Category Archives: Gunpei Yokoi

A screenshot from Donkey Kong, a video arcade game by Nintendo, 1981.

Donkey Kong’s 35th Anniversary

It was 35 years ago today that Nintendo of America first let loose the angry ape Donkey Kong on the American public, but the company history goes back far earlier than that. Founded in 1889 in the historic Japanese city of Kyoto, Nintendo Koppai started off making hanafuda cards, then moved to American style cards at the turn of the century. In the 1960′s, third Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi and former maintenance man Gunpei Yokoi would steer the company into toys and electronics. Yamauchi eventually set up an American games division selling Nintendo arcade games, putting his son-in-law Minoru Arakawa in charge. 

Gameplay image of Radarscope, an arcade video game by Nintendo 1981

The flaccid Radarscope

 

Nintendo of America struggled to move arcade product such as Sheriff and Space Fever. Radarscope was a particular turkey, struggling to move out of the NoA warehouse as the Galaxian fad faded in U.S. arcades. In order to use up surplus Radarscope circuit boards, Yamauchi directed artist Shigeru Miyamoto and the veteran Yokoi to create a new game based on the hardware. What they came up with would help revolutionalize the game industry and put Nintendo on the road to riches.

Breakfast cereal based on Donkey Kong, an arcade video game by Nintendo 1981

Barrelling into breakfast with Donkey Kong Cereal


Donkey Kong
 became the biggest selling arcade game of 1981, giving even Namco’s powerhouse Pac-Man game a run for its money. The star of the game, a little rotund, mustachioed man later named Mario, would eventually become more recognizable than Mickey Mouse.

So happy birthday to Donkey Kong, Mario, and Pauline. Without you, the video game industry just wouldn’t be the same. 

For more information on Donkey Kong and related topics, consult your local Dot Eaters articles:

The history of Nintendo and the development of Donkey Kong

History of Super Mario Bros. 

Development of Nintendo’s Famicom game console

The Nintendo Entertainment System

The history of Nintendo Power magazine

The passing of Hiroshi Yamauchi

A review of the movie The Wizard

Box art for Super Mario Bros., a video game by Nintendo, 1985

A Look at How Super Mario Bros. Came to Be, on Its 30th Anniversary

This weekend, Super Mario Bros. turns 30 years old. The game has become so ingrained in popular culture that it’s easy to lose sight of just how important and influential Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi’s creation was when it hit Nintendo’s Japanese gaming console on Sept. 13, 1985. The Famicom had been enjoying success in Japan, but Super Mario Bros. became such a phenomena in that country that by 1989 there was one Famicom in every two households in Japan. In 1986, when SMB made its way to the North American version of the Famicom, the NES, it helped the system overcome the toxic environment left from the great video game crash of 1983 and became a huge hit here as well.

A couple of years ago TDE celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Famicom, and as part of that celebration we posted a look at the development of the game and the influences that helped shape SMB. After the jump, we present that post to you now, as we pay tribute to one of the greatest video games of all time:

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Hiroshi Yamauchi, 1927 - 2013 (photo circa early 80's)

Former Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi Passes Away

Hiroshi Yamauchi has died. Yamauchi came to power at Nintendo in 1949 at age 22, replacing his grandfather as head of the company after the elder suffered a stroke. Even so young, Yamauchi showed the iron will he would become infamous for, insisting that other family members in the company be fired, as well as quickly purging executives who refused to take him seriously.

Nintendo’s fortunes had come from the manufacture of playing cards ever since its inception in 1889. In the later part of the 60′s, Yamauchi took steps to expand the company into toys and games, creating an R&D department within Nintendo to develop such products. At the head of this group Yamauchi put a maintenance man with the name of Gunpei Yokoi, an enthusiastic tinkerer with an uncanny knack at creating new products out of older technology. With success after success, Nintendo would come to dominate the toy market in Japan. Later, as Yamauchi took notice of the new technology coming out of the States in the mid-70′s, they would do the same with video games.

With an almost preternatural ability to pick both talented designers and the games and systems they produced, hardly anything made by Nintendo reached store shelves without Yamauchi’s approval. When the company’s U.S. subsidiary floundered in the early 80′s and begged for a new hit game to sell, it was Yamauchi who took the chance on a young artist unproved in game design to come up with a product. The game was named Donkey Kong, and its creator was Shigeru Miyamoto.

After issuing orders to create a cartridge-based home console called the Famicom (Family Computer) that met with great success in Japan, Yamauchi would set his sights on conquering the American market. Undaunted by the toxic landscape created by the total collapse of the U.S. video game market in 1983-84, Yamauchi insisted on selling the Famicom to American homes as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985. The system would single-handedly resurrect the video game industry from cindered ashes back to billions of dollars in sales, and make Nintendo a word synonymous with video games, as Atari had been before it.

After 55 years at the helm, Yamauchi was succeeded as Nintendo president in 2002 by Satoru Iwata. He remained the company’s largest individual shareholder until his death, at the age of 85.  While he may have ruled Nintendo with an iron fist, the company he drove from Japanese playing card manufacturer to globally dominating video game giant is now mourning his loss.

You can read the history of two great products with Yamauchi’s stamp on them here at The Dot Eaters:

The History of Donkey Kong

The History of the Famicom

Title screen for Super Mario Bros., a video game for the Famicom by Nintendo 1985

Celebrating Famicom’s 30th – Super Mario Bros.

Here is the last of the TDE articles detailing various aspects of the Famicom, as well as the NES, the North American version of the console released in 1985.  These posts celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Famicom, and lead up to the full history of the Famicom, to be posted tomorrow. The post today also falls on the 30th anniversary of Mario Bros., so two koopa’s with one fireball, so to speak.  While Famicom project lead Masayuki Uemura and his team at R&D2 labs at Nintendo do great work putting together the hardware of the famed video game console, it’s the games for the system that give it longevity.  And there’s few games that boost Famicom and NES sales as much as Super Mario Bros..

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Nintendo Logo

Showdown In the Arcade

I was refining my article on the beginnings of Nintendo and the development of their smash hit Donkey Kong, and came across this, an image of Wild Gunman. Made in 1974 by famed Nintendo hardware guru Gunpei Yokoi, I actually remember playing this game in my distant youth. I can remember being enthralled, and slightly terrified of it.

It required that you strap a holster around your waist containing a toy pistol. As you watch the screen, various outlaws ( I assume) stroll into view. Suddenly, a bright flash lights up their eyes, and you must draw and shoot your pistol before they do. Beat them to the draw, and you see them drop dead. Miss, and it’s Boot Hill for you.

It was one of several games of the sort from Nintendo in the mid-70′s, and helped pave their way into the arcade realm and eventually to the birth of Mario.

Wild Gunman, a coin-operated game designed by Gunpei Yokoi for Nintendo, 1974

Better draw quick with Wild Gunman

You can read the whole, early history of Nintendo and the development of Donkey Kong here at The Dot Eaters.