Father of 'Pac-Man' dies at 91
Masaya Nakamura built a gaming leader out of a maker of mechanical horses
YUJI NITTA, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO -- Masaya Nakamura, the founder of Japanese games company Namco known as the father of "Pac-Man," died on Jan. 22, the company announced Monday. He was 91.
Nakamura was a pioneer of the video game industry and released a variety of hot-selling titles. He was known for his open management style that gave young, highly motivated employees opportunities to excel.
Video game designer Toru Iwatani was one. Under Nakamura's wing, Iwatani created the arcade game "Pac-Man," which went on to become one of the highest grossing video games of all time. In an era when games were predominantly played "by adult men with a cigarette in their mouths," Namco wanted to make a game that women and children could play, Iwatani, now a professor at Tokyo Polytechnic University, told The Nikkei in an interview in 2013.
The inspiration for the "Pac-Man" character came from Namco employees looking at a partly eaten pizza. Instead of frantically hitting the "fire" button, Iwatani came up with a game that could be controlled by just moving the lever up and down or side to side. Whereas most games focused on fighting, the object of "Pac-Man" was to eat the obstacles.
The death of Nakamura follows that of his contemporary Hiroshi Yamauchi, who died in 2013. Yamauchi spearheaded the growth of Nintendo as its longtime president. Nakamura's death marks the passing of another major figure in Japan's gaming industry.
Nakamura was born Tokyo's Kanda district in 1925. He went to work for the family business making air rifles. He quit in 1955 to set up his own company, Nakamura Manufacturing, which was later renamed Namco. One of his famous early products was a wooden horse he found the family's warehouse. He repaired it and turned it into a mechanical children's ride.
Nakamura hit upon the idea of putting mechanical horses on the roofs of department stores, selling rides for 5 yen (4 cents at current rates). These were ideal spaces for selling his amusement park rides, enabling him to expand his business under the slogan "from wooden horses to monorails."
In 1974, Nakamura broke into the video game machine business, acquiring the Japanese operations of U.S. arcade game company Atari. He then rolled out a series of longtime favorites, including "Pac-Man," "Xevious" and "Pro Yakyu (Professional Baseball) Family Stadium."
Nakamura drew public attention in 1993 as he came forward to support the restructuring of bankrupt Japanese movie studio Nikkatsu.
The death of Nakamura, who had held the title of honorary adviser at the merged company, Bandai Namco Holdings, means the loss of opportunities for "emerging young executives in the smartphone businesses to learn a lot from someone who talked about grand visions," said Hayao Nakayama, former president of Sega Enterprises.