It's a sad moment for gamers. Kotaku reports Masayuki Uemura, the lead creator of the Famicom and Super Famicom (aka NES and SNES), died on December 6th at the age of 78. He started working at Sharp, where he sold solar cell and light sensor technology, but he's best remembered for a long and highly influential run at Nintendo that effectively revived the video game industry following the 1983 crash.
Uemura first became involved with Nintendo after the company's Gunpei Yokoi asked about using Sharp solar cells to produce light gun games. The future console designer joined Nintendo in 1971, and the company released gun games that included a home-friendly game called Duck Hunt (yes, the predecessor of the NES title). Company president Hiroshi Yamauchi put Uemura in charge of the R&D2 division responsible for hardware, including consoles, and in November 1981 famously called Uemura asking him to build a machine that lets you play arcade games on your TV. The result was 1983's Famicom, the system that would become the NES outside of Japan.
You know at least some of what happened next. The Famicom and NES were wild successes, selling nearly 62 million units combined and rejuvenating interest in home consoles. Uemura then led work on the Super Famicom, whose global launch as the SNES further cemented Nintendo's reputation. He also produced some NES games, including Ice Climber and three sports titles. He retired from Nintendo in 2004, but continued to serve as an advisor and would go on to teach and research video games as a professor at Ritsumeikan University.
It's hard to overstate Uemura's influence. The video game business as it exists today arguably owes much to the skill of Uemura and his team when they designed their first TV consoles. He also helped grow Japan's overall tech industry by making Nintendo a global force in electronics. While he certainly wasn't the only star at Nintendo, he was one of the most directly influential.