On January 22, 2017, Masaya Nakamura – the man who was known as the father of Pac-Man – died. He was 91-years-old. Nakamura graduated from the Yokohama School of Technology in 1948. In 1955 he founded Nakamura Manufacturing, which later became known as Nakamura Amusement Machine Manufacturing Company, or Namco. Initially the company made mechanical amusement rides, but in the 1970s the company acquired the Japanese subsidiary of Atari – for the shockingly high price of half a million dollars – and started making video games.
The first original video game released by Namco was Gee Bee, a simple game where you smashed bricks with a ball that you had to keep from falling off-screen. Many similar games have been created over the years. Next Namco made history with Galaxian, a fixed shooter game. Galaxian was the very first video game to use multicolored sprites, multicolored explosions, and a scrolling starfield. It also featured the first graphics which let the player know how many lives they had, and was the first game to use different colored fonts for the score and the high score.
Namco’s first big hit, and therefore Nakamura’s first big hit, was Pac-Man. The simple game about a hungry yellow ball eating dots and colorful ghosts became a phenomenon, which remains popular to this day, 37 years later. It spawned a Saturday morning cartoon, the song “Pac-Man Fever” by Buckner and Garcia, toys, and a breakfast cereal. When Pac-Man was released, most video games were either shooters like Galaxian or derivatives of Pong like Gee Bee. Pac-Man lead the way for more complex games.
Nakamura followed this success with two sequels, Mrs. Pac-Man and Galaga, which is a follow up to Galaxian and one of the most popular shooter games of all time. There were also more original games, such as Dig Dug and Pole Position.
In the mid-80s, Namco bought the controlling interest in Atari Games for 10 million dollars. Nakamura disagreed with how to run Atari Games with his vice-president, Hide Nakajima. Eventually they had a falling out and ownership of Atari Games was split between Warner Communications, Nakajima, and the employees.
Nakamura and Namco continued to make video game history by releasing Final Lap, the first competative multi-player and multi-cabinet game.
In 1993, Namco bought a film studio, Nikkatsu, and Nakamura executive produced a number of movies. In 2005, they merged with Bandai, and Nakamura was given an emeritus position.
In 2007, Nakamura was awarded The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette from the Japanese government. And in 2010 Nakaumra was inducted into the Video Game Hall of Fame in Iowa. His contributions to the video game industry are many, and he will be missed.