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People you should know: Toru Iwatani

Toru Iwatani was born on January 25 1955 in the Meguro ward of Tokyo Japan. He joined the Namco corporation in 1977 as a game designer, and while tehre Iwatani set out to make an arcade game that would appeal to women, and help bring more of them to the arcades. Iwatani believed that the arcades of Japan were “a playground for boys…dirty and smelly”, and really wanted to bring more women to the world of gaming, believing they would make it feel “clear and brighter”. So, in 1980, he, Shigeo Funaki, a developer at Namco, and sound designer Toshio Kai, finished Pac-Man. 


Pac-man was loosely based off a Japanese children s story where a good monster protected children by eating evil monsters. Many people believe that he got the inspiration for Pac-Man while looking at a Pizza with one slice missing, but that is actually one of gamings urban legends. In his own words: 

Well, it’s half true. In Japanese the character for mouth (kuchi) is a square shape. It’s not circular like the pizza, but I decided to round it out. There was the temptation to make the Pac-Man shape less simple. While I was designing this game, someone suggested we add eyes. But we eventually discarded that idea because once we added eyes, we would want to add glasses and maybe a moustache. There would just be no end to it. Food is the other part of the basic concept. In my initial design, I had put the player in the midst of food all over the screen. As I thought about it, I realized the player wouldn’t know exactly what to do: the purpose of the game would be obscure. So I created a maze and put the food in it. Then whoever played the game would have some structure by moving through the maze. The Japanese have a slang word—paku paku—they use to describe the motion of the mouth opening and closing while one eats. The name Puck-Man came from that word.”

Since Pac-man revolves around eating, and Iwatani thought that women really enjoyed eating sweets, the dots were referred to as cookies. The 4 ghosts were also designed to be cute, and influenced by cartoons like Tom & Jerry, since Iwatani believed that the enemies looking mean or evil would turn women away. 

Iwatani showing off his original sketches for Pac-Man


Other then the aesthetic choices for the games female audiences, Iwatani also decided that the 4 ghosts would also have their own personalities and movements. 

Blinky - chases directly
Pinky - tries to get to the front of you  
Inky - scares easily
Clyde - Moves at random.    

Each time the ghosts are eaten, the speed up slightly, slowing back down once Pac-man dies. And Blinky gets a special speed increase once there are only a few dots remaining.

Iwatani with TV host and comedian Shinya Arino 
After its release, Pac-Man became a huge success in Japan, and quickly found it’s way all over the world. Iwatani was eventually promoted and even took over overseeing the administarion of Namco. 

In 2005, Iwatani became a visiting professor in Character Design Studies at the Osaka University of Arts, while still working at Namco. And in 2007, Iwatani officially left Namco and became a full time lecturer at Tokyo Polytechnic University.                    

Toru Iwatani is truly one of gaming’s great heroes, and has given us one of the most influential games of all time. Iwatani’s creativity and enthusiasm for his passions is incredibly inspiring. With his lighthearted childlike spirit and his love for his fans and for his creation, it’s easy to see why Iwatani is such a beloved man to this day. We all really owe him a great deal of thanks for giving us all such wonderful memories. 



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