In my article about the Nintendo Entertainment System, I paint a picture of then-Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi as an iron-willed leader who’s uncompromising nature was famous in the video game industry. Today it was announced on Namco’s Japanese-language website that one of the few people to go up against Yamauchi has passed way at the age of 91: Namco founder Masaya Nakamura.
Started in 1955, Nakamura Manufacturing Company of Tokyo was initially an installer and operator of amusement park rides atop a department store in Yokohama, Japan. Becoming Namco in 1972, they entered the video game industry by purchasing the Japanese subsidiary of Atari from that company’s founder, Nolan Bushnell, in 1974. They would go on to not only trailblaze in the industry by developing one of the first full-colour and sprite-based video games with Galaxian in 1979, Namco would help solidify the video game market in North America a couple of years later with a blockbuster hit by employee Toru Iwatani, featuring a little yellow circle with a wedge of a mouth named Pac-Man.
The game-changing ‘Pac-Man’
It would be during the heydays of the NES when Nakamura would face-off with the most powerful company in the industry. Nintendo’s powerhouse game console had a draconian third-party licensee program, forcing makers of NES games to fork over a 20 percent royalty on sales and give exclusivity to Nintendo’s game machine for two years, among other financial hardships. Although Namco had been one of the first licensees for the NES, Nakamura would chafe under these restrictions and call out Yamauchi in the press for his licensing system, stating that “Nintendo is monopolizing the market, which is not good for anyone.” Namco then allied itself more closely with Nintendo’s competition at the time, most notably with Sega and their Master System and Genesis machines. Due to Nakamura’s resistance, as well as accusations from the U.S. Justice Department over various monopolistic practices, Nintendo would eventually drop the exclusivity clause from their developer contracts.
Namco nestles up to the competition, 1990.
Merging with Japanese toy and video game company Bandai in 2005, Bandai-Namco today remains one of the few early arcade game companies still producing games. They have the assured and fearless guidance of Masaya Nakamura to thank for it.
Out of Namco in 1979 came soaring Galaxian, a take on the Space Invaders formula where the little alien critters are not content to shuffle left and right across the screen, but break formation and come tearing down at the player, shooting at them all the way.
They’re coming for you in Galaxian
Galaxian not only helped usher in full RGB colour to arcade games, but also pioneered the use of sprites as graphical objects, allowing for the furious action that made the game so popular. It was as influential to video game design as its own invading inspiration, and spawned a set of sequels, such as 1981′s Galaga, as well as a plethora of remakes and ports. A particularly awesome port was made of Galaxian for the VCS/2600 in 1983, so good that it seems almost impossible to have been done within the stringent programming confines of Atari’s warhorse video game system. Of course, we can’t forget the game’s treatment at the hands of Coleco, featured as one of the company’s popular tabletop LED mini-arcade games.
Bring the arcade home with you!
Down another path of sequels was handheld LED game Galaxian 2 by Entex, as well as the monstrous Galaxian 3 theatre games constructed by Namco in the 90′s. These giants, starting as 28-player motion ride experiences and eventually tapered down to 6-player walk-in arcade games, give the Galaxian player a suitably epic experience.
Galaxian set the mold for the shoot-em-ups that followed in its colourful wake. For a full history on the game, please consult your local Dot Eaters entry.
Galaga 30th title screen
As our final entry into The 12 Video Games of Christmas we bring you Galaga 30th Collection for iOS, made by Namco Bandai.
This app was released in 2011 to mark the 30th anniversary of Galaga, the sequel to 1979′s paradigm-shifting Galaxian by Namco, distributed in North America by Midway. The initial download is free, and for that you get the original Galaxian for free. The rest of the games, available through in-app purchases, are as follows:
- Galaga $2.99
- Galpus $2.99
- Galaga ’88 $3.99
- All-games pack: $7.99
The app keeps the basic mechanics of the arcade games, and gussies up the graphics so the aliens look cleaner and buzz around with coloured glowing streaks behind them. Besides the normal versions of the Galaga and Galpus games, you can also play a score attack round and try to beat your high score in three very difficult screens. For control, you can chose a standard joystick/button configuration, or go for the option to move your ship by sliding your finger to and fro across the screen and tapping to fire, which feels much more precise. The app provides rapid fire shooting, which makes dispatching a large number of aliens at once much easier than the originals.
You also have access to a store where you can spend Galaga points in order to upgrade your ship with such ordinance as faster reloading shots or a forward shield. These points are earned by playing the game and performing well. Achievements and a ranking system rounds things off. Over all, this is another good update of classic arcade games for iOS devices. You can snag Galaga 30th Collection at the iTunes store here. Happy holidays!
It struck me today how certain things can make a big difference in the quality of classic video games. Programmers didn’t have a lot to work with, so they had to really put their heart into what they were doing.
Take Moon Cresta, for instance. It’s yet another Galaxian clone, riding the coat-tails of the game that unshackled the alien invaders from marching single file across the screen as sitting ducks, and sent them swirling down at the player like cosmic Stukkas. Moon Cresta would be nothing special, if not for its wonderful sound design. From the majestic opening theme to the squirrelly screams of the dying aliens to the insistent imperatives that pressure you as you play, it’s wonderful stuff that really helps fill in the gaps left by the limited graphics available at the time.
Sounds were one of the most important ways of games to draw you in while wandering around a noisy arcade (remember those things?), and Moon Cresta really shoots for the moon in auditory quality. Here’s a video to help you hear what I mean.