Pac-Man creator: "Controls are too complicated" in current games

Namco's Toru Iwatani discusses making games with women in mind

Toru Iwatani, the original creator of classic 1980 coin-op Pac-Man, has been discussing the creation process behind the game at GDC 2011, as well as his thoughts on modern game design.

"The reasons why I created Pac-Man was because we wanted to attract female gamers," he said - as reported by website Gamasutra.

"Back then there were no home games and people had to go to arcades to play games. That was a playground for boys. It was dirty and smelly. So we wanted to include girls or female players so that it would become cleaner and brighter."

However, Iwatani's concept of what girls might be interested in was not quite as enlightened: "I thought about something that may attract girls maybe stories about boys or something to do with fashion?"

"However, girls love to eat desserts my wife often eats desserts. The verb eat, that gave me a hint to create this game."

Once he had decided on the main gameplay mechanic Iwatani again tried to ensure the enemies would be interesting to a female audience. "I made the design very cute because some furious faces or expressions, girls probably don't like that," he said.

Iwatani recalls how the female president of Namco at the time was against the idea of multi-coloured ghosts and was concerned there would be confusion over whether they were your enemy or not. Iwatani organised a survey of what were essentially beta testers, which made it clear the multi-coloured ghosts was a good idea.

"She is a businesswoman, she judged from the numbers I gave her. She was a wonderful manager", recalled Iwatani.

One of the many innovations of the game was the different artificial intelligence algorithms of the four ghosts, which appeared to give each a different personality. The game's difficulty was also kept intentionally low at first, against the accepted wisdom of coin-ops at the time.

When comparing the game to modern titles though Iwatani was concerned that they appear overly complex and that their objectives are not immediately obvious to all players.

"Today's games, you don't see what the game is all about, what the goal is, and the controls are too complicated perhaps, and you're being sort of needled and persecuted sometimes," he said.

"The core game players want to have challenges, I understand that, but I think fun should be the first, most important point for any game."

Although still a beloved title, with titles such as Pac-Man Championship Edition DX earning wide critical acclaim, Namco has perhaps struggled to evolve the concept and character into other genres.

However, Iwatani's thought on the franchise's future is unexpected: "I'm thinking of a Pac-Man that's singing. I don't want to make it a musical, really, [like] Chicago the movie. The Blues Brothers maybe."

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Latest comments (4)

Craig Burkey Software Engineer 7 years ago
That may have been true five or six years ago but most games today are "point and shoot" or context sensitive so you just press A all the time. The more you simplify things, the more you take choice away from the player and it become a more of a guided on rails experience
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Stephen Woollard Online Infrastructure Specialist, Electronic Arts7 years ago
"Gave that b**** a dessert. B*****s love desserts."

Nice to see the male gamer's appreciation of the opposite sex hasn't really changed all that much - girls are apparently only interested in boys, fashion and desserts *sigh*

He's right about one thing though - games should be about fun first and foremost. I don't really care about shiny graphics or any of the rest of it, if you're not having fun there's no point playing.
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Haven Tso Web-based Game Reviewer 7 years ago
Tales of Symphonia actually played tribute to Pac Man as you can see its snow sculpture in one of the towns. And when you check it out, it reads something like "a legendary icon that everybody loves". That put a smile on my face :)

On the other hand, I do agree game controls are too complicated at times. Apart from Wii that actually broke that barrier, previous attempts to simplify controls just didn't fare well with critics being criticised as simplistic. One of them was Kirby Air Ride on the Cube. It was a great game but critics panned it because they think controls are too simplistic and not interesting.
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Private Industry 7 years ago
How the time has changed, now I get my ass kicked by girls in Killzone 3 multiplayer.

The controls depend on what you want to do. A shooter using 3 buttons would be a bit to simple in regards what you can do unless you go all out with context sensitive options. In that regard obviously Killzone 3 with the move works nice since it maps some functions to the motion performed. RPG`s are great example where you don`t necessarily need complicated controls at least not if they are more turn based.

My problem is more with overly complicated and overloaded menus where the designer was thinking that would look totally awesome without thinking if it`s functional or useful and anybody who even has only seen the main menu of NfS Pro Street know what I mean. For those who never played the game feast your eyes on one of the sub menus :D

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Private on 3rd March 2011 8:50pm

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