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Want to feel old? This guy is now 35

We’ve come a long way since Pac-Man first hit arcades back in 1980.

22 MAY 1980. That was the day Pac-Man arrived in arcades and helped shaped the gaming and cultural landscape as we know it.

That may sound like hyperbole but it’s no accident that the yellow ball is instantly recognisable, to the point that even kids of this generation would be able to tell who he is.

Every pop-culture reference that even mentions videogames or the 80s’ passively involves him in at some point and to this day, there are many, many games out there that it continues to influence.

PacMan Pixels Source: Sony Pictures Entertainment/YouTube

In today’s gaming world, Pac-Man has struggled to make the transition from 2D to 3D, but instead, we’ll look back to happier times and why his debut was so important.

He was the first iconic character in gaming

You could argue that the Space Invader is also iconic, but at the time, there were few, if any, main characters that appealed to all demographics and was an instant success.

Its creator Toru Iwatani developed the game over the course of a year, and as you may have guessed, the game was based on eating.

The original Japanese title was Pakkuman, which was inspired by the slang word paku-paku which describes the sound of the mouth opening and closing while a person eats.

Pakkuman was later changed to Puck Man, but when he arrived in the US, his name was changed to Pac-Man as there were fears people would vandalise the cabinet and change the P to F (you can use your imaginations here).

While the original story from Iwatani stated that Pac-Man was inspired by a pizza missing a slice, that was only half-true. His design came from rounding off the Japanese character for mouth as he mentioned in an interview with Programmers at Work.

Well, it’s half true [the pizza story]. In Japanese the character for mouth (kuchi) is a square shape. It’s not circular like the pizza, but I decided to round it out. There was the temptation to make the Pac-Man shape less simple. While I was designing this game, someone suggested we add eyes. But we eventually discarded that idea because once we added eyes, we would want to add glasses and maybe a moustache. There would just be no end to it.

And that simplicity worked in Pac-Man’s favour. There’s a school of thought which suggests a character is truly recognisable when you can identify them via their silhouette. That’s certainly the case with Pac-Man as the simplicity alone means you automatically know who it is, and aided his success.

It created recognisable characters with their own personalities

Not only is Pac-Man recognisable, but the four ghosts that hunt him down are also recognisable. They weren’t just generic enemies, they all had personalities. They had their own colours, their own names (and nicknames) and their own AI.

Blinky – doggedly chases Pac-Man around the maze.
Pinky – Tries to position himself in front of Pac-Man’s mouth, specifically 32 pixels in front.
Inky – Similar to Pinky, he tries to position him in front of Pac-Man’s mouth, at another similar fixed spot.
Clyde – Chases Pac-Man but retreats to the lower left-hand corner if it gets too close.

Even when you know the above, it doesn’t make the game easier as the ghosts are always changing direction to achieve their goal.

The ghosts would come in waves, but then retreat, allowing for periods of stress and relief as you make your way around the maze. Ultimately, the AI allowed the game to be challenging, but not impossible to advance through.

PacMan opening 2 Source: Old Classic Retro Gaming/YouTube

Pac-Man was designed to appeal to women

In the same interview with Programmers at Work, Iwatani spoke about how the design choices were to make the game appealing to women since it was seen as a pursuit for boys.

There were no games that everyone could enjoy, and especially none for women. I wanted to come up with a “comical” game women could enjoy.
Well, there’s not much entertainment in a game of eating, so we decided to create enemies to inject a little excitement and tension. The player had to fight the enemies to get the food. And each of the enemies has its own character. The enemies are four little ghost-shaped monsters, each of them a different color–blue, yellow, pink, and red. I used four different colors mostly to please the women who play–I thought they would like the pretty colors.

It was the first game to include cutscenes in-between levels

They were pretty basic by today’s standards, usually involving one of the ghosts chasing Pac-Man, and the tables being turned.

However, they were important as they were short, they gave the player a bit of breathing space between levels, and they added to the overall charm and humour.

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Pac Man cutscene Source: Old Classic Retro Gaming/YouTube

There was a hit single based on him

There are many, many examples of Pac-Man making his way into popular culture, but the best one was an 80s’ song based on the game. Well, let’s just say it’s no Take on Me.

The maximum possible score you can get is 3,333,360 points

The first person to achieve this feat was Billy Mitchell of Hollywood, Florida back in 1999. It took him six hours to obtain this score.

The reason why there is a maximum score is because there’s a glitch at level 256, where half the screen is corrupted and is filled with random symbols.

Pac-Man split-screen kill screen.png Source: Wikipedia

Ok, I’m feeling nostalgic. Where can I play this right now?

Well, if you don’t want to pay for the privilege, you could play Google’s tribute to the game. It doesn’t have the same layout as the original, but it’s definitely a lot of fun.

Google doodle PacMan Source: Google

Read: The company behind Grand Theft Auto is suing the BBC >

Read: The Irish-owned company that’s shaking up payments could be worth €4.5 billion soon >

About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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