Ms. Pac Man [1982] |Arcade|


North American arcade cabinet

A fresh perspective can be just what a work of art needs. Just look at the history of the story of King Arthur, which was added to by many authors over the centuries. Or for a more modern example, look no further than the evolution of Bugs Bunny, a collaborative growth that several artists and writers contributed to. Sometimes contributions can be made officially (in-house), and other times by fans. These public modifications can change a work of art into something completely different. Take Warcraft III, for example, which community members modded into the first MOBA Defense of the Ancients–something greatly removed from the creators’ original design. Today it’s expected that mods will happen and some companies (especially Valve) embrace it. Back in 1981, however, it was not appreciated at all. The extremely un-suspiciously named General Computer Corp.got into legal trouble with Atari over their mod-kit for Missile Command called Super Missile Attack. The outcome was a legal agreement barring GCC from making any future mod-kits without the owner’s consent. Meanwhile in Chicago, Midway was waiting to publish Namco’s sequel to Pac-Man and growing impatient. These events, you may be surprised to learn, are indeed related. GCC went to Midway with their new mod-kit called Crazy Otto.

Wait, that’s not right…

There we go!

Midway loved the idea and agreed to de-mod it by re-skinning the characters and turning “Crazy Otto” into “Ms. Pac-Man.” The game was phenomenally successful, becoming the most successful American-produced arcade game. Pac-Man was a huge success with female gamers and Ms. Pac-Man only expanded the appeal. Shortly before its release, Midway said that Ms. Pac-Man was “our way of thanking those lady arcaders who have played and enjoyed Pac-Man.” MPM improved on the original in every way. The tunnels were doubled, allowing for more escape plans. The fruit became mobile, increasing the risk of acquiring it. Clyde became Sue…. I didn’t know that ghosts even had access to surgeons from Thailand, but there you have it.

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So you can see that the mazes play differently from the original. Yet I still manage to play abominably. The great but forgotten Lady Bug went a different direction from Ms. Pac-Man, showing that the “maze game” genre was plenty flexible to showcase new ideas. Lady Bug didn’t have any tunnels, instead placing gates all around the maze that the titular hero(ine?) could walk through and toggle to throw off the predator bugs.

The trouble with Ms. Pac-Man unfortunately didn’t end once Midway took it over from GCC. Namco claims that Midway made MPM without their knowledge, but Midway claimed that Namco gave them positive feedback during development. I guess this is just another one of those apocryphal tales from video game history. And like all great stories, it would eventually be ruined by an unnecessary sequel. Midway felt rather confident after the success of Ms. Pac-Man and decided to milk the franchise with such entries as Pac-Man Plus, a simple reskin; Jr. Pac-Man, which had a maze that was wider than the screen; and Professor Pac-Man, a trivia game that shamelessly incorporates the characters for no discernible reason. Shockingly, Namco tore up Midway’s contract and refused to ever again do business with them. Today, Namco is a part of Namco Bandai, Ltd. and Midway is, erm, in the process of being liquidated under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Update: To learn more, watch this video from Did You Know Gaming.

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