Masayuki Uemura, 78, dies; Design of the first Nintendo console


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TOKYO – Masayuki Uemura, an engineer who developed the Nintendo entertainment system, which helped start a global revolution in home gaming and laid the foundation for today’s video game industry, died on December 9. He was 78 years old.

His death was announced by Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, where Mr. Uemura headed the Center for Game Studies. No further details were given.

Video game consoles had a moment of popularity in the early 1980s, but the market collapsed due to poor quality control and uninspiring software that failed to deliver the feel. arcade hits like Pac-Man and Space Invaders. Trucks full of unsold game cartridges ended up in landfills, and retailers decided that home gaming systems had no future.

But in 1985, the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System in the United States changed the industry forever. The unassuming gray box with its signature controllers became a staple for a whole generation of kids and sparked Nintendo’s virtual monopoly on the industry for nearly a decade as competitors pulled out of the market in response to the corporate dominance.

Mr. Uemura was the mastermind behind the Nintendo console, released in Japan in 1983. He also helped create its successor, the Super Nintendo, as well as other lesser-known products for the company.

“Nintendo has been successful in the United States because of the quality of its software, but this software would never have reached the hearts of gamers without the hardware created by Uemura,” said Matt Alt, whose 2020 book, “Pure Invention : How Japanese pop culture conquered the world, ”recounts the rise of Nintendo.

“He was a true titan and architect of the global gaming industry,” Alt added in an email.

The machine made Nintendo one of the most profitable companies in Japan, and the games it ran, like Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda, became classic franchises.

Its meteoric success has also made the video game console a viable product and has led to the development of the current $ 40 billion console game market.

Masayuki Uemura was born on June 20, 1943 in Tokyo. Her father, a kimono merchant who later owned a record store, moved the family to Kyoto (the home of Nintendo), hoping to avoid the bombing that ravaged Japan during WWII.

As a child, he showed an interest in technical activities. He built his own radio from components purchased for him by a student who was on board with his family, Uemura said in a report. interview with Hitotsubashi University in 2016. He made money carrying bundles of firewood from the mountains around Kyoto and built his own pachinko machine, a game that looks like a fusion of slots and pinball.

After graduating from high school, he studied electrical engineering at the Chiba Institute of Technology with the goal of designing color televisions.

He was working as a salesperson at Sharp in 1971 when Gunpei Yokoi, Nintendo’s chief engineer at the time, recruited him to join the company. It was then a small manufacturer of playing cards and other traditional Japanese games, with the ambition to create new innovative toys.

Mr. Uemura was inspired by Nintendo’s serious approach to gaming. But he had another motive for accepting the job: he had recently married, and Sharp was planning to send him to the United States without his wife.

His decision to stay in Japan was transformative, both for himself and for Nintendo.

In 1981, as Nintendo capitalized on the popularity of the arcade game Donkey Kong in the US market, the then president of the company, Hiroshi Yamauchi, asked Mr. Uemura to create an affordable entertainment system that would bring the arcade experience at home.

The result was a red and white box known as Famicom, short for “home computer.” While other consoles had blocky graphics that stuttered and jerked, the Famicom had smooth, almost cartoon-like animated characters and backgrounds. His version of Donkey Kong resembled the arcade one. And unlike other gaming systems that beeped and blooped, it could play music.

At first, the console, priced at 14,800 yen (about $ 65 at the time), received mixed reviews in Japan – just a few hundred thousand units were sold in the first year. In interviews decades later, Mr. Uemura admitted that he had been skeptical of the Famicom’s success. The first version of the system was fraught with pitfalls: among them, the controllers had square buttons that tended to get stuck.

He got a first idea of ​​the system’s potential when his son told his classmates that his father was the designer of the machine, and neighborhood kids asked Mr. Uemura to make house calls to fix their items. consoles.

“There were so many requests that I realized, ‘This thing is really selling,'” he told Weekly Famitsu magazine in 2013.

But the system didn’t really take off until the introduction of Super Mario Brothers in 1985. Its exciting gameplay, catchy music, and design – inspired by Japanese animation – were like “gasoline on fire.” , Mr. Uemura says Nintendo Dream Web in 2013.

He went on to create an improved and redesigned Famicom for the American market, and it sealed the success of the system, turning Nintendo into a giant not only in the game but also in the Japanese industry. In the early 1990s, the company was using 3% of Japan’s semiconductor manufacturing capacity and making more money than all US movie studios combined, author David Sheff wrote in his book “Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered the World “(1993).

The company then asked Mr. Uemura to design another upgrade. In 1990, he shipped the Super Famicom, known as Super Nintendo to the United States. The machine has sold over 49 million units worldwide, bolstering Nintendo’s reputation as the world’s most influential video game company and one of the most successful entertainment companies of all time. .

Mr. Uemura retired from Nintendo in 2004 and joined Ritsumeikan University, where he was director of the Center for Game Studies until his death.

Information on his survivors was not immediately available.

In a 2013 interview with video game site Polygon for the 30th anniversary of Famicom’s release, Uemura said working on the project has been transformative.

“I used to be just your typical office growl,” he said, “but then I stumbled upon some toys, and it changed my outlook on life. “

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