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From now until the end of 2019 we’ll be celebrating the coming year by looking back and republishing some of our finest features from the past twelve months, in addition to our regular output. This article first appeared on the site back in March. Enjoy!

In September 2019 (Monday 23rd, to be exact) Nintendo celebrates its 130th anniversary. Founded back in 1889, it famously started out as a manufacturer of playing cards. Eventually, the company went into the toy market with the Ultra Hand, an extendable arm developed by an employee in his spare time. Those gadgets quickly led to the development of more sophisticated electronic toys.

The Ultra Hand’s creator, Gunpei Yokoi, would go on to develop the Game & Watch handhelds (where the D-pad debuted) and the all-conquering Game Boy. For these reasons, Nintendo fans are familiar with his name, as well as that of a certain student who joined the company in the mid-’70s, working under Yokoi as Nintendo took its first tentative steps into the realm of arcade and home video games.

As the father of Mario, that student – Shigeru Miyamoto – has become synonymous with ‘Nintendo’ to an extent. However, as the celebrated figurehead behind some of the greatest video games in the medium, he is often credited for successes that he had only a cursory hand in developing. Back in the 1980s, employees at many Japanese companies were treated as mere ‘salarymen’ and credits (if the game had any) often used pseudonyms, meaning reliably identifying who did what can be difficult. Couple this with the managerial structure, games with multiple directors and cross-pollination between disciplines – and the inevitable toll time takes on the memories of those involved – and piecing together exactly who worked on some of the biggest video games of all time can be tough.

Fortunately, Nintendo’s history is more storied than many of the companies developing games in the era. Many of the company’s luminaries are still there after thirty years or more, and the Iwata Asks series of developer interviews conducted by then-President of the company Satoru Iwata provided valuable insight into that bland-looking building in Kyoto, its personnel and development processes. Gotta love those Nintendo overalls.

In this feature, as well as looking back at the well-known contributors to Nintendo’s success, we hope to acknowledge some of the lesser-known employees as well, highlighting a broad spectrum of talent that has worked to bring us the games we’ve loved. Of course, any selection of this kind is bound to omit key figures in the rich history of the company and its games; with so many departments and divisions involved in making video games, it would be impractical to list every significant person, and this selection is large enough already.

Large as it is, the almost total lack of women on this list is startling to see in 2019, perhaps reflecting the corporate culture prevalent at the time of its rise to the top, and the lack of opportunities for women in engineering back then. Happily, that appears to be slowly changing; Nintendo recently highlighted the diversity that characterises the company nowadays and, hopefully, we’ll see the fruits of that reflected as it continues to evolve.

So, while the history of Nintendo is a tapestry made up of hundreds of important contributors, it’s difficult to imagine it being in the position it is today without the following roster of people. For better or (sometimes) worse, it’s these people who have steered the good ship Nintendo into our gaming memories, so let’s take a look at some of the big hitters and a few of their notable achievements over the last 130-ish years…

There are many more people who have contributed greatly to our favourite games, of course – check out the likes of Masamichi Abe, Shigefumi Hino, Keisuke Terasaki and Risa Tabata, for example. Other people are still something of an unknown quantity – incoming NOA president Doug Bowser and current worldwide president Shuntaro Furakawa, for example, haven’t had enough time to make an impression. Game development – both hardware and software – is a long process, and only over the coming years will we see the results of recent decisions and how their influence is shaping modern Nintendo.

There are also other famous names like Nintendo Treehouse veteran Bill Trinen or even the voice of Mario, Charles Martinet, who have made massive contributions, but they’re fundamentally working with material they’re given by Japan. Still, they’re key figures in the overall story and the Nintendo we know and love today wouldn’t quite be the same without them.

If you’re interested in learning more about the key figures behind the company, we’d recommend the Iwata Asks archive on Nintendo’s website. It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look featuring interviews with many of the above names, including people from the very beginning of Nintendo’s experiments with video games. The entire series forms an important historical document and we’d love to buy a beautiful hardback book full of those interviews and the development materials they contain – get on it Nintendo! (laughs)

Who else can you think of that’s contributed to some of your best Nintendo gaming memories? Let us know in the usual place.

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