Pac-Man and the Mrs.

Pac-Man Artwork

Pac-Man Artwork (Photo credit: Sam Howzit)

Pac-Man, video game history’s most successful character, was created by Namco employee Toru Iwatani in 1980. He had come to Namco intending to make pinball machines but the game giant was not manufacturing them at the time. Looking to make a game that catered to female players and did not feature violence like many of the current games on the market, Iwatani based his game design around Japanese word taberu, ‘to eat’.

His Pac-Man character came from- you guessed it- a lunchtime pizza missing a slice.  At the time of release Namco didn’t particularly think Pac-Man anything too special though it showed potential. The original game was named Pakkuman but changed for release as Puck-Man in reference to what the Japanese perceived as a ‘puck’ shape. However, Namco president Masaya Nakamura felt that Americans might vandalise the arcade game and change the name to something more expletive (stop thinking about it!). So Puck-Man became Pac-Man.

At release time, Rally-X by Namco was the favoured winner but Pac-Man quickly picked up far and beyond, selling over 100,000 games to the U.S.  Pac-Man has featured in his own 80’s cartoon (Pac-Man: The Animated Series),  been the subject of pop music (Pac-Man Fever by Buckner and Garcia), had his very own General Mills breakfast cereal, and his own canned pasta from Chef Boyardee.

Pac-Man Fever and other 80s game songs courtesy Tommy Lewis

The Pac-craze extended to sequels- at least 31 known and many unauthorized. Pac-Man’s maze concept was quickly copied and ushered in a new type of game, bringing in untold riches into the industry.

Libble Rabble

Libble Rabble (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Toru Iwatani eventually became general manager of Research and Development at Namco and later put out another game entitled Libble Rabble which didn’t enjoy the popularity of Pac-Man. Perhaps that first success was so long-lived because of Iwatani’s vision in design was clarity of simplicity- eat pellets, get through maze, survive and rack up points- that anyone could immediately see how to use it.  

Fun Facts about Pac-Man:
1. There are live recreations of Pac-Man across the country, one popular one being Pac Manhattan.
2. Pac-Man Cereal came with marshmallows in a couple of versions including Super Pac-Man and Mrs. Pac-Man.
3. Pac-Man pasta was made in Golden Chicken flavoured sauce, Spaghetti Sauce with Cheese flavour and Spaghetti sauce with mini meatballs
4. The ghosts in Pac-Man were named Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde
5. They don’t just randomly try to get Pac-Man, each has a particular plan of attack programmed in- here’s a hint: Clyde is the least likely to get you
6. Pac-Man was the first video game to target a female audience
7. Pac-Man was the first maze chase game manufactured
8. The 4 highest-point items in Pac-Man are the melon (1000), Galaxian (2000), bell (3000) and key (5000)
9. One of Pac-Man’s sequels was Pac-Land, debuting in 1984 which featured side-scrolling
10. The original Pac-Man game had 256 levels, the last level being unbeatable


Ms. Pac-Man

ATARI Ms Pac-Man - brick-n-books

Pac-Man’s creator Toru Iwatani did not in fact have anything to do with Mrs. Pac-Man’s creation. In fact this honour goes to a group of students under Doug Macrae and Kevin Curran at MIT. Both game enthusiasts, they started out trying to get into the video game design business and built PAI boards- these could change game play by fitting onto existing boards. Taking apart a Missile Command arcade game (Atari), they added code over the existing game code and fit it with a PAI board. The new game was referred to as Super Missile Attack and the MIT men noticed it brought interest back into the original game. So in effect, ‘enhancement kits’ were born.

Ms. Pac-Man Kill screen courtesy onvgp

McRae and Curran began their business from their basement selling PAI brand enhancement kits and called their new venture General Computer. Of course the most popular game in the world, Pac-Man, would be a crowning achievement to General Computer if they were able to ‘enhance’ it. So they quickly set to doing this.

Because the code for Pac-Man was much more difficult to hack than that of Missile Command, it took much longer to work enhancements into the game and during that time Atari sued General Computer for copyright infringement. In an unprecedented case regarding who has the right to modify or enhance a video game, Atari settled and paid $50K per month to General Computer to develop games for them if the pair would drop production of enhancement kits,

McRae and Curran didn’t want to let Pac-Man go though and their legal agreement stated that they couldn’t make kits without permission from Atari. So they sought permission elsewhere at Bally Midway who’d put out the original U.S. version of Pac-Man. Bally had just ended their other Pac-products and didn’t want an enhancement to the original- they wanted a sequel.

In the Pac-Man enhancement kit General Computer had been working on, Pac-Man had legs and the kit itself was named Crazy Otto. Bally nixed this, saying no to the legs- Pac-Man’s image had to stay true to the original character in any sequel of theirs. So General Computer took off the legs and made a female Pac-Man originally titled Pac-Woman. But females on Midway staff were offended by this (??) and suggested a surname for their modern gal. Pac-Woman became Miss Pac-Man. Then it was brought to General Computer’s attention that in the Pac-Man cartoon airing at the time, Pac-Man and the Mrs. have a baby together. That wouldn’t do.

The name was changed finally to Mrs. Pac-Man and then Ms. Pac-Man in order to please everyone so production could finally start. Midway didn’t manufacture Ms. Pac-Man hardware- it continued to make Pac-Man with a Ms. Pac-Man enhancement kit.  Ms. Pac-Man became a cash cow for Midway as Pac-Man had for Namco. Later General Computer built Junior Pac-Man but when Bally Midway contracted with Dave Nutting to build Baby Pac-Man, McRae and Curran sued on grounds that they had created the original Pac-Family. They won.

Fun Facts about Ms. Pac-Man and family
1. The ghosts in Ms. Pac-Man are the same as in Pac-Man except that Clyde was changed to Sue and named for McRae’s sister.
2. Ms. Pac-Man features a ‘death’ sound when the character dies which was not in Pac-Man
3. Ms. Pac-Man also has 256 levels, the last being unbeatable.
4. Junior Pac-Man came out in 1983- it has a kill screen in the 146th round
5. New ghosts featuring in Jr. Pac-Man were Tim (in place of Clyde) and Yum-Yum

Junior Pac-Man courtesy TiegonBerry

Today I Found Out
The Ultimate History of Video Games – Steven L Kent
The Video Games Guide 2nd ed. – Matt Fox
Only a Game

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