[HOT] : Masayuki Uemura: Death of the creator of the Super Nintendo and the NES

Masayuki Uemura, the engineer of the NES and the Super Nintendo, has passed away. It was mid-morning that the sad news broke and it didn’t take long for the messages to start raining on social media. Having left at the age of 78 on December 6, this man had such an important role at Nintendo and in the video game industry that it seemed inconceivable to us not to pay tribute to him.

In this month of November 1981, Masayuki Uemura is not serene. In charge of Nintendo’s R & D2 (Research and Development) office, he has been looking for an idea for several years to restore the image of his team and it does not come. Opposite, the R & D1 office, headed by Gunpei Yokoi, is a hit with Game & Watch and nothing more is needed to create a climate of uncertainty. At almost forty years old, the electronic engineer knows that his future is at stake, especially after the Radar Scope fiasco (the terminal will cause panic at Nintendo of America and the creation of the famous Donkey Kong). The situation is tense. Until a certain phone call …

I think it all started when Yamauchi-san, the former president of Nintendo, called me home. For sure. He then told me that the good sales of Game & Watch would not last very long. At the time, I was responsible for the Research & Development 2 department, whose workforce was tending to decrease. I had a lot of free time and could go home fairly early. (laughs). He told me that the next big hit would be video games to play on the living room TV screen and asked if my department could develop them. He wanted games to no longer be integrated, but instead the console to use cartridges, a system that was growing in popularity at the time. He also added that he wanted a machine that the competition couldn’t match for three years.

At the time, the engineer was completely confused! In his eyes, the request of the president of Nintendo is totally irrational! For several days, he tries to clarify the latter’s request and obtains information which disturbs him even more: the machine must not exceed the psychological price of 10,000 yen (or about 100 euros with inflation). The challenge is colossal, if not impossible, but the Nintendo employee has found a real way to regain the trust of his boss. And he will then give everything so that everything is ready for the middle of the year 1982 as required by his superior. At first, he turns to the company Sharp (his ex-employer) and establishes a first contact which looks promising, but this hope is quickly showered by Yamauchi himself.

I started researching video games, but soon another problem arose. Yamauchi-san had decreed that we could not manufacture this console in collaboration with Sharp. It really bothered me. (laughs) I intended to collaborate with Sharp.

In fact, Sharp is already working with R & D1 on the design of Game & Watch and the president of Nintendo is concerned that the management of several projects simultaneously will disrupt the proper functioning of his screen and semiconductor supplier.

FORTUNE’S SOLUTION?

Masayuki Uemura continues his investigations, but the doors close one after the other. All the giants of the sector think that the boss of Nintendo is completely up to it and that his project is going up in the wall. Hope ultimately comes from a small business.

At the time, Ricoh had a semiconductor production plant with the most modern facilities, but they had problems as the production rate at their facilities stagnated. They wanted me to come and visit their factory and see if we could use these facilities. At the time, this plant was only operating at 10% of its capacity.

Uemura-san goes to Ricoh’s and asks a question that hits the mark: “Can we get Donkey Kong with this?” “. Ricoh engineers, visibly seduced by the engineer’s approach, are under the spell. Before being engineers, they are gamers and they imagine the potential of such a console! Instead of playing in an arcade, would it be possible to play Donkey Kong at home? Those concerned, wound up like pendulums, manage to convince their management to accede to Nintendo’s request. And this one is surreal! It concerns the production of 3 million components for a ridiculous price of 2,000 yen (less than twenty euros) per part! The bet is successful!

Masayuki Uemura, after tough negotiations (and the approval of its president who then took part in the discussions), gets what he wants and will imagine a console that meets significant budget constraints. Based on a Ricoh 6502 processor, the Family Computer (renamed Famicom by Japanese gamers) was a powerhouse for the time. Released on July 15, 1983, it was known under the code name Young Computer and had the particularity of being composed of two irremovable controllers, of a low quality plastic and of a rather cheap color. During his development, Masayuki Uemura made several prototypes of joystick, but he was not convinced by this stick system. It was then that he had the idea to use the famous Game & Watch directional cross and the Select and Start buttons. It will also integrate a microphone on the second controller of the console (due to the popularity of karaoke in Japan). The Nintendo engineer will thus achieve a tour de force by developing a console in… one year and nine months at a price of 14,800 yen (147 euros with inflation). Masayuki Uemura will also have a big role in the design of the Western model of the Famicom, in other words our NES.

FROM FAMICOM TO NES

It was long believed that the NES, in its western form, was primarily the work of American designer Lance Barr, but that’s not entirely true. In reality, Nintendo of America has indeed designed a rough outline of what would become of the NES, in particular by giving it this form of VCR. But its designers were based on a drawing from Nintendo Japan. And if the cartridge is protected, unlike the Famicom and its apparent cartridge, it is because Masayuki Uemura feared the climate of certain places in the West.

Japan has high humidity, so there isn’t a lot of static electricity. However, if you go to America, especially to a place like Texas, it is very dry so there is a lot of static electricity. So we wanted to make sure the kids didn’t touch the connection ports. This is how the cartridge also got bigger, because that is how the product should be designed.

As an electronic engineer, Uemura-san understood that the form of a VCR (everyone dreamed of this device back then) could be a danger to the hands of children who were a little too adventurous. So he made it difficult to reach the connection ports by lengthening the size of the cartridge. Pretty smart, right? This engineer had a huge talent and he had great ideas. For example, along with other people, he suggested that the NES Zapper (the electronic gun) be offered as a pack with a game – in this case Duck Hunt – to appeal to Western players (SEGA will do the same with its pack. Master System – which will eventually become the definitive name of the console previously named SEGA Video System). It will also be at the origin of the Famicom Disk System, the floppy disk drive compatible with the Famicom. With this experience, he could not stop there.

THE MASTER’S STROKE

Reinvigorated with the stratospheric success of the Famicom (while, in turn, the R & D1 will experience some complicated times), the R & D2 is logically called to create the one to succeed the 1983 console. Unlike his work at the start of the 1980s, Masayuki Uemura now has more freedom to imagine the new machine. It was in 1987 that the design of the Super Famicom began, which became Super Nintendo here. Initially, the console embeds a central processor type 65C816 (from Western Design Center) and must be backward compatible with the cartridges of its big sister. But time goes by and the team is embroiled in sound management issues. The project accumulated such r **** d that backward compatibility was abandoned in mid-1988.

The electronic engineer will thus refine his prototype until November 21, 1988, date of the first press conference crowned with the seal of the Super Famicom. At the time, the console wore a white and gray dress and was more mastoc than the final model. It has sliding buttons and is very rounded. The controller, on the other hand, is made up of red buttons marked A, B, C and D (the edge keys being E and F). As backward compatibility has disappeared, Nintendo is looking for an alternative. Masayuki Uemura has thus imagined, in parallel, a new Famicom model, linked to the Super Famicom and compatible with the new controllers. All these ideas will then be sent to oblivion.

On the design of the Super Nintendo, Masayuki Uemura has not been poured out in the Western media. Driven by the success of the Famicom / NES, it undoubtedly worked more calmly and – probably – encountered fewer constraints. However, this is only a hypothesis. On July 28, 1989, he participated in a new press conference and revealed the results of his work.

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