Masaya Nakamura, Whose Company Created Hit Arcade Game Pac-Man, Dies at 91

This June 3, 1997 photo shows Masaya Nakamura, known as the “Father of Pac-Man,” in Tokyo. Nakamura who founded the Japanese video game company behind the hit creature-gobbling game, and pioneered arcade games and amusement parks, has died on Jan. 22, 2017, according to the company Bandai Namco. He was 91. (Kyodo News via AP)

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.

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. Called Roadway Rides, the attraction 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 would say later 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.”

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.”

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SOURCE: NY Times, Jonathan Soble