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The Oral History Of Ms. Pac-Man

Ms. Pac-Man

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.


Power Button - Episode 229: 2016's Biggest News Revisited

Power ButtonEach year around this time we like to take a look back and recap the biggest video gaming news of the previous year.  It's time to put 2016 to bed as we remember big moments such as Sony and Microsoft announcing their next generation not-next-gen consoles the PlayStation 4 Pro and the unnamed Project Scorpio, Nintendo teasing us with the NX console, Disney Infinity saying farewell, overhyped games leading into a letdown upon release, and so much more.  Join Blake Grundman and I for an hour and a half of discussion.  Do you have your preorder in yet?   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way.


Power Button - Episode 227: Watch Dogs 2 And Other Open World Favorites

Power ButtonWhile recovering from my recent surgery I've spent a lot of my rest time exploring the world of Watch Dogs 2.  It's a fantastic open world adventure, so on this episode of Power Button I talk a lot about the game and some of its best moments.  That leads into a discussion with Blake Grundman about our favorite open world games of all time.  Join us for a conversation about Watch Dogs 2, Crackdown, Destiny, Sleeping Dogs, Grand Theft Auto V, Red Dead Redemption, Assassins Creed SyndicateFar Cry Primal, Fallout 4, The Witcher 3, and many more.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way.


Health Update

MarioI've been away for a few weeks, but I wasn't on a relaxing holiday vacation.  Long-time PTB readers are familiar with my ongoing difficulties with Crohn's Disease and my multiple surgeries over the years, and while I'm happy to say that my Crohn's is in remission, unfortunately I do have other organs that can fail.  For instance, this time around it was my gallbladder which was kicking out gallstones into my pancreas, causing an excruciatingly painful infection.  What was supposed to be a simple outpatient laparoscopic surgery to remove my gallbladder turned into what my surgeon called the most challenging surgery of his year as he discovered that all of the organs on the right side of my abdomen — gallbladder, liver, etc. — were fused together into a single mass along with the major blood vessels that serve those organs. 

My surgeon spent several hours carefully separating everything and then removing my gallbladder which, as it turns out, was  difficult to identify because it was lost in the organ mass.  He eventually found it and removed it leaving me with a twelve inch-long horizontal incision wound and four small puncture wounds.  Five days in the hospital over Christmas later and I was back at home where I've been resting ever since.  Naturally, you can understand why everything here at PTB came to a halt.  I'm back up and moving around the house now though, my surgical staples have been removed, and I'm able to sit at the PC for a while, so I intend to get back to writing and podcasting.  Thanks for your patience as I recover from my fifth surgery.  There can't be many more of these in my future; I'm running out of removable parts!


Give Up Your Appellations, Technical Monkey

Gradius 3There's a long line of confusing video game mistranslations out there spanning from the basic "Conglaturations" from Ghostbusters to "A Winner Is You" in Pro Wrestling to the infamous "All your base are belong to us" from Zero Wing.  You can typically deduce the original intent of the bad localization, but sometimes a game throws you such an odd statement that it takes several leaps of logic to arrive at the proper translation.  Consider the arcade difficulty mode of the Super NES version of Konami's Gradius 3 which, if you can finish all of the game's levels, offers up the praise "I'm give up your appellation's Technical Monkey".  What on earth could that possibly mean?  ReyVGM has solved the puzzle and, like all good mistranslations, there's a fun story of design decisions behind it.  I won't spoil it here, but the answer makes perfect sense.  Well, as much sense as a bizarre localization ever makes.  Appellations all around!


Annual Christmas Special Encore! Power Button - Episode 158: Christmas In Videoland

Power ButtonSpecial Christmas encore of our popular holiday episode! It's the holiday season which means that it's the perfect time for us to dedicate an episode of Power Button discussing video games that include Christmas elements such as music remixes, holiday weapons, festive missions, and appearances from Santa Claus himself.  There's some deep cuts mixed in here with the mainstream titles; we cover everything from Christmas trees in Sonic Adventure's Station Square to the special Christmas cheat code in Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie's Double Trouble to Banjo-Kazooie's Freezeezy Peak to the special holiday demo of Jazz Jackrabbit to Sega's limited edition Christmas NiGHTS to the hard-to-find Daze Before Christmas from Sunsoft.  Settle in with some egg nog and spend eighty minutes with us this holiday season.  We also sidequest off into NES Remix, adorable amiibo, and much more.  Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!    Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way.


Power Button - Episode 225: Pinball Fever

Power ButtonIt's been a busy time for pinball fans with real world events and new digital releases coming furiously like an assortment of metal balls all flipping around an area at once in some kind of multiple arrangement.  As we like to do from time to time here on Power Button, this week is another of our in a series of episodes focusing on pinball experiences.  First I talk about the fun of going to the Free Play Florida arcade and pinball event where I was able to play new tables like Ghostbusters and classics like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and 24, then Blake Grundman takes us on a journey into the new Stern Pinball Arcade Collection for modern game consoles and we wrap things up with a look at the new Zen Studios release of Bethesda-based pinball tables based on Skyrim, DOOM, and Fallout.  Bump out for an hour and join us.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way.


Power Button - Episode 224: Hilarity Ensues

Power ButtonVideo games are often held up for their action sequences, set pieces, and visuals, but how often do you hear someone remark about hilarious writing?  On this week's episode of Power Button, Blake Grundman and I spend an hour and a half discussing our favorite funny games.  From Portal 2 to Saints Row IV to Maniac Mansion and beyond, we have some hilarious moments to share.  Before that happens, however, Blake takes us on a sidequest with Pokémon.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way.


Dr. Wily: Portrait Of A Madman

Dr. WilyI know that hindsight is 20/20 and all, but when I see the gradual mental decline of Mega Man villain Dr. Albert Wily laid out in image after image, I think we should all have realized early on that the erratic scientist was not to be trusted and was very likely become a larger threat to us all.  Just because a man can create Robot Masters does not mean that he's well-balanced.  Take a look at this series of official Capcom character artwork that spans the classic Mega Man series from Mega Man (1987) through Mega Man 8 (1996) and you'll see his physical behavior and manner of dress start to show signs of the troubled soul within.  We really should have found help for him sooner beyond sending Mega Man in to clean up the mess again and again.

Continue reading "Dr. Wily: Portrait Of A Madman" »


The Fall And Rise Of Sonic The Hedgehog

Sonic the HedgehogSega's Sonic the Hedgehog has suffered through some rough times for most of his existence.  While enjoying success on the Sega Genesis and Game Gear, the franchise began a downward slide during the Dreamcast era after rushing to meet deadlines and staff attrition caught up with the company behind it.  Game Informer's Brian Shea chronicles all the ways that Sonic went wrong from the canceled Saturn-exclusive Sonic X-Treme to Sonic Adventure 2 being developed by a staff of just eleven people to unrelenting holiday shopping dates to get 2006's disappointing Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 out the door on time.

Despite this fragmentation and turnover, Iizuka asserts that the real problem with Sonic 2006 was the deadlines. "We missed out on that really important time to polish and tune and manipulate the map and make sure that the world really felt good and the gameplay felt good," he says. "Because it didn't have that, it didn't turn out as good as the development team wanted."

The lack of polish is evident. Sonic 2006 is full of visual and audio glitches, environmental clipping, and imprecise gameplay. The title has become synonymous with the struggles the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise had faced in recent years. Sonic 2006 was meant to be a return to the series' roots, but it ended up damning the franchise in the eyes of many. The series had taken obvious turns away from what made it great in the first place.

It sounds like Sega may have finally learned a lesson after years of middling sequels.  The company delayed its latest Sonic Boom title for a year to allow the developers time to turn it into a polished product, and the upcoming Sonic Mania finally reaches back to the Genesis-era design that made the franchise popular in the first place.  Instead of hearing "oh, we'll fix it next time" from a Sonic Team spokesperson and then nothing happens to follow up on that halfhearted enthusiasm, we're actually seeing some behavioral changes behind the scenes with the delays and design decisions and even choice of staffing.  Let's hope that Sega finally has this whole Sonic the Hedgehog thing figured out.