1981 was a great year at the arcades. There were over 350 different arcade games released that year alone, and I’m pretty sure that I played each and every one of them! Thanks for the allowance Mom!
Since this was, for all intents and purposes, the second truly full year of the immense popularity of arcade games, it was inevitable that sequels would be on the minds of the geniuses who were producing this new and immensely popular new form of entertainment.
Of course, no game was as popular in the previous year than the granddaddy of modern video games, Pac-Man. Much like Space Invaders before it, Pac-Man was a certifiable hit both in the US and overseas. Millions of quarters passed through its coin slots monthly and it seemed like there was no end in sight. It was so popular that an actual Long Play album was produced titled “Pac-Man Fever” by the artists Buckner and Garcia. So you would think that it stood to reason that given this major popularity world-wide that a sequel was a total no brainer, right?
If you thought that, you would be wrong. Namco, the company responsible for Pac-Man, was not quick to move forward with a sequel at all. In fact the creator of Pac-Man, Toru Iwatano, was a man beside himself. It was not common for a company in Japan to share their profit margins with the creators of their games, but unfortunately for Namco, word got around to Toru and he wasn’t having any of it. He asked for more money and was told no. Quitting your job in Japan is completely frowned upon, so Toru basically pulled all of his toys together and refused to make games for the next 29 years!
America though was not going to sit by patiently and go without a new Pac-Man game. General Computer Corporation (GCC), whose name does not make you think of arcade games at all, decided to make a quick conversion kit for Pac-Man in the hopes of getting it licensed by Namco. GCC tested their conversion kit to much success. They had also made a conversion kit for Missile Command the year before and were sued by Atari for it, so they moved much slower in working with Namco.
Namco saw this conversion and in it, they saw the light at the end of their tunnel. They basically took the conversion kit as-is, and only changed the graphics – they put an eye, a bow, lip stick, and a beauty mark on gold ole Pac-Man and they had their newest million dollar maker. They didn’t even change the ghosts at all, but GCC changed the logic that the ghosts followed as they chased Ms. Pac around.
Here is a shot of the game:
Needless to say, Ms. Pac-Man was yet another bonified monster hit for Namco. Even more so than the original Pac-Man as this time around women flocked to the machine because the previous hero was now a heroine!
Merchandising for Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man was basically a license to print money on every continent. You can find the entire Pac-Family on just about anything you can think of. I personally have seen toilet paper, clocks, leather jackets, sun glasses, shot glasses, underwear, and even tattoos (seen here – [via] Body Mod):
Of course every gaming console has seen Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man come to it. Most recently, Namco released Pac-Man Championship DX for the Xbox 360 and I am happy to tell you that Toru Iwitani, the very creator of Pac-Man himself, was at the helm of that project and is once again building awesome games for our enjoyment. This game is once again heralding in a whole new generation of gamers who are once again trying to take that coveted top spot on the high score board!