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Ms. Pac-Man – The Unauthorized History of Arcades First Female Hero

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After landing the North American license to distribute Namco's megahit Pac-Man in North America, Midway Games came up with a foolproof plan to keep the Pac-train moving. They put out an unofficial, unauthorized mod of the video game cash cow and titled it Ms. Pac-Man, which was not only the first arcade game with a female protagonist, but is also the most successful unofficial video game mod in history.

Basic Facts:

  • Title: Ms. Pac-Man
  • Developer: General Computer Corporation and Midway Games
  • Manufacturer (Original): Bally-Midway
  • Manufacturer (Today): Namco
  • Release Date: 1981
  • Type: Coin-Op Video Arcade Game

It All Started with Puck-Man:

In 1979 Namco saw mega success with their release of Puck-Man in Japan, but the arcade giant from Japan didn't have any distribution in North America, so Midway (part of Bally-Midway at the time) landed the license for the United States. Because the "P" in Puck-Man could easily be altered by pranksters to look like an "F", Midway changed the name, thus Pac-Man made his U.S. debut, and a pop-culture icon was born.

Throughout 1980 Bally-Midway saw huge success in both the arcades, and sub-licensing Pac-Man throughout North America with home console games, toys, stickers, t-shirts and even a cartoon. Pac-Mania had hit the country and the arcade giant was taking full advantage.

But by 1982 Midway grew impatient for a new hit game. Instead of waiting to license an official Pac-Man sequel, Midway decided to expand the franchise on their own, unfortunately they neglected to get Namco's permission.

Enter General Computer Corporation and Crazy Otto:

Since the beginnings of video games, modding has consistently been popular. Even the first arcade games, Computer Space and Galaxy Game were mods of the computer game SpaceWar!, and arcades throughout the late '70s were flooded with unauthorized Pong and Space Invaders mods.

Modding is the act of taking an existing game and adding to it or modifying it so it still uses the same systems and tech, but has been altered to either change the existing game in some way, or make an entirely new game.

As arcade games exploded in popularity there were lots of unscrupulous business practices going on. Some companies outright cloned existing games, selling them under similar titles to video arcades, while other companies modded them to create a new, or at least slightly different game.

One company, General Computer Corporation, started making a business out of selling mod-kits to arcades. The kit were add-ons to existing arcade boards, enhancing the existing game, but allowing the arcade to showcase it as a new title without having to go though the expense of purchasing an all-new game.

Soon after their first mod-kit release, Super Missile Attack, a mod of Missile Command that changed the colors, added a UFO enemy and increased the difficulty of the game, General Computer Corporation was sued by Atari who later hired the company to develop original games, however before they moved exclusively over to original games, General Computer Corporation had one more mod up their sleeve, Crazy Otto.

Crazy Otto Goes on a Gender Bender:

Crazy Otto was a mod of Pac-Man that gave the power pellet-chomping hero a pair of legs, added ears and feet to the Ghosts and featured four different mazes, two of which contained multiple warp tunnels.

As part of their deal with Atari, General Computer Corporation wouldn't sell unauthorized mod-kits, so they showed Crazy Otto to Midway as a potential sequel to Pac-Man. Since Midway had the license, General Computer figured that was enough to make the mod "official".

Midway snatched up the game, but made some strategic changes to meet the market demand. They kept the ghost graphics the same, changing the name of Clyde (the orange ghost) to Sue, and took advantage of the new maze designs. As for as Otto, he was simply too different than Pac-Man to be considered a sequel, especially with the hero having a set of legs, so they lopped them off and replaced the limbs with a bow, added eyelashes and a beauty mark, making Otto into a lady, a Ms. Pac-Man.

The only problem was, Midway never bothered to get Namco's permission.

Ms. Pac-Man The First Female Video Game Protagonist:

Almost immediately after it's release, Ms. Pac-Man was an enormous success. Not only did it have everything that fans loved about Pac-Man (and more), but it was also the first female playable character in an arcade game, which drew an even greater audience. Both women and men enjoyed playing Ms. Pac-Man, and soon she became as iconic as Pac-Man himself.

After the runaway success of Ms. Pac-Man, Midway continued to churn out more unauthorized sequels, including Baby Pac-Man, Pac-Man Plus, and the video game-pinball hybrid Jr. Pac-Man, none of which ever reached the popularity of their namesake.

The Jig Is Up, But Nothing Can Stop Ms. Pac-Man:

Once Namco found out about the unauthorized Pac-Man sequels, Midway was forced to turn over the rights to all of them, including Ms. Pac-Man, and lost their licensed to the entire franchise.

Due to the game's monumental popularity, Namco kept Ms. Pac-Man going, adding her to their official library of games and continue to release versions of the game today for both consoles and as video arcade cabinets.

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