Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has died of bile duct cancer, the video game company said in a statement issued on Monday. He was 55.
Iwata was a popular figure among the company's many fans, in no small part due to the fact that he was an enthusiastic gamer who had risen to power from the ranks of programmers.
"On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer," he said at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in 2005. "But in my heart, I am a gamer."
In 2002, Iwata became the fourth president of Nintendo, which began in 1889 making "hanafuda," or "flower cards," a traditional Japanese card game. He was the first president who didn't belong to the Yamauchi family, Nintendo's founders.
While attending the Tokyo Institute of Technology in the 1980s, Iwata freelanced as a developer for HAL Laboratory, a second-party developer for Nintendo. He joined HAL full-time after graduation, where he worked on popular titles such as "Balloon Fight" and the Kirby series, and became president in 1993 before moving over to Nintendo.
But Iwata's career as a programmer actually began much earlier, when he was just a high school student.
"My first interest was computers. At the time, there were no personal computers, so the very first computer I bought was a calculator -- a calculator capable of programming," Iwata told Polygon in 2012. "It only displayed numbers, but with a calculator that only displays numbers, I somehow made games and played them with friends."
While ascending to head of Nintendo, Iwata never seemed to lose his enthusiasm for the games or his connection to those who play them; he even had an online series of in-depth and at times freewheeling Q&As with Nintendo game designers called "Iwata Asks."
As head of Nintendo, Iwata presided over some of the company's biggest hits, including the Wii gaming system and Nintendo DS. But there were also a few missteps.
Last year, he cut his salary in half for five months after the company's stock fell due to disappointing sales of Wii U. Some critics also say the company has been too slow to embrace other portable platforms such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android.
Iwata missed the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) last year due to illness, but recently recovered enough to relaunch the "Iwata Asks" series.
News of his death sent shockwaves through the industry. Even a major corporate rival paid tribute to a man who spent his life in video games:
Fans of Nintendo also took to social media to express their grief and share memories:
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