Satoru Iwata, who was CEO of Nintendo of America and a long respected figure within the company since his days in Famicom development, has died. He was 55.

While a computer science major at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Iwata contributed on a freelance basis to HAL Laboratory, a close Nintendo collaborator who would produce 28 titles for the Famicom and the associated Disk System, remaining a valued second party studio today for their WiiU and 3DS projects.

Transitioning to a full-time position on graduation, Iwata’s first producer credit was on FC/NES pinball title Rollerball. While at HAL, he would work on numerous NES, SNES and N64 titles, his most famous projects including Balloon Fight, the Dragon Warrior localization of Dragon Quest, Super Smash Brothers and Mother 2: Earthbound. The latter of these was a particular testament to Iwata’s coding abilities, being programmed solo from scratch. While still in Nintendo’s corporate halls, Iwata’s technical chops would often be called on, and many a time he would help a project reach its final steps or flush out any last minute bugs.

Iwata would be under Nintendo’s corporate employ from 2000, when he was appointed as a director, before rising to president in May 2002. This was in the midst of a challenging time for Nintendo, as their GameCube hardware performed significantly below expectations. At E3 2004, a surprisingly forthright Iwata bluntly outlined the failings as they struggled to keep up in the hardware arms race. A different tactic was required for the company’s ongoing survival, he’d state; one centered on unique experiences that would bring new audiences to videogames.

The subsequent DS and Wii era propelled Nintendo back into the mainstream eye, indeed drawing entirely new crowds to the idea of electronic entertainment. While being a friendly public face for Nintendo as it ventured into this new territory, he was also an incredibly accessible character given Nintendo’s traditionally closeted approach with press and public. His ‘Iwata Asks’ columns on Nintendo’s website were unique glances behind the scenes with creators and are themselves as valuable pieces of gaming history as the titles he helped create.

A selfless leader of the company, Iwata responded to poor performance of the WiiU and, early in itself, 3DS with genuine contrition, slashing his own salary while plotting a course that could see the company enjoy yet another boom. Spearheading the controversial relationship with mobile publisher DeNA, he instantly drove an immense amount of attention to a company that could well be a giant of a completely different nature in a few years.

Iwata never saw the first fruits of this partnership released. Had he been, one can assume that even as the company’s business model changed, he would be driven by what was already an off quoted creed by mid morning Monday, after news of his passing came out. ‘On my business card, I’m a corporate president, in my mind I’m a game developer. But in my heart I’m a gamer’.

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