Genyo Takeda might not be a familiar name to Nintendo fans, but he’s been the driving force behind the company’s iconic game console hardware and revolutionary controllers, and a few classic games besides. And now, he’s getting a well-deserved lifetime achievement award.
Genyo Takeda. Original photo courtesy Nintendo, illustration by Kotaku.
The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences has told Kotaku that it will award its Lifetime Achievement award to the Nintendo veteran at next month’s DICE Awards in Las Vegas.
Although he began his career developing games such as Punch-Out!! and StarTropics, Takeda and his team at Nintendo soon transitioned over exclusively to home console development, creating the Nintendo 64, GameCube, Wii and Wii U platforms. When former Nintendo president Satoru Iwata passed away in 2015, Takeda was named, alongside Shigeru Miyamoto, as one of two Representative Directors that took temporary charge of the company. Takeda, who is 68, retired from Nintendo in 2017, but continues to serve as a Special Corporate Adviser.
As the leader of the development of Wii, Takeda led Nintendo away from the relentless pursuit of raw power in game consoles. “About a year after we started developing Wii,” he said in a 2006 interview, “I became keenly aware of the fact that there is no end to the desire of those who just want more. Give them one, they ask for two. Give them two, and next time they will ask for five instead of three… Giving in to this will lead us nowhere in the end. I started to feel unsure about following that path.”
Born in Osaka, Japan, Takeda joined Nintendo in 1972, fresh out of university with an engineering degree. He quickly took on a key role in a new division that the 100-year old playing card company had begun expanding into: Video games. In a 2009 interview, Shigeru Miyamoto pointed out that Takeda was actually Nintendo’s first game designer, having designed EVR Race, a 1975 arcade machine that used video tape of racehorses and asked players to bet on which one they thought would win.
In fact, Miyamoto, who entered the company in 1974, studied game design at the foot of Takeda, as the younger staffer often drew the pixel art for Takeda’s games before he began to design his own with Donkey Kong in 1981. Miyamoto did the art for Takeda-designed arcade games such as Space Firebird and Sheriff, and would say later that working alongside Takeda developed the skills that he would later use as a game designer.
The pinnacle of Takeda’s game design career was surely the creation of Punch-Out!!, Nintendo’s iconic boxing game series, in 1984. The project had an unlikely genesis: Nintendo had a surplus of televisions at its manufacturing plant, and Takeda’s division was asked to come up with an arcade game that used two monitors. After experimenting with different configurations and game genres, Takeda and Miyamoto decided to create a boxing game that displayed character portraits, health and high scores on the upper monitor, and massive cartoonish pugilists on the bottom.
Besides working on the grand concepts for his games, Takeda also had a penchant for obsessing over the small details, Miyamoto recalled in the 2009 interview. Takeda was the one who came up with the idea of giving the game’s first, weak boxer the punny name “Glass Joe,” Miyamoto said.
“The reason I was so focused on the boxing gloves and the naming of the characters was because I had the American market in mind,” Takeda replied. He felt that Punch-Out!! would have its best shot at success in American arcades, so he made it a point to reach out to Nintendo of America and get its staff members involved in development. (The voice of the announcer in Punch-Out!! belongs to NOA employee Don James, now an executive vice president of the company, who will present the Lifetime Achievement award to Takeda at the DICE Awards ceremony next month.)
The Punch-Out!! series would soon expand to the NES and SNES systems, also under Takeda’s supervision. Takeda’s group within Nintendo, still looking to appeal to the Western audience, would also produce StarTropics, an RPG series that was only released in the West. He’s also credited with developing the battery-based system that allowed players to save their games on NES cartridges, beginning with The Legend of Zelda.
Aside from a few scattered projects, Takeda had largely moved out of software game development by the time the Nintendo 64 was released in 1996. By then he had taken over the role of leading Nintendo’s home hardware development efforts, and it was in the field of hardware that Takeda truly made his mark. He led the design of the N64 with its focus on 3D graphics and that era-defining analogue stick controller, and the Wii’s unique combination of power efficiency and a single-handed remote control. And while the GameCube and Wii U were not as commercially successful, their risk-taking designs show how Takeda and his hardware team were never content to simply pursue the status quo.
“Nintendo is a company where you are praised for doing something different from everyone else,” Takeda said in 2006. “In this company, when an individual wants to do something different, everyone else lends their support to help them overcome any hurdles. I think this is how we made the challenge of Wii a possibility.”
The AIAS Lifetime Achievement award is given to those who have made a major impact on games over the course of a career, but not necessarily in the field of game design. Previous winners include Satoru Iwata and PlayStation creator Ken Kutaragi. Takeda will receive the award at the DICE Awards in Las Vegas on February 22.