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"Pac-Man" Arcade Game: Everything You Want to Know

"Pac-Man": More Than Thirty Years Old Already!

For those retro gaming fans among us, who can forget the year of 1980 when Pac-man first appeared in the amusement arcades? The game is still a worldwide phenomenon today.

Immensely popular from its original release, Pac-Man is considered one of the true classics of arcade gaming and is virtually synonymous with the whole medium of video games.

Pac-Man is also a bona fide icon of 1980s pop culture, being one of the events of the decade.

Upon its release, the game became a social phenomenon that sold a phenomenal amount of merchandise such as coffee mugs, T-shirts and lunch boxes.

Pac-Man was also given his own animated tv cartoon such was the popularity of the character.

So let's have a look at one of the greatest video game characters of all time; I ain't afraid of no ghosts!

"Pac-Man" is one of the most iconic game characters of all time...

"Pac-Man" is one of the most iconic game characters of all time...

Something New With "Pac-Man"

When Pac-Man was released, the most popular arcade games were space based shooters such as asteroids and Space Invaders.

The most visible minority were sports games that were still mostly a derivative of Pong.

Pac-Man succeeded by creating a new gaming genre which appealed to a broad range of game players. This is why Pac-Man is often described as a landmark in video game history, and is now among the most famous arcade games of all time.

The character also appears in more than 30 officially licensed game spin-offs (with versions for home gaming systems and computers such as the Vectrex, Commodore VIC 20, Commodore 64, Commodore 128, ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, , Oric 1 and Oric Atmos

There were also numerous unauthorized clones and bootlegs which appeared on a whole host of gaming consoles (Spookyman is a fine example).

Pac-Man is one of the longest running video game franchises which began during the golden age of arcade games, and is still as strong as ever some thirty years later (you can play Pac-Man amongst the many games online).

Will the brand still be as well known another thirty years from now? You would not bet against it.

The famous wrap-around maze of "Pac-Man."

The famous wrap-around maze of "Pac-Man."

Development of "Pac-Man"

The game was developed primarily by Toru Iwatani over the course of a year, beginning in April 1979. The game was based on the concept of eating - with the Pac-Man character being partially inspired by a pizza with a missing slice, and partially inspired by the Japanese character Kuchi.

Iwatani attempted to appeal to a wider audience of gamers which led him to add elements of a maze, as well as cute ghostly enemy characters. The end result was called Puck Man.

Later that year, the game was picked up for manufacture in the United States by Midway. For the North American market, the name was changed from Puck Man to Pac-Man, as vandals would be likely to change the P in 'puck' to an F, no explanation necessary.

"Pac-Man" Gameplay

The player controls Pac-Man through a maze, eating pac-dots as he moves.

When all dots are eaten, Pac-Man is taken to the next stage (which is still the same maze), with the difficulty level increased.

Between some stages one of three intermission animations is played, which again was quite a novel feature at the time.

Four ghost enemies (Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde) roam the maze, all the time trying to catch Pac-Man. If a ghost touches Pac-Man, a life is lost. When all lives have been lost, unsurprisingly the game ends.

Pac-Man is awarded a single bonus life at 10,000 points by default (although DIP switches inside the cabinet could be set to alter or remove this feature).

Near the corners of the maze are four larger, flashing dots known as power pellets which 'power up' Pac-Man and allow him the temporary ability to eat the ghosts. This lasts for a few seconds for each power pellet eaten.

The enemies turn deep blue, reverse their direction and usually move at a slower pace. When an enemy is eaten, its eyes remain and return to the centre holding pen where the ghost is regenerated in its normal color. Extra points are also awarded to the player.

Blue enemies flash white before they become dangerous again (as the power pellet effect wears off) and the amount of time the enemies remain vulnerable varies from one stage to the next. The time period generally becomes shorter as the game progresses.

In later stages, the enemies do not change colors at all, but still reverse direction when a power pellet is eaten.

In addition to dots and power pellets, bonus items (usually in the form of fruit) appear near the center area of the maze. These items give the player extra bonus points when eaten. The items change and the bonus values increase as you progress through the game.

Pac-Man has eaten a power pellet. Note the ghost is blue and looks 'scared.'

Pac-Man has eaten a power pellet. Note the ghost is blue and looks 'scared.'

Enemy Ghosts in "Pac-Man"

The enemies in Pac-Man are known variously as 'ghosts', 'monsters' or 'ghost monsters'.

Despite the seemingly random nature of the enemies, their movements are strictly deterministic, which good players can use to their advantage. The games creator stated that he had designed each enemy with its own distinct 'personality' in order to keep the game from becoming impossibly difficult and also more interesting for the player.

The behaviors of each enemy ghost are different, and can probably be called an early version of A.I within a video game.

The Pac-Man Ghosts, Blinky, Clyde, Inky, and Pinky, were to be avoided.

The Pac-Man Ghosts, Blinky, Clyde, Inky, and Pinky, were to be avoided.

The "Pac-Man" Ghost Characters

  • Red Ghost (nicknamed Blinky) - chases Pac Man and can be called an 'aggressor'
  • Pink Ghost (nicknamed Pinky) - moves around the maze at high speed
  • Cyan Ghost (nicknamed Inky) - is 'fickle' and will not always attack Pac Man
  • Orange Ghost (nicknamed Clyde) - is stupid and moves in a completely random manner

It should be noted that the behaviour of each ghost was programmed in a very clever way and is an earlier example of artificial intelligence in an arcade game.

The Legacy of "Pac-Man"

When first launched in Japan by Namco in 1980, the game received a lukewarm response, as machines such as Space Invaders (and other similar arcade games) were more popular at the time.

However, the game became more and more well known and ended up being more successful in North America.

As Pac-Man increased in popularity it really 'caught on' with the general public, and became far more popular than anything seen in the gaming industry up to that point.

Asteroids record of being the most popular arcade game was blown out of the water, and 350,000 Pac-man units were sold.

As we all know, Pac-Man went on to become an icon of video game culture during the 1980s, and a wide variety of Pac-Man merchandise was marketed based around the character.

T-Shirts, Vintage Classic Toys, and hand-held and desktop video game clones (as in the likes of Astro Wars, and 3D Sky Attack).

He was even treated to a specially shaped 'Pac' pasta!

Shorty after all of this an animated cartoon ran from 1982 to 1984, which was shown in numerous countries around the globe.

The game has also inspired various real-life 'recreations', which tend to involve real people or sometimes robots (such as PacManhattan).

The influence of Pac-Man cannot be underestimated...

Home Conversions of "Pac-Man"

Of course Pac-Man ended up being converted to pretty much every home computer and console of the day. The likes of the C64, ZX Spectrum, and BBC Micro were all given official and unofficial versions of this mega-popular arcade game. Some conversions were very good and some were complete rubbish (hold your hand up Atari 2600 version!), but in the end you had plenty to choose from to get your Pac-Fix.

The Awful Atari 2600 Pac-Man

Any fans or players of "Pac-Man"?

MagixButtons on November 22, 2012:

I still find it annoying that the ghosts respawned when you ate em.

RolyRetro from Brentwood, Essex, UK on March 24, 2012:

I think Snapper on the BBC Micro was the best ever home port.