Saturday 24 March 2018

Nintendo pioneer who changed the face of computer gaming

Innovator: Hiroshi Yamauchi, who ran Nintento for half a century and and oversaw the creation of many of the firm's icons, including Super Mario
Innovator: Hiroshi Yamauchi, who ran Nintento for half a century and and oversaw the creation of many of the firm's icons, including Super Mario

Hiroshi Yamauchi, the man who ran Nintendo for more than 50 years, overseeing the creation of Super Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda, has died aged 85.

Yamauchi, the great-grandson of Nintendo's founder, led the company from 1949 to 2002, transforming what was a maker of Japanese playing cards into the world's biggest maker of video games. He died in hospital following complications from pneumonia.

A spokesman said the firm was in mourning over the "loss of the former Nintendo president Mr Hiroshi Yamauchi, who sadly passed away this morning."

He was at one time richest man in Japan – in 2008, he had a net worth of €5.75bn amid surging sales of the Nintendo Wii console.

Yamauchi was the company's second-largest shareholder, with about 10pc of the stock, according to Bloomberg.

After he had succeeded his father as president in 1949, the company was almost forced to file for bankruptcy in the late 1960s after several failed attempts to expand its product line-up into toy guns, baby carriages and even fast food, according to several books written on Nintendo's history.

Chastened by the experience, Yamauchi vowed not to borrow money to fund Nintendo's operations. More than a decade after he stepped down, that policy remains in place, with the company holding about $8.7bn (€6.42bn) of cash and equivalents and no debt as of June 30, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

His business philosophy was that the quality of video games is more important than the hardware on which they're played. That point was driven home in 1977 when he met and hired Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo's chief game designer, who went on to create game characters Mario the plumber, Donkey Kong and Zelda.

In 1980, Nintendo released Game & Watch, the world's first hand-held game player. Next came the release in 1983 of Famicom, or the Family Computer console, a home video-game console system. That was followed by the introduction of the Super Mario Bros game in 1985 and the unveiling of Famicom in the US as the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Throughout the 1990s, Nintendo released a series of successful consoles, including the Game Boy in 1989, the Super Nintendo in 1991 and in 1996 the Nintendo 64, its first fully 3D console. The last console he oversaw was the Nintendo GameCube.

Of Super Mario 64, which was released on the Nintendo 64 in 1997, the Official Nintendo Magazine ranked it as the 'No 1 Game that Changed the World'.

"Super Mario 64 became Nintendo's showcase title for the N64 and it demonstrated perfectly why the console's controller looked the way it did, with its analogue stick and button layout; after half-an-hour with the game, few people would dare to argue with Shigeru Miyamoto's joypad logic. And analogue control is one of three reasons why this game changed the face of gaming," the website said.

"You cannot overestimate the influence the man had on the games industry," Rob Crossley, associate editor of Computer and Video Games magazine, told BBC News.

Outside Nintendo, he became the majority owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball team in 1992 – yet he never attended a game.

Irish Independent

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