Published June 06, 2007
NEW YORK – "Pac-Man" will be reborn on Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Xbox Live online service on Wednesday as a final tribute for designer Toru Iwatani, who is retiring from the $30 billion games industry he helped ignite.
The new version of the iconic arcade game is a faithful interpretation of the addictive 27-year-old original, where players wrenched joystick controllers to race a character — resembling a yellow pizza missing a slice — around a digital maze to chomp white pellets and chase multicolored "ghosts."
The new game, "Pac-Man Championship Edition," is the second and final version Iwatani personally designed, and was created for the final round of the Xbox 360 Pac-Man World Championship in New York, when nine finalists played it for the first time.
Iwatani, 52, an employee of Japan's Namco Bandai Holdings, said in an interview he will retire from active duty at Namco and spend more time teaching the next generation of game designers at Tokyo Polytechnic University.
He said there were no immediate plans for another version of "Pac-Man," but that he could work with Namco in a supervisory position or work on a new version with his students.
The new game, which pulses to dance music and has mazes that change shapes, marks Iwatani's swan song from electronic interactive entertainment, an industry with annual revenue that now tops U.S. box office movie sales.
But Iwatani said the future of the games industry, where development budgets now rival those of some feature-length movies, lies not with professional creators, but outsiders.
The designer of "'Tetris' was not from the industry. He was a scientist," he said, referring to another legendary 1980s game, in which players organize falling blocks, designed by Russian scientist Alexey Pajitnov in 1985.
"For someone thinking outside of the industry, they can have a fresh new idea," Iwatani said.
Despite the last decade's advances in computer graphics technology and design, Iwatani created the new "Pac-Man" as he did the original — in two-dimensions.
"I wanted to stay with the original simple rules of 'Pac-Man,'" he said.
The new version also reshuffles older formats. In one mode, called "Dark mode,' most of the maze is hidden from view with players guided only by a flashlight lighting Pac-Man's path.
"Pac-Man Championship Edition" will be sold for about $10 as a download on the Xbox Live service, starting on Wednesday.