Satoru Iwata

early experiences

My first experience with a computer was in middle school, when I was still living in Hokkaido. It was with a pay-per-hour computer in the Sapporo subway, set up by the Denden telephone company as an early demo of a computer using the phone lines. I went every Sunday and played “Game 31”, a simple numerical game, until I finally beat it. At that time the word “microprocessor” didn’t exist, nor did “personal computer.”

Later, in high school, I got a part-time job and purcahsed a Hewlett Packard calculator for 160000 yen. It had a magnetic card reader and you could write simple programs for it. From then on I was determined to learn about computers, so the programming classes I later took in college didn’t really help me that much.

Then, in my third year of college, I joined HAL Laboratory Corp., which was my friend’s company. It was a small company, with 5 people total, all working out of a single apartment room.

After that Nintendo put out the Famicom. I too was surprised at how fun it was. Then, utilizing some connections I had, I was given the chance to make a game myself. Nintendo’s NES Open Tournament Golf is one I was involved in from start to finish. I also had a large part in the Kirby development.

the role of a programmer

The majority of the time, the programming of a game isn’t completed by the projected deadline. But most companies, due to advertising and budget concerns, will put a game out regardless of whether everyone is fully satisfied with the final product. You do the best you can to approach that ideal product before you have to release it, but in the end, this process is eventually self-defeating for a game company.

We programmers, however, are professionals, and we must take our limited time into account when deciding what we can and cannot do in a game. If we don’t have enough time for something, we have to find a workaround that doesn’t damage the original idea of the game. Coming up with remedial measures is a necessary skill for a programmer.

Programmers are like the faucets on a pipe. If the faucet is large, lots of water can flow through. But if the faucet is small, that flow will be reduced to a trickle. Design, planning, graphics, story, music… no matter how many great ideas you have, if the programmers say it can’t be done, it won’t get done: the faucet was too small.

The job of a programmer is to produce good work, meaning that the planners and designers shouldn’t feel the limitations of the hardware. I tell my programmers to think carefully before they say something “can’t be done.” There isn’t that much that can’t be done with a little ingenuity.

Lately I’ve heard people say that game designers are to be praised, while programmers are less important. That is a warped way of thinking in my opinion. Both together are required to produce anything. No matter how wonderful a game idea or design might be, without solid programming, it won’t be well received by its audience, the players. Programmers should take pride in that fact.

The qualities I look for when hiring a programmer for my company are curiosity, ambition, and whether he can sacrifice other things to achieve his goals. The ability to focus is also a major point. Those who think that knowledge of C or Assembly is going to help them are, in my view, mistaken. Consider the world of video games: 10 years ago no one thought you’d be able to play Donkey Kong on your TV at home. The technical knowledge of today will no longer be useful in ten years. In contrast, we want to hire adapatable people who are looking toward tomorrow’s challenges. (laughs)

In the world of business software development, changing the design plans of the software means changing the business contract, normally resulting in an extra charge to the client. But in the game industry, with Nintendo for example, they didn’t care at all if we changed the initial design plans. After all, if the game turns out boring, who cares if you followed the design plans to the letter? Programmers have that kind of decisive power over a game. Accordingly, you won’t succeed as a programmer if you don’t like revisions and updates. If change bothers you, you shouldn’t work in the game industry.

necessary qualifications

Those who want to be game developers should arm themselves with certain tools. First is the ability to persuade those around you that your game is interesting. Those with artistic abilities can express their design ideas with pictures. In addition, maybe you’re better at writing than others, or you can come up with unique crazy ideas. Maybe you’re especially good at programming. Maybe you can solve puzzles that others cannot. Anything that distinguishes you is fine.

However, that alone is not enough. Talent, in my view, is the power to continue persevering in your endeavors. Those people we look at and say “Wow!” are the people who kept on at their work without thinking how hard it all was. Those who can continually exert themselves in improving their own abilities are natural creators, I think.

The youngest programmer on the Kirby team was 22 years old. He would tell us he didn’t care how difficult an idea was to create, if it was interesting, he wanted us to tell it to him. He always said he’d figure out some way to get it to work. He worked so hard because he knew that when the players see the game, his efforts would be rewarded. When something you’ve created becomes popular right before your very eyes, you know it was all worth it.