Namco's smash arcade hit Pac-Man was all the rage in 1980, but could it be even better? What if the game featured multiple mazes? What if the bonus fruit could move? What if the ghosts could potentially catch our protagonist when he hid in that one corner? A few enterprising young students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found out in 1983 when they created an add-on kit for Pac-Man that added these elements called, er, Crazy Otto. It wasn't long before American Pac-Man distributor Midway heard about Otto and made an offer to the team that would change the arcade scene forever as Benj Edwards chronicles in his oral history of Ms. Pac-Man.
Macrae: As soon as Midway said, 'Let's make a sequel out of it,' we no longer had to avoid the Pac-Man name. They originally said, 'Let's make it into Super Pac-Man.' I think that was the first game that they suggested.
We looked at the intermissions. Even on Crazy Otto, in the first intermission, a yellow Pac character with legs called Otto meets a red Pac character with legs, which obviously had to be a female Otto, because a heart goes above their head. They chase each other, and eventually a baby is brought to them by the stork.
We were looking and going, 'Wow, we've got a whole storyline here about how a character meets a red character that's female. Why don't we turn this into a male and female Pac character, and build a bit more personality into them?'
It's a fascinating tale full of twists, clever programming, lawsuits, and a walking pretzel. You should definitely make time to read this one in full. I had no idea what this team went through to make their vision a commercial product and that they occasionally need to remind Pac-Man owner Namco that they did, in fact, create Ms. Pac-Man and are entitled to a piece of the merchandising pie. I'm so glad that someone is collecting and telling these kinds of development stories. Every major cultural milestone video game needs an oral history article like this one.