Goodbye, Satoru Iwata

Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo, passed away earlier this week. Iwata had overseen some of Nintendo's biggest successes, like the launch of the DS handheld game system and the Wii. He'd also overseen some less-successful product launches, like the Wii U. But he'd always maintained a very strong belief in what he and his company were doing. He'll remain enormously popular with Nintendo fans, too.

Iwata was remarkable for a few reasons.

Iwata was remarkable for a few reasons. He was the first boss of Nintendo who was not a member of the founding Yamauchi family. He was also only the fourth person to run the company, which got its start in the 19th century as a maker of hanafuda playing cards. Iwata was also not a career executive: He started out as a programmer, working for a Japanese video game developer called HAL Laboratory Inc.

HAL is independently owned, but they're closely affiliated with Nintendo, having developed Kirby's Adventure for the NES, many Pokémon games, the Mother series (known by some in the US under its Earthbound moniker), and many others. At Nintendo, Iwata himself helped code The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing, and was known even during his tenure as President to take time out to show engineers how to do things: A very hands-on manager.

His approach didn't just extend to the development of games, either. Iwata maintained a very personal profile with the general public, like a series of interviews posted to the Nintendo web site as "Iwata Asks", in which Iwata would talk about Nintendo's inner workings and interview developers behind some of the company's popular games.

It remains to be seen who will take the helm of Nintendo with Iwata's passing. For the short term, the responsibility of running the company will be shared by Genyo Takeda and Shigeru Miyamoto. Takeda is GM of Nintendo's integrated research division, a former lead developer on the Wii console who created the boxing game Punch-Out, Pilotwings 64 and other titles. Miyamoto is the famed designer of Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and other games.

He will be missed.

Nintendo hasn't had the same meteoric success over the past few years as Apple, but the two companies are often compared and contrasted in popular media. They both have a keen sense of their places in their respective markets, both exercise control and authority over the hardware and software experience, and ones that often engender fiercely emotional reactions in their fans and their detractors.

Satoru Iwata was a soft-spoken, affable man who made people feel at ease. He was a gentle force in the video game industry who approached his work with a sense of humor and grace often lacking in the business.

He will be missed.

Peter Cohen