When you think of video games, you can’t help but think of that iconic little yellow ball, chomping pellets and chasing ghosts. Yes, I’m talking about one of the most identifiable video game characters of all time: Pac-Man.
Pac-Man was designed by Toru Iwatani in 1980 for Namco, and is easily one of the most easily recognizable arcade games of all time.
When Pac-Man was released, the most popular arcade video games were space shooters, in particular Space Invaders and Asteroids. The most visible minority were sports games that were mostly derivatives of Pong. Pac-Man succeeded by creating a new genre and appealing to both genders. Pac-Man is often credited with being a landmark in video game history, and is among the most famous arcade games of all time. It is also one of the highest-grossing video games of all time, having generated more than $2.5 billion in quarters by the 1990s.
Game play is simple enough. You insert your quarter, you start with three lives and a catchy musical interlude, and Pac-Man is released to travel the maze and consume as many little coloured dots as possible without running into one of four Ghosts. If a Ghost catches him, it’s bye-bye to one of his lives. If Pac-Man lives to eat every dot in the maze, he gets to progress to the next maze – a carbon-copy of the maze he just completed – and the Ghosts move faster and more frantically in their search for him.
There are also four ‘Power Pellets’, one found in each of the four quadrants of the maze, which turn the Ghosts blue and give Pac-Man a brief immortality – and the ability to ‘eat’ the Ghosts, causing them (well, actually, their set of ghostly eyes) to travel back to their home in the center of the map, and come out rejuvenated.
Each of the Ghosts have their own names, and personalities which make each one a different challenge. “Blinky”, the red Ghost, was coded to chase Pac-Man. “Pinky”, the pink Ghost, and “Inky”, the blue Ghost, try to position themselves in front of Pac-Man’s mouth, effectively running as ‘guards’ as if hoping that the Player will accidentally run into them. “Clyde”, the orange Ghost, was noted by Iwatani to be random, however after examining the original game code, it was found that this Ghost chases Pac-Man for most of the time, but will move to the lower-left corner of the maze when it gets too close to Pac-Man.
If Pac-Man is able to eat through two full maps, he gets his first brief Intermission. You’re greeted with a blank screen, and some catchy music, as you watch Pac-Man being chased off-screen by Blinky… But Blinky’s chase is short-lived, as he reappears on the screen, being chased by a now-GIANT Pac-Man!
After round five, the second Intermission appears, and again, Pac-Man is getting chased by Blinky across the screen. Unfortunately for Blinky, he catches his outfit on a nail in the ground, and it rips, showing his leg… …and he rolls his eyes in embarrassment.
When you’ve beaten round nine, the Intermission appears and now Blinky chases Pac-Man off-screen, with his outfit apparently all patched up. When he returns, his clothing is dragging behind him… What happened off-screen this time? (Interestingly enough, this same Intermission is repeated after the Player beats round thirteen and seventeen.)
The game gets harder and harder, faster and faster. It was coded to run for as long as the Player could play. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, but it made for a very interesting fact – the Player can defeat the game! Only a very small percentage of hardcore Players have ever caused the game to ‘kill screen’ – to stop functioning and end game play…
On Pac-Man, when you get to round 256, the game runs into an error that gives you this – the infamous Pac-Man Kill Screen:
Pac-Man is iconic. There’s no question. It’s a fast and fun, simple game, that’s enjoyable for any age. So, if you’re lucky enough to come across one of these arcade machines in the wild, pop in a quarter, gobble some dots and avoid those Ghosts!