Some 25 years later, I still distinctly remember meeting with Toru Iwatani in his offices in Tokyo, Japan in 1986. His quiet demeanor, his upfront declaration that he wasn’t a “programmer” in the coding sense of the word, and how he came at the creation of his game and his software from an unusual perspective, as one who wanted to entertain and connect emotionally with the folks who chose to buy and play his game was different. Toru Iwatani spoke of emotions, imagination, whimsy and the simple essence of game design. And we all know how well he understood those in the context of games.
Toru knew that one way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach and particularly if it doesn’t involve consuming any real calories. So via munching circles modeled after a pizza pie with one piece taken out, and a stream of edible dots, Toru Iwatani succeeded beyond belief. He may not be a coder, but he stands out as a true software visionary. He was a pioneer in attracting women to games, and today we see the result as women are major casual gamers and the key players of Facebook games. It all started with Toru!
Other software designers I interviewed at the time such as Gary Kildall, Charles Simonyi, Bill Gates didn’t lack for imagination but they were “modern age software tool and system builders; they created the bricks and mortar that would go into making our digital revolution. Toru Iwatani set out to create something that would capture our hearts, minds, and imaginations. And what was so brilliant about it, was how simple and distilled his approach was. Decades later, PacMan is alive and well, living on ipads, iphones, and every other existing or emergent platform available. It has inspired The PacMan Museum and multitudes of fan sites around the internet. They do a wonderful job of cataloging the long and illustrious history of this iconic game.
The interview still stands today as a classic which every game designer needs to read. In fact as I have jumped in to help some friends, Chuck Gamble of Lucky Radish Studios, and Jim Murff of DeeDog Development to help launch a fresh take on the old standard of mix and match books (sliced up body parts you combine to create your own kooky creatures)…Chuck the artist has delivered a whimsical fun creative app for the Ipad and Iphone entitled MIXAMAJIG. In the process, I have looked for inspiration and wisdom in Toru Iwatani’s words. Keeping the app full of whimsy and easy to use while also delivering the creatures of Chuck’s fantasy world to life in all the glory the gorgeous ipad and iphone screens deliver has been an adventure. Now if we could only transport ourselves to Tokyo, Japan to receive the ultimate schooling in game design, by taking classes with Professor Iwatani, at the Tokyo Polytechnic Institute where he established the Game Design Institute in 2007 and teaches to this day, I’m sure we’d be golden in the new age of 99 cent apps and for the next version which will include a game element. Our work is never finished, as Toru Iwatani knows so well.
Read the full interview with Toru Iwatani in the collection of interviews posted at the right. Today more than ever in this age of simple games on small platforms his insights are powerful models to follow. This interview in the Japan Times from the summer of 2010 also captures Iwatani’s thoughts to design and live by…good luck!
And what the heck, if you enjoy Programmers at Work and the Toru Iwatani interview and want to support another indie artist and designer trying to make his mark check out Mixamajig in the app store and buy it for a buck. I’m sure it’ll get your brain cells firing and your bellies laughing.