Gunpei Yokoi (横井軍平), Nintendo's legendary inventor and yearslong head of its R&D department, suffered a tragic death in a roadside accident on the 4th of October 1997, aged only 56.
One month earlier, his just established company Koto Laboratory released two products, that would turn out to be Yokoi's final two games.
|Keychain games designed by Yokoi's Koto Laboratory|
Yokoi worked at Nintendo for over thirty years, and played a pivotal role in the company's evolution from a relatively small manufacturer of playing cards to a global player in the world of electronic entertainment. The list of inventions that bear his name is beyond impressive and includes the Ultra Hand
, Ultra Machine
, Love Tester
, Kousenjuu SP light gun series
, Ultra Scope
, Light Telephone
, Ten Billion
, Game & Watch
, Game Boy
, Virtual Boy
As a result of Nintendo's prosperity, to which Yokoi himself had greatly contributed, the company's staff size had grown considerably and Yokoi's role had gradually become more managerial. He increasingly longed for the early days when most of his time was spent working hands-on on new ideas and inventions, and started dreaming about forming his own small ideas company that would allow him to do just that.
In August of 1996 Yokoi retired from Nintendo, after completing the design of the GameBoy Pocket
, and founded Koto Laboratory
in September of the same year. Like Nintendo, it was based in Yokoi's hometown Kyoto.
|Inside Koto Laboratory in 1999|
(Photos taken from The WonderSwan magazine vol 1, copyright Soft Bank)
The small team that Yokoi assembled at Koto started working on a number of projects, including an assignment from toy giant Bandai. Bandai had asked Koto to develop a competitor to the Game Boy
, one of Yokoi's most successful creations during his time at Nintendo.
The Koto team also returned to another area were Yokoi had put a big stamp on in the past: LCD games. The heydays of the Game & Watch
games were long over in 1996, but there still was a market for affordable, portable electronic games.
Koto's first products, a couple of keychain LCD games, were released in Japan by Hiro Company in September of 1997, one year after Koto had started.