By Scott Hamilton
Senior Expert in Emerging Technology
On December 6, 2021, Masayuki Uemura died at the age of 78. He was the lead architect behind both the Nintendo NES and SNES gaming systems. He was the lead designer at Nintendo in the 1980s, laying the foundation for today’s multi-billion dollar video game console market.
The original system was designed around the demand for a single video game. Donkey Kong, had become so popular world-wide that Nintendo founders wanted to make it possible to sell the game for people to play at home. Uemura made the decision to design a modular gaming console, capable of taking cartridges which contained the main game code, and unlike previous arcade gaming systems, separated the video and computing power from the actual game chip and provided a system capable of playing multiple games. The first release was in Japan and was called the Famicom, short for family computer. It was a home video game console released in the US in 1985.
Nintendo took a bold step forward into an industry that was beginning to collapse. Video game consoles were a hot item in the early 1980s, but the market was failing because these early consoles were poorly designed, of shoddy construction, and contained uninspiring software that failed to compare to the arcade hits like PacMan and Space Invaders. There were truckloads of unsold game cartridges beginning to fill our landfills before 1985, when Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System in the United States and changed the industry forever.
Uemura’s unassuming gray box with the unique looking controllers became a must-have gaming system for an entire generation of children and prompted Nintendo’s near monopoly over the industry for nearly a decade as competitors pulled out of the market in response to Nintendo’s dominance.
Nintendo’s success was a result of the excellent software design of popular game titles like Super Mario Brothers. However, it was the underlying hardware design by Uemura that made all the game design possible. He listened to what both the gamers and game developers wanted to see in the new games and designed the hardware around the game requirements. Other game hardware design engineers tended to design hardware and let the game developers figure out how best to use it. This shift from games designed for the hardware to hardware designed for the games allowed Nintendo to take the lead of the home gaming system market for more than a decade, and is still the driving force behind Nintendo game platforms.
Uemura designed gaming platforms for Nintendo until his retirement in 2004, when he joined Ritsumeikan University as director of the Center for Game Studies, where he continued to teach the next generation of game designers until his death.
Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.
Scott Hamilton is a Senior Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at https://www.techshepherd.org. You can also follow his channel on rumble at https://rumble.com/c/c-1141721.