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The Story Of Namco

As one of the cornerstones of arcade gaming, Namco has produced some of the most famous arcade video games of the last 50 years. Join Antstream Arcade as we celebrate the life of this legendary coin-op manufacturer.
Bandai Namco Logo

Formation

The history of Namco stretches back to the middle of the 20th century. Formed just ten years after the end of World War II, Nakamura Manufacturing Ltd began at a time when video games didn’t exist, and it took whole rooms to house your average computer. The company focused on mechanical entertainment, specifically fairground-style rides.

Throughout the 50s and early 60s, Nakamura continued in a similar vein, becoming famous for its rocking horse rides and inking a deal to create a Disney character range of amusements. As the world of electronics began to blossom, coupled with Japan’s emergence as an economic power, calculators and other small digital devices became synonymous with the country. Nakamura created electrical mechanical games and, while the origin of the groundbreaking arcade machine Torpedo Launcher/Periscope is muddy, Nakamura was certainly involved in its conception and initial manufacture. The sub-sim was admired, and a pre-cursor to the imminent videogame age.

Periscope Arcade Cabinet

Transformation

Then, in 1972, Nakamura Manufacturing changed its name and, crucially, its business model, shifting from physical rides to coin-operated videogames, acknowledging the change to digital entertainment. Namco was born, a snappier name for a new generation of fun, pixelated gaming. Furthermore, in a move that stunned many in the industry, Namco acquired the rights to distribute Atari games in Japan. This relatively small competitor in the entertainment industry suddenly became a big player, showcasing Atari’s famous arcade games throughout its home country. However, it wasn’t until the late Seventies that Namco began developing its own games, and after a slow start, it soon struck gold.

Released in Autumn 1978, Gee-Bee was a curious Pinball-Pong hybrid that failed to ignite a market dominated by Space Invaders and shoot-‘em-ups. Namco took note: its next game, while an unashamed homage to the Taito hit, thrust the company into the Golden Age of Arcade Videogames.

Gee Bee Arcade poster

A Namco Legend – Part One

Released in 1979, Namco’s Galaxian took the template laid down by Space Invaders and improved upon it in various ways. In came scrolling – albeit just the starfield behind the action – multi-coloured sprites, and dramatically active enemies, swooping down on the player’s lone Galaxip starfighter. Galaxian was a smash in Japan and the West, cementing Namco’s position as a premier arcade game manufacturer and initiating one of the platform’s most famous series. It was an excellent start for Namco’s arcade game division, and things were about to get even better.

Galaxian Arcade Cabinet

A Namco Legend – Part Two

Few arcade heroes come as recognisable as the round and yellow creature known as Pac-Man. Created by Namco’s Tori Iwatani, the dot-chomping maze game came from a reaction against the prevalence of shooting games in the wake of Space Invaders. Pac-Man’s simplicity, welded to a highly addictive template, ensured its outstanding success, aided by a then-unique universal appeal. Everybody loved – and loves Pac-Man.


Pac-Man Artwork

A Namco Legend – Part Three

While not as well-known as Galaxian and Pac-Man, Namco’s Xevious proved another innovative entry in the company’s catalogue in 1982. Like Galaxian, Xevious was inspired as a reaction to a previous game, this time Konami’s Scramble. Notably more grounded than previous shoot-‘em-ups, Xevious became famous as one of the first vertically-scrolling arcade games, the player journeying up the screen in their Solvalou spacecraft. A detailed backdrop, very different from the inky black depths of Space Invaders, dual weapon system and stunning boss fights – the mammoth Andor Genesis Mothership – combined to form another massive hit for Namco.

Xevious Poster

A Namco Legend – Part Four

Also in 1982, Namco entered the arcade racing genre with the driving game Pole Position. Inspired by Namco’s earlier electric-mechanical game, F-1, the Pole Position arcade cabinet came in two forms: a fully enclosed sit-down version and a stand-up machine, both featuring a steering wheel and gear stick. As in F-1, the player controls a Formula One car, racing against computerised opponents around a track based on the Fuji circuit in Japan. Namco also built on the fame of Pac-Man during 1982 with Ms Pac-Man and Super Pac-Man, and its Galaxian follow-up, Galaga. This was the time when the company truly established itself as one of the greats of arcade gaming.

Pole Position Poster

Out Of The Arcades

While Namco continued to produce several popular arcade games throughout the 80s – notably Rally-X, Rolling Thunder, Dig Dug and Motos – it also had the foresight to branch into home video gaming, developing games for the emergent Nintendo Entertainment System. This shift continued into the 90s, as Sony, enthused by Namco arcade games such as the brilliant Ridge Racer, signed Namco’s arcade games to its incoming home console, the PlayStation. But while the release of beat-‘em-ups such as Tekken (1994) signalled a hugely successful period for Namco, the displacement of arcade games by home consoles was becoming clear – with the gap in technology practically non-existent, the incredible sales of Sony’s console helped usher Namco away from the area upon which its reputation had been built.

Tekken

Namco Today

Through its theme parks and dedicated arcades, Namco has always been a company that reveres its roots, simultaneously looking forward to developments in the fast-moving videogame world. As such, its history compares to the industry: pioneering development, outstanding commercial success, and a technological revolution after the technological revolution.

Namco On Antstream Arcade

We boast several amazing Namco games on Antstream Arcade, including Xevious, Rally-X, Dig Dug, Galaga, Rolling Thunder and the gore-tastic Splatterhouse. Play all of them for free at www.antstream.com.


Splaterhouse

Do You Want To Know More?

For more information on Pac-Man and its series of sequels, check out this earlier feature on the Antstream Arcade blog. We also gave the Super Six treatment to the famous arcade game manufacturer.

And don’t forget, to discuss Namco’s games and more, head to the Antstream Arcade Discord server.

Namco Trivia

  • Namco began life in 1955 as Nakamura Manufacturing, based in Tokyo.

  • It changed its name to Namco in 1972.

  • Namco’s first internally developed arcade videogame was Gee Bee.

  • There have been over 40 Pac-Man games over the years, making it one of the most enduring series in video game history.

  • However, Atari’s port of the original Pac-Man game was a particular disappointment to fans.

  • Today, the company is known as Bandai Namco Entertainment following a merger with toy and videogame multinational, Bandai.

  • Several Namco characters appear in films and TV. There was a short-lived Pole Position cartoon in the 80s; a movie based on Tekken; and of course a gigantic Pac-Man in the 2015 Adam Sandler film, Pixels.

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