Sunday night, the news broke that Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president and CEO, had died. It was a shocking and sudden loss. Aside from confirmation in 2014 that his doctor had ordered Iwata not to travel to E3, Nintendo hadn’t discussed its president’s health. (He also watched E3 2015 from Japan; however, no mention of his health was made.) Throughout the week, fans, friends, and colleagues have been publishing moving tributes to Iwata, a man whose influence on Nintendo and the entire video game industry is difficult to overstate. But he also had so many lesser known accomplishments and contributions throughout his career. Down in the comments of our obituary, Occam’s Blazer found a great way to describe Iwata and that storied career:
The sum of Iwata’s accomplishments as a programmer and president seem like a whole bunch of urban legends. He programmed the compression of Pokémon Gold and Silver so well that it could not only fit the Johto region but also all of Kanto brought over from the original games. He helped Masahiro Sakurai create Super Smash Bros., even though Shigeru Miyamoto initially shot down the idea of using Nintendo characters, and Iwata stepped in to debug Super Smash Bros. Melee so it could be released on time. He essentially saved EarthBound by himself. And of course, as president, he gambled much of Nintendo’s future on the Wii and succeeded. To be an integral part in creating and overseeing so many damn games is incredible.
That’s not to say his time with Nintendo was perfect. However, I think the way Iwata and Nintendo responded to failures will be one of the greatest parts of his legacy. He did not immediately panic or ax less successful consoles, like the GameCube and Wii U. He was able to guide Nintendo with a balance of trying new ideas while maintaining company ethos, even if it meant taking some risks and making mistakes. Iwata was a rare corporate officer who showed some patience and restraint when things weren’t going well, as well as showing some accountability by taking a pay cut when Nintendo was financially struggling a few years ago. He did the almost impossible: being a charismatic president of a huge corporation. Above all, Satoru Iwata was a fun, joyful, and unassuming person and one hell of a programmer.
Jakeoti talked about statements from Iwata’s coworkers and those Nintendo Directs, another Nintendo innovation in which Iwata played a key role and starred:
Iwata was an incredible man, and, while it upset me to see the news, I quickly became even more emotional seeing other people’s responses, especially from his coworkers. Shigesato Itoi, creator of EarthBound, promising that they would see each other again and Masahiro Sakurai saying that he would go into work as normal because it’s what Iwata would have wanted were especially powerful.
But in the end, I know that what will ultimately hurt the most will be the Nintendo Directs. Seeing a man who is in charge of this powerful company pretending to Dragonball-style fight his coworkers, earnestly talk about how much he’s enjoying games, wearing costumes, apologize when things weren’t going well—it all felt so sincere. It didn’t feel like he was trying to sell us on the products, even though that was technically the job of the Directs. It felt more like he was enjoying them and wanted us to enjoy them just as much.
Skull Kid addressed another of Iwata’s attempts at making Nintendo’s history and creative process more transparent:
I can’t say enough good things about Iwata Asks, which were just about my favorite game-related things to read. Until they started, there were very few in-depth interviews about the development of Nintendo’s games outside of Nintendo Power previews and stuff, all of which are pretty shallow. I’ve tried doing research on some of their classic games, and it’s shocking how little information there is. If you want to find out about the production of The Godfather, you could spend months before you read everything. If you want to read about the development of Ocarina Of Time, you really have to dig. Iwata was clearly interested in changing that.
And NoKibitzing summed everything up perfectly:
I used to bike by Nintendo’s HQ a long time ago when living in Japan. It was a mostly featureless white building. I had seen pictures of the inside, and I knew it was a regular office building, but in my heart, it was a Willy Wonka-style magic factory where happiness was manufactured. The world just lost a Willy Wonka, my friends.
Godspeed, Mr. Iwata. Thanks for the memories.
Her Story Might Not Be The Best Story
This week, Jake Muncy brought us a review of Her Story, a game where you sit at a computer and search through interrogation footage to figure out what the heck is going on in this murder case. Girard enjoyed the game’s structure and sense of mystery but was less happy with the story that was left standing when the dust settled:
I found this game completely compelling and engrossing during the 2-3 hours that I played it and the following hour I spent reading theories and conclusions. Various choices in the game’s presentation, from the acting to the UI to the “screen glare” (tip: don’t turn the glare off!) helped extend the game—presentation-wise, at least—beyond its clever conceit.
But looking back, the actual narrative I uncovered was silly, kind of dumb, and reminiscent of something you’d encounter in a hokey detective TV show. I don’t regret my time with it, but it now reminds me of , say, a Christopher Nolan movie—a kind of silly, trope-laden narrative obfuscated by a “clever” presentation that initially gives you the mistaken impression you’re watching something “genius” and not merely “clever” until you later reflect upon the kernel of dissatisfaction it left you with.
But the presentation, and structure of the narrative are still both fantastic and worth anyone’s time and six dollars. I wish the designer had done something more substantive with the story, but as it is, I haven’t found myself so engrossed by a game narrative in ages, even if that feeling was ultimately ephemeral.
And NakedSnake related the game’s lack of definitive answers to an interesting personal project:
I haven’t really heard anything about this game before, so I’m not sure if it has any kind of goal (beyond those noted in the review) or issues it wants to raise. But the sense of uncertainty that it sounds like this game creates can be a powerful tool for teaching students to approach a given topic with nuance. I just used this approach for an exercise in a training curriculum that I’ve been developing.
All the trainees get a certain base amount of information about what happened in a specific crime. Then, you break down the trainees into smaller groups, each of which is given different additional details. Each group is asked to make an assessment about whether they think a crime has taken place based on their limited information.
Arguing about a theoretical case like this forces people to come to terms with the assumptions that they bring to the table regarding people’s behavior. Then, when you get the groups back together to compare notes, it allows the participants to look at alternate explanations and interpretations for similar circumstances. It’s not supposed to change anyone’s worldview or anything, but I do think it provides an opportunity to reflect on the process by which one comes to a conclusion when dealing with limited information, which is valuable in-and-of itself. It sounds like this game may be trying to offer something similar.
Thanks to Her Story’s use of live-action footage, its drawn comparison to the full-motion-video games of the ’90s. For the most part, FMV games are laughable when you look back at them, but Shinigami Apple Merchant came to their defense:
Rashomon the FMV game (even if Her Story is just one person’s testimony) is a pretty awesome design concept, and I hope this game helps bring FMV back as a wonderful but rarely incorporated tool in game storytelling. It’s easy to understand why the mainstream FMV era fizzled out in the ’90s, but utilizing FMV elements in a niche game for a specific purpose can still yield real pathos and depth between the player, the play, and the story.
It doesn’t have to just be My Dinner With Andre: The Game (“TELL ME MOOOORE!”), and it doesn’t have to have constant quick-time-event button prompts like some Mad Dog McCree shooting gallery. It’s akin to shooting film in black & white—FMV comes with its own evocative lighting, atmosphere, editing, and depth of field choices that mark that world as ever more unique and memorable.
If you get something along the lines of Crusader: No Remorse or Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within from that—as in, it’s organically blended into the rest of the game—then you’ve got the best of both worlds in front of you. It just can’t be in every game in every way for every genre.
And ItsTheShadsy compared Her Story to the old Virtual Murder series of PC games:
I’ve heard comparisons between Her Story and the Virtual Murder series by Shannon Gilligan from the early ’90s. I haven’t had a chance to play either, but there are definite surface-level similarities that make them worth comparing: They’re mystery games where you solve a crime primarily by watching suspect interviews.
Both deal with the uncertainty of truth, but they stand apart in what direction they take from that theme. The Virtual Murder games seem to get a little Carmen Sandiego-y, with scenes where you search for clues at the scene and answer quizzes to show what you’ve learned. That might make for a fun mystery, but it treats ambiguity as a hurdle to be overcome rather than a challenge to the idea of solvability. Based on what everyone has said, Her Story sounds like it digs deeper into that concept, with the unknowability of total information driving the game.
Virtual Murder is about the crime. Her Story is about the truth. It’s fascinating how games with similar setups can be driven by massively different philosophies and intentions. And it’s a great example of why there’s always reason to revisit forgotten games. Everything old is new!
And that does it for another Gameological week. Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone. We’ll see you again next week!