We read, we watch series, we try to do some exercise and also, we are not going to fool ourselves, we play. Because as our fellow MCs remind us, in this time of forced confinement, many of us have taken the opportunity to dedicate more time to video games. The long quarantine weekends have been made a bit shorter if we spend hours touring the huge open world of “Final Fantasy XIV”, building our dreams in “Minecraft” or in my case, exploring the infinite space of “No Mans’s Sky” .
Of the three large companies that currently dominate the world of video games, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, only the latter lives exclusively in this form of entertainment, which has led him to create his own universe that, for better or for worse, can only be understood on his own terms.
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So today, in our serial of companies with history, we review part of the trajectory of the creator of such iconic characters for the industry as Mario Bros or Link and of course, the one that has best understood that the player not only wants to be seduced with gross power and pyrotechnics, but they tell you good stories.
Fusajiro Yamaguchi and his Koppai
The company that would eventually become the Nintendo we all know, was founded in 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi, a 29-year-old Japanese man, who launched his company under the name of «Nintendo Koppai»(Koppai in Japanese means cards or card game). His first board game was inscribed in the Hanafuda stream and sold as sets of letters made on mulberry bark. As the game gained in popularity, Yamaguchi was able not only to distribute, but to directly sell his card games in exclusive stores.
Yamauchi’s attention to detail and effort earned Nintendo a great reputation in this niche and within a few years, it became the most important company in the country in this field. In the 19th century that was not just anything.
The Japanese tradition of playing cards has its roots in the 17th century when the import and distribution of this type of card had become banned in country due to the serious problems of illegal gambling and gambling addiction. Of course this did not help much and soon some producers of “local” cards took over. “Hanafuda” therefore drank from that tradition but used images instead of numbers to precisely discourage economic gambling, turn its use towards “modern leisure” and obtain the approval of the authorities.
On “Hanafuda” Nintendo made different decks of cards, each telling their own story. Of these known as Daitouryou (or the Napoléon deck) became the most popular and in fact is still produced and sold in Asia today. In 2007, the much more modern Nintendo actually returned to recover them, launching in this sense a new deck based on the characters from Super Mario Bros.
The Road to the First Console: From Color TV-Game 6 to Computer Othello
As the company grew, Nintendo understood that there was a future beyond cards and progressively presented all kinds of toys and board games. Fusajiro retired in 1929 at the age of 70 and the company became managed by his son-in-law, Sekiryo Kaneda, who changed his name to Sekiryo Yamauchi.
In the early 1970s, the company became interested in electronic toys, so it formed a joint venture with Sony to enter this market, launching small portable electronic games.
The success of Atari in the United States, but especially the launch of the “Magnavox Odissey” console in 1972, finally convinced Nintendo managers that this was the segment they had to target to continue growing, both in their native country. as in new markets like the american one.
This resulted in 1977 in the launch of his first “serious” console: Color TV-Game 6. If it doesn’t sound too much to you, it’s because there isn’t too much to highlight. In addition to its characteristic bright orange color, the first console of the Japanese was born being basically a clone of the Pong, including yes, six different game modes. Although the production of the console was reduced, the reception was quite good, which led the brand to present in 1978, the Color TV-Game 15, basically an evolution of the previous one but with a friendlier design and more variety of games related to Pong.
These two models were followed in subsequent years by the Color TV-Game Racing 112, which included a rudimentary racing game and the possibility of two players, and the Color TV-Game Block Breaker, which, as you may have already guessed, was a clone of the game. Atari, Block Breaker. The last console of this generation was the Computer TV-Game introduced in 1980 and which included the first Arcade game developed entirely by Nintendo: Computer Othello, based precisely on the popular board game.
Shigeru Miyamoto and the new Nintendo
If there is a figure that we all associate with Nintendo it is the one of Shigeru Miyamoto, whose contribution to the world of video games has earned him, among many other recognitions, the 2012 Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities.
His relationship with Nintendo begins in 1977, when he meets Hirsohi Yamauchi, the company’s third president and Sekiryo Kaneda’s grandson. Because of his skill with brushes, Yamauchi appointed him on his first contract as a “staff artist” and his job was to decorate the panels of the gaming machines that could be found in the arcades of any city.
However, as the company invested in this type of machine, Miyamoto began to actively participate in the conception (not programming) of some video games such as “Sheriff” but especially of Radar Scope that when completely rewritten by Miyamoto would end up becoming the famous 1981 Donkey Kong.
With Donkey Kong, it was the first time that a video game plot formulation preceded programming, rather than being added very simply at the last minute. Doney Kong would be followed by other titles for Arcade machines such as “Donkey Kong Junior”, “Popeye” and yes “Mario Bros”, probably the best-known video game character of all time.
With this base of games and characters, Miyamoto would play a more than decisive role in sustaining the company’s position in the United States, in a bet that years before had threatened to bankrupt the company and launch one of the consoles in 1985. most important in history: Nintendo Entertainment System (known in Japan as Famicom). On the NES, “Super Mario” would be released, followed by “The Legend of Zelda”, “Kid Icarus” and “Earthbound”. It was a before and after for the industry.
From here, as they say, the rest is history. The team formed by Yamauchi and Miyamoto would produce consoles such as the SNES, Nintendo 64, Game Boy, GameCube and even the most modern Nintendo DS, Wii or that spectacular success that responds to the name of Nintendo Switch. And of course new characters and games like Super Mario Kart, Metroid Prime, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem or Star Fox.
Like that of all companies, the history of Nintendo is also that of its rivals and first Sega, but especially after Sony and Microsoft have forced the company to reinvent itself over and over again … with the merit of not abandoning its hallmarks: family entertainment and gaming machines that start from the premise that many times less (power, graphics, spectacularity) it can be more.
And this sometimes works very well (see Nintendo Wii) or sometimes it is true, it can become as in the case of Wii U in spectacular failure. But with Switch, which at the time was predicted that the thing would not work, they have hit the nail on the head.
The console closed last December with figures that exceeded all possible estimates: 11 million units sold in a quarter, thus exceeding the figure of 50 million consoles sold in less than three years. This figure could be even small considering that the demand for its consoles has exploded so much in the current pandemic that stocks have run out.
In recent years the company has also given its arm to twist and has entered the world of mobile games with a result that yes, somewhat uneven. Because while it is true that it has dazzled the world with its augmented reality game Pokemon Go, it does not seem that it has just found the right key when it comes to bringing its most popular games to platforms like iOS or Android.
In any case, let no one be fooled: we have Nintendo for a while.