Game time: Pac-Man turns 40


Forty years ago, a new video game featuring a bright yellow, dot-chomping, ghost-dodging character called Pac-Man appeared in Tokyo. It would become the most successful arcade game of all time.

The hero—shaped like a mouth opening and closing—races
around a maze noisily gobbling dots and occasionally fruit for extra points,
all the while avoiding four cunning ghosts named Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde.

As every Pac-Man player knows, the greatest joy comes from
turning the tables by munching a power pellet, sending the ghosts fleeing in
all directions as they suddenly become edible themselves.

The game was originally called Puck-Man (an onomatopoeic
play on the Japanese word “paku”, meaning to gobble) but it was changed when it
launched in the United States for fear gamers would inevitably change the “P”
to an “F”.

Game designer Toru Iwatani came up with the shape for the
adorable hero when he took a small slice from a pizza and realised the
remainder looked like a wide-open mouth.

Pac-Man was aimed at women and couples—a different audience
to the violent alien shoot-em-ups popular in Japanese arcades at the time,
Iwatani explained in a 2010 interview with Wired
magazine.

The first edition was placed in a cinema in the trendy Tokyo
district of Shibuya rather than a male-dominated arcade to test the target
audience, he said.

“The women and couples were very happy about the machine,
very excited. They came up to it and put their hands on it, so we thought that
our target concept had been very much in sync and correct,” he said.

Hard-core gamers turned up their noses but “it was for
people who didn’t play games on a daily basis—women, children, the elderly”.

The idea of Pac-Man turning the tables on his spooky
tormentors came from the cartoon series Popeye, where the nautical hero is only
able to take on his nemesis Bluto after a healthy dose of spinach, Iwatani
explained.

‘Tremendously monotonous’
From these humble beginnings, Pac-Man would go on to be recognised by Guinness World Records as the most successful coin-operated arcade game of all time.

It has spawned several spin-offs, including “Pac ‘n Roll”,
“Ms. Pac-Man”, “Pac-in-Time” and “Pac Panic”—a massive money spinner for
creators Bandai Namco.

The firm claims the loveable character has a brand
recognition of 90 percent around the world—“one of the most recognised on the
planet”.

To celebrate the game’s 30th birthday, Google unveiled
its first-ever playable “Doodle” and the internet giant also rolled out a
version of the game for its Maps service—turning the real streets of a city
into a labyrinth to gobble up pellets and ghosts.

According to Wired, the “perfect score” is 3,333,360
points—possible only by getting to the final level 256 without losing a life
and eating every dot, fruit and ghost possible.

“It was tremendously monotonous,” Wired quoted the first
record-holder, Billy Mitchell, as saying.

Pac-Man’s 40th was celebrated with a special Twitter
hashtag in Japan, with fans all over the country wishing their hero a happy
birthday.

“The characters are colourful and cute. It was so fun. I
remember I played a lot at my relative’s house. Happy birthday Pac-Man!” said
one.



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