The Development of Pac-Man

Posted By at 5:33 PM on Wednesday August 8, 2012

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In this 2003 retrospective, the creator of the world-famous arcade title reveals unknown trivia concerning the game’s development, details his influences, and elaborates on the challenges he faced during the creation of Pac-Man. It was retrieved from Game Staff List Association Japan, a Japanese website that, among other things, aims to summarize, transcribe, and categorize interviews with video game developers.

Toru Iwatani

Toru Iwatani

Born on Jan. 25th, 1955, blood type B, Iwatani was working as a Namco Incubation Center Conductor at the time of the interview in 2003. He first joined the company in 1977, back when it was still known as Nakamura Manufacturing.

His Words

Back then, Namco was working on marketing Atari games in Japan. My first task upon joining the company was to repair the game boards we sold. Those were the days of the “one board, one game” era. You could change games by replacing the software on the circuit boards. I’d check the boards returned to us by venders who claimed they weren’t in good condition, spraying integrated circuits that appeared to be broken with cooling spray and fixing them up. Computers are prone to fevers, you see. [Laughs] Because we did that sort of thing on the side, Namco had a certain technological background when it came to video games.

Gee Bee (1978)

Personally, I was a pinball fan, and I wanted to make a game like that. But Namco didn’t do pinball games, and didn’t have any plans to make one. As a last resort, I asked myself whether there wasn’t some way I could put my pinball idea to use in another title. I ended up creating Namco’s first video game, Gee Bee. At the time, the video game industry was nothing but a possibility, so the development was left up to the younger employees. We made the game with a team of 3 people. When you include the people in charge of designing the cabinet, it took 7 or 8 of us a year to finish. Outfitting the development environment lasted quite a while.

To tell you the truth, several months after we released the game, Taito put out Space Invaders and sunk us. [Laughs] We went on to release Bombee and Cutie Q, two other titles in the Gee Bee series, but none of them sold very well. Everyone had moved on to Invaders.

Back then, American-made titles were appearing on the market lead by Atari, and they were full of concepts and ways of thinking that were extraordinarily fresh. These games stimulated us in terms of creativity, and the desire to make new games served as our foundation.

Space Invaders Table Top Game

A Table Top Version of Space Invaders

At the same time, the fact that Space Invaders was such an unprecedented hit also had some influence. It spawned a number of bloodthirsty games, such as those that called for players to kill aliens. I thought I’d make a game that appealed to female gamers and attracted couples. That’s how I started planning Pac-Man. When it came time to figure out what sort of game I could do, I suggested basing it around a particular verb. I thought up a variety of verbs, such as “grab” and “surround”.

In those days, there was a proliferation of table top games, including a considerable number of game machines installed in cafés and other businesses. I figured that a game made in the image of a culinary environment and based around the verb “to eat” could be fun. Everyone contributed their ideas, and, in the end, it took 7 or 8 of us a around a year and a half to develop the game. During production, a variety of ideas were added and tweaked through trial and error, including power pellets and warp tunnels, so that up taking a lot of time.

In the beginning, in particular, the game went at about half the speed compared to what it is now. During the final editing stage, the response we got was that the game “wasn’t very interesting”. We jacked up the speed, and suddenly it became fun. That’s how it ended up like it is today.

Fruit Machine

A Fruit Machine For Gambling

The initial concept for the fruit sprung from the notion that the drawings on slot machines found in casinos were American and cool. Because Pac-Man was a game about eating, we started by adding cherries, strawberries, oranges, and other fruit. Once we began running out of ideas, we even put in things like Galaxians. [Laughs] The idea of making a turnaround by eating a power pellet was influenced by the American cartoon show Popeye.

I originally wanted to expand on the character of Pac-Man, so I was very much encouraged by Sanrio [creators of Hello Kitty], which was attracting a lot of attention in the character manufacturing industry at the time. They got a breakthrough overseas, and were getting around 6 billion yen [roughly $60,000,000] in royalties.

As for me, I ended up in a management role after working on Libble Rabble following the release of Pac-Man. Recently, I don’t think people have been keeping up with the latest developments in hardware. Personally, I’d like to be able to make fun games that players can enjoy even more. In 23 years, Pac-Man has come this far. I hope to see it continue to grow in years to come.

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