Does The Switch Contain A Secret Tribute To Former Nintendo President Satoru Iwata?

by Imran Khan on Sep 20, 2017 at 02:00 PM

A few days ago, we reported on the curious case of Nintendo seemingly including a copy of Golf for the NES built into the Switch's firmware. At the time, it was thought to be a strange test for a NES emulator or some Nintendo designers simply fooling around, but newly emerging details indicate it might just be a tribute to former Nintendo president, the late Satoru Iwata.

Golf, originally released in 1984 on the Famciom and functioning as a launch title for the NES in America the following year, has popped up in Nintendo's history here and there. Wii Sports, a game whose cultural impact is well known to people alive in the mid-2000s, had a golfing game that used 3D versions of the maps from the NES game as its courses. It is no surprise, considering that Golf was one of Iwata's first sole programming jobs when he started at Nintendo, and likely held a strong place in his heart.

As ArsTechnica reports, in late July of this year, a poster on a console modding forum called GBATemp posted an oddity they discovered while messing around inside the Switch. The poster, who goes by the handle Setery, said they walked out of the room and returned to find Golf on the Switch's screen. Confused and apparently sleepy, they played it for a bit and walked away, not considering whether they should take video evidence of this anomaly. The post got quietly ignored until recently, when other modders discovered there may have been some truth, accidental or otherwise, to Setery's story.

Before Setery's anecdote, modders had found the word "flog" in the Switch's code, which is now apparently known as the name of the emulator running Golf. This cast suspicion on Setery's story, as they simply might have pieced together "flog" as "Golf" and created a story from there. Recently, however, another Switch hacker named yellows8 found the emulator and the playable Golf through memory access, but was mostly unable to figure out how to do it otherwise, backing up Setery's original find.

Thus began a Gold Rush-style search for the way to get to the Switch's hidden golf game. Dozens of GBATemp users were investigating the possible permutations Setery's Switch could have been in to come across this mystery emulator. Was it unplugged? Was there a game in there? Which game? Was it running? Where in the game were you?

Eventually, someone hit what seemed to be the nail on the head: What were the systems date and time settings?

Console hacker Pluto managed to discover this, stating that the system needed to be on the date July 11 and a 1.5 second motion (presumably a golf swing) with the joycon needed to be made to unlock the emulator. It was reasoned that July 11 was the anniversary of Satoru Iwata's death, but the golf swing was curious. The only problem is that this still wasn't working, it was just helping to turn the key a bit more.

The theory was divisive, partly for its morbidity, and partly because it was not producing any results. Changing the system clock to July 11 accomplished very little, and the proposed golf swing motion wasn't really hitting like they expected. On Tuesday, however, yellows8 updated the hacking Scratchpad Wiki with what he believed to be the real issue, the Switch doesn't care with what you think the time is.

The very first time Switch owners connect the console to the internet, the Switch basically meets and shakes hands with the internet time. Hidden fundamentally deep in the system, that knowledge of what time it is supposed to be becomes a core part of the console, meaning that it always knows what time it is and cannot be told differently, regardless of what the user-alterable settings say. In order to accomplish something on a certain date, say, July 11, it has to actually be July 11.

The next thing yellows8 explained was that people had been perceiving the motion wrong all along. While a golf swing, which comes from a neutral position and swings forward toward your TV, made sense, the Switch was seemingly picking it up accidentally as the real motion: Satoru Iwata's "Directly to you" gesture. It was how Iwata communicated the style of the Nintendo Directs and bringing information straight to consumers through live streams and videos.

Unfortunately, it does seem like the internet time issue has put a cap on this mystery until the next July 11, and even then it is hard to be sure if the information gleamed so far is accurate. It does provide a small, wistful feeling when you think about how Nintendo designers appreciated and missed Iwata so much that they dedicated a nearly impossible to find easter egg to him in the system's firmware. From a more abstract point of view, one of Iwata's most enduring legacies might be that he is in every Switch, watching over the system's success.