July 8th, 2003


Gaming. Short history.

Who was the first successful videogame character? In retrospect, probably Pac-Man. Once upon a time, Toru Iwatani decided that you needed a more interesting avatar in a videogame than a simple rectangle, moving up and down a screen. His game needed something more for people to latch on to -- a bit of personality, even in a comparatively low-tech age -- and so he set pen to paper and drew the little guy.

One wonders what Pac-Man looked like at first. Was he the round cartoon character he eventually became, or was he simply what we saw on the screen the first time, a yellow pie with a piece cut out of it?

Looking back, of course, Iwatani had it easy either way. Simple technology made it easy to power a game with simple characters, even if they were as simple as a pie with a piece cut out of it. The art and science of videogame character design has come a long way since then, and so since it's one of those lazy afternoons, I thought to take a look at some of the highlights, and also the lowlights, of videogame characters. Who became an absorbing avatar with which to explore a virtual world, and who was just plain painful to look at?

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