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Ms. Pac-Man Going Under The Microscope At GDC

Ms. Pac-Man was the wildly popular sequel to an early arcade sensation, and it's the subject of a postmortem talk at next year's GDC.

The game didn't start as an officially sanctioned sequel. It began as an add-on kit for arcade operators looking to extend the lifespan of their Pac-Man arcade machines. That game – Crazy Otto – so impressed arcade giant Midway that they licensed the game and retooled it as Ms. Pac-Man.

Steve Golson, the game's designer and engineer, will be at GDC further discussing Ms. Pac-Man in depth. The event is being held from March 14-18 in San Francisco.


Our Take
I've gone to several of these classic-game postmortems, and they're a fascinating glimpse into gaming history. I'm looking forward to hearing more about Ms. Pac-Man, considering its fairly weird past. The simple addition of giving Pac-Man a love interest led to several family-themed sequels and laid the foundation for the cartoon. Pretty cool, considering how it came to be. – The Feed

Inside The Development Of Ms. Pac-Man

Pac-Man is a very Japanese game from a Japanese game maker, so it may seem strange that the seeds for its superior sequel grew on American soil. Then again, the story behind Ms. Pac-Man is far from normal. Throughout the years, the legend of Ms. Pac-Man has grown to almost mythical proportions. It’s been said that the game was originally an illegal hack created by two MIT students. Then there was its connection to the urban legend about a Pac-Man-with-legs game, a rare cabinet that was rumored to have floated through the wilds of American arcades during the ‘80s. Not every rumor about arcade’s first lady is true, but the truth – as it turns out – is far more impressive than any fiction. “We’ve never made an attempt at correcting things,” says Doug Macrae, General Computer Corporation co-founder and one of the men who helped create Ms. Pac-Man. “But maybe it’s about time.”

[Editor's Note: This feature originally appearing in issue 201 of Game Informer Magazine]

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has changed a lot in the last three decades, but one thing has stayed the same: Its students still take time away from their busy class schedules to blow off steam with video games. As students, Doug Macrae and Kevin Curran spent a fair number of quarters in the arcade during their off hours. Except this was 1977, so it was pinball eating away their pocket change, not Street Fighter.

During his sophomore year Macrae inherited a pinball machine from his older brother. Nothing if not an entrepreneur, Macrae set the machine up on campus hoping he could earn a little pocket change. The machine proved to be so profitable that Macrae asked Curran to join him as a business partner, and the two expanded the business to more than 20 pinball machines and arcade cabinets. Macrae and Curran practically owned MIT’s arcade.

Macrae and Curran’s first attempt at modding a game was the result of waning enthusiasm over Missile Command. The Atari game had exploded onto the arcade scene in July of 1980. It initially proved to be so popular on the MIT campus that Macrae and Curran purchased three machines. However, by spring break of the duo’s senior year the title had lost people’s interest. “The coin collecting on them had fallen dramatically,” Macrae explains. “People had gotten rather bored with the game, or they had gotten really good with the game, because it was relatively simple and repetitive.” Macrae and Curran knew the game needed some modification if they wanted to keep making money with Missile Command.

Within the arcade business of the era, an underground market developed for something called enhancement kits. Also known as speed up kits, these circuit boards plugged into preexisting arcade cabinets, interrupting the original game’s programming and laying new code on top of an old game. Enhancement kits were not always legal, but they were far cheaper than buying an entirely new arcade cabinet. Since these kits altered a game’s mechanics by adding new weapons, enemies, and power-ups, it was often all an arcade owner needed to see renewed interest and fresh quarters pumping back into a stalling cabinet.

Macrae and Curran looked for an enhancement kit to Missile Command, but no one had yet figured out how to create one for the game. “This was a more sophisticated game back in that day,” explains Steve Golson, one of Macrae’s longtime friends and an eventual business associate. “Missile Command required an intricate knowledge of how the program worked in order to enhance the game and make it more difficult. No one had cracked the code yet.”

Not to be discouraged, Macrae and Curran took matters into their own hands and made their own enhancement kit for Missile Command. Within a few days the two students had filed paperwork to incorporate a new business called General Computer Corporation, bought a microprocessing development system, and with the help of four friends began work on Super Missile Attack.

The Super Missile Attack kits were an instant success. So successful, in fact, that the duo began circulating four-color ads for sale in trade magazines like Play Meter and Replay Magazine. This immediately attracted the attention of Missile Command’s publisher, Atari, who filed a temporary restraining order against General Computer Corporation. “We ended up in court with Atari,” Macrae remembers. “Atari didn’t understand what we were doing and why we did it. Many people were copying ROMs at the time, and I think that was their initial assumption.”

The Legend  of Crazy Otto
The week of January 18, 1982, Time magazine ran a cover story called
“Games That Play People.” Time commissioned a photographer to take
several pictures of Pac-Man arcade cabinets around the country. “There
were something like 90,000 Pac-Man cabinets in the U.S. at the time,”
explains Steve Golson, one of the game’s primary engineers. “There were
only three Crazy Otto machines, which Midway was using for market
research.” Somehow the photographer ended up taking photos in the only
Massachusetts arcade that contained a Crazy Otto cabinet. The photos
that Time printed helped reinforce the urban legend that somewhere out
there was an elusive arcade cabinet where Pac-Man had grown legs.

The Atari suit lasted through part of the summer of 1981, but out-of-court negotiations began when Atari realized that it would rather have this group of ambitious students (though many of them had dropped out at this point) working for them, not fighting against them. “They dropped the case with prejudice,” explains Macrae, “meaning they admitted they should not have sued us. At the same time we entered into a development agreement to develop games for them, which was our original goal anyway.”

In a matter of months Macrae, Curran, and the few programmers they had hired to help build Super Missile Attack found their fortunes turned around. They were no longer starving college students running a home-brew business in a showdown with a multi-million dollar company. Suddenly they found themselves financed by an industry giant, developing consumer products that would sell millions. Under the General Computer Corporation name Macrae, Curran, and their expanding team of programmers went on to produce 76 different titles for Atari’s home consoles, including memorable arcade ports of Centipede, Dig Dug, Robotron, Pole Position, and Galaga. That same team even contributed to the hardware design of Atari’s 7800 home console. However, another enhancement kit made by Macrae and Curran would prove to be the duo’s most lasting mark on the video game world. – The Feed

This Week In Mobile: Final Fantasy, Pac-Man, And Giant Unicorns

This week, Final Fantasy fans are in for a treat. Final Fantasy VII released for iOS, and the Final Fantasy Portal app is available for download as well. Rounding out the list, we've got two understated art puzzlers and Pac-Man himself. First, here's the promised giant unicorn.

Monsters Ate My Metropolis
Developer: Adult Swim Games
Platform(s): iOS, Android
Price: Free (with in-app purchases)

Following in the loud, colorful
footsteps of Monsters Ate My Condo, this game is a sensory overload of
neon, screaming children, and fart noises. Players control one of four
returning monsters from MAMC, this time building a deck of multicolored cards to take into turn-based battle. Each color has a strength and weakness against two other colors, and
cards can have in-hand effects, play effects, or both. Attacks are over-the-top
and smoothly animated, ranging from feline-piloted UFOs to supernatural ghost tornadoes. Players can also build a separate deck to defend their own city from other
players. Come for the fast-paced card combat, stay for the hilarious piano
ballad victory music.

The Guides
Developer: Kevin Bradford
Platform(s): iOS, Android
Price: $ 0.99

Perhaps the exact opposite of
Monsters Ate My Metropolis, The Guides is a quiet, challenging puzzler supported by
an ominous ambient soundtrack. Boasting hundreds of challenges, even the first ten I tried weren't easy. There is some real variety, too. Puzzles range from converting a string of binary into a code word to rotating concentric circles hidden in an image. To give more context to the game's myriad
mysteries, there is a separate app called The Guides Compendium that offers "supplementary detail to the primary game."
The developer promises this companion app isn't necessary to progress, though
it might be a nice purchase if you find yourself enjoying The Guides as much as
I have.

Gathering Sky
Developer: A Stranger Gravity
Platform(s): iOS, Android
Price: $ 2.99

Gathering Sky is a perfect example of an art
game, with gorgeous visuals, a stirring score performed by the San Francisco Conservatory
of Music, and minimal gameplay. Taking control of a single bird, you must gather
a flock over six chapters while avoiding obstacles like predators and rocks.
This is a short experience, and the price might be a bit steep for a game that
doesn't have the most involving mechanics. Anyone looking to decompress with
some soothing music and few penalties for failure should consider picking this

Final Fantasy VII
Developer: Square Enix
Platform(s): iOS
Price: $ 15.99

Square Enix has made a habit of porting their earlier games to iOS, and earlier this week Final Fantasy VII was released for the iPhone and iPad. At a hefty 16 bucks, this is the full PC version of the game with a few extras. The port includes an option to turn off all random battles for players who just want to enjoy the story and boss fights. Using the new max stats command, players can make their party overpowered at the press of a button so they can march through combat unchallenged. If you don't want to play Final Fantasy VII with a virtual controller, consider waiting for the PlayStation 4 port this winter or the remake.

Pac-Man 256
Developer: Hipster Whale
Platform(s): iOS, Android
Price: Free (with in-app purchases)

Inspired by the infamous level 256 in Pac-Man, this game turns the arcade classic into an endless maze where our yellow hero is chased by ghosts and something even more sinister. Players must avoid these ghosts, collect special items, and progress through the maze all while the world is inexorably swallowed up by The Glitch. Each run nets you more and more points; collect enough and you can unlock new abilities like anti-ghost lasers. If you thought being hunted by ghosts in regular Pac-Man was stressful, wait until you're outrunning The Glitch while trying to beat that high score. – The Feed

Don’t Miss: The Pac-Man Dossier

What design and AI lessons can we learn from Namco’s seminal Pac-Man? From history through behavior, Gamasutra presents a comprehensive guide to the classic game in this 2009 feature. …

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Postmortem: Pac-Man, Iwatani’s rhapsody in yellow

35 years ago today, Namco released Pac-Man in Japan and jumpstarted a new age of game development. In this classic 2005 Game Developer Magazine feature, Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani explains how. …

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How To Become A Master Of The Coin Toss, Pac-Man, Monopoly, & More

You're the kind of person who wants to be the best at all
games, right? Not just video games like Street Fighter or Call of Duty, though.
You also probably want to defeat your peers when it comes to playing Scrabble,
guessing a coin toss, rock, paper, scissors, and every other contest under the
sun. Now there's a handy guide that'll
help you hack your way to your full competitive potential.

The Washington Post has published an extensive guide on how
to become that best at several popular games without putting in all that hard
work trying to get good. For example, the Pac-Man entry highlights a few danger
zones to avoid if you don't want to get chomped by ghosts, the best
intersections to bait ghosts towards, and a safe spot where Pac-Man can catch
his power pellet-stinkin' breath.

Some guides are pretty basic, like the aforementioned
Pac-Man tips, while others go further in depth on strategy and even sometimes
physics. For example, one video breaks down the physics behind a coin toss, and
how you can use science to actually come closer to predicting what we generally
consider a random event.

It's a fun read/watch if you're interested in impressing
your friends and winning bets. Just remember not to tell anyone else you read
this article. Oh, crap… – The Feed

Adam Sandler Fights Pac-Man And Donkey Kong In The First Trailer For Pixels

In Pixels, Adam Sandler is joined by Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, and Michelle Monaghan in a battle for Earth against city destroying video games. To answer your question in advance, yes this is a real thing that I did not make up.

Despite knowing about the movie for some time, seeing the trailer for it doesn't make it any less surreal. You can check it out below.

(Please visit the site to view this media)

Along with the actors outlined above, the cast also includes Sean Bean (Game of Thrones) and Jane Krakowski (30 Rock) and is directed by Chris Columbus, whose credits include writing The Goonies and directing the first two Harry Potter films, among many others. The movie is also executive produced by Seth Gordon, who directed the Donkey Kong high-score documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

You can learn more about the movie and the viral short film that inspired it by heading here and here. – The Feed

Track The History Of Pac-Man Fever In New This Exists Video

You may have heard of Bucker and Garcia’s hit song Pac-Man Fever before, or the similar Do The Donkey Kong. The novelty song actually managed to reach #9 on the Billboard top 100 soon after it released. A new This Exists video by Sam Sutherland delves into the history of not only Pac-Man Fever and the album of the same name, but also Buckner and Garcia’s careers and the early history of novelty songs in the music industry. You can check out the entertaining and informative video below.

(Please visit the site to view this media)

Thanks to reader Eric Poppe for the news tip. – The Feed

Real-life, giant Pac-Man maze stars in Super Bowl ad

Bud Light’s Super Bowl XLIX commercial sends a clear message: Drink beer, be chased by ghosts. Or is it “Drink beer, have a lot of strangers touch you?” No, no – it’s probably “Drink beer, then run around a ton and don’t throw up!” Or just, “Pac-Man …
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Real-world Pac-Man maze is what dreams, Super Bowl ads are made of

It appears someone on the Bud Light marketing team has shared our daydreams about emulating video game moments in real life. As you can see above, the difference between us is a substantial, dream-fueling marketing budget – according to Game Informer…
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