Push A-Start: Commemorating the Passing of Hiroshi Yamauchi
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
In case you didn’t notice, GTA V tallied nearly $1 billion worth of sales in the first 24 hours. Fans have clearly taken to the game in droves and why not? Rockstar has proven they have a successful formula and gamers love the havoc they can wreak. They’re a major publisher akin to Bioware, EA, Ubisoft and a host of other big players who make great games for gamers. They’ve fashioned those games on the ideas that games can tell interesting stories that also just so happen to give gamers an interactive role in the proceedings. What might be lost in all that is the fact that such success would not have been possible was it not for one man born in 1927. That man was Hiroshi Yamauchi and you could say he’s the man credited with bringing Nintendo (and video games) to the forefront of the industry. Sadly, Yamauchi-san passed away on September 19 and leaves behind an immense legacy.
Yamauchi was appointed President of Nintendo in 1949 after his grandfather suffered a stroke. He was credited with bringing western card games to Japan, but probably the bigger impact was his forward thinking when it comes to technologies. He played a part in releasing the Magnavox Odyssey and Color TV Game 6 in Japan, but it wasn’t until he turned to an up-and-comer named Shigeru Miyamoto, who took his project Donkey Kong to mega-success. That led to the creation of the Famicom, which was eventually released in the United States as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Yeah, you might have heard of that.
From there, Yamauchi oversaw the releases of the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Game Boy, Super FX Chip, Virtual Boy, Nintendo 64 and Gamecube, set up the partnership with Rare for Donkey Kong. All of the above were major pillars in building the foundation of the video game industry as it exists today. Yamauchi’s vision for Nintendo was one that prided itself on first-party titles; something which still persists even with the Wii and Wii U. In fact, Yamauchi admitted that Nintendo 64 games were intentionally difficult to program in order to improve the quality of third-party games. Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way (especially considering games like Superman 64 actually exist), but it’s still a testament to his vision for the company.
In terms of visionaries within the video games industry, Yamauchi is one of the giants. His vision for Nintendo in moving the company away from card games and towards consoles was truly pioneering. The release of the NES in the US definitely created the bulwark needed to establish the video games industry as it exists today. Neither Sony nor Microsoft would be hosting mammoth E3 press conferences without his vision, simply because he established a precedent. He proved that people wanted to play video games and other companies took note. Consoles like the 3DO, Jaguar, Neo Geo, Sega Genesis and Dreamcast all capitalized on that and made their entries into the world as well, despite being met with limited success.
Still though, the fact that we’re a couple of months away from seeing the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is amazing. That the PlayStation Vita can stream games from the PS4 is mind-blowing. That Wii U offers gamers a core console and a mini-console housed in the remote is ridiculous. Video games have come so far from being simple, side-scrolling affairs, where the difficulty was tied to the limited controls. The industry now offers gamers so much choice, whether it is Halo or Final Fantasy or Angry Birds. That’s right, Angry Birds. Playing games on your SmartPhones would not be the major attraction that it is now if Yamauchi didn’t push to get video game console controllers in more hands.
It’s easy to think that maybe Yamauchi’s prominent role in building the industry is slightly overstated. Doing that though would be doing a grand disservice to him and his place. Fact is, the industry has really only been around for a little over three decades, starting with the Atari, Commodore 64 and Intellivision. The NES really made it “cool” to play (and own) a video game console and Yamauchi was at the forefront of that. He still maintained a presence at Nintendo after stepping down in 2002, which proved the company’s continued relevance within the decision-making halls of the big N. Still though, games would not be where they are today if it weren’t for Yamauchi’s vision. His savvy and intelligence proved to be more than enough to spur the industry to success and he will be greatly missed.
Just remember the next time you’re stealing a tank to take out the wave of cops chasing you after robbing a bank in GTA V, one of the people you should thank is Yamauchi-san.