The Yellow One

Player 2 Stage 4: Two Superstars

Videogames are about to reach critical mass. Players are getting tired of guiding anonymous space-pilots to their doom against blobby alien hoards. Two Japanese designers are about to give arcade gaming its face.

Pac-Man - Namco/Midway 1980

The Dot Eater

In 1980, Namco game designer Moru Iwatani is tired of the glut of shoot-em-ups littering the arcades. He wants to create an arcade game that looks more like a cartoon than a videogame, and appeals to women as well as men. His original design calls for an animated pizza with a missing wedge for a mouth running Pac-Man - Namco/Midway 1980around a maze eating everything in sight. Technological restraints at the time, however, require a graphics scale-back to a simple, solid yellow circle. The large wedge of a mouth does remain, though, and the character and game is christened Puckman, from the Japanese phrase pakupaku, meaning to flap one's mouth open and close. After the distinctive theme music plays, players find themselves guiding Puckman around a single maze eating dots, while avoiding the four ghosts Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde (each with varying levels of hunting skills), who escape from a cage in the middle of the screen and will end our little yellow friend's life if they touch him. In each corner of the square playfield is a large dot that when eaten will turn the ghosts blue for a brief period, during which time the tables turn and Puck can eat the ghosts, leaving only the apparently indigestible eyes which make their way back to the cage for reincarnation into another ghost. During every screen a treat appears for the player under the ghost-cage, in the form of fruit or a bell or some other symbol waiting to be devoured. The game is deceptively simple, with only a four-position joystick needed to guide Pac-Man around the maze, but with each successive screen the ghosts get faster and their time of blue-invulneribility less. Tension is added with a steady whining sound effect that increases in pitch as the game is played.

Puckman - Namco 1980Pac-Man Cereal - General MillsThe game is an absolute smash in Japan, following Space Invader's lead in causing another Yen shortage nation-wide as tens of thousands of Puckman machines start gobbling them up. With its distribution deal with Namco, Bally/Midway has the first option to license the game for the US, but newly-appointed president Robert Mullane amazingly tries to decline the offer, unimpressed with the "silliness" of the game and practically has to be forced by fellow executives to accept the North American Puckman license. After changing the name to Pac-Man in order to discourage vandals from replacing the P with an F, Bally/Midway releases
Pac-Man Fever - Buckner & Garcia 1982
Ms. Pac-Man - Midway 1982
the game in North America. In the face of Mullane's indifference, the game goes on to become the most popular arcade game of all time, selling 100,000 units in America alone (along with countless unauthorised clones), breaking the previous 70,000 sales record set by Atari's Asteroids. In fact, it's the first videogame to spawn a massive merchandising bonanza, with T-shirts, jackets, sweaters, coffee cups, stuffed dolls, bed sheets, cereal, board-games, books, name it, it has Pac-Man's yellow mug on it. It is also the first videogame to become so totally ingrained into popular culture, going so far as to appear on both the cover of Time and Mad magazine. Buckner & Garcia, an obscure singer-songwriter duo, release Pac-Man Fever in 1981, and the title single
The Pac-Man Show - ABC/Hanna-Barbera 1982-84
goes gold, making it all the way to #9, with the album ranking #46 for the year. Other songs on the album include Do the Donkey Kong and Froggy's Lament. A half-hour Hanna-Barbera (creators of The Flintstones, The Jetsons, ect.) Saturday morning cartoon show is produced by ABC in 1982, originally called The Pac-Man Show. It runs for one year, with actor Marty Ingles voicing Pac, now thoroughly domesticated with wife, kid, and family pets. He goes up against standard cartoon villain Mezmaron, out to pilfer all the power-pellets in Pac-Land. In 1983, a new series of shows called The Pac-Man/Rubik, the Amazing Cube Hour are broadcast, but our yellow star must now share the hour-long show with an animated Rubik's Cube, another early 80's fad sensation.

Ten arcade sequels follow the original game, first of which is Ms. Pac-man, released in 1982. It is developed in America by Midway, and is a more obvious attempt to lure women into the arcade. Instead of one maze, Pac-Man's female counter-part (her identity confirmed by the red bow and lipstick...even a beauty mark) has four different ones, with the special treats roaming around instead of staying motionless under the monster Pac-Land - Midway 1984Pac-Man 3D - Namco 1999cage. It sells 115,000 units, becoming the biggest American-made arcade hit yet, and Ms. Pac-Man machines still linger in some arcades today. The other sequels are Pac-Man Plus (1982), Super Pac-Man (1982), Baby Pac-Man (1982), Jr. Pac-Man (1983), Professor Pac-Man (1983), Pac & Pal (1983), Pac-Land (1984), Pac-Mania (1986), Pac-Attack (1993), and the brief Pac-Man VR in 1996, a virtual reality 3-D Pac-man game produced by Virtuality Ltd. and released to a few major entertainment centres. The number of console, computer and hand-held translations are too numerous to count. Probably the biggest is Atari's license of the game for their flagging Atari 2600 in 1982. An obvious rush-job to make the deadline for Christmas that year, the translation breaks sales records but is deemed a creative disaster by critics. Thanks to resurgent interest in classic arcade games through the besieged emulation scene, The Yellow One gets the obligatory 3D makeover in Namco's Pac-Man 3D, a three-dimensional adventure game, complete with a 3D rendering of the original's maze, released for the Sony Playstation in February 1999.

pacman.avi - Pac-Man movie clip (406)
mspacman.avi - Ms. Pac-Man movie clip (406)

Enter the Plumber

Donkey Kong - Nintendo 19811889 is a very important year in videogame history. Yes, that's 1889. It is this year when Fusajiro Yamauchi founds Nintendo Koppai in Kyoto, Japan. The name Nintendo roughly translates to "Work hard, but in the end it is in Heaven's Hands", and the company's products are lovingly
Hanafunda Cards - Nintendo
handcrafted Hanafunda playing cards made from the bark of mulberry trees. The cards are decorated by various symbols, which change depending on the region they're sold in. Hanafunda games constitute a popular pastime in Japan, and Yamauchi's cards are adopted by the Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia, as their cards of choice when gambling. Their penchant for fresh cards every hand keep demand high. After expanding into Western style playing cards in 1907, the company becomes the largest playing card manufacturer in Japan. In 1933 they become Yamauchi Nintendo & Company, and then under the auspices of third president Hiroshi Yamauchi becomes Nintendo Playing Cards in 1951. Their real breakthrough comes in 1959 with a contract with Walt Disney Co. to produce cards featuring Disney cartoon characters, with the series going on to sell 600,000 packs that year. With another name change to Nintendo Co. Ltd., they move into electronics in 1963, producing light-beam gun games, toy robotic arms, and even love-testers. After big success with a laser clay shooting system installed into bowling alleys left empty and unused after the bowling fad comes and goes in Japan, Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi begins to take notice of the new arcade and home videogames systems like PONG and Magnavox's Odyssey being sold in America. After hammering out a deal with Magnavox to distribute their system in Japan, Nintendo begins work with Mitsubishi Electrics to develop one of their Shigeru Miyamoto - The Elvis of Videogamesown. In 1977 they release their first home videogame machine, a six game PONG clone creatively named The Color TV Game 6. It sells a million units across Japan. Joining the company that year is Shigeru Miyamoto, having majored in industrial design at college. At Nintendo he works on console box designs, as well as game graphics.

Radarscope - Nintendo 1981While developing more advanced TV gaming systems and a lucrative line of handheld LCD games called Game & Watch, Nintendo moves into the arcade game arena with some uninspired titles such as Othello, Helifire and Sheriff. 1981's Radarscope, yet another knock-off of competitor Taito's Galaxian, is an interesting but derivative take on the new genre. Working on the graphics for the game, Miyamoto is extremely disinterested in the project. He is much more into another idea he has for an arcade game, the impetus of which is the classic movie King Kong. He Donkey Kong - Nintendo 1981starts with a drawing of a rotund little carpenter with a big bulbous nose and bushy moustache. The game he designs around the character is Donkey Kong, which has Shigeru's Jumpman running to and fro across three different screens of metal girders of a partially completed building, jumping over various obstacles and gaps trying to save his girlfriend Pauline from the clutches of the evil gorilla Kong. The big ape's last name is taken from Shigeru's movie inspiration, with the first denoting that he's a few bananas short of a bunch. Working alongside Miyamoto, the hardware is put together by famed Nintendo arcade developer Gumpei Yokoi. In an arcade market that consists almost solely of space-based shoot-em-ups, Donkey Kong gets a cold reception from the Nintendo brass. But Shigeru persists on pursuing the project, and since it uses the same hardware as the flaccid selling Radarscope it can be used as a cheap conversion kit for the 20,000 or so units of that game Nintendo has already produced. Donkey Kong becomes the biggest selling arcade game of 1981,
Donkey Kong Cereal - Ralston/Purina 1983
selling 65,000 units in North America alone and steals the thunder of even the Yellow Dude himself. Nintendo of America, Nintendo's US subsidiary formed in 1980, gives Jumpman his new moniker. The name Mario is taken from the man who rents warehouse space to the Seattle company. Donkey Kong gives birth to videogamedom's second merchandising blitz, with Mario and company hawking every type of cheesy tie-in product imaginable.

SMBSS! - CBS 1989-1991Two direct arcade sequels follow, starting with 1982's Donkey Kong Jr. An abrupt role-reversal occurs here with Mario as the evil kidnapper, holding poor monkey Kong in a cage, his only hope being the plucky young Junior Kong. Mario doesn't even bother to show up for the rather horrible Donkey Kong 3, released in 1983 . The protagonist is Stanley the Bug Man, protecting his prize plants from a rampaging Kong, back in the villain's role accompanied by some buzzing bee cronies. Further spin-offs occur as Mario is paired with brother Luigi (named after the owner of a pizza joint near NOA headquarters in Seattle), in 1983's Mario Bros.. Utilizing simultaneous two-player action, players can either work together or against each other for points at Mario's new job; a plumber trying to avoid the dangerous critters pouring
Donkey Kong 3 - Nintendo 1983 Mario Bros. - Nintendo 1983
out of the drains. This is followed by Super Mario Bros. in 1985, a side-scrolling platformer coming a full year behind Pac-Land. Along with these come a plethora of hand-helds, console translations and sequels, some of which drive the sales of both the ColecoVision and Nintendo's own NES. Mario, Donkey Kong and little Jr. make their TV debut on CBS's Saturday Supercade, lasting two Super Mario Bros. - Warners 1993years from 1983-1985, along with a rouge's gallery of other videogame characters such as Pitfall Harry, Frogger and potty-mouth Q*Bert. And in 1989, Mario and Luigi go solo in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, an animated series with live-action segments featuring WWF wrestler "Captain" Lou Albano as America's favourite plumber. 52 episodes are produced, with Mario and Luigi constantly rescuing Princess Toadstool from King Koopa and his Koopa stooges. In 1993, Warner Brothers think they have a sure thing with the big-budget live-action movie Super Mario Bros., starring Bob Hoskins as Mario, John Leguizamo as Luigi, and standard Hollywood bad-guy Dennis Hopper as King Koopa. Despite heavy cash sunk into wild set-design and intensive CGI, the film flops miserably, disappearing down the drain quickly after release. But Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto remains the lynch-pin to Nintendo's success through the 80's and 90's, with his involvement in every Mario game more successful than the last. Along with his immensely popular Zelda series of RPG games, it's questionable whether Nintendo would be the huge force in videogames they are today without him.

radarscope.avi - Radarscope movie clip (149K)
donkeykong.avi - Donkey Kong movie clip (582K)

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