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