Tod R. Frye is a computer programmer once employed by Atari, and is most notable for being charged with the home adaptation of Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 video computer system. Pac-Man proved to be a stunning financial coup for Atari, who secured the exclusive Namco home license. The title drew criticism, however; players complained that although the design passively resembled its arcade counterpart, it lacked in both quality control and craftsmanship. The game sold many units, making a huge a profit for Atari, but many detractors consider that the quality of the port was one of the factors responsible for triggering the North American video game crash of 1983.
The Pac-Man port was started in May 1981, and was the most anticipated release for 1982, so marketing pressed Frye to produce the game on a very strict timetable (in the early 1980s lead times on the cartridge ROMs was several months, so the code needed to be completed in September 1981 to get the product into stores in Q1 1982). Atari corporate management demanded Frye complete the game in the standard 4K ROM, despite his repeated requests that 8K of ROM be allocated.
Frye reportedly received $0.10 in royalties per Pac-Man cartridge. Atari would manufacture 12 million cartridges, making Frye a millionaire in the process.
One Atari employee decided to write "Why Frye?" on the Pac-Man machine contained in Atari's in-office arcade room. In response, Frye drew a horizontal line over the "Why", as if to say "Why not Frye" in logic notation.
Frye contributed to the LCD Breakout Atari handheld, Asteroids (Atari 400/800), the Swordquest series Earthworld, Fireworld, Waterworld, and Airworld (uncompleted). Unreleased titles include Save Mary and Shooting Arcade, and Xevious (Atari 2600) .
After parting ways with Atari, Frye later worked for Axlon (one of the many companies founded by Atari Pioneer Nolan Bushnell) and was hired as a programmer alongside fellow Atari employees Rob Zydbel, Bob Smith, and Howard Scott Warshaw at The 3DO Company. Frye remains active in video games, making technical contributions to classic compilations such as Midway Arcade Treasures.
- "News and Views from the Gamers' Forum On-line Conference". Computer Gaming World (transcript). Jan–Feb 1982. p. 46.
- The "Once Upon Atari" video produced by Scott West Productions under Howard Scott Warshaw .