Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani ponders his next step

How do you follow up hits that include Pac-Man, Ridge Racer, and Time Crisis? Noted Namco designer goes on the record with GameSpot.

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SAN JOSE--After inspiring a whole generation of gamers and game developers by creating one of the most famous games in the world, what do you do as an encore? Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani's response: produce more games, get involved in new ventures, and help educate the next generation of game designers. Today Iwatani spoke with Gamespot about his activities at Namco--post-Pac-Man--and shared his thoughts about current trends in the game industry.

After Pac-Man came out in 1980, Iwatani's next creation was a game called Libble Rabble. Then he became a producer, putting his signature on more than 50 games for Namco. Recent titles include the Ridge Racer and Time Crisis series. During this period, he kept a low profile, saying "A lot of people outside the company thought that I'd left Namco." But with the launch of the Namco Incubation Center two years ago, he took the title of "conductor" and assumed a more visible role.

Iwatani explained that the Incubation Center is divided into three sections, "New Ventures," "Welfare," and the Namco game school. New Ventures is Iwatani's department, and true to its name, it's tasked with finding new opportunities for Namco to pursue. Iwatani declined to comment on current projects, but he did point out that such opportunities are not necessarily explicitly game-related. He cited Namco's travel photography site NamcoPolo and Counter-Strike LAN cafe LEDZone as two examples of past projects from New Ventures. Later in our talk, he mentioned that he took a trip to Las Vegas last year to research casino games, which may be one hint about New Ventures’ current projects.

The Incubation Center's Welfare division is also pursuing interesting opportunities. Its mission is producing accessible input and output devices for the handicapped and elderly. Namco has a 20-year track record in this area, and due to Japan's rapidly aging population, it's a growth market. These devices could become a key revenue generator.

Iwatani also shared his thoughts on current industry trends. He's commented in the past on a need for games with simple rules and shorter learning curves. Asked if the casual games that are now popular in the US fit the bill, he frowned. "PC casual games don't look like they were made by professionals. They're amateurish. We need new concepts." He gave two examples: Namco's Katamari Damashii, which just went on sale in Japan, and Taiko no Tatsujin, an extremely successful game that's been through a few incarnations for the arcade and console.

Asked about Japan's booming cellular phone market, Iwatani said that Namco is now working on original games for cell phones--a new direction in an industry that's dominated by ports of arcade and console games. But he says there are no current plans to put cell phone networking capabilities to use. Iwatania said, "Before thinking about networked play, first we need to develop original stand-alone cell phone games."

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