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Pac-Man dev on series' long-running success: 'People love eating'

The Pac-Man games have always been about chasing and eating — two things which are always exciting, according to lead developer Konito Komori.

Speaking with Polygon, Komori said that the franchise's upcoming title Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, which launches on Oct. 29, remains faithful to the original chase-and-eat idea but had to be tweaked to appeal to a modern audience. But no matter what changes the series undergoes, it will always be about keeping mechanics simple — and it will never not be about chasing and eating.

"The original Pac-Man was very simple," he explained. "Chase and eat. The excitement of Pac-Man itself is the same as the classic one, and based on that we are adding some new factors. We've made the new game a 3D action-adventure, but it's still all about chasing and eating."

Some of the new mechanics for Ghostly Adventures include the ability to chain up lines of ghosts, allowing players to feel "the thrill of eating lots of ghosts quickly," Komori said This is still the same chase-and-eat idea, but making it easier to chase and eat faster will heighten the action.

"Our stance is: if there's an audience who wants to play Pac-Man, we have a duty to do something," he said. "Pac-Man himself is a big-time name. As a game designer, I feel the pressure to do something new, but looking at it from the player's point of view, we'll always know what we need to do to keep them."

The act of eating is inherently satisfying — people gather over meals when celebrating or simply spending time with one another, and there's a reason the term "comfort food" exists. Komori said the Pac-Man series capitalizes on this, and explained why he feels chasing and chowing down on cartoon ghosts is still a satisfying and fun game mechanic.

"I love eating, but I can't continue to eat forever. But Pac-Man can eat forever."

"When I became a producer, that simple question came up in my mind immediately," he said. "Last night I ate a lot of pizza, and I had no choice not to go for a run in this morning. I love eating, but I can't continue to eat forever. I need to run. But Pac-Man can eat forever.

"Eating is intuitive to excitement for a lot of people," he added. "People love eating."

Komori then gave me his rendition of the series' inception, the story of Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani's epiphany regarding the character's original design. Even the yellow hero's inception is rooted in the act of eating.

"This was before Pac-Man, and Iwatani was working to make a game for the action-oriented male market," he said. "He went to a pizza restaurant and came up with the idea for Pac-Man's look after eating one slice out of a pizza. He found the shape of Pac-Man in the pizza. Eating is an activity good for everyone, and he wanted to expand the game to appeal to both males and females. That's why he was so focused on the eating aspect."

But it's difficult to adapt this gameplay for a new audience of gamers who expect high-quality graphics and more involved mechanics. Balancing simple gameplay with new features without bogging the game down and pulling it farther away from its origins has been a challenge, Komori said.

"He's a guy who can save the world now — the Pac-World."

"This is our new challenge for a new generation: many of the people who like Pac-Man are in their 20s, 30s, 40s," Komori explained. "But when you come to the younger generation, maybe their parents know Pac-Man, but they themselves don't know that exact Pac-Man, which is the part of the reason we've launched a cartoon series. We had tons of discussions: how do we appeal to the new generation with the basic conception of Pac-Man and eating? We came to the conclusion to expand the world view; the classic game is only the maze and ghosts. Now we've made it more alive with new settings and a bigger enemy. He's a guy who can save the world now — the Pac-World.

"Personally I love the simplicity, so I hope the younger generation likes this approach," he added.

Komori said Namco Bandai's strategy for the future is to direct new games towards children, but continue to offer the original classic, retro version of Pac-Man to older gamers — neither audience will be alienated. Pac-Man is a hero in his own right who can stand next to the Edward Kenways and Nathan Drakes of our current gaming generation.

"I think Pac-Man himself is in a unique position compared to other game heroes," Komori said. "He's strong, he can eat ghosts — but that's all still funny. It's exhilarating even though it's simple, the chase-and-eat style. It's an easily understandable concept and once players enter, they can enjoy it forever."