Nintendo created the arcade game Donkey Kong out of desperation. Their American warehouse held 2,000 unsold Radar Scope cabinets thanks to an optimistic belief that the game would be a hit in the States. So, having sold only a third of their 3,000 unit stock, Nintendo needed a solution to rid themselves of Radar Scope without taking a loss.
Donkey Kong was their solution, but it proved to have legal repercussions that haunted them for nine years. Even so, it was thanks to these complications that a new, talented developer rose into existence: Intelligent Systems.
Before Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, and became the physical embodiment of video games for roughly a decade, they created quirky toys. Although they had experience with games thanks to their line of Game & Watch handhelds, arcade games were a different matter. Nintendo needed assistance, and so they looked beyond their walls.
They found Ikegami.
Specifically, Ikegami Tsushinki, a Japanese tech company founded only a year after the end of the second World War. They went on to specialize in video cameras used by television companies, even winning a handful of Emmy Awards in Technology and Engineering. As many other companies did at the time, Ikegami joined the young and fertile game industry, but as a developer not credited for their work, known as “ghost developers.”
Ikegami developed Radar Scope and Donkey Kong under Nintendo’s direction, in addition to manufacturing the game boards inserted into the cabinets. Their relationship with Nintendo ended after Donkey Kong became a hit. Orders for the arcade hardware stopped as Nintendo began creating the hardware themselves, a move that came with later repercussions.
As expected of a company with a hit game, Nintendo aimed to create a sequel to Donkey Kong. Instead of creating the game from scratch, they hired Iwasaki Electronics to reverse-engineer Ikegami’s Donkey Kong code. In response, Ikegami sued Nintendo for manufacturing the DK hardware and the later reverse-engineering. This lawsuit lasted until 1990, nine years after Donkey Kong’s release, with an out-of-court settlement.
Donkey Kong Jr. hit arcades in August 1982. Meanwhile, Ikegami also worked for Nintendo’s rival Sega on Congo Bongo and Zaxxon, among other games. Although their status as “ghost developer” meant that they weren’t credited, Ikegami inserted the following message into the ROM of Donkey Kong and the aforementioned Sega games:
The years after are a bit more common knowledge. Nintendo released the Famicom in Japan, while the rest of the world (excluding Korea and Russia, apparently) gained the NES. Through tight control on third-parties, marketing the NES as a toy, and, of course, a slew of great games, Nintendo managed to revive the American video game market after the ’83 crash. Quite simply, Nintendo sat at the top of the gaming world.
Iwasaki continued working with Nintendo, a relationship so strong that members of Iwasaki and Nintendo’s R&D1 division splintered off and formed Intelligent Systems in December 1986. The young studio made the Kyoto Research Institute their home until 2014, when they moved into their own building. (Nintendo Software Planning & Development also worked in the Kyoto Research Institute during Intelligent System’s stay.)
Intelligent Systems continued where Iwasaki left off by providing support for Nintendo. They helped with Metroid, among other games, and created development tools for almost every Nintendo console after the NES and Game Boy, with the notable exception of Wii and Wii U.
On August 12, 1988, Nintendo released Famicom Wars for — what else? — the Famicom, developed by Intelligent Systems and Nintendo R&D1. Famicom Wars is a turn-based strategy game depicting a war between the Red Star army and the Blue Moon army. Players move soldiers and modern weapons of war, engaging in conflict with enemy units and taking over buildings to earn additional income used to create more units.
Famicom Wars earned a sequel on Super Famicom, along with four games on the Game Boy. Strangely, some of those GB Wars titles were developed and published by Hudson, not Nintendo and Intelligent Systems. Finally, over a decade after Famicom Wars, the series invaded the rest of the world with Advance Wars on Game Boy Advance.
Several more Wars games came out, including the spin-off Battalion Wars by Kuju Entertainment. The last game in the series is Advance Wars: Days of Ruin for Nintendo DS in 2008, two decades after the release of Famicom Wars.
Intelligent Systems, with R&D1’s continued assistance, turned its gaze to the RPG genre next, mixing elements like earning experience and a wide cast of characters with their own brand of turn-based strategy. Two years after Famicom Wars, Nintendo published Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryū to Hikari no Tsurugi, officially subtitled Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, for the Famicom.
Thus began a franchise that continues to this day with 2016’s Fire Emblem Fates. But that, hopefully, is another post.
Fahs, T. (2011). The Secret History of Donkey Kong. Retrieved from
GDRI (2014). Company: Ikegami Tsushinki. Retrieved from
GDRI (2010). Category: Nintendo. Retrieved from
Ikegami (n.d.). Milestones of Ikegami. Retrieved from http://www.ikegami.com/milestones.html
Intelligent Systems (2015). Development Tools. Retrieved from
Ishaan (2014). Fire Emblem Studio Intelligent Systems Has A New Headquarters. Retrieved from http://www.siliconera.com/2014/01/10/fire-emblem-studio-intelligent-systems-new-headquarters/
MobyGames (n.d.). Ikegami Tsushinki Co., Ltd. Retrieved from
MobyGames (n.d.). Intelligent Systems Co., Ltd. Retrieved from
MobyGames (n.d.). Iwasaki Electronics Co. Ltd. Retrieved from
Narihiro, T. & Sakurai, M. (2010). Iwata Asks – Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. Retrieved from