What do you think is the most beloved and longest-lasting arcade game of all time? Space Invaders? Defender? The Atari version of Tetris? Centipede? While these games were produced in large numbers and generated many returns in the form of quarters, I would like to make the case for a pink-bowed yellow circle known as Ms. Pac-Man.
Ms. Pac-Man’s game was created by a small software development group known as “General Computer Corporation (GCC)”. They had previously created their own modified version of Atari’s Missile Command known as Super Missile Attack. This gross disregard for Atari’s trademark and copyright could have been the end of their operations, but it instead lead to opportunity: after legal terms were cleared, they would later go on to make criminally underrated Food Fight and the elusive trackball game Quantum for Atari Coin-Op.
In 1981, GCC developed a Pac-Man clone known as Crazy Otto which featured a familiar-looking maze structure and a yellow protagonist with legs. This build was presented to Bally-Midway, the distributor for Pac-Man games in the US at the time. Some sprite changes and remarks about Pac-Man’s female demographic later, the game was quickly retooled into the official Pac-Man sequel.
Ms. Pac-Man was a cultural phenomenon within a cultural phenomenon. Her overall presence as Pac-Man’s romantic partner fleshes out Pac-Man’s world; so to did the game it self: the new ghost AI made for a deeper, less predictable experience. It even featured one of the earliest cutscenes in a video game as an intermission. Ms. Pac-Man is of the most successful American arcade games ever. It’s been ported to nearly every home and handheld console known to man and monkey alike. Ken Graham, the late co-founder of the Game Preserve told me that in his opinion, Ms. Pac-Man and Joust are the two most consistently in-demand arcade games. Because of this, he considered Ms. Pac-Man to be the most beloved video game of all-time. Players want it in their arcades, it’s a proven monkey-maker, it is non-violent, so it can appeal to all ages, and is popular with both girls and boys.
In spite of this recognition, the strange origins of Ms. Pac-Man have complicated her legacy. For starters, she wasn’t created by Namco, the original rights owner to Pac-Man, or by Toru Iwatani, the original designer of Pac-Man. Back in those days, Namco had no true American presence to speak of. Their games were licensed by Bally-Midway (as was the case of The original Pac-Man, Galaga, Bosconian and many others) or Atari (e.g., Xevious). Bally-Midway was a real arcade titan back then and could be quite liberal with the Pac-Man characters. Without authorization from Namco, they created Junior Pac-Man and Professor Pac-Man.
People from Namco were consulted the design of Ms. Pac-Man, but some issues concerning royalties have been murky. The IP rights were initially sold to Bally-Midway. GCC later sued Bally-Midway, both parties came to a settlement: Bally-Midway had the rights but would owe GCC all royalties. After Namco established their own international business offices, the Ms. Pac-Man rights eventually returned to them. Ms. Pac-Man would be included in collections like Namco Musuem and the Pac-Man/Super Mario crossover Mario Kart Arcade GP. However, the GCC royalty agreement remained in effect. Further complicating things was a 2019 acquisition of GCC by AtGames, a notable manufacturer of commemorative and throwback consoles such as Flashback Blast and Legends Ultimate.
Though the IP rights still belong to Namco, AtGames has held on to the royalty rights. While there’s been no official statement or acknowledgement from Bandai Namco (BNEI), this has caused gamers and game journalists to postulate that BNEI is reluctant to use the character. Is it worth the headache to re-release her games and appearances? These legal entanglements have caused our bow-clad heroine to be pushed out of the Pac-Man franchise. In current re-releases of Namco arcade classics, and even more recent titles like the Pac-Man World remake, Ms. Pac-Man has been replaced by an ersatz entity: Pac-Mom.
Both Ms. Pac-Man and Pac-Mom are Pac-Man-like; round and yellow. So, what’s the distinction? That would be Pac-Mom’s hat! Besides Ms. Pac-Man, Jr. Pac-Man, (another creation from the Bally-Midway days) is being replaced in current games with one Pac-Boy. You can’t help but wonder if Pac-Man’s family is being replaced with impostors, or if they are simply other people entirely.
It just goes to show how copyright and trademark laws can be tricky. Sometimes incidents from the past have consequences decades later. If a small third-party can get leverage over a titan like Bandai Namco, they’re going find some way to use it.
As a fan of Ms. Pac-Man, I hope this is just a minor set back from Bandai Namco, and that we’ll see Ms. Pac-Man chomping away in future console generations.
What are your Ms. Pac-Man memories? What do you think of the situation? Let us know!
Calling all pinball players of the Denver Metro! Need a good pinball repairman? Our color-commentator Buffalo has a recommendation for you:
I bought the pinball Hokus Pokus from an individual who “built and restored” them. After a few months, the machine started to “have problems”. The person I purchased it from did not answer his phone nor respond to my voice mails.
Let the buyer beware.
In trying to find a repair person I was told of Steve Mitchell, who was the repair person for the arcade in Manitou Springs. His hourly rate is reasonable; he replaced rubbers, put new lights in (many did not work), and gave me a “brand new” Hocus Pocus, commenting on how the back glass was in very good shape. He pointed out to me the liberal usage of white grease that had been used on the machine, a “no-no” that should never be used.
Steve’s the mechanic to revive your old machines. If you would like to talk/hire Steve, leave a note at email@example.com
He’s located in Colorado Springs.
Oh, and if you should stop by Buffalo’s Last Stand to play/try your luck, bring quarters.
This Zaxxon cabinet was spotted at the Sleeping Grizzly RV park in Lander, Wyoming. Check it out next time you’re headed to Jackson Hole.
A trip into the Rockies uncovered this Elvira’s House of Horrors pinball machine at the Crossroads Bar & Grill in Pine Junction, Colorado. AT Gonzalez has this to say about Elvira: “Elvira’s House of Horrors is getting harder to find. They ended production earlier than expected because of the pandemic and to ‘let other games sell.’ It’s practically tripled in value.”
Send us your photos of rare and special cabinets you’ve found on your travels. Email pictures to njb@nan
When discussing the game library of Taito, Bubble Bobble is most likely the first one everyone’s list. While it did bring a lot of firsts into gaming, it had some precedents. Chack’n Pop and The Fairyland Story are two such games that inspired the frantic gameplay of the Bubble Bobble. While the The Fairyland Story has been well-dissected in recent years, not nearly as much attention has been brought to Chack’n Pop.
Chack’n Pop was released in Japanese arcades around April 1984, despite the game’s copyright information claiming it was made and released in 1983. Several other official Taito sources also given the incorrect 1983 date. According to an interview with Hiroyuki Sakô, the character and level designer for Chack’n Pop, the game started off as a microcomputer game for the Hitachi Basic Master Level 3, developed by a student at the Tôdai (the University of Japan) Microcomputer Club. According to Yoichi Miyaji, one of the founders of Game Arts, the student in question was a man named Hiroshi Sakai, creator of Cuby Panic. Taito then bought the rights to the game. Under the working title Chack’n Chack, development moved forward, with Hiroyuki Sakô along with Jun Ishioka on the team.
Chack’n Pop is a curious platform/maze hybrid that makes the titular Chack’n scale across various caverns to retrieve his girlfriend’s hearts from the Monstas that lie within. To do the job of retrieving the hearts, Chack’n has a few powers at his disposal: his legs can stretch up to get him to higher places, he can walk on ceilings, and he deploys bombs to break obstacles and kill foes. Chack’n must rescue the hearts before a “Maita” slowly pushes a large rock over the stage’s entrance (effectively becoming the stage’s time limit).
If you play well enough, you get to see various cutscenes a la Pac-Man, and the best players get to see Chack’n and Ms. Chack’n get married. After they get married, the levelset loops once more.
Chack’n Pop was ahead of its time in some ways, such as in its physics-based movement and the pacifist score bonuses. However, the game is rather rough to play these days. The game is dragged down by slow and restrictive movement, an all-or-nothing approach to bonus scores, and how your own bombs can kill you. Sakô felt the game sold poorly due to its difficulty, and it is not hard to see why.
PICTURE ABOVE: At several Taito arcades, a high score tournament was done for Chack’n Pop. During a two-month period, the highest scores were tallied weekly, and the players in the top five for that week got this shirt. Not even these contests were enough to boost sales.
After the arcade release, Chack’n Pop got a new lease on life via a few contemporary home ports, mostly Japanese-exclusives. The most well-known port is the Famicom port produced by TOSE. Notably, this version runs at a full 60hz compared to the 30hz of the arcade version. Later, Sega made and published a port for the Sega SG-1000. The Sega port is surprisingly feature complete, and has most, if not all the gameplay features of the arcade version. In my opinion, it is a bit of an improvement, making the controls a little less clunky and making Chack’n’s movement a bit quicker, not quite enough to save the flawed game design in general.
The only port done by Taito themselves, the MSX port, is rather rough and is also missing a lot of features like the Famicom port. There were a few ports for Japanese microcomputers, all done by Carry Lab, and an obviously now unplayable Japanese feature phone version. Emulated ports of the original arcade version would later appear via Taito Memories Gekan, Taito Memories Pocket/Taito Legends Power Up, Taito Legends 2, the Arcade Archives series, Taito Milestones, and the Taito Egret II Mini.
What makes Chack’n Pop standout in recent years is its outsized impact on later Taito games. Chack’n has become an unofficial “mascot” for Taito. His biggest claim to fame is the Bubble Bobble series. Chack’n appears throughout the Bubble Bobble series, in cameos, in the storyline. Many of Chack’n’s enemies became enemis of the Bobble Brothers. These cameos extended to the Puzzle Bobble subseries, where Chack’n is typically the referee between versus matches.
In fact, it is easier to say the Taito games where Chack’n does not appear whatsoever, he is in at least 44 of their games and counting!
Chack’n remains a popular character even after its arcade game bombed in Japanese arcades. Chack’n and his lively set of friends and enemies have stuck around in player’s minds, and Taito took notice. It is due to his constant appearances that the legacy of this odd game will forever live on.
ABOVE PHOTO: From left to right: Roscoe “Fatman”, Lex “Greaseball”, and Lex’s wife.
When I was born the town was under 40,000, taking about ten years to make that amount of population. When I left, in my 60’s, it was over 250,000 and the slow rural pace of a once-agricultural town was now industrialized, commercialized, and impersonal.
The rural town that once was became paved over, peach trees were yanked out and replaced with houses, fields became orchards of almond trees, and no-one cared.
A quarter-mile from where I grew up was the East side of the town, with a one-stall, two-pump gas station, a liquor store, and the Chicken Diner.
I recall going there in the later ’50’s with my parents for a dinner, learning that they did not serve any chicken, were a ‘greasy spoon’ (like In ’n’ Out burger) and had pinball. At this time in history, pinball would be found in bowling alleys, bars, drive-ins, and dumpy dives, like the Diner. Only delinquents or losers played pinball back then.
By the mid-’60’s pinball was entertainment for the youth, frequenting any of the three bowling alleys in town, the Greyhound bus depot, or the Continental depot. Speaking for myself, the diner was close by and a few quarters could mean hours of escape and entertainment. Plus the machines were always being replaced with “new” (to me) machines to play.
I learned pinball from my older brothers; where they were and how to play the machines. The Diner became my hangout during high school (putting geometry to use) and junior college years, where I became known by the owner, Roscoe ‘Fat Man’ Renfro, Lex ‘Grease Ball’ Bryant, ‘Bugga Goo Goo’ Bryant (Lex’s brother—a story unto himself), Dennis, and ‘Big’ Red. If you had money, they were your friend; no money, they’d at least be sociable with you. If you wanted someone to play pinball against, one of them were usually available if you paid the machine for them. (Roscoe did not play pinball, free or anyhow.) On the other side of the Diner was pool tables, where the aforementioned ‘sharks’ (not Bugga Goo Goo) would readily take your money in play.
It would be impossible to count, nor do I want to think, of how many quarters I spent on the silver ball at the Diner, not including playing the baseball game that occasionally would replace a pinball in rotation.
Roscoe remarried in ’73 and found God, releasing the Diner a few years later and his ‘congregation’ (once a week holy get-together), and leaving Fun Works, an offshoot with Putt Putt Golf, three bowling alleys, and an arcade with video and pinball. By ’79, the arcade was no more, there was one less bowling alley, and Fun Works no longer had pinball.
My girlfriend (later wife) had purchased a ‘professional home’ Fireball in 1977, which eased the loss of machines in Motown at the time, until she let it go in ’98.
Pinball has always been in my blood, which may be a part of the reason there are two very playable machines at Buffalo’s Last Stand on Highway 36.
399 Main St.
Lyons, CO 80540
Tournaments on the second Saturday of each month at 3 PM. No entry fee.
Women’s Tournaments on the third Saturday of each month at 3 PM. $5 entry fee, first-timers play free.
For more information, visit lyons
600 S. Center St.
Reno, NV 89501
Reno MatchPlay Pinball Tournament: August 19, 2023. Registration opens at 11:30 AM, tournament starts at 12 Noon. Registration is $10, with cash prizes for the top four places. Limited to the first forty people registered on the day of the event.
“Pin-Brawl” Tournaments every Tuesday. Registration starts at 5 PM, tournament starts at 6:30 PM. $5 admission, with cash prizes for the top four places. Registration is limited to the first forty people to register the day of the event.
For more information, visit reno
In Issue 2, like a real “gaijin-baka”, I referred to Bust-a-Move as the American title for Bubble Bobble. This was incorrect: Bust-a-Move is the American title for Puzzle Bobble, not Bubble Bobble, although both games feature the Bubble Dragons Bub & Bob.
As with many things in life, one curses the lesson and blesses the knowledge.
Buffalo tells us how pinball and The Blues transcended language in Denmark.
Nicholas Bernhard is the editor of Quarter Up. He is the developer of the Nantucket E-Books platform, and the Shanty markup language. With help from AT Gonzalez, he is building a directory of works by Harlan Ellison. For fun, he plays piano and bass guitar, and hikes. He may be reached at njb@
Originally from Pennsylvania, AT Gonzalez began his video game journey as a toddler playing Super NES. This opened up a whole new dimension of artistic expression for him. He began collecting games as a hobby a few years later down the line. His favorite game franchises are Mega Man, Mario, Metroid, Castlevania, F-Zero, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear, and plenty of others!
Currently based in Southeast Texas, he writes, makes short films, does studio photography, voice-over work, and audio production in his spare time. He may be reached at @At
Leland is an aspiring video game historian from North Carolina who specializes in documenting Taito and Namco games. Has written for various sites including Hardcore Gaming 101. He may be reached at @Tremi
Buffalo is our resident color-commentator at Quarter Up, covering the places where life and pinball intersect. After spending most of his life in the San Joaquin Valley of California, he moved to Cope, Colorado on the eastern plains. There, he runs Buffalo’s Last Stand, where you can find all things bison-related, and eastern Colorado’s finest bookstore. He also bakes a mean cookie.
In 2023, his novel Tales of a Metal Fisherman, filled with adventures in the life of a hard-living repo man, was published by Nantucket E-Books. A sample of the book may be read by clicking here, or you may order the e-book and/or paperback at nan
Hello! My name is Jeremy, 21-year-old from the Philippines. I am currently doing freelance work as my side hustle before going to college. I love creating lofi illustrations and simple animations. I hope people can enjoy my work and relax for a bit when they are tired. I’ve been collaborating with music creators and other illustrators from around of the world to share my works. You can find me here on Reddit (/u/artofmeh), or email me at jeremy
This issue of Quarter Up is © 2023 Nantucket E-Books, LLC. Copyright for the articles contained in this newsletter is reserved by their respective authors.
Cover art is © 2023 Jeremy Mendiola/artofmeh, used with permission.
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