Namco is one of the longest-running video game developers in the world, and they first came on the arcade scene 40 years ago this month with their release of Gee Bee. The little game was a result of many years of buildup following the original founding of the company more than 20 years prior.
Namco was originally was founded as Nakamura Manufacturing in 1955 by Masaya Nakamura and was first focused on producing children’s rides seen at department stores throughout Tokyo. The company later was renamed to Nakamura Amusement Machine Manufacturing Company, which would later be used to form “Namco.” By the 1970s, Namco was fully in the coin-operated arcade business.
In 1974, Namco acquired the Japanese branch of Atari, which was struggling financially, for $500,000. Though it would take a few years to pay off the debts that Atari Japan owed, Namco’s deal on the matter secured exclusive licensing rights to Atari games for the next decade. The company quickly got to work on opening arcades that featured popular Atari titles.
Gee Bee was developed by Toru Iwatani, and released in October 1978. It took its inspiration from pinball and other ball-and-paddle games, and the goal was simply to prevent the ball from falling off the bottom of the screen. It received two sequels, Bomb Bee and Cutie Q, both released the following year.
Iwatani’s name might sound familiar to arcade enthusiasts – he later went on to create Pac-Man and Pole Position, in 1980 and 1982, respectively. These games and their massive worldwide success helped establish the “Golden Age of Arcades” in the 1980s. While Gee Bee has mostly been forgotten and overshadowed by the greater success of both Iwatani’s other games and Namco’s at large, its modest success helped put both on the path to greatness.