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Satoru Iwata: Nintendo's gamer CEO

In this 15 July 2008 file photo, Satoru Iwata, President and CEO of Nintendo Co. Ltd., speaks at a news conference where Nintendo unveiled an enhancement for its Wii Remote controller and new games at the E3 Media and Business Summit in Los Angeles. Nintendo said President Iwata died Saturday, July 11, 2015, of a bile duct tumor in a Kyoto hospital, western Japan Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Iwata, seen here in a 2008 file photo, is credited with reviving Nintendo's flagging fortunes

"On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer."

The death of Nintendo's beloved CEO Satoru Iwata at 55 from cancer has sparked an outpouring of grief online as well as a celebration of his contributions to the world of video gaming.

Amid a sea of "professional CEOs", Satoru Iwata stood out for his approachable demeanour and unabashed love for games.

He won accolades for reviving Nintendo's flagging fortunes in the 2000s, steering it towards more user-friendly consoles such as the Wii and Nintendo DS. Here are some of the pivotal moments in his life story.

He made a game on a calculator

The self-taught video game programmer was also loved for his humble approach and his vision of making gaming more inclusive.

Born and raised in Sapporo, Mr Iwata's lifelong passion for games began in high school, where he figured out how to programme a baseball game on a calculator.

"I don't think anyone can say it had bad graphics because it had no graphics," he joked when he shared the anecdote in a 2005 speech.

"But when I saw my friends playing that game and having fun, it made me feel proud. To me, this was a source of energy and passion... I think my life course was set."

His first company was named HAL

In 1978 he headed to the Tokyo Institute of Technology, where he studied engineering and computer science.

Mr Iwata began tinkering with video game programming with a group of friends, and they eventually formed a company called HAL - named after the sentient and villainous computer in the film 2001 Space Odyssey.

HAL was soon hired by game machine pioneer Nintendo, and created popular games Kirby and Super Smash Bros for the company.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Super Smash Bros features characters from various Nintendo games, including the pink blob known as Kirby (second from right)

The first Nintendo chief outside the Yamauchi family

In 2000, Mr Iwata joined Nintendo full-time as a director, and just two years later became its president with the blessing of his revered predecessor Hiroshi Yamauchi.

That made him the first person outside of the Yamauchi family to head Nintendo.

Image caption Japanese Twitter users noted that Nintendo flew its flag at half-mast outside its headquarters on Monday

When he took over, Nintendo was reeling from the lacklustre reaction to its GameCube console, whose sales was far outstripped by that of competitors' machines such as Sony's PlayStation 2 and Microsoft's Xbox.

But it gained ground with the roll-out of the Nintendo DS and Wii consoles, which quickly became worldwide successes.

His dream was to make gaming universal

What made them stand out were their accessibility and appeal to a broader market beyond hardcore gamers. The DS featured puzzle and educational games, most famously Brain Age, while the Wii was designed as a family-friendly console.

He told the BBC in 2008 that he believed the key was to "increase the number of people gaming" and attract those outside the usual gaming demographic of young men.

He often preached this inclusive approach, urging developers to create games for different audiences and of varying skills.

At a 2005 game developer conference, he asked: "As we spend more time and money chasing exactly the same players, who are we leaving behind? Are we creating games just for each other? Do you have friends and family members who do not play videogames? Well, why don't they?"

He always remained the chips, pizza, rice-ball developer

Mr Iwata also endeared himself to gamers for his humble hands-on approach to his company.

He did behind-the-scenes interviews with game developers called Iwata Asks, produced game titles, and helped with programming when coders struggled to meet their game release deadlines.

He once said that shortly after he became Nintendo's president, he assigned himself to a team developing a game as "my heart told me I was still a developer... Once again, I was living on the developer's diet of chips, pizza and rice balls, and working through the night."

He took a pay cut and battled cancer

It was not all smooth sailing during Mr Iwata's time at Nintendo. The company saw dips in profit in recent years, as popularity for its games and consoles waned.

Some analysts attributed the slide to the company's resistance to entering the mobile gaming market.

In response Mr Iwata took a pay cut and ordered executives to do the same, continuing to work even as he battled cancer of the bile duct. In March, Nintendo announced it was finally going into mobile gaming.

Nintendo's rocky journey did not go amiss among gamers. "Nintendo might not be the most profitable company, but it's always made games with a heart," tweeted one game designer.

It is perhaps Mr Iwata's key legacy. "Like any other entertainment medium, we must create an emotional response in order to succeed," he said at a conference.

"Laughter, fear, joy, affection, surprise, and - most of all - accomplishment. In the end, triggering these feelings from our players is the true judgment of our work."

Reporting by Tessa Wong with contributions from Heather Chen.

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