A funny thing happened this past week with Bandai / Namco re-releasing the classic game Pac-Land onto the Nintendo Switch. Pac superstar Miss Pac-Man was nowhere to be found. Instead she was replaced with a character named Pac-Mom and, yeah, there was confusion as to what is going on here.
Kyle Orland at Ars Technica goes down the rabbit hole that is Pac-Man, the reason such an incredible sequel exists, and the convoluted copyright situation that’s come along with it all since the 80’s.
While the original Pac-Man is a wholly owned Namco creation, the Ms. Pac-Man arcade cabinet started life as a “speed-up kit” called Crazy Otto that was created by a group of MIT students calling themselves General Computer Corporation (GCC). That modification kit was eventually spun into the 1982 release of Ms. Pac-Man, with Namco’s official blessing.Ars Technica
In a 1983 lawsuit, GCC acquired a perpetual right to receive a royalty any time Namco re-released a new version of Ms. Pac-Man or Jr. Pac-Man (which GCC also developed). That royalty, which was renegotiated in 2008, helps explain why those two games are so rarely included in Pac-compilations to this day.
It’s interesting to think that Pac-Man has endured for so many decades, but now only after reading about this have I realized the lack of re-releases of Ms. Pac-Man. It’s sad and frustrating to see legal issues get in the way of game preservation and re-releases. To me, these are what give the games new life and bring them to new audiences. Yes, Ms. Pac-Man isn’t the greatest game ever, but it’s fun and important especially to Namco’s history. For now, we will have to endure this weird “new” character, Pac-Mom.