)

(Editor's note: Iwata-san was the one of the actual forerunners who started this legend. In an interview column about him by copywriter Shigesato Itoi, Iwata-san mentioned that if a programmer says no, it would make it harder for ideas to come up. The full column is available online in Japanese, at Itoi-san's website "Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun" (Almost Daily Itoi Newspaper)
Programmers Never Say No

Iwata: When I first started making Kirby, there was a kindergarten right next door. I'll never forget how moved I was the first time I saw doodles there of Kirby. That may have been the first time I realized that the world would recognize what we had made.
For Love of Kirby

~ 1994 ~

Mother 2/Earthbound: program director, programmer, co-producer
–: Well, in 1989, the RPG “Mother” for the Famicom, created by Shigesato Itoi, went on sale. The sequel, Mother 2 Gigas Strikes Back, was being developed for the Super Famicom but, to put it simply, there were some setbacks. Is that okay?

Itoi: Sure.

–: At the time, the man who showed up while Mother 2 was having difficulties during development and needed to fix a number of things was Satoru Iwata-san. By the way, at that time you were both the President of HAL Laboratories and a programmer, right?

Iwata: Correct.

Itoi: Wasn’t there a famous line Iwata-san delivered at the time?

–: I was about to say that! Well, as Iwata-san was checking how far you had gotten at the time, he turned towards Shigesato Itoi and I’ve been told said: “If you are going to…”

Itoi: “If you are going to continue to make this game like this, it is going to take two years.”

–: If you want to speak, please tell the whole story.

Iwata: Um, according to my memory, at the time the project wasn’t even on its way to being finished yet. So the first thing I said to Itoi-san was “I don’t think you’re going to be able to finish if you go on like this.”

–: Wow.

Iwata: I continued and told him “I can help you if you would like but there are two ways to proceed.” That is when I said what Itoi-san just credited to me. I then went on to say “If we used what you have now and fix it, it will take 2 years. If we can start fresh, it’ll take half a year.”

Itoi: Pretty cool, right?

–: Itoi-san, what did you do after hearing that?

Itoi: Well, of course I said “please!” but if I tell you the truth, at the time I didn’t really understand.

Iwata: At that point, I told him “I’ll try to get it working” and took what they had made up to that point with me. Exactly a month after that we got the map scrolling to work and showed it to Itoi-san’s team. They were all really shocked.

Itoi: Yeah, we were very surprised. We were all like “Whoa! It’s working!”

–: Wow, development had had that many issues.

Iwata: Everyone was really surprised and the whole environment was oddly tense but to me I had the opposite reaction; it was odd. We’d only completed a simple task.

Itoi: We hadn’t even been able to do something “simple” for a while. Now that I think about it, we were in a bad place. From that point forward we all relied on Iwata-san. To tell the truth, it took half a year to get everything working.

–: In total, about how long was Mother 2’s development time?

Itoi: How long…? How long was it again?

Iwata: Ummm, from the beginning of development it was pretty much 5 years.

–: That’s including the the time you weren’t there, Iwata-san?

Iwata: Yes, 5 years in total. There were 4 years without me and then I only helped for the final year.

–: Oh? I only just realized now but it only took a year from when you joined the project, Iwata-san?

Itoi: That’s right. It was quick.

Iwata: That’s because many of the individual elements were already completed. The graphics. scenarios, and sound, to name a few, were already completed. They pieces were all there.

–: But it didn’t work, right?

Iwata: No, it didn’t work. (laughs)

–: It’s incredible to think that it took only a year to get such a well-known core RPG like that working and on sale.

Itoi: Yeah.

Iwata: In about half a year we were able to connect all the pieces together and make the game playable. From there it had to be refined further. It took another half year to fix all the details.

Itoi: Still, it was quick. It’s remarkable.

Iwata: Even still, it was because there were the four years of work already done that made Mother 2 what it is. Without that, we wouldn’t have been able to complete it so easily in a year. It’s not as if those 4 years were a total waste. All the work and lessons learned from failed attempts everyone put in over 4 years made it into the game.
The Beginnings of Mother 2
MOTHER 2 Times: Interview with programmers
The five layers of copy protection hell

~ 1995 ~

Creatures Inc. (successor to Itoi's Ape Inc.): founding member
Iwata: I was involved in setting up Creatures Inc.
Just Making The Last Train

~ 1998 ~

Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun (Itoi's current company): founding member, IT manager
Itoi: Some of our new staffs may not know, but Mr.Iwata was one of the start-up members of Hobonichi.

Iwata: I was the IT manager of Hobonichi. (laugh) Is it still valid?

Itoi: Of course, yes. I don't remember firing you. (laugh)

All: (laugh)

Iwata: For those who don't know, Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun started on June 6th, 1998. About one month before that, I met Mr.Itoi. He took me to Nezumiana (where the office of Tokyo Itoi Shigesato Office was located at the time), and he said "I want to start up a web site here". I was knocked off of my feet. This was only one month before the start up!

All: (laugh)
Reminiscence of the IT Manager

Pokemon Red & Green (GB, Western localization): localization coordination
Ishihara: Red and Green had turned into such a phenomenon in Japan that it was requested that we release them in America. But working on the overseas versions was going to set back the development of Gold and Silver even further.

Iwata: Although I wasn't working for Nintendo at that stage, I ended up acting as a go-between for Nintendo and you for some reason. (laughs)

Ishihara: That's right.

Iwata: At that time I wasn’t a Nintendo employee but was President of HAL Laboratory. At the same time, I was a board member at Creatures Inc. and I ended up being involved in analysing the best way to localise the overseas versions of Red and Green. For that reason, I got hold of the source code for Red and Green and I would study that and suggest ways to localise it to the relevant department at Nintendo.
Just Being President Was A Waste!

Pocket Monsters' Stadium (N64, Japan only): producer
Iwata: 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...

Morimoto: I'm so sorry! (laughs)

Iwata: No, no, it's fine! (laughs) Studying the program for the Pokémon battle system was part of my job.

Morimoto: 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)

All: (laughter)

Morimoto: I was saying things like: "Is that guy a programmer? Or is he the President?"(laughs)

Iwata: To be blunt, at the time I was more of a programmer than I was a company president. (laughs)

Morimoto: (laughs) I was really taken aback that you could get to grips with such a complicated program in such a short space of time.

Ishihara: I remember thinking that there just weren't that many people out there who would be able to read the entire Game Boy source code, which was by no means written in a highly-refined programming language, and grasp how everything connected with everything else. So Iwata-san, you analyzed the whole thing and reworked the code, decided on the way to localize Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green, got the battle system running on N64... I was surprised that you managed all of that...

Iwata: Well at that time, I felt that for the whole team at Nintendo, the biggest priority was not to do anything that would adversely influence the development of Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver. So I very naturally slotted in on the development side for Pokémon.
Just Being President Was A Waste!


Sep 23, 2006
~ 1999 ~

Retires as president upon full repayment of debts, becomes adviser for HAL

Super Smash Bros. (N64):
Iwata: You and I were responsible for developing this prototype.

Sakurai: Right. We called it "Kakuto-Geemu Ryuoh" (Dragon King: The Fighting Game)

Iwata: At that point in time, we weren’t utilizing any Nintendo characters, and while you handled the planning, specs, design, modeling and movement, I worked on programming all by myself. In some respects, it was the ultimate handcrafted project.

Sakurai: The team setup was like one that would be making a game for the NES! (laughs) We had one additional person that helped us with sound though.

Iwata: It was at a time that we were trying to find ways of making a game that we really wanted to do and bring to fruition, while we were working on other titles. You came to me with an interesting idea and, as I thought you should immediately start work on the project and try and bring it to life, I tried to offer some encouragement by agreeing to do the programming and told you to write up a project plan.
Dragon King: The Fighting Game

Pokemon Gold & Silver (GBC): special thanks
Morimoto: What's more, there were the tools for compressing the Pokémon graphic code...

Iwata: Ah yes, the compression tools.

Morimoto: You were kind enough to create those tools.

Iwata: Yes. (laughs) Well, I had heard from Ishihara-san that you'd been rather concerned about it.

Morimoto: At that point, we got a little carried away and were making all sorts of demands, saying: "This part isn't quite right - do you think you could fix it?" We had some nerve to be making those requests to a company president... (laughs)

Iwata: Well, I was willing to do whatever I could! (laughs)

Ishihara: It would have been a waste to just have you as President! (laughs)

All: (laughs)

Iwata: Being able to participate in that small way in Pokémon, I came to feel a real affinity for the software. In any case, while it was tough going, Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver were successfully released.
Just Being President Was A Waste!

~ 2000 ~

Moves to Nintendo as General Manager of Corporate Planning (aged 40)

The Pokemon Company: founding coordination
Iwata: When Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver proved so popular, the number of proposals for related products coming your way increased.

Ishihara: Yes, and it wasn't just in Japan. Product proposals flooded in from overseas too. Things gradually got out of hand until I thought that approving this volume of products simply wasn't a job that a single person could cope with.

Iwata: I think it was probably around that time, but I can remember that you wrote down a list of what was needed for Pokémon to continue.

Ishihara: Is that right?

Iwata: You wrote down things such as the necessity of the animated series continuing, releasing a movie every year, as well as the way in which the software titles should develop.

Ishihara: Ah, yes. You're right. I said that if we had a plan like this, we'd be able to continue.

Iwata: It was at that point that you concluded that a new organization would be necessary and you established The Pokémon Company.

Ishihara: That's right. At that time, Game Freak really had their hands full and wouldn't have had the capacity to work on the next title. The necessity to properly gather together all of the strands of brand management and overseeing licensing led to the establishment of The Pokémon Company.

Iwata: I joined Nintendo in June 2000 and one of the first jobs I was involved in was the establishment of The Pokémon Company.

Ishihara: So it was! (laughs) When the idea of setting up The Pokémon Company was originally discussed, I actually thought: "It can't be done." This was because the number of Pokémon licensees and rights holders had increased so dramatically, which I thought would make setting up a new company to consolidate all of this impossible. But Iwata-san, you were good enough to play a coordinating role not just for the domestic market, but globally. You really made an incredibly valuable contribution... (laughs)

Iwata: Well, as I said at the start of the interview: Ishihara-san, you're an ally I've fought alongside for many years. (laughs)
Just Being President Was A Waste!

~ 2001 ~

E3 2001 Nintendo press conference
Iwata: Nintendo has strong views on how we should run our company. We consider ourselves above all a game based entertainment company. We believe other people who make videogame systems see themselves first as technology companies. This is an important distinction.

Super Smash Bros. Melee (GC): debug director (uncredited)
Kawakami: Ah, so, what was you're last job as an engineer, then?

Iwata: Aaah, I wonder if it's alright to admit this? Well, I guess the proverbial statute of limitations is up, so I'll tell you, but my actual last work on programming happened when I was working as the General Manager of Corporate Planning at Nintendo. Something happened and the Gamecube version of Super Smash Brothers didn't look like it was going to make its release date so I sort of did a code review for it (Wry Laugh).

All: (Laugh Loudly)

Kawakami: No matter how you look at it, that's not the job of the General Manager of Corporate Planning, is it? (Laughs)

Iwata: Yes, it isn't really, is it (wry laugh). At the time, I went to HAL Labs in Yamanashi and was the acting head of debugging. So, I did the code review, fixed some bugs, read the code and fixed more bugs, read the long bug report from Nintendo, figured out where the problem was and got people to fix those...all in all I spent about three weeks like that. And, because of that, the game made it out on time.

Kawakami: So you even did the debugging yourself!

Iwata: And that was the last time that I worked as an engineer 'in the field'. I was right there, sitting by programmers, in the trenches, reading code together, finding the bugs, and fixing them together.
Iwata Laughs: 4gamer.net interview with Iwata (JP only! Translations welcome!)

~ 2002 ~

President at Nintendo (aged 42)
Yamauchi: The reason for Iwata-san's selection comes down to his knowledge and understanding of Nintendo's hardware and software.

Within our industry there are those who believe that they will succeed simply because of their successes in other ventures or their wealth, but that doesn't guarantee success. Looking at their experiences since entering the gaming world, it's apparent that our competitors have yielded far more failures than successes.

Over the long-term I don't know whether Iwata-san will maintain Nintendo's position or lead the company to even greater heights of success. At the very least, I believe him to be the best person for the job.
Yamauchi speaks on Iwata appointment

~ 2004 ~

Nintendo DS: requesting hardware supported sleep mode
Iwata: By the way, speaking of usability, the Nintendo DS was the first portable game system to have a sleep function, but that feature was the result out of the frustration of not being able to implement it with the GameBoy Advance SP.

4Gamer: Frustration?

Iwata: Indeed. The GBA SP was also a clam-shell design, so I pretty adamantly demanded of the hardware team that it went into sleep mode when it was closed. 'This feature is absolutely essential!' I said. However, at that time, they told me that as it would take re-working the chip so it could be turned on and off it would take a year to do it, so I had to reluctantly withdraw my request. Nevertheless, I did tell them that they had to make sure the next system they designed would be able to go into sleep mode.
Iwata Laughs: 4gamer.net interview with Iwata (JP only! Translations welcome!)

~ 2005 ~

E3 2005 Wii Reveal
GDC 2005 Keynote "Hearth of a Gamer"

~ 2006 ~

GDC 2006 Keynote "Disruptive Development"

Start of the Iwata Asks series of interviews with the Wii hardware staff
Nagata: Once, during an interview with Shigesato Itoi for the "Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun," you said that you never wanted to be a bystander.

Iwata: That's right.

Nagata: In that sense, the interesting thing - which is perhaps unprecedented - about these interviews is the fact that someone who has been involved in the project is interviewing other people who were also involved.

Iwata: That's a good point. One of the reasons I am doing it this way is because it's possible to discuss the project more deeply than would be possible if we called in an outside interviewer. Even though I know a lot about the development and was in fact involved in all of the major decisions, there are still a huge number of interesting stories I am hearing here for the first time from people that were more deeply involved in specific matters than myself. For example, stories about what was causing difficulties, what was the key to a certain problem, or what ideas led to a certain feature are extremely interesting to me.
Turning the Tables: Asking Iwata

~ 2007 ~

On his programmer's logic and approach to communication
Iwata: Programming is pure logic. It won't work if there's an inconsistency in the logic. The errors aren't produced inside the system. They are produced from the outside. If the system doesn't work, it's definitely your fault.

The funny thing is that every programmer thinks his logic will work when they finish coding a program. It never does, but at that moment, everyone believes there's no error in the logic they have written, and confidently hits the "Enter" key.

The world of programming is all logic. If it doesn't work, you're the one to blame. I also apply this to communication among people. If my message isn't conveyed as intended, I search for the reason on my side, and not blame the other.

If it doesn't work, you're the reason for it. If there's miscommunication between someone, I don't blame them for not understanding. There are always factors on my side. Having been a programmer enables me to think this way.
The Programmer's Pattern of Logic

~ 2008 ~

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii): on the trust in independent Sakurai and, unlike usual Nintendo practice, recruiting outside staff
Iwata: My decision to pursue the project in this way rested on one point and one point alone, and it is deeply tied to the fact that I have the utmost faith in a man named Masahiro Sakurai. To state it simply, you are capable of taking a project with nothing and visualizing a completed game almost perfectly in your head. As I mentioned earlier, you and I have a long history working together at HAL Laboratory. When involved on the same project, you were able to point out the smallest details even when the product had yet to take shape. The details were so small and so specific that, as a programmer, I thought there was no way you could know what you knew without actually trying it first. As the game progressed and took shape, however, it was clear that we needed to address the details in just the way you had described. So I would ask “did you really know this right from the start?” I mean, this was over ten years ago, but I remember you said you did and I thought to myself “is this guy for real?” As it happened over and over again, however, I had little choice but to believe you. I don’t know how, but you’re able to visualise a game right down to its very details, as if the finished game is working inside your mind. If not, how else could you have been right so many times? Even now, Masahiro Sakurai, of all the people that I know, you especially can readily form an image of how a game will look when finished. That’s why I knew that you would be capable of putting together the ideas of the talented staff around you. If you don’t have a person like that pulling together different ideas, you need a lot of trust within the team or the project will not go anywhere. When a project has just begun, it’s natural for directions to come from a vague concept of the product. It’s natural for there to be revisions and twists and turns, and as this continues, the project becomes something different than it was at the start. This is not necessarily a bad thing and happens all the time when designing games. However, this only works because of the trust built up from the past of a long working relationship. That’s why it was so unusual to recruit outside staff solely for the purpose of making such a large-scale game. Yet it was exactly this type of thinking on which I was betting our success.

Sakurai: Wow...uh, thanks for the words of praise. (laughs)
Betting on Success

~ 2011 ~

GDC 2011 Keynote "Industry Concerns"

~ 2012 ~

Nintendo Land (Wii U):
Iwata's rumored last programming stint (any primary source or first hand accounts of this?)

~ 2015 ~

Dies on July 11 because of bile duct cancer (aged 55)

More contributions with sources are very welcome! (laughs)

Related threads:
Iwata Laughs: 4gamer.net interview with Iwata (JP only! Translations welcome!)
Iwata Asks is really rad, but... well, nothing. It's just rad. Let's read 'em again.
Satoru Iwata Has Passed Away
Genyo Takeda's Eulogy to Iwata

Wikipedia's List of Iwata Asks interviews


Sep 23, 2006
Hope this will be of use for some people. There were plenty retrospectives, but there's still a lot to find. So if I missed something let me know. Especially for all the games (HAL and Nintendo) not mentioned so far it would be great having anecdotes of his involvements. =)


Oct 24, 2011
Balloon Fight (NES): programmer, smoother NES port with addition of new Balloon Trip mode
GameCenter CX guest appearance
Extra info for this episode from the producer:
Game Center CX's producer says goodbye to Satoru Iwata.
With the shock of Nintendo president Satoru Iwata’s sudden death earlier this month, it’s understandable that some things might get lost in the shuffle. The producer of the show Game Center CX, Kan Tsuyoshi, wrote an editorial column a week later, reminiscing about the time that Iwata visited Game Center CX himself. Here is a translation. I hope you find it satisfactory.
— — —
Last Friday, I attended the funeral of Nintendo’s corporate president, Satoru Iwata. It was the same day as the Yamahoko float procession of the Gion Matsuri,1 and a typhoon was passing through at the time as well. I must admit, despite the fact that I was attending a funeral, I did secretly have my 3DS with me.
President Iwata’s various contributions and his charisma have been well covered in various media by this point, so I feel that there’s no real need to write about them here. Instead, I’d like to share a little story about the time that he visited our TV show.
Three years ago, an interview between President Iwata and Arino was arranged for our show, for viewing on the Nintendo eShop.2 Naturally, being us, we assumed that it would obviously be shot at Nintendo’s corporate headquarters in Kyoto, so we were shocked to find out that he was going to be coming here.
“…What? We don’t even have our own building!”
Our organization, Gascoin Company, was located in a pretty small office at the time (I say as though we’re in a large office now…), and the office was full of the specialized equipment you’d expect to find scattered around a production company — just a hair’s breadth away from a hoarder’s house. The thought that the head of a world-class company would be coming to visit a place that looked like this was enough to cause an uproar throughout our entire staff.
“We’re really going to do this here?”
We checked to make sure time after time, but every time we asked, we were told that President Iwata thought that it would be fine for everything to just be the way it usually is for when he visited. And, on top of that, he wanted us to keep his visit a secret from Arino. He always seemed to be thinking about how he could surprise people and make them happy. In the end, our plan was this: we would rent the entire vacant office downstairs for one day, for him to use as his waiting room.
When the day of the interview came, we put a table and a chair in this big empty office, and the head of Nintendo just waited there, with a great big smile on his face. I still feel bad about that, but it was also a really happy, triumphant moment. My impression of him was one of generosity and refinement, and I still remember his slightly high voice, and the incredibly smart and funny things he said.
At the beginning of his conversation with Arino…
Iwata: “As president and chief…3 [shacho-kacho]”
Arino: “Even better than Assistant Manager and Chief [Jicho-kacho]!4” [laughs]
The two enjoyed playing Balloon Fight. President Iwata enjoyed seeing Arino’s unsuccessful tries. When he told us about how, if he had the chance, he’d like to make a game by himself one more time, you could really hear the game creator in him talking. I still remember Arino talking after we finished about how, even after almost ten years of making a show about video games, he could still have a great time like this. It was such an incredible encouragement to us, that President Iwata would come visit us at our little company, where we make our little TV show.
Mr. Iwata,5 I’m so sorry about how we made you wait in that office when you visited. At the same time, though, our whole staff was so happy. It was shortly after your visit that our company moved offices, because we wanted to make sure that the next time you visited, we could have a proper waiting room ready for you. We really wanted you to drop by again to play games with us, and it’s an incredible shame that it’ll never be able to happen. These games that we get the chance to play will be your legacy. Thank you.
Kan Tsuyoshi, producer of Game Center CX.

1.A major festival held in Kyoto every July. ↩
2.A number of Game Center CX shorts were produced for the Nintendo eShop, viewable in Japan only on the 3DS and Wii U. ↩
3.Arino is often referred to as kacho, or “department chief,” due to the conceit used early on on Game Center CX that he was an employee of a company called Game Center CX, being promoted or demoted based on his results playing games. This has largely been dropped in more recent years. ↩
4.A Japanese comedy duo. ↩
5.At this point in the essay, he switches from referring to him as “President Iwata” to a much more friendly “Mr. Iwata,” or “Iwata-san,” as Iwata famously preferred to be referred to within Nintendo after being promoted to company president; the social nuance is comparable to Steve Jobs going by his first name within Apple. ↩
6.Literally, to put one’s hands together in prayer. In this case, because this is essentially a eulogy. ↩


May 13, 2014
Awesome work putting all of this together. You should also add Iwata's last programming stint being Nintendo Land:

There's a wonderful story about him patrolling the shop floor at Nintendo's Kyoto headquarters prior to the Wii U's release, being shown the line-up for the console's impending launch in his role as the company's president. He paused on Balloon Trip Breeze, a mini-game within Nintendo Land which paid tribute to Balloon Fight, the 1984 game on which Iwata acted as programmer. Noticing something wasn't quite right with the feel of the characters as they flapped their way across the screen, he astonished everyone present as he set about fixing it - the head of the company rolling his sleeves up and getting stuck into the code.


Jan 31, 2008
Great thread, thanks for the research!

It's so great to hear about how genuinely passionate he was about games/programming. Also how intelligent and eloquent he was, he understood communication on a level most people never will.

Truly a sad, sad loss. Play a game you love in his honor!


Jun 22, 2013
Canada, Québec
All those talk shows me they were good people creating. We see and read this like it was god send but they trully are normal persons, realising their Dreams, laughing about some failure, smilling at victories.


Sep 23, 2006
Question for those who are good at digging for primary sources:

What is the source for "[Iwata] has the instincts you need to survive in this business." credited to Yamauchi? There are a lot of texts using it, but nobody ever bothers to mention where it was first mentioned.

Awesome work putting all of this together. You should also add Iwata's last programming stint being Nintendo Land:
Thanks. Is there any first hand account or primary source for this, or anything from before his death?


Wants the largest console games publisher to avoid Nintendo's platforms.
May 4, 2007
Great job, Datschge. Thanks!


Looking for meaning in GAF
Nov 10, 2004
Wow, he really was amazing. Just story after story of him just going in there and getting stuff done.


May 24, 2012
This thread is certainly not getting enough love... I fear it's a bit of fatigue... While everyone loves Iwata... I think a lot of people are tiring of being sad... They want to be thinking positively on the industry Iwata helped shape versus the still fresh sadness. A thread like this will likely get much more attention in a year from now and I really hope you repost it then as it'll likely get the attention it deserves.


Sep 23, 2006
I remember just this year, he mentioned how he was in charge of the System Development Division, being the only board member that was a programmer. Maybe he did some programming while in that role.
However in the 4gamers.net interview (which still needs a full translation!) from half a year ago he says he kept on writing code until he was 40. That coincidences with him joining Nintendo in 2000.

This thread is certainly not getting enough love... I fear it's a bit of fatigue... While everyone loves Iwata... I think a lot of people are tiring of being sad... They want to be thinking positively on the industry Iwata helped shape versus the still fresh sadness. A thread like this will likely get much more attention in a year from now and I really hope you repost it then as it'll likely get the attention it deserves.
I started collecting the stuff while I was sad and it helped me out and appreciate facets about Iwata I wasn't paying as much attention to before. I feel this kind of collection is more on the happy side, and the positive responses so far are very encouraging. ^^

As for attention, informative neogaf stuff tends to rack high on google regardless of age so I'm not worried about the "work" disappearing or some such.


Sep 4, 2014
As others have said, really nice work.

It's amazing to think how little of this we'd be aware of if it wasn't for Iwata Asks and other developers stories. So much of the specifics are uncredited.
Sep 11, 2011
Live you where?
Do we know how much input Iwata had on Golf's accuracy/power swinging system vs. Kenji Miki, the course designer and game director? I've never seen a source for that, but the game's influenced to some degree by Japanese PC golf sims which had power meters one or two years prior to Golf. Most likely Iwata used Golf to iterate on those games and engineer a more reflex-based swinging system.


Aug 7, 2013
Iwata: That's when I told Nakago-san everything I knew. One thing I recommended was that instead of calculating the character's position using integers, they should also calculate it using decimal points, thereby doubling the precision. In this way, calculating gravity, buoyancy, acceleration and deceleration all become more precise and the movements look smoother. That's the kind of thing I explained at the time.

This is pretty interesting. I always figured the NES's 6502 was too slow and basic to effectively handle fixed point math. Iwata was a programming god.


May 24, 2012
This is pretty interesting. I always figured the NES's 6502 was too slow and basic to effectively handle fixed point math. Iwata was a programming god.

The fact that Super Mario Bros calculates physics based on 1/16th of a pixel always fascinated me... Reading some of the creator comments on Mario TAS speed runs gets super technical super fast.


Sep 23, 2006
Do we know how much input Iwata had on Golf's accuracy/power swinging system vs. Kenji Miki, the course designer and game director? I've never seen a source for that, but the game's influenced to some degree by Japanese PC golf sims which had power meters one or two years prior to Golf. Most likely Iwata used Golf to iterate on those games and engineer a more reflex-based swinging system.
Good question. There are no credits for the "Golf" from 1984 which already had the accuracy/power swinging system. Kenji Miki appears to have joined the same year, and is credited the way you put it in the much more extensive FDS expansions "Golf Japan Course" and "Golf US Course" released in 1987. I don't know if the courses from "Golf" re-appear in those, maybe that'd be a hint either way.


Jun 20, 2004
Star Battle (Commodore VIC 20): Programmer

Star Battle is based on Galaxian, which Commodore did have the license to, but only for Japan. It was taken off the market because of this, so it's a little tough to find.

Developer Credit
Immediately after Commodore Japan's copyright is a programmer credit for Satoru Iwata, hidden between 0x29A and 0x2F6:


Wants the largest console games publisher to avoid Nintendo's platforms.
May 4, 2007
This is pretty interesting. I always figured the NES's 6502 was too slow and basic to effectively handle fixed point math. Iwata was a programming god.
The good thing about fixed point math is that it's done at the speed of integer math. Vis-a-vis fp math which is, well, you either have a fp unit or you're dead in the water.


Aug 8, 2012
Madrid, Spain, EU
Amazing work, thanks for that!

So many memories from those Iwata Asks interviews... -_- I'll miss the ones about Mario Maker, Zelda U, and NX...


Will Eat Your Children
Sep 10, 2007
Damn man, this guy earned everything he got and then some. Beautiful body of work


As in "Heathcliff"
Mar 31, 2008
Thank you for doing that for us. It was a treat for us to read everything bout him as possible as we could.