RIP, Satoru Iwata

Yesterday, Satoru Iwata passed away. For those unfamiliar with his work, he was the president and CEO of Nintendo. But he was so much more than that; unlike countless other businessmen and executives, he earned his success the old fashioned way: starting from the bottom and working his way up. He studied programming in the 1970s, when video games were still in their infancy. He began as an unpaid intern for Commodore, then became a freelancer for HAL Laboratory while in college. After graduating, he worked full time and rose up its ranks in the early 90s. He had a hand in founding Creatures Inc., the folks responsible for bringing Pokemon to the world. He didn’t wasn’t just some guy in suit, either. He took over programming for Earthbound and saved it from developmental oblivion. He programmed the original Pokemon Red/Blue battle mechanics into Pokemon Stadium without any reference documents, using just the Game Boy’s source code instead…in one week. He famously compressed the all of the original game into the Gold/Silver cartridge, just to surprise and reward players for beating the regular quest. When Super Smash Bros. Melee was facing a delayed release date due to programming issues, he – already Nintendo’s General Manager of Corporate Planning – went downstairs and personally debugged the game hands-on, all in less than a month.

Yeah, he was that good.

He was in a unique position of growing alongside his industry; unlike many of his peers, his insight into game design came from the effort of making games the old fashioned way, with a focus on the fun experience while dealing with the hardware limitations. He understood that focusing so much on flashier graphics and processing power wasn’t necessarily the answer, and that appealing to people beyond hardcore gamers was incredibly important. Nintendo is often derided for appealing to kids instead of adults, but he was proud of it; he argued that children have an instinctual understanding of whether a game was good or not. He refused to let the company stagnate, constantly pushing them to try new things. He was initially mocked for bringing forth the DS and Wii – both consoles had unorthodox designs and admittedly terrible launch lineups – but was eventually vindicated via record-breaking sales numbers and some of the finest games in the last decade.

What was more inspiring is what Iwata did when the company wasn’t succeeding. Nintendo fell into a slump when it released the Wii U, mainly due to its high prices, strange design, and lacking lineup. The company was losing money, and he was being roasted by both gamers and corporate shareholders alike. Instead of stepping down, he voluntarily cut his salary in half to make up for it! That was the second time he did it, too; when the 3DS’s sales went poorly, he took the same action. When corporate demanded why he hadn’t fired employees for the sake of profit, he absolutely refused to do so, saying that it wouldn’t work well long-term, and that it’d wreck the company’s morale. If you look around online, you’ll find countless stories of people meeting Iwata and saying what a passionate, candid, and kind guy he was in person. When Ocarina of Time was released, he even went out and bought a copy on the way home from work. His hilarious “Direct To You” presentations and sense of humor have become the stuff of Internet memetic legend. The hundreds of thousands of tributes pouring in – even from Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo’s business rivals – shows just how loved and respected Iwata was.

I wish I had a personal story about meeting him. I wish I could say that we crossed paths at a convention, or that we shared an elevator, or that I pitched an idea and worked for him. But I can’t, and now I never will. Instead, all I have are the games he made, and the memories of how he helped shape my childhood. Yes, I caught all 151 of the original Pokemon, played almost every Kirby game, and spent countless hours fighting in Smash Bros. My gaming library is full of titles made with him as the Executive Producer; I wouldn’t be the same person without Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and other Nintendo franchises influencing me. While I don’t play nearly as much as I used to, gaming is still very much a part of me. It reminds me of something Iwata once said:

“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.”

Thank you for everything, Mr. Iwata. We understand.

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A Brief History of Robotics

SciShow explains how robotics got started, and why Skynet has yet to take over the world.

Goodbye, Rosetta!

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about languages. Specifically, what you’d do if you could master any language overnight. Assuming that the prompt is limited to a single choice, I’d probably have to go with Mandarin. Judging by how the world economy seems to be going, it’s become extremely important for Western businesses to be able to communicate with Chinese clients. When you’ve got a country that’s quickly gaining ground in terms of technology and influence, there’s a lot of potential opportunities to create and expand upon a profitable business. I’d consider getting into the real estate business, though the market can’t keep its momentum going forever. Getting a handle on a shipping company would offer more stability; a growing country needs its imports, after all. Same goes with computer technology, in terms of both physical hardware and software development…

Wow, I wish I had a less boring answer. How about my own programming language? I could come up with some awesome new coding lingo, which would become the new standard for operating systems the world over. Windows? Meh. Linux? So passé. I’d have every computer of the next generation based upon on my creation. Then everyone – China included – would speak my language. Mwahahaha!

Daily Prompt: A Bird, a Plane, You!, Or: This Is Heavy, Doc!

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about power. Specifically, choosing one of three superpowers provided:

  • The ability to speak and understand any language
  • The ability to travel through time
  • The ability to make any two people agree with each other

Now, I’ve established that I’m pretty geeky, so of course questions like this are nothing new. The concept of superpowers is ancient; a cursory glance of any major battle in Homer’s epics will reveal quite a bit. When I was a kid, it always came down to Achilles’ Nigh Invulnerability versus Odysseus’ cunning. Cunning isn’t technically a superpower, but being able to outsmart gods is undeniably awesome. But since wisdom and strategy are part of Athena’s domain, she’s probably my first favorite superhero…

Going on a tangent. Sorry.

Anyway, so this debate focuses on the three aforementioned powers. I can dismiss the third one outright, because making two people agree doesn’t exactly solve the inherent issues of a disagreement. The implication of this power is that you use some kind of psychic ability to mess with people’s brains, essentially forcing them to do something. It really boils down to individual morality versus necessity; if you need to mentally force people to agree, then what does that portend for the future of civilization? Look what happened to Rohan in Lord of the Rings. I don’t know about you, but I like having free will and memories. Hey, remember when Zatanna mind-wiped the villainous Dr. Light? Remember when she mind-wiped Batman in an attempt to cover it up? Yeah, that didn’t have any negative consequences whatsoever…oh wait.

I’m sorely tempted to go with the first one, simply because I really enjoy learning languages. I spend a lot of time using free online resources like DuoLingo and Open Culture. If The King of All Cosmos can speak Esperanto, then so can I! What’s cool about speaking any language is that it’s not limited to verbal communication. Taken a step further, universal translation also applies to technology. You ever take a course in C++? BASIC? Congratulations, you know a programming language. How about body language? Music? Symbols? R’lyehian? You might want to save that last one for a special occasion. There’s a lot of opportunities to be had, and being able to communicate is a more civil method of diplomacy than, you know, mind-wiping naysayers.

However, I have to go with time travel. If you have all the time in the world, you can develop universal translation on your own! Yeah, it’s a lot of studying, but at least you won’t have to sacrifice the ability to bend the fabric of reality. You have enough time to do, learn, and create anything you want. The sky isn’t even the limit; develop technology over the centuries and discover interstellar flight! It’s all there for the taking. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, though. There are a lot of problems associated with time travel, usually due to individual choices and hubris. Remember what happened in Back to the Future? Marty McFly nearly erased himself from existence, and accidentally re-wrote a bunch of other stuff! Or how about The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, who used her powers to avoid problems and drastically altered the fates of everyone around her? Doctor Who is all about why time travel is so ridiculously awesome and dangerous at the same time. Then there are all the questions brought up with multiverse theory, which is even messier. Time travel is the best of these three powers, but it requires unparalleled responsibility and foresight. I don’t think I – or anyone else, for that matter – could use it perfectly.

But I’d sure like to try.