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Masaya Nakamura, Rest In Peace


Masaya Nakamura, founder of Namco, has died.  He was 91.

He actually died about a week ago, but Bandai Namco held on to the information out of respect for Nakamura and his family.  Thank you.

The video game world, and my own childhood, would be a lot different without him.  I was always fascinated with video games, but Pac-Man, as far as I can recall, was the first time I ever geeked out.  I spent countless hours playing the arcade game, watching the cartoon, and loving the merch.  Video games would have continued without him.  But the landscape would be much different, and in fact, most of what we know and love wouldn't exist.

Nakamura was born on December 24, 1925.  He came of age while Japan was recovering from WWII, studying shipbuilding and graduating from Yokohama Institute Of Technology in 1948.  In 1955, he founded Nakamura Manufacturing to make kiddie rides for department stores.  Nakamura was shrewd, and knew opportunity when he saw it -- in the early 60's, Mistukoshi and him entered into a deal to let Nakamura put a ride on the top of one of their stores.  It proved such a hit, Mistukoshi ordered him to do it for all stores in their chain.  Nakamura eventually renamed his company the Nakamura Amusement Machine Manufacturing Company, or NAMCO for short.

In the 1970's, Nakamura expanded his company to make arcade games.  At the time, this meant the electromechanical games.  But he noticed video game technology and saw it as the future.  Atari's video game division was falling apart at the seams and Nolan Bushnell was looking to sell it.  Sega offered $80K for it.  Nakamura offered a cool $500K.  He got it, distributing Atari games in Japan for over a decade and inspiring his own staff (Nakamura also play tested his company's own creations to see how fun they were).  In 1979, Namco did their first, "Yeah, you did it first, but we did it better," by adding a couple of twists to Space Invaders and creating Galaxian.  Then, in 1980, a new hire by the name of Toru Iwatani created a design for a maze game.  Nakamura noticed the "pukka pukka" sound effect as the character ate dots, and suggested calling him "Pac-Man."  And video game history was made -- Pac-Man remains the highest grossing video game of all time, having hauled down $3.5 bil by 1990 and giving Nakamura the title of "the father of Pac-Man."  From there, Namco continued to just dominate with games like Ridge Racer and Tekken becoming huge franchises.  He also walked a fine line with the Big N.  Tengen had gotten slick and was making unlicensed games for the Nintendo Entertainment System in the US.  One of their games was Klax, which they eventually licensed to Namco for release in Japan.  The Big N, however, also worked with them, with Namco handing the development of StarFox Armada on the Game Cube.  In 2002, Nakamura stepped down as CEO of Namco, retaining a ceremonial role in his company.  The merger of Bandai and Namco in 2005 made him the 68th richest person in Japan.

Rest well, Nakamura.  You impacted many lives, and especially mine.  You're earned your peace.

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