Masaya Nakamura, the man who founded Japanese video game publisher Namco and is credited as “the father of Pac-Man,” has died. That’s according to Billboard, which says the news was confirmed by Bandai Namco—as the company is known these days—but it chose not to disclose the cause of death out of respect for his family’s wish for privacy. Nakamura was 91.
Nakamura was born in 1925 and studied ship-building at the Yokohama Institute Of Technology. In the ‘50s, when Japan’s economy was picking back up after World War II, he started a company called Nakamura Amusement Machine Manufacturing Company that built those little mechanical rides for kids in grocery stores. By the late ’70s, the video game craze started to sweep Japan, and Nakamura decided to hire some software engineers to take advantage of that.
The company’s name was eventually shortened to simply Namco (an acronym based on the old name), and it started releasing popular video games like Galaxian and, of course, Pac-Man. That game was developed by Toru Iwatani, with the name based on a Japanese phrase (“paku-paku”) that describes the sound of someone rapidly opening and closing their mouth. According to a popular gaming legend, the game was going to be called “Puck Man” due to the character’s hockey puck-like shape, but it was supposedly Nakamura who wisely recognized that American audiences would be unable to resist vandalizing the arcade cabinet and turning the “P” into an “F.” So, Namco settled on Pac-Man instead, and the game went on to become a pop culture phenomenon.
From there, Namco’s popularity took off. It quickly became an iconic video game brand of the ‘70s and ‘80s right alongside companies like Konami and Nintendo, and in the years since, its name has still been synonymous with a very specific brand of retro appeal—as well as the kind of hardcore fighting games and arcade-style racers that other companies don’t really make anymore.
Namco and Nakamura have had a close relationship with Nintendo for several decades, and the company tweeted a little memorial for him earlier today: