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A cast of thousands: Pac-Man

Yeah, you read right. Old school Procyon is going to rave about an old school character in a serious attempt to shed light on why I think Pac-Man is one of the greatest video game characters ever created, as opposed to a humorous attempts to get some laughs.

When you think about all the mascots that there's ever been... Mario, Sonic, Bonk, Megaman, Simon, Crash, even Ratchet... they've all been venerable and memorable characters, but as icons, they've only ever come to represent the development houses that created them, respectively; Nintendo, Sega, NEC, Capcom, Konami, Sony (early), and Sony (later). None of these characters (with the possible exception of Mario in the early days) have ever been strong enough the represent the entire video game industry. Sure, Pac-Man could be equally labeled as being nothing more than a Namco trademark, but it's actually surprisingly hard to find an average person who realizes that Namco created Pac-Man, and not Atari like I frequently hear from people. About the only other character who seems to be able to universally represent video games is a Space Invader (and the middle guy of all choices.)

But it goes deeper than that. Every video game pits a player in a theoretical battle of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, team A vs. team B, and while some let you blur the lines a little bit, most of them shoe-horn an ethical model into the game to provide a motivation. Why do you destroy Space Invaders?: to save the earth. Why does Mario fight Donkey Kong: to save Pauline. Why does Donkey Kong Jr. fight Mario: to save Donkey Kong (deep, right?) But why does Pac-Man battle against the ghosts to eat all of the dots? Because that's what he does. There's no moral and ethical implication there, it's simply his nature to eat, and he does what he's good at. He will even eat the ghosts if he can, but most of the time, the ghosts present a danger to him.

In this sense Pac-Man becomes a blank palette upon which you may prescribe any number of aspects to, according to your whims and desires. Does Pac-Man eat dots in order to save his family; his home town; the world? Are the ghosts evil for trying to stop Pac-Man, or are they merely protecting the dot farm that they worked so hard to grow, and now they need to stop this maniacal eating machine from devouring their winter stores? It's entirely up to you. You get to decide whether Pac-Man is noble or delinquent, wise or insentient, worthy of respect or completely corrupt.

Unless someone has specific cause to see him as a problem-maker instead of a problem solver, I think most people tend to portray Pac-Man in their own minds as a simple fellow who simply does what must be done for the good of those around him. He sacrifices without complaint. He performs his duty for as long as he is physically able to, and does not quit until he has no more chances left to try. In this respect, he may appear analogous to an idealized Japanese employee, one who works tirelessly for the benefit of his company asking for nothing more than the chance to return to work and do it again.

Speaking for myself personally, I have always seen Pac-Man as a noble soul. He may not necessarily be a natural born leader, as he typically operates on his own, but he is willing to step up and settle a score as an individual than to drag someone else with him into his fight. He may not be the wisest or smartest character, but he always does what he believes in his heart to be the most good, and never intentionally causes any harm. He doesn't see a problem with eating ghosts, because they can't die, they merely go back to their base and regenerate. Nor does he blame the ghosts for trying to stop him, because that is their job; that is what they do. And if my perceptions about Pac-Man are correct, then the world would be a much better place if there were a little Pac-Man in all of us.
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About Procyonone of us since 10:16 AM on 12.08.2006

My name is Scott. I've been playing video games since my hands were big enough to hold a joystick. I started with the Atari 2600, and graduated to the Atari 800 computer where I taught myself how to program in BASIC. I eventually got a NES, and later a Game Boy. The first summer I ever worked, I was a CIT at the day camp I attended. I worked all summer long to save up enough money to buy the SNES the very day it came out.

I attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. I was introduced to the internet my freshman year in 1993, and I fast became a console pirate, purchasing a copier and downloading ROMs off of IRC channels. Good times. In my senior year, I purchased the N64 as soon as the street date was broken, and skipped classes for the next three days to play Mario 64. I also bought a used PSX the same year.

After I graduated with a degree in Computer Science and a degree in Psychology, I was accepted to Digipen. I was part of the very last class that attended the school in Vancouver, before they moved the campus to Nintendo of America's HQ in Redmond Washington (across the street from Microsoft). After completing the program, I got my very first job as a programmer at Ubisoft.

I lucked out with Ubisoft because they were actually opening a studio near my hometown in NYC, so I actually landed my dream job and got to live on the east coast near my family. I worked on Batman: Vengence. I met a number of cool people, but the only one I still keep in touch with happens to be a buddy of mine who was the lead designer on "Army of Two." He is without a doubt, the greatest game designer I have ever had the privilege of working with.

The studio in NYC didn't pan out for Ubisoft, and they decided to fold the team up to Montreal. After living in Vancouver for a year and a half, I decided I had enough of Canada, so I stayed in the NYC office, which transformed into GameLoft. I stayed there until me and the buddy I mentioned landed a job at 3DO. We both moved out to Redwood City and started working there.

3DO wasn't a great company, but it wasn't terrible, and I met a crew of people who became some of the greatest friends that I have ever had. I worked on Dragon Rage, which was being led by Kudo Tsunoda. He told the execs that it was going to be an Army Men game with an art asset swap, and it would take 6 months to complete. The truth was we were building a new engine from scratch, and it would really take a year to get it done right. When the six months were up, the execs asked for the game, and we weren't even close to finished, so we had to do 12 hours days, 6 days a week until the game was finished. 3 months later, nobody cared about it anymore, and it went straight to the budget bin.

3DO closed down very shortly after. While I was at 3DO, I got to know two people who amazed me: Howard Scott Warshaw and Tod Frye, two of the original Atari 2600 programmers. Getting to meet them and talk with them about "the good old days" at Atari was an amazing thing to me. (I totally recommend visiting Howard's site, Once Upon Atari and ordering his DVD about what those days were like.) I still run in to Howard infrequently at retrogaming conventions and it's always a delight.

After 3DO, I worked for a THQ studio that used to be called (oddly enough) Pacific Coast Power & Light. It's known as Locomotive games today. I was put on the WWE Crush Hour game, the game that was designed to mix the WWE up with Twisted Metal. I created the game's shell and character selection screen. It was actually a pretty cool game, but THQ's love for WWE had cooled down when the game was close to finishing (right after WWF became WWE, the ratings started to tank), so they rushed it and laid off the whole team.

Wishing to return to the east coast, I applied for jobs that I could find there, and actually lucked out with a job opening at Firaxis Games in Hunt Valley, Maryland, home to Sid Meier. When I got there, they were toying with the idea of remaking Pirates, and were prototyping a lot. The results were mixed, and Sid decided to get involved with the development personally. They knew they wanted to make a console version, and they put me on the small team responsible for porting the game to the Xbox. I had doubts about the game, and I wasn't enjoying the tasks I was being given (such as working on the in-game glossary), and things didn't work out. I made a lot of good friends there who I miss working with.

By this time, I had been with four companies in six years, and my girlfriend at the time was in the middle of going to school to get her degree, so I did something drastic: I grew up. I ended up looking for any available programming job, and accepted a position with a UPS owned software company as an algorithm designer. I've been there since 2005, I get paid more money, and work fewer hours than I ever did as a game programmer. But I really miss the creative environment and working with people that I have a lot in common with, i.e. a love and passion for video games.

I am currently own and operate StrategyWiki, which strives to become the best online source of video game guides and walkthroughs anywhere in the world. I am now living in northern Maryland. Welcome to my blog.
Xbox LIVE:ProcyonSJJ


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