By Jonathan Soble, 30 January 2017
Masaya Nakamura, a Japanese toy and game entrepreneur whose company’s most enduring creation, Pac-Man, became a worldwide cultural touchstone, died on Jan. 22. He was 91.
His death was announced on Monday by Bandai Namco, the business where he retained the title of honorary adviser. No cause was given, and the company did not say where he died.
Mr. Nakamura began making a business of amusement in 1955. A decade after Japan’s calamitous defeat in World War II, the country’s economy was springing back to life, and the somber mood of the first postwar decade was retreating. Japanese were ready to embrace fun and games again.
His first venture — installing two wooden horses for children to ride on the roof of a department store — was simple, and turned into a modest success.
Rooftops gave him more success as time went on. In the early 1960s, he secured a deal with Mitsukoshi, a leading Japanese department store chain, to install another children’s ride, this one using small replica automobiles running on tracks, on the roof of its flagship Tokyo location. The attraction, Roadway Rides, proved popular, and Mitsukoshi commissioned it for all of its stores.
Real fame and fortune came later, with the rise of video games.
Mr. Nakamura was an early believer in their potential. In the 1970s, he hired software engineers and directed his growing company, Nakamura Manufacturing — later renamed Namco — to develop titles for arcades. His first hit was Galaxian, a Space Invaders derivative that he sold to the American company Midway Games in 1979. Pac-Man was born the next year.
It was conceived by a 25-year-old Namco employee, Toru Iwatani, who later said that he was inspired by the shape of a pizza with a slice missing. The “Pac” came from the Japanese onomatopoeic word “pakku,” equivalent to the English “gobble” or “munch.”
Pac-Man Original (Arcade 1980) Video by bobamaluma
And as fast as Pac-Man could gobble up pellets in his maze, players gobbled up Pac-Man.
“I never thought it would be this big,” Mr. Nakamura told an interviewer in 1983, after the game took the world by storm. “You know baseball? Well, I knew it would not be a single. But I thought maybe a double, not a home run.”
The game spawned spinoffs (Ms. Pac-Man, among others), an animated television series and voluminous merchandise. The Buckner and Garcia novelty song “Pac-Man Fever” reached No. 9 on the Billboard singles chart in 1982.
· Ms. Pac-Man
Perhaps the first famous female video game character to be hugely successful, Ms. Pac-Man was introduced in 1981 and is found more often in arcades and bars around the world than the original game.
· Jr. Pac Man
Pac-Man even spawned a child, the beanie-wearing Jr. Pac-Man, who exists in mazes that are wider than the game’s screen, so that it scrolls from side to side.
· “Pac-Man Fever”
The 1981 hit song by Buckner & Garcia capitalized on the game’s craze.
· Google Doodle
In 2010 Google created a playable game out of its logo to celebrate the game’s 30th anniversary.
· Pac-Man the Cartoon
Hanna-Barbera created a Saturday morning animated television show in the 1980s that followed the adventures of Pac-Man and his family in Pac-Land.
Pac-Man also came up in more recent pop cultural offerings like the animated sitcom “Family Guy,” which showed Pac-Man despondent after a breakup with Ms. Pac-Man; the film “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010), in which the title character, played by Michael Cera, uses the history of Pac-Man’s name as an ineffective icebreaker; and Ernest Cline’s best-selling science fiction novel “Ready Player One,” in which the protagonist plays a perfect, and very consequential, game. Billy Mitchell is widely credited with actually playing the first perfect game, in 1999.
In the decades since Pac-Man’s release, video games have grown increasingly violent and complicated, but Pac-Man remains child-friendly, accessible and challenging. Versions of Pac-Man or one of its spinoffs exist on different gaming platforms and are readily available online. Millions of work hours were squandered after Google released a playable version of the game on its home page in 2010.
In the 36 years since its release, it is estimated to have been played more than 10 billion times. The Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Modern Art have Pac-Man machines in their collections.
Mr. Nakamura was not a game designer. But unlike his rival and contemporary Hiroshi Yamauchi, the longtime president of Nintendo, who was said never to play video games, Mr. Nakamura tested Namco’s products intensively. Employees said he would play for up to 23 hours a day before a game’s introduction.
Despite that habit — or perhaps because of it — he warned against what today would be called screen addiction.
“I am a little concerned about the way some young people play it so much,” he said at the height of the Pac-Man craze. “Once it goes beyond a certain level, it is not good for young people.”
Namco continued to develop video games, though none could top Pac-Man’s success. The company expanded into other businesses, including a chain of food-themed amusement parks in Japan, most of which have closed or been sold off. In 1993, it bought the bankrupt Japanese film studio Nikkatsu, known for output like samurai epics and soft-core pornography.
Mr. Nakamura led Namco until 2002, when he took on a more ceremonial role. When Namco merged with a rival toy and game maker, Bandai, in 2005, public tax records indicated that Mr. Nakamura was Japan’s 68th-richest person.
Born in Yokohama, Japan, on Dec. 24, 1925, Mr. Nakamura attended what is now Yokohama National University. He studied shipbuilding, according to a short résumé provided by Bandai Namco.
The company did not release information on survivors, citing what it said was his family’s wish for privacy.
Follow Jonathan Soble on Twitter @jonathan_soble.
Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.
A version of this article appears in print on January 31, 2017, on Page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Masaya Nakamura, Whose Company Created World of Pac-Man, Dies at 91.
Original article: Masaya Nakamura, Whose Company Created Pac-Man, Dies at 91