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In the '80s, there was no bigger name than Pac-Man. The character and game defined the pre-crash era, creating a major cultural phenomenon both in the West and in Japan.
But somehow, Namco has rarely been able to capitalize on the title effectively since its early-'80s release period -- and aside from vanilla re-releases of the title on compilations or mobile platforms, it's hardly capitalized on Pac-Man at all.
That changed when Pac-Man Championship Edition was released on Xbox Live Arcade in 2007. With intelligent gameplay changes and a reinvigorated style, the game became an instant hit. How did a small team within Namco Bandai finally manage to reinvent the classic in a compelling way?
To find out, Gamasutra spoke with producer Nobutaka Nakajima and director Tadashi Iguchi. Inspiration, it turns out, came from outside the company as well as within it, aided by an unlikely spark -- Iguchi is not a major Pac-Man fan.
After Pac-Man CE shipped, the team turned its attentions to updating classic Galaga in the form of Galaga Legions, also for Xbox Live Arcade. How did the Pac-Man CE processes map to another title? What drives the team? The answers may surprise you.
Where did the idea to make a new version of Pac-Man for Xbox Live come from? Obviously, they were able to release the original version and then Ms. Pac-Man, but this is a whole new version. Where did that first come from?
Nobutaka Nakajima: Pac-Man, the original arcade game, is on a screen that's not the standard TV screen. It's a tall [vertical] screen, and it has very low-resolution, old-school gameplay.
The idea for the new Pac-Man really came out of taking Pac-Man to the HD generation and all the new technology that's being created today, and making Pac-Man for the HD world.
We did think of using the entire wide HD screen display settings to the extreme when we were creating the game -- we didn't want to have any parts not being displayed. We really wanted to use HD to the maximum in our new game.
In addition, the classic Pac-Man had a limited color palette, and it could only display so much. With the new technological advances in the hardware that people use to play games on, we now had a full range of colors and all these effects we could bring to the player.
We really wanted to step back and ask ourselves, when we were creating the game: "We have all of this new technology and hardware and power. What would Pac-Man be like, taking this technology and putting it to the max?"
That's what we kept in mind for the concept of Pac-Man Championship Edition.
Pac-Man originally came out in 1980. There have been many, many attempts at sequels and remakes and new versions over the years, and this is one of the most creatively successful -- and not just in terms of sales. Some of the games that came before were not that special compared to the original game, so how did you arrive at innovation with Championship Edition?
NN: A lot of the older sequels and remakes using Pac-Man... while they were changing the core fundamentals of the game -- there was an action-adventure Pac-Man, and a 3D version of Pac-Man -- they were straying away from the fundamentals of what made Pac-Man so great.
What we wanted to do in Championship Edition was to get rid of all of that, and take it back to the roots of what makes Pac-Man fun and compelling and an entertaining experience. From that starting point, we created a new Pac-Man, as opposed to just taking it to a different world or gaming experience.
It's an important distinction: Instead of taking the superficial things about Pac-Man, it takes the original design the game and extends it. How did you look at the design of the original game and decide how to begin your process?
NN: To begin with, when we were trying to get at the core of Pac-Man, Mr. Iwatani -- I'm sure you've heard his name -- was my boss and mentor a long time ago.
A lot of what Iwatani-san would talk to me about was the whole fundamentals of what a game is, and why a game is fun and compelling, everlasting, and almost eternal in its gamey-ness -- its fun and entertaining qualities.
The key, Iwatani would say, is that simplicity makes it endearing and compelling, and not bogging it down with extra this-and-that. We're just getting to the core, and making sure the core is well-structured and well-thought out, and will create an everlasting game or fun experience to continually replay.