Punch­ing out

Genyo Takeda, Nin­tendo’s first game de­signer, is calling it a day af­ter 45 years

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Genyo Takeda, Nin­tendo’s first game de­signer, is calling it a day

Be­tween Sa­toru Iwata’s sud­den pass­ing in July 2015 and Tat­sumi Kimishima’s ap­point­ment as Nin­tendo’s fifth pres­i­dent two months later, Shigeru Miyamoto was the ob­vi­ous choice to tem­po­rar­ily steer the ship. But along­side him was a man who, at the end of June, will bring down the cur­tain on a 45-year ten­ure at the com­pany. Genyo Takeda may not be as fa­mous as creatives such as Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka or Eiji Aon­uma, but he’s been equally cru­cial in shap­ing the di­rec­tion of mod­ern Nin­tendo.

Takeda was re­cruited by Gun­pei Yokoi in 1972 and in­ducted into Nin­tendo’s R&D2 de­part­ment, where he worked on a light­gun shoot­ing-range game called Laser Clay Shoot­ing Sys­tem. The (pos­si­bly apoc­ryphal) story goes that Takeda saved the day when the first ma­chine’s un­veil­ing to the pub­lic went wrong. From be­hind the scenes, he con­trolled the game’s clay pi­geons, reg­is­tered each hit and tal­lied up the play­ers’ scores man­u­ally, the il­lu­sion prov­ing so con­vinc­ing to pun­ters that no one reg­is­tered any­thing was amiss.

He moved into hard­ware de­sign, head­ing up Nin­tendo’s third (and small­est) re­search and de­vel­op­ment team, while still devel­op­ing soft­ware. In­deed, Takeda de­signed horse-rac­ing ar­cade game EVR Race, con­sid­ered to be the com­pany’s first of­fi­cial foray into the videogame in­dus­try. Iwata and Miyamoto later cred­ited him as “Nin­tendo’s first game de­signer”. Miyamoto and Takeda would go on to work to­gether on sev­eral games, in­clud­ing 1979’s Sher­iff and the orig­i­nal ar­cade ver­sion of Punch-Out. The lat­ter demon­strated Takeda’s prag­ma­tism when, af­ter the suc­cess of Don­key Kong, Nin­tendo ended up with a sur­plus of mon­i­tors. Takeda sub­se­quently con­ceived a box­ing game that used two dis­plays.

Punch-Out was also no­table for be­ing a con­scious tilt at the Amer­i­can mar­ket. Takeda worked closely with Nin­tendo Of Amer­ica to en­sure the game would ap­peal to an au­di­ence out­side Ja­pan, and came up with the game’s hu­mor­ous char­ac­ter names him­self. De­spite his rep­u­ta­tion as a lo­gi­cian, Miyamoto was an ad­mirer of Takeda’s “free-wheel­ing” cre­ative ap­proach. In an in­ter­view cel­e­brat­ing the re­lease of the Wii re­make of Punch-Out, Miyamoto paid trib­ute to Takeda’s for­ward think­ing: “In the era when there was no stan­dard formula for how to make videogames in the first place, there were two schools of thought: the peo­ple who went to com­pa­nies that could make videogames, and the peo­ple who would try and make games them­selves. Takeda-san raised the ban­ner of the lat­ter, and he is still driv­ing this era at Nin­tendo.” Takeda’s pioneering spirit re­sulted in a number of in­no­va­tions for Nin­tendo. He de­vel­oped the bat­tery back-up for the orig­i­nal The Le­gend Of Zelda, and was re­spon­si­ble for the ana­logue stick on the N64 con­troller. Though hardly the first of its kind, it was the first con­sole con­troller to have one, and it’s owed a debt by just about ev­ery con­troller re­leased since.

How­ever, Wii might be Takeda’s most en­dur­ing legacy. Many years ear­lier, he’d al­ready been think­ing about mo­tion con­trols, draw­ing up ideas for a box­ing­glove in­ter­face dur­ing the plan­ning stages of Punch-Out that was even­tu­ally re­jected. And a year into de­vel­op­ment of the Wii hard­ware, he be­gan to ex­press con­cerns about the tech­no­log­i­cal arms race in games, won­der­ing whether “faster and flashier” was re­ally the best course for Nin­tendo to fol­low. “I be­came keenly aware of the fact that there is no end to the de­sire of those who just want more,” he said. “Give them one, they ask for two. Give them two, and next time they will ask for five in­stead of three. Then they want ten, 30, a hun­dred. Giv­ing in to this will lead us nowhere in the end.” Whether you agree or not, the huge suc­cess of Wii proved he was right in one sense. There was an­other way for­ward. As a key in­flu­ence on Nin­tendo’s shift away from raw horse­power, it’s per­haps fit­ting that Takeda should be re­tir­ing just as Switch seems to be strik­ing gold. Af­ter all, here is a con­sole whose mar­ket­ing has fo­cused al­most ex­clu­sively on the ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing it, its specs barely a side note. And that free-wheel­ing spirit is pre­sent in Arms: with its in­ven­tive new twist on pugilism and its larger-than-life characters, it’s the clos­est we’re likely to get to a suc­ces­sor to Punch-Out.

De­spite his achieve­ments, Takeda’s place was never in the spot­light. In that sense, he had some­thing in com­mon with one of his team’s least suc­cess­ful ideas. The Wii U con­sole’s in­con­spic­u­ous de­sign was in­tended to fo­cus at­ten­tion on the GamePad con­troller, which ul­ti­mately proved the de­vice’s un­do­ing. “At the start of de­vel­op­ment, Takeda-san gave us the task of mak­ing the con­sole a ‘stage­hand’, a kind of un­ob­tru­sive role be­hind the scenes,” developer Ya­suhisa Ki­tano said. Such was the hall­mark of Genyo Takeda: a man in the back­ground, mak­ing sure every­thing worked as it should.

“I be­came keenly aware of the fact that there is no end to the de­sire of those who just want more”

Genyo Takeda leaves Nin­tendo at the end of June. His re­place­ment will be Ko Shiota, who also worked on Wii U

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