Sin & Redemption: Part 1

Sin & Redemption

Nintendo is a company very dear to my heart, as well as to the hearts of millions of gamers out there. And while we associate the name with the developer (and therefore the genius of Shigeru Miyamoto), many people choose not to look at the dark side of the corporation; the business side. And it’s with this in mind that we won’t be focusing so much on the fantastic level design of Super Mario Bros. 3, more on the strategically planned U.S. release of the FamiCom, of the great blunder of the N64 cart. The Sins of the Father in Hiroshi Yamauchi, and the Redemption of the Son in Satoru Iwata, for better or for worse, this is Nintendo.

Part 1:
Fusajiro’s Game and Hiroshi’s Tact

In the 22nd year of the new Meiji Era of Japan (1889), a man named Fusajiro Yamauchi started up a small company called Nintendo Koppai, intended to be a manufacturer of hanafuda - Japanese playing cards. Standing a mere two stories, this building remains intact even today, though Nintendo's HQ has long since been considered downtown in the busy streets of Kyoto.

Luckily for the young and industrious Fusajiro, Nintendo Koppai was quite the success, with its Dautiryou being the preferred gambling deck of the Yakuza (the Japanese mafia). And you'd think this would be enough for the company, but when Fusajiro's great-grandson Hiroshi took over (1949), Nintendo's fate would be changed forever; the fresh-faced 21-year old's strict business practice was defined by his penchant for "cutting the fat," even if it meant firing members of his own family (which he did on several occasions).

One of Hiroshi's first successful new business ventures was the incorporation of Disney characters onto Nintendo's playing cards in 1959; sales were never better. Unfortunately, future explorations weren't as profitable - Nintendo brand taxi services, love hotels, and the like, just weren't selling. In 1969 he decided to expand upon Nintendo's relatively small toys & games division by calling in one of the maintenance workers for the hanafuda printers: an electronics graduate named Gunpei Yokoi.

Yokoi's Ultra Series, which included a clay pigeons laser-gun game, a pitching machine, and other whacky gizmos lifted Nintendo's name from a not-so-humble playing-card company to a not-so-humble leader in the Japanese toy industry. Multiple other lines were launched, from the Ele-Conga drum synthesizer to the Color TV Game series, which was improved on in later years by a young staff artist named Shigeru Miyamoto, who designed the cases for hits like Blockbuster and Racing 112. After working on the art and cabinet for Radarscope, young Shigeru finally got his chance to design something with Donkey Kong. Not only did it solidify Nintendo of America's purpose for existing (the game was developed with the American consumer in mind, after all), but it also made Hiroshi excessively wealth(y/ier).

On Yokoi's side of development, the Game & Watch handhelds were successful enough for Hiroshi to consider manufacturing a standard home console. Something that sounded powerful, but not intimidating. Something for a family, but with the respect that came from a high-tech computer.

And so, in one quick swoop, the FamiCom was born, and the tyranny of Hiroshi Yamauchi had begun its infancy.

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