Ms. Pac-Man: From “Crazy Otto” to Bestseller

Following the success of the arcade game Pac-Man (1980), released by Namco and distributed by Midway in North America, many unauthorized spin-off games followed suit. Originally released in 1982, the height of the coin-op arcade craze in the US, Ms. Pac-Man was created and sold under Midway, until Namco decided to authorize it as an official game due to its popularity. Ms. Pac-Man would go on to “sell over 119,000 units, making it the most popular game in arcade history” (Reeves 1).

The gameplay of Ms. Pac-Man is so similar to Pac-Man because the game was an enhancement kit of the original. Developed by four MIT drop-outs, the enhancement kit was designed as a circuit to clip onto the Pac-Man machines to increase the difficulty of the game and improve overall gameplay. As Steve Golson, one of the engineers behind Ms. Pac-Man explained, “We wanted to have more than one maze instead of the same maze every time. We wanted to make the character algorithm truly random so that it was no longer predictable and make it harder. Those were really the big things that drove us” (Edwards 1). Ms. Pac-Man introduced four alternating mazes, incorporated random enemy movement to counteract players who might use patterns to beat the game, had fruit move across the screen rather than remain stationary, and featured three “intermissions” of short animations of Ms. Pac-Man falling in love with Pac-Man.

Conversion and enhancement kits, however, is what got the original developers of Ms. Pac-Man in hot water with Atari, after creating a conversion kit of Missile Command called Super Missile Attack. The lawsuit by Atari against General Computer Corporation was settled under the condition that any future conversion or enhancement kits couldn’t be sold without the consent of the original manufacturer.

In development, the game that would come to be known as Ms. Pac-Man originally featured a Pac-Man with legs named “Crazy Otto” to avoid copyright infringement. Upon the game’s completion, the developers went to Midway to give the game the greatest chance of commercial success, as well as to avoid any further legal trouble. Midway, still waiting for Namco to follow up the success of Pac-Man with the next official game, decided to take on Crazy Otto. However, they changed the character to Ms. Pac-Man to capitalize on the familiar figure of the hit Pac-Man, and after several name changes, Ms. Pac-Man was released.

The decision to switch the gender of the character that the player controlled through mazes with a joystick came about as a reference to the success of Pac-Man with male and female players. Namco developed Pac-Man to appeal to everyone, and it was one of the first arcade games that gained a visible following of women as well as men. It’s also worth noting that Ms. Pac-Man, as the best-selling arcade game in US history, has a female protagonist, while most other popular titles feature no set protagonist or a male main character for the player to control. Though it was a small step to put a beauty mark and a bow on a yellow circle, Ms. Pac-Man could be used as an argument against the myth that games featuring female protagonists simply don’t sell as well, or that the main demographic for video games will only be young men. As gender in video game culture and development continues to be discussed, one can always point to the legendary Ms. Pac-Man as a pioneer in her own way.

Works Cited

Edwards, Benj. “The MIT Dropouts Who Created Ms. Pac-Man: A 35th-Anniversary Oral
History.” Fast Company. Fast Company, 10 Feb. 2017. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.

Ms. Pac-Man. Midway Manufacturing. 1982. Video game.

Pac-Man. Namco. 1980. Video game.

Reeves, Ben. “Inside the Development of Ms. Pac-Man.” Game Informer. GameStop Network, 03 Nov. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.

Rosenbergy, Jennifer. “The Story Behind Pac-Man, a Super Popular Video Game of the 80’s.” About.com Education. ZergNet, 27 July 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.

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