RWR: Pac-Man, Experience, and Namco’s Design Legacy

Retro Wednesday Rewind: Pac-Man, Experience, and Namco’s Design Legacy

In this weekly feature, CheatCC contributing writer Steve Haske explores the rich history of video games, from notable and memorable games to important events in the industry, as viewed through the lens of gaming's contemporary standards, design, and culture.

Like many children growing up in gaming's infancy, I remember often getting quarters to play cabinet coin-ops at arcades and pizza parlors as a child. Even as a kid I was fascinated by the detailed animated sprites and technical achievements possible with an arcade board's advanced hardware, and loved playing everything from Street Fighter to Sunset Riders because of it. When arcades eventually hit bust, as the internet began changing the face of media distribution, it was a hard reality to watch establishments designed solely to satiate your cravings for, say, Metal Slug or Children of the Atom slowly choke to death. Today, I consider myself lucky to live in one of the few remaining towns in the country to still have an arcade, let alone one that's prosperous, although I suppose it doubling as a bar doesn't hurt. I still frequent the local arcade, and because the game selection doesn't see much rotation, I stick to a few titles. Among my favorites of these are Galaga and the Pac-Man series, which I came to appreciate, somewhat surprisingly, by way of some more modern instances of design.

Retro Wednesday Rewind: Pac-Man, Experience, and Namco’s Design Legacy

I have been acquainted and re-acquainted with Pac-Man over the years. My first exposure to the original was through the magic of wayward arcade machines. The game was good enough, but it never really resonated with me until Pac-Man World, Namco's somewhat good, somewhat sloppy attempt to bring their long beloved mascot into the realm of 3D platforming.

Platformers were still very much the rage under the fledgling banner the fifth console generation's 3D revolution. Call it the marketability and appeal of Pac's new 3D digs, or maybe just that I was starting to reach an age where I could appreciate old arcade games, but all of a sudden, this strange yellow thing that ate ghosts was a legitimate character in my eyes. As an extra, Namco shoved an arcade edition onto the Pac-Man World disc—I ended up playing this original version probably as much as the game I had bought the disc for, and loved the arcadey challenge that lurked beneath its initially simple design. Pac-Man World eventually grew old, however, and my brief indulgence with the original Pac-Man ended without even a whimper.

At some point during the course of the PS One's lifespan, I also came to own a couple iterations of Namco Museum. One of them had an arcade port of Pac-Man far superior to the one on Pac-Man World. Interestingly, my Namco Museum days—which were somewhat short-lived given the variety of noteworthy new games that graced Sony's console in its later years—were a kind of false start. I stuck on with Pac-Man, not considering later iterations of the series. While Namco Museum was still fresh on my gaming stack, I played a lot of Pac-Man (again) and actually got surprisingly decent at Galaxian—at least as good as one can be at a still comparatively young age. In retrospect, it's no wonder I moved on to each series' second core incarnation, given that their designs are arguably more agreeable to hardcore tastes (in spite of Galaxian's stiff controls and slower ship actions). Eventually Namco Museum shared the same fate as Pac-Man World, however, and was ultimately shelved as well; once again my relationship with Namco drifted.

Retro Wednesday Rewind: Pac-Man, Experience, and Namco’s Design Legacy

A turning point came last year at E3. 2010 marked Pac-Man's 30th anniversary—almost a decade after Pac-Man World was released—and to celebrate, Namco threw the type of party that was typical of what you see at trade shows, with an open bar, games to play, and the requisite industry and journalist types mulling around and chatting amongst themselves. The party itself is still one of my favorite E3 memories for a variety of reasons, but a significant part of what made the night so fantastic was an unassuming, unheard of four-player Pac-Man game that almost everyone at the party was ignoring: Battle Royale.