Kill Screen: The Namco Catalog IP Rescue! Interview with No Context Pacman

Kill Screen: The Namco Catalog IP Rescue! Interview with No Context Pacman

The Namco Catalog IP was a program launched by Bandai Namco, which allowed students and developers to use their intellectual property in making their games. In the short 4 (or maybe 5) years this project was active, a lot of interesting games came out of it. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out as popular as was anticipated and it slowly faded into obscurity.

A lot of these games had already gone offline. However, what few games that remained online had a license that was due to expire last month, in March of 2020.

The Twitter account @nocontextpacman led a successful initiative to spread the word about these games and alert internet archiving communities to rescue whatever could be saved. Below is an interview we conducted with RyanSil, the man behind the Pac, in charge of running the account:

TheMadProgramer: Can you give us a brief history of the No Context Pac-Man account, I think it was originally started by Mr. McScrewup? You’re the second owner, correct?

RyanSil: Correct. He started the thing in August 2018; as he was on the verge of stopping, I stepped in with an account of my own to continue the run. This was created in June 2019.

NCPM isn’t anything quite out of the ordinary of the Twitterverse. It’s just a funny little account for Pac-Man memes and media. Plenty of No Context accounts exist on Twitter themed around differing IPs and brands. Not that they’re affiliated with them.

TheMadProgramer: Yeah, I have seen quite a lot of them myself, I think you’ve referred a lot of people back to No Context Klonoa for trying to sneak Klonoa in as a submission, because of his hat?

RyanSil: Nah, I just thought I would bring up Klonoa.

TheMadProgramer: So how’d you find out about the Namco Catalog IP games, in the first place? I think you did a stream or two?

RyanSil: I’ve known of them for at least a couple of years. I think as I was looking through Pac-Man’s mobile catalog, I came across some unique ones that didn’t officially release in the US. Hadn’t really thought too much more about how they’ve come to be until as I was deep into running NCPM.

TheMadProgramer: I noticed you held a level designing contest for that one game which allowed you to “mash levels together” on the Discord server at some point?

RyanSil: Yes. I’ve obtained a couple of Steam keys for Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX. And I thought it would be fun to give Pac-Man Ghost & Stage Maker a slight boost if I held a level-building contest for it.

TheMadProgramer: Did you get enough submissions to be able to call it a slight boost?

RyanSil: Eh, probably not. But it was worth a try.

TheMadProgramer: So let’s get to what really netted these games so much attention then… The expiration of their license. Now I’ve checked the website myself and the announcement was all the way back from either last year or January I think?¹ Why’d it take so long for people to notice that the deadline was so close?

RyanSil: Frankly, I didn’t even notice there was an expiration until someone that follows these things tweeted about it, and it found its way into my Twitter timeline. Catalog IP simply isn’t a popular project as far as customer attraction goes. Because it was kept to a Japanese audience, without much in the way of promotion.

TheMadProgramer: I did hear about efforts to bring it overseas, no luck there though huh?

RyanSil: I was looking at Pac-Man’s Nippon Journey’s Google Play page, and its downloads were labeled at 10+. That’s a small amount of people that bought it. Free apps got some more exposure, but those installs were more in the thousands. Which still isn’t huge when you consider the numbers IPs like Pac-Man can pull in.

Pac-Man’s Nippon Journey Promotional Artwork

Anyway, yea. Supposedly, there were lots of legal complications in translating Catalog IP to the US. Which is a great shame, because I would’ve loved to have played a role in it. It probably could’ve allowed for even more interesting games to be brought to the public by a variety of Western devs.

TheMadProgramer: Yeah certainly, seeing how many rip-offs there are as is.

RyanSil: Well, it’s less about making just another Pac-Man and more about taking the characters and putting them into a game that only you would have thought of creating.

There were a couple of games in the project that tried being Pac-Man, but they weren’t just Pac-Man. One of them had you experience it in VR. The other had mobile esports connections.

Gameplay for a Catalog IP game that was lost prior to the efforts this year: Pac-Tune
Gameplay by YouTube channel Appliv Games

The rest of the Pac-Man games threw the characters into fresh games altogether. One, for example, was a puzzler where you use Tetrominos to build as high a path for Pac-Man as you can without messing up or accidentally crushing him.

TheMadProgramer: PC, VR and mobile… they really weren’t restricted to any platform.

RyanSil: They weren’t, but PC and mobile seemed to have been the most they’ve covered.

TheMadProgramer: Anything interesting on console?

RyanSil: Assets of Namco IPs were released for SmileBasic on Nintendo 3DS – In Japan, of course. There were also Japanese RPG Maker MV characters and assets players can use. Which were used in games like Nippon Journey. That’s pretty much it.

TheMadProgramer: So then, would you care to help me solve a mystery? I just checked your Tweet from March 24th, which currently has over 300 retweets.² In terms spreading the word about these games, just how do you think you managed to accomplish what you couldn’t in months, in the span of a few short days?

RyanSil: Well, even the most popular tweets don’t change the scene much. So while I may have exposed more people to it, there’s always going to be way more that are unaware of the games at all. You know what they say – “You only get 15 minutes of fame”

TheMadProgramer: I suppose that has a bit to do with how Game Preservation and Game Journalism have become very “discrete” niches.

RyanSil: Right.

TheMadProgramer: That being said, is there anyone you’d like to give a shoutout to? I think Pacman’s Park grabbed a bunch of the Android games?

RyanSil@PacmansPark did a swell job rounding them up. Ernesto Aguirre also had a great hand in it by providing multiple APK’s for plenty of games as well as the iOS stuff. I also gotta thank the Flashpoint guys for bringing the HTML5 stuff from the Yahoo games portal to the program and making the region-locked games playable regardless of location.

TheMadProgramer: It’s fortunate people were able to move so quickly, even though quite a few of the games have survived long beyond what was feared to be the deadline.

Out of curiosity did you get any feedback from developers who had previously worked on these games? Granted I’d think language barriers would make that a bit difficult.

RyanSil: Pac-Man Ghost & Stage Maker managed to survive, surprisingly enough. As did four HTML5 games on the Yahoo portal. However, the rest has vanished. At least from official stores. Of course you can find at least some of them on third party sites and the like. But the archives are great since they rope em all in one spot.

No developers have contacted me about it. I’m not something that would quickly pop up on their radar

TheMadProgramer: Well then that’s that. Any future projects in the works? I hear you’re also co-hosting an art collab?

RyanSil: That’s Jackie’s (@x_khou) doing. She’s been handling it since last year. My server for NCPM merely became a new host for it. There isn’t too much I have in mind to discuss here, but I did animate a few second of the Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared Re-Animated collab, and I’m continuing to curate Flash and Shockwave games for Flashpoint.

TheMadProgramer: Ok, then. Thank you very much for taking your time.

RyanSil: You’re more than welcome

TheMadProgramer: Best of luck with everything…

Notes:

¹ As it turns out the announcement I saw was for the removal of content on Niconicommons the year before (same time last year, 31st of March 2019) http://blog.niconicommons.jp/2019/01/post-169.html
² At the time of conducting this interview (14th April 2020).

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