Pac-Man is a Japanese game from a Japanese developer, so it might seem odd that a successful sequel was created in America. On the other hand, the story of Ms. Pac-Man is very strange and overgrown with many myths. It is said that the game was originally illegally hacked and remade by two MIT students. Then there was a connection with the urban legend of Pacman with legs that walked through the arcade halls of the 80s. It's funny that many of these rumors are true, though not so impressive.
“We never tried to fix anything,” says Doug McRae, co-founder of General Computer Corporation and one of the people who helped create Ms. Pac-Man. Game Informer contacted him to find out what was true and what was fiction. We have translated the main thing in honor of the 40th anniversary of the original arcade.
Hacking the original arcade
Massachusetts Institute of Technology has changed a lot over the past three decades, but one thing has remained the same: its students still love making games in their free time. As students, Doug McRae and Kevin Curran spent quite a bit of time in arcade rooms. With one important exception, it was 1977 when pocket money-devouring pinball was popular.
In his sophomore year, McRae inherited a pinball machine from his older brother. McRae set up an arcade on campus hoping he could earn some pocket money. And the venture proved so lucrative that McRae attracted Curran to join him as a business partner, and both expanded the business to 20 slot machines. McRae and Curran actually owned the arcade at the MIT base.
The first attempt by McRae and Curran to change the game happened with the Missile Command. Atari's game blew up the arcade scene in July 1980. It initially proved so popular on the MIT campus that the guys bought three machines. However, by the spring, she had dramatically lost popularity.
“The number of coins collected has dropped dramatically. People got pretty bored or got used to it because it was relatively simple and repetitive. " McRae and Curran knew the game needed some modification if they wanted to continue making money with Missile Command.
In the arcade business of that era, an underground market developed for accessories. These PCBs, also known as enhancement kits, plugged into existing arcade machines, interrupted the programming of the original game by overlaying new code on top of the old one.
Upgrade kits weren't always legal, but they were much cheaper to buy than a new arcade game. As these sets changed the mechanics of the game, adding new weapons, enemies and bonuses, the owner of the arcade often had to see a second wave of interested customers coming to the same machine.
McRae and Curran have been looking for ways to improve Missile Command, but no one has figured out how to create an improvement for this game yet.
“It was a more difficult game at the time. Missile Command required complex knowledge of how the game works to improve it and make it more challenging. No one has broken the code yet, ”explains Steve Golson, one of McRae's longtime friends and potential business partner.
Despite this alignment, McRae and Curran took matters into their own hands and created their own set of improvements for Missile Command. Within a few days, both students applied to set up a new business called General Computer Corporation, bought a microprocessor development system, and with the help of four friends, began work on Super Missile Attack.
Super Missile Attack had an instant success. So big, in fact, that the duo began distributing color ads in trade magazines such as Play Meter and Replay Magazine. This immediately caught the attention of Missile Command publisher Atari, who filed a temporary restraining lawsuit against General Computer Corporation.
“We ended up in court with Atari. Atari did not understand what we were doing and why we did it. At that time, many people copied games, but I think they fought against such phenomena, hacking them to the root, ”McRae recalls.
Atari's lawsuit lasted for part of the summer of 1981, but out-of-court negotiations began when Atari realized that it was likely this group of ambitious students [although many of them dropped out] were working for them, not against them.
“They closed the case,” McRae explains, “recognizing that they shouldn't have sued. At the same time, we made an agreement to develop games for them, which was our original goal anyway. ”
Within a few months, McRae, Curran and several of the programmers they hired to create Super Missile Attack found that fate had turned to face them. They are no longer hungry students battling a corporate giant in vain. All of a sudden, they were funded by this industrial giant developing consumer products that would sell in the millions. While retaining the General Computer Corporation name, the duo and their expanding team of programmers have released 76 different games for Atari home consoles, including the memorable arcade ports Dig Dug, Robotron, Pole Position, and Galaga. The same team even helped design the hardware for the Atari 7800 home console.
Yet another improvement created by McRae and Curran will prove to be the most significant for the duo and the world of video games.
In the summer of 1981, while the legal battle with Atari was still ongoing, GCC began work on its second improvement. When Super Missile Attack hit the market, Pac-Man had just arrived and the duo started working on hacking the game. Of course, the set of improvements for Pac-Man could have been large, but no one realized how big it was.
McRae and Curran considered Pac-Man to be a good game, but it had its drawbacks. The behavior of the ghosts was all too easy to remember. The hack could significantly change their behavior algorithm. The original Pac-Man also only had one card, which gave it the feeling that the game was being repeated. They've added some new mazes.
McRae and Curran also decided to make the fruit harder to catch by making the cherry move around the field. The finished set even contained small animations between the cards, in which their Pac-Man met a female version of Pac-Man, fell in love, and they have a child. Not wanting to break any trademarks, GCC decided it was best to redesign the protagonist, so they took the familiar Pac-Man look and gave him legs and called him Crazy Otto.
By early October 1981, Crazy Otto was ready, but GCC did not want to face the same legal challenges they had faced in the past. Namco created Pac-Man, but back in the early 1980s, the Japanese company did not have a US subsidiary and contracted to distribute Pac-Man in North America with Midway. If GCC wanted to release Crazy Otto in America, they need Midway's blessing. Curran picked up the phone and coldly called Midway President David Marofska.
On the same day the GCC signed the agreement to make games for Atari, McRae, Curran and Golson drove through town to meet with Midway in secret. Midway had senior employees interested in suing General Computer, but then Midway faced a financial crisis. Pac-Man was a huge success for the company, but it wasn't enough. Crazy Otto came at the right time.
Midway entered into negotiations with GCC to buy Crazy Otto and change the name to Super Pac-Man. Midway wasn't interested in any gameplay changes, but the company decided that the main character Crazy Otto should leave; the game is required to show a more recognizable image of Pac-Man. After some discussion, it was decided that she would focus on the female version of Pac-Man, which appeared briefly in the cross-level animations.
Both companies worked together to come up with a new design for the female version of Pac-Man. Using the original Pacman as a template, the character was given small eyes, a front sight, a bow, and long red hair. The character was named Ms. Pac Man
Midway agreed and quickly dispatched Ms. Pac-Man to Japan for a demo. Namco President Masaya Nakamura took a look at the design and told Midway to remove the hair immediately. After that the project will be given the green light.
“I remember saying,“ If it's 20,000 [sales], I'll be happy. But 40,000 arcades are sold, which is a great success. Although I would even be very glad if 4000 pieces were sold. At that point, I think Asteroids sold 76,000 and it was just a mega hit, ”Golson recalls. Ms. Pac-Man was released at the end of 1981 and ended up selling 119,000, which made her the most popular arcade game in history.
Ms. Pac-Man remains one of the most widely used arcade machines in the United States. Her image became so recognizable that she appeared on T-shirts, in cartoons. Perhaps most impressively, her gameplay remains so engaging that you can now find her everywhere - from internet portals and game consoles to mobile phones.
The Legend of Mad Otto
Finally, I want to tell you one more story. On January 18, 1982, Time magazine published an article entitled "Games People Play." Time commissioned a photographer to take some pictures of Pac-Man arcade machines across the country.
At that time, there were about 90,000 arcade games in the US and there were only three Crazy Otto machines that Midway used to research the market. One way or another, the photographer found himself on one of these machines. The photographs Time printed helped reinforce the urban legend that somewhere there was an elusive arcade machine where Pacman's legs grew.
The Topic of Article: Inside the creation of Ms. Pac-Man.