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Pac-Man creator reminisces about classic game design, calls for creativity


Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani wants the next Pac-Man game to be about "a singing Pac-Man." Not a musical, "not Chicago," but more of a Blues Brothers type thing, he told a packed house at his GDC postmortem. Nobody there knew what that meant either.

In the hourlong presentation, Iwatani shared concept art from the thirty-year-old arcade classic, including the hand-drawn concept for the famous Pac-Man death animation, and even a chart of ghost speeds. He identified the design of Pac-Man as female-focused, with an emphasis on "eating" as a verb ("Girls love to eat desserts," Iwatani explained. "My wife often eats desserts.") and cute characters, including cute enemies.

An executive at Namco suggested that those ghosts all be red, to avoid confusion about some perhaps not being enemies, but Iwatani countermanded that with a survey. When she saw the survey, which unanimously supported multicolored ghosts, the executive agreed with Iwatani. "She was a wonderful manager." Iwatani also shared the clockwork-like algorithms behind the ghosts -- one follows Pac-Man, one aims for a space 32 pixels in front of Pac-Man, one mirrors Pac-Man's position on the opposite side, and one just runs around randomly. An audience member asking a question described it as "like clockwork."

The talk continued with a discussion of Pac-Man Championship Edition and Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. According to Iwatani, Pac-Man CE director Tadashi Iguchi spent a year studying Pac-Man to determine what was fun about it before distilling that into CE.

Also on the subject of study: Iwatani's new job post-Namco is at Tokyo Polytechnic University, where he teaches game design. His students make their own games (like the TGS amateur division award-winning Sand Crush) and perform research about games, like measuring bloodflow to the brain during various gameplay activities. Then, using his students' work as an example, Iwatani called for more creativity from the game design community. And perhaps from the audience as well: when asked about the Western name change from "Puckman" to "Pac-Man," Iwatani told the inquiring audience member "Don't you have the answer? You know why!"

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