NES and SNES designer retires from Nintendo after nearly 40 years

Lance Barr also helped shape the Wii.

Jason Leung on Unsplash

One of the most influential game console designers is bowing out. According to Kotaku, NES and SNES designer Lance Barr has retired from Nintendo after 38 years and eight months at the company. Although relatively few know his name, he may have played a key role in obtaining mainstream acceptance for Nintendo and reinvigorating the video game industry in the US.

Barr joined Nintendo in a part-time role in December 1982, but he made his biggest mark when he was asked to design the outside of the NES to make the Famicom more palatable for American audiences. As requested, he made it look like it belonged next to a stereo system (complete with a VHS-style cartridge loader) compared to the "soft" Japanese model. The console's final look was rushed, though — while the prototype NES at CES was a sleek wireless machine, Barr and his team spent an hour reworking the device based on both a poor CES reaction and cost-cutting engineering demands. One of the most recognizable pieces of electronics in the past four decades was the product of a quick rework, in other words.

Barr was influential well beyond those two early consoles. He designed key NES accessories, including the Zapper light gun and NES Max. And while Nintendo headquarters took the design reins in the mid-1990s, Barr left his stamp on the 2000s as well — he was involved in the design of the Wii and its legendary Nunchuk add-on controller.

In that light, Barr helped shape Nintendo's overall hardware design language: simple, sturdy and instantly recognizable. Nintendo appears to be in good hands without Barr, but his departure still marks the end of a long and important era.