Who knew 35 years ago that a small software company founded in Chiyoda-ku Japan to make personal computer games would one day be responsible for some of the most popular video game franchise on the planet? Happy 35th anniversary, HAL Laboratory.
Founded on February 21, 1980, HAL Laboratory's first works were simple games for the simple computers of the time — the MSX, Commodore VIC-20 and the like. The company was either named for the computer from 2001: The Space Odyssey or because the letters (H-A-L) were one step ahead of IBM, depending on who you ask.
They worked on smaller games and arcade ports, including an infamous port of Namco's Pac-Man briefly released in the West for the Vic-20 as Jelly Monsters, until North American licence holder Atari killed it.
When the Nintendo Family Computer System came along in 1983, HAL Laboratories was there, porting its PC-based Eggerland series over as Adventures of Lolo, crafting original titles and creating licensed games like the Japan-only New Ghostbusters II.
HAL was incredibly busy in the first twelve years of its existence, but for many its real history starts in 1992, when a then-white puffball made his debut in Kirby's Dream Land. That same year Nintendo invested heavily in the development studio, inexorably linking the two companies, making HAL as close to a subsidiary as possible without actually being one.
From then on HAL Laboratory, now under the leadership of president Saturo Iwata, was effectively a second-party (exclusive third-party) Nintendo developer. They co-developed Mother 2, aka Earthbound. They made Sim games for the Nintendo 64. The worked on classics like Pokemon Snap and Pokemon Stadium.
Perhaps most importantly, they turned a generic four-player fighting game being worked on by Masahiro Sakurai into a brawler featuring Nintendo characters, creating a working demo prior to receiving Nintendo's blessing. They made Super Smash Bros. you guys.
35 years after its founding, HAL Laboratories has just released the latest in the long line of Kirby games, and the company's former president is the president and CEO of Nintendo and the CEO of Nintendo of America.
Not bad for a company founded to make primitive PC games, right?