Satoru Iwata Made Things That People Enjoyed

Over the last hour or so I’ve been thinking a lot about Balloon Fight.

In Balloon Fight you play as a 'Balloon Fighter'. You attack your enemies. You pop their balloons. All the while you float, with two balloons of your own. With two balloons you float effortlessly. If one pops, flight becomes trickier. Gravity pulls heavier. Lose both of your balloons and the game is over.

Video games are so silly.

Balloon Fight was one of the first video games created by Yoshio Sakamoto, most famous for directing Super Metroid. It is completely unremarkable in almost every regard.

Except one.

Balloon Fight was programmed by Satoru Iwata, who passed away on July 11 at the age of 55.

When we think about Satoru Iwata we think of him as a President. As the man who opens up each Nintendo Direct. The man who answered questions at investor Q&As. The one man GIF generator who helped guide a struggling video game company to stratospheric heights, but retained that gift so rare in people in his position: the ability to not take himself too seriously.

But right now I’m thinking about Balloon Fight. A silly little video game. A footnote. A game with no real lasting legacy. What is Balloon Fight in 2015? A trophy in Super Smash Bros.? A mindless piece of trivia? Just another video game?

Yet today, as we receive the tragic news of Iwata’s untimely death, it’s a game I’m reading about. Wikipedia entries, YouTube clips. I’m watching it being played. I’m watching it being discussed, written about.

Balloon Fight. Such a curiously flippant excuse to do something fundamentally rewarding for reasons we cannot explain: pop balloons. Doesn’t that speak to the core of what video games are?

I’m thinking back to 1984. I’m thinking about a young man in his early 20s. He’s a programmer, he loves video games. He is extremely good at what he does. He obsesses over it. He is passionate about creating this specific video game. I’m thinking about how, for this short period of time, a silly little video game like Balloon Fight can become the primary focus of one human being’s life. Because that’s what it means to create something.

I like to think that Satoru Iwata liked creating things that other people might enjoy.

And as I sit here at my desk, remembering Satoru Iwata — thinking about his legacy and what that might be – I’m watching Balloon Fight. I’m noticing the little details. The weight of gravity, the stickiness of it. The way the characters flap and float. The pop of the balloons. The details that were discussed, thought about, cared about. The kind of care that represents Nintendo at its core, values that Iwata would come to embody as President of that company.

I think about the kind of person who would program a game like Balloon Fight. How someone could take a concept like that and treat it with the utmost care. The same kind of person who could run a billion dollar company and still be completely at ease, fully suited, holding a bunch of bananas, in an expensive chair.

“On my business card I am a corporate president. In my heart I am a gamer.” That’s the quote I suspect we’ll hear and read a lot over the coming days, as the eulogies pour in.

But I’d prefer to remember Satoru Iwata as a creator. As someone who helped make video games I hold close to my heart. Video games that had a huge impact on me and people all around the world.

I was a huge fan of Iwata Asks, a brilliant series of articles where Iwata would speak to the creators of upcoming (and old) Nintendo games and talk about how they were made. I love the spotlight cast on developers, I loved how open they were about the video games they built.

But I have a favourite moment.

Iwata was interviewing Yoshinori Ono, the driving force behind Street Fighter IV upon its revival. Iwata and Ono discussed the release of Super Street Fighter IV for the 3DS. They discussed the ins and outs of the new 3DS system, the game itself, all aspects of its creation.

Then, at the close, Ono stops being an interviewee and becomes a fan. Iwata had been responsible for a video game he had cherished. He made video games that other people enjoyed.

“Um, I know this might be rude,” Ono said, “but can I please get your autograph on this package of Balloon Fight?”

Everyone: (laughs)


    Truly the end of an era.

    Earthbound, Pokemon, Kirby. So much to be remembered for.

    Last edited 13/07/15 1:25 pm

    It's something special to make people smile and be happy through something you've created. The fact that Iwata created so much and had a hand in creating a lot more, it's a great legacy to leave behind.

    I love the nintendo directs and the Iwata says. I hope they continue them. They should place his muppet int eh office somewhere, so he can still be around.

    I... I kinda want to see people taking a picture holding bananas become "a thing" in memory of his humble awesomeness. Like a high potassium moment's silence.


    Edit: Also, you need to see Iwata smashing it at balloon trip on gamecenter cx. He had mad skillz!

    Last edited 13/07/15 1:32 pm

    He apologised for people being disappointed at their E3 press conference. Even until the end he was thinking of the fans.

    YES! Balloon Fight! I'm always wondering why hasn't there been more Balloon Fight!
    Whenever I think of old NES games the Balloon fight theme plays in my head more than any other game...

      There's a balloon fight related game on Nintendo Land in case you missed it.

    Far out Mark, you're making me tear up again. Iwata and Nintendo mean a lot to me, Nintendo has always been part of my life growing up until now.

    I put on my Splatoon tshirt this morning not realising what had happened. I think I'll play some Splatoon when I get home too, maybe post something on Miiverse to add to the posts others have written for Iwata. I don't own a copy of balloon fight, but I think I'll give the ballon trip minigame in Nintendoland a go.

    I've said a lot of negative things about Iwata over the years but regardless of what I wish he had done differently, I know there are so many great things from Nintendo and the industry as a whole that exist because of him (like Balloon Fight).
    Sad day.

    A man of great talent and accomplishment truly gone before his time. I'll remember Mr Iwata for the DS & 3DS truly my most cherished console advance wars has given me so much joy. I don't think there will be a single person born since 1980 that Mr Iwata hasn't somehow touched their life

    Looks like I'll be playing loon fighter when i get home.
    Great memories on that game, even though it was in a 100 in 1 cart and it was in the GC era.

    So so sad and way too early for someone to pass on. RIP Iwata

    When I first heard this I wasn't cut up about it at all. As the day has rolled on and it's all settled in I must admit that I'm getting a little emotional with the whole thing.

    Then I remind myself that Iwata will live forever in the games he has influenced and/or created. He had a great life and his time here on earth should be celebrated, not mourned.

      I know what you mean, it's been creeping up on me all day.
      Iwata was Nintendo for as long as many have been alive.

    I hope they immortalise him as a character in one of his games at some point in the future.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now