Nintendo president Satoru Iwata presents the keynote speech at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in 2011

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata delivers keynote at the 2011 Game Developers’ Conference. Photo: Official GDC, © The Photo Group, 2011. All rights reserved. | Flicker CC.

Satoru Iwata, president of video game giant Nintendo, passed away at the age of 55, according to a brief press statement by the company. Iwata had been struggling with a bile duct tumor, skipping the major video game convention E3 in 2014 and later undergoing surgery to remove a growth.

No successor has yet been announced, although Engadget suggests that Genyo Takeda and Shigeru Miyamoto—the latter the creator of the Mario and Legend of Zelda series, among other things—may be directing the company for the time being.

Iwata enjoyed a long career in video games and at Nintendo. After studying computer programming in high school, he attended the Tokyo Institute of Technology. He joined a small video game developer called HAL Laboratory in 1982, and nursed it back into financial success as president ten years later.

During that decade, he worked on games that HAL Laboratory released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), including longtime favorites Earthbound (concerning a boy with psychic powers) and Kirby (a small pink puffball from Dream Land that sucks up his enemies to copy their powers). He joined Nintendo directly in 2000, and was named president in 2002 at the age of 42.

Though marked with some low points, Iwata claimed some of Nintendo’s greatest successes during his period of leadership. The Wii, famous for its distinct motion-control remotes and accessibility for all ages, debuted under him and was the top-selling video game console during its time. The DS, a gaming device with two screens and a touch interface, helped cement the company’s long-time domination of the handheld gaming market.

On the other hand, the Wii U has had a difficult time competing with Sony and Microsoft, and mobile phone games have proven an unexpectedly successful opponent for the DS and 3DS. Iwata seemed to realize that the company needed to adapt, and one of the last major moves he oversaw was a deal with Tokyo company DeNA to pilot Nintendo in smartphone gaming.

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Martin Ackerman is a freelance writer and current editor originally from Staten Island, NY. His university schooling focused on English education and Japanese. He has a (not so secret) passion for art history and political science. When he isn't writing or editing you can find him at sci-tech conventions, building the latest LEGO city or pampering his cat, Tea. You can follow him on Twitter @MarMackerman.