TOKYO – Masayuki Uemura, the engineer behind the Nintendo Entertainment System that helped launch the global revolution in home gaming and laid the foundation for the modern video game industry, died on December 9. He was 78 years old.
His death was announced by Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, where Mr. Uemura directed the Center for Game Research. No other details were provided.
In the early 80s of the last century, video game consoles were popular, but the market collapsed due to poor quality control and boring software that could not provide the thrill of arcade hits like Pac-Man and Space Invaders. Trucks with unsold game cartridges ended up in landfills, and retailers decided there was no future for home gaming systems.
But in 1985, the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System in the US changed the industry forever. The unassuming gray box with distinctive controllers became a must-have for a generation of kids and spurred Nintendo’s virtual monopoly on the industry for much of a decade as competitors pulled out of the market in response to the company’s dominance.
Mr. Uemura was the author of the Nintendo System, which was released in Japan in 1983. He was also involved in the creation of its successor, the Super Nintendo, as well as other lesser-known products from the company.
“Nintendo has been successful in the United States because of the quality of its software, but that software would never have entered the hearts of gamers without the hardware created by Uemura,” said Matt Alt, whose 2020 book Pure Invention: How Japanese Pop Culture Conquered world “, – tells the story of the formation of Nintendo.
“He was a true titan and architect of the global gaming industry,” Alt added in an email.
Its runaway success also made the gaming console a viable product and led to the development of today’s $ 40 billion gaming console market.
Masayuki Uemura was born on June 20, 1943 in Tokyo. His father, a kimono merchant who later owned a record store, moved the family to Kyoto (home of Nintendo), hoping to avoid the bombing of Japan during World War II.
As a child, he showed an interest in technical pursuits. He built his own radio from components bought for him by a student who lived in a boarding house with his family, ”Mr. Uemura said in an interview. interview with Hitotsubashi University in 2016. He made money transporting bundles of firewood from the mountains around Kyoto, and built his own pachinko machine, a game that resembles a mixture of slot machines and pinball.
After graduating from high school, he studied electrical engineering at the Chiba Institute of Technology with the aim of developing color televisions.
He worked as a salesman at Sharp in 1971 when Gunpei Yokoi, Nintendo’s chief engineer at the time, invited him to join the company. At the time, he was a minor manufacturer of playing cards and other traditional Japanese games with an ambition to create innovative new toys.
Mr. Uemura was inspired by Nintendo’s serious approach to the game. But he had another motive for taking the job: he had recently gotten married and Sharpe was planning to send him to the United States without a wife.
His decision to stay in Japan changed both himself and Nintendo.
In 1981, when Nintendo was at the height of the popularity of the arcade game Donkey Kong in the US market, then-president Hiroshi Yamauchi asked Mr. Uemura to create an affordable entertainment system that would bring the arcade sensation home.
The result was a red and white box known as the Famicom, short for family computer. While other consoles had blocky graphics that stuttered and twitched, the Famicom had smoothly animated characters and backgrounds, almost like cartoons. His version of Donkey Kong looked the same as in the arcade. And unlike other gaming systems that squeaked and chatted, it could play music.
At first, the 14,800 yen console (about $ 65 at the time) received a warm welcome in Japan – only a few hundred thousand units were sold in its first year. Decades later, in an interview, Mr. Uemura admitted that he was skeptical of the Famicom’s success. The early version of the system was full of problems: among them were square control buttons that tended to get stuck.
He first realized the potential of the system when his son told classmates that his father was a car designer, and children from all over the area asked Mr. Uemura to call his house to fix their consoles.
“There were so many requests that I realized, ‘This item is really for sale,’” he told Weekly Famitsu magazine in 2013.
But the system didn’t really catch on until the Super Mario Brothers came along in 1985. The addictive gameplay, catchy music and designs inspired by Japanese animation were like “gasoline on fire,” said Mr. Uemura. told Nintendo Dream Web in 2013.
He then created a redesigned and redesigned Famicom for the American market, which cemented the system’s success, making Nintendo a giant in the Japanese gaming industry as well. By the early 1990s, the company was using 3% of Japan’s semiconductor manufacturing capacity and was making more money than all American film studios combined, David Scheff wrote in Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered the World (1993).
The company then asked Mr. Uemuru to design another upgrade. In 1990, he introduced the Super Famicom, known in the United States as the Super Nintendo. More than 49 million devices have been sold worldwide, cementing Nintendo’s reputation as the most influential gaming company in the world and one of the most successful entertainment businesses of all time.
Mr. Uemura left Nintendo in 2004 to attend Ritsumeikan University, where he served as director of the Game Research Center until his death.
Information about his survivors was not immediately available.
In 2013 interview on the video game website Polygon for the 30th anniversary of the Famicom release, Mr. Uemura said the work on the project changed him.
“I used to be a regular office grunt,” he said, “but then I came across toys and it changed my outlook on life.”