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Monday, January 4, 2016

Satoru Iwata Brought You Pokémon Red & Blue

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Unless “you” refers to a Japanese reader. And hey, if you're in Japan, let me know.

Everyone seems fascinated by localisation tales, with an anonymous commenter and I having a nice discussion about people freaking out about Nintendo of America's localisation arm. People seem to take for granted the games that do manage to come over out of Japan, and maybe people don't realise that not every game made in America makes its way to Japan, either.

Let's explore the “take for granted” part a little more. Even though the Internet for whatever reason thinks the likes of Undertale is a better videogame than Pokémon Red/Blue, the latter still made up a ton of Americans' childhoods. And according to an interview between The Pokémon Company president and CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara and Japanese gaming site 4Gamer (translated by Siliconera), it almost didn't get outside of Japan! (The original article seems to be about Satoru Iwata and his genius programming legacy, and talks with a variety of other industry figures.)

How did it get localised and exported? Thanks to the work of... Satoru Iwata, president of HAL Laboratory at the time. While around the time of Satoru Iwata's tragic passing people recalled that his programming wizardry greatly assisted in Pokémon Gold/Silver containing the Kanto region, no one knew the story about Iwata's work with the first games in the Pokémon series. Until now. According to the interview translation, Ishihara said,
“However, we only saw one possible choice at the time, and decided to focus our attention on Gold and Silver rather than an English version, and thought “overseas development is just a dream within a dream,” and gave up on that idea. But that’s where one man raised his hand—HAL Laboratory’s president Iwata.”
Basically, Game Freak only had the resources to make Gold and Silver but didn't have the resources to do localisation work or prep the game for localisation.

Iwata stepped up and did “source code analysis” — as a company president for a game that wasn't within his jurisdiction, mind you — and took the steps to “map out” how to do the localisation steps. Then another Nintendo guy basically spent all day talking to Iwata about the plan, and the localisation started that way done by Nintendo while Game Freak's resources could focus on the sequels. Nintendo I guess wouldn't have bothered had Iwata not done that mapping.

Satoru Iwata Pokémon Red Blue Green localize bring outside Japan North America HAL Game Freak
Satoru Iwata bringing Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue DIRECTLY to you. ...Indirectly.

According to the interview (from what I can tell with a crappy Google Translation), Iwata was also responsible for save features regarding Pokémon Stadium, which was a big programming C-language challenge. Like, Iwata did that himself, apparently. Similar things happened with EarthBound.

Satoru Iwata was a genius programmer AND a genius debugger, and resource-optimiser and problem-solver. And a great manager and intuitive communicator of a vision. That's... the gist of the interview.

Let's not forget: Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow are coming out on the Nintendo eShop at the end of this February! Lots of people are weirdly excited for it. We can have its sales backed by this news in an outpouring of Iwata support. I will say, I was a little... scared to see Satoru Iwata's name as “EXECUTIVE PRODUCER” in Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon's credits. I guess it WAS made before he died, wasn't it?

If only news of this Iwata-involvement broke earlier in December. Then my emotionally-exploitative picture associating Satoru Iwata with Super Smash Bros. Melee could've been used for Pokémon instead, and it'd win.

Whatever. The point is that Satoru Iwata made your childhood happen. Thank him again today, and never forget what he's done for all of us.

Oh, one other thing. The point is not that Iwata is the best programmer ever. There are tons of great programmers in the videogame industry. The reason everyone makes a big deal out of it is that he's a programming president in an industry where a lot of the heads of companies are businessmen, not industry veterans from the trenches. Let's not forget that there are thousands of “lowly” programmers who solve problems in the game industry each and every day and will never get the recognition that Satoru Iwata receives.

Ludwig still doesn't care about RBY right now, but he recognises that without Iwata's help, there wouldn't be an RBY for him to care about, or it'd be as obscure a series as [insert your favourite Japan-only game here]. And without that, there wouldn't be a franchise.

As a celebration of RBY, even Splatoon is paying tribute.
Though Ludwig doesn't like to admit it, Pokémon Blue was what really got Ludwig to be the gamer he is today.


  1. "If only news of this Iwata-involvement broke earlier in December."

    I was reading articles about how he saved Pokémon Red/Blue and EarthBound shortly after his death, though...

    1. No, this didn't come out until the end of December.

      You read how he saved Gold/Silver.

    2. Hmm... oh, that's right! He came up with a new way to handle them that allowed enough room to fit Kanto on the cartridges!

    3. Yeah!

      I said this in the article already c'mon.

    4. ...Oh. Right.

      ......I'm preparing to read out loud in front of an audience and graduate! I can't concentrate! (Yep, that's my excuse...)

    5. Sounds terrifying. Best of luck & skill.

      (What happens after you graduate?)

    6. (I'll have a degree. And I'll work harder on writing and freelancing, since I'll no longer be in school.)

    7. (By work harder, does that mean you'll do less goofing off with playing videogames? :P)

    8. (Of course not. I've vowed to make serious backlog progress this year!)

    9. (Hey, it's not like I'll waste all my time playing games. A handful of hours a day won't kill me.)

    10. (Aw, the joys of working for yourself... You get to play videogames for 4 hours a day every day.)

    11. (I'm not quite there yet... If I did THAT, I might have this backlog defeated by now. XD)

  2. Advance Wars almost didn't make it either but someone from the localization division saw it and thought it would be great for people outside Japan as well and ironically it was the Western world who loved it more than its own native country. So many close calls with many of our beloved franchises never making it here.

    1. It's an important reminder that we're not in any post-export-decision-making world.

      To this day, close calls and bad decisions still happen in today's “enlightened” gaming publishers.

    2. Hey you saw his name in the credits of Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon. Did you finish all postgame story related post content afterwards? What did you think of the game?

    3. I haven't finished all postgame story-related content.

  3. Satoru Iwata was amazing, but he isn't here now... Nobody can do his job better than him >.<
    I liked the post ^^
    I will comment with this name/url n.n

    1. Thanks!

      Hopefully Nintendo can find folks who are good enough, then.

  4. so technically it werent for iwata pokemon would have been a japan exclusive.... RIP did well

    1. Yup, without Iwata, the entire Pokémon franchise would be Japan exclusive.

      If that was the case, Nintendo today would look very, very different. The Game Boy would've never sold as much as it would, and Nintendo probably wouldn't be the portable king that it is now. That means the GBA, DS, 3DS would all sell a ton less and maybe not be made at all.

      I think if Yo-kai Watch eventually got localised, they'd eventually get Pokémon to America. Maybe we'd get it starting with FireRed and LeafGreen.


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