On May 22nd, 1980, everything changed in the arcades. Video arcade gaming had been all about sports games and shooter games. Games such Asteroids, Space Invaders, and the varying derivatives of Pong were the kings of the arcades. That is, until a 26-year-old Japanese game designer had an idea about expanding arcade gaming to a more general audience and becoming more encompassing to women.
Pac-Man has a pretty simple concept. The idea is for the player to move Pac-Man around a maze and have him dots while avoiding the four colorful monsters. There are power-up dots located in each corner of the maze that give Pac-Man invincibility to eat the monsters. A score multiplier awards increasing points for each monster that is consumed. The monsters (Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde) have differing personalities and will attempt to follow you using different methods. For additional bonus scoring, various edible items appear periodically in the center of the maze.
So how did this game get its start? In April of 1979, a young game designer named Toru Iwatani assembled a small team and set out to create a game based on eating. The original Japanese title during development was Pakkuman, which is a Japanese slang word to describe the sound made when opening and closing the mouth. Iwantani has been quoted over the years talking about how different attributes of the game (colors, cute characters, mazes, etc.) were created to attract women into arcade gaming. He felt that arcade gaming needed to grow beyond the typical teenage boys that were the typical game players of the era.
Another inspiration for the game was the American cartoon character Popeye. Iwatani thought that the concept of eating to gain strength & power would translate well into the game. Once everything came together, the game was named PuckMan, which was a reference to the fact that the main character was shaped like a hockey puck.
The game made its first appearance in Japanese arcades on May 22nd, 1980. The initial reaction was mixed. It was not until the game hit American arcades in October of 1980 that the game became a smash hit. The game was licensed to Midway for U.S. manufacture/distribution and renamed to Pac-Man. Within a few short months, Pac-Man became the highest selling arcade game of its era. It is estimated that approximately 400,000 Pac-Man cabinets were assembled worldwide.
Just a few of the products inspired by Pac-Man!
The game also became a cultural phenomenon. The game spawned lunchboxes, t-shirts, board games, telephones, breakfast cereal, action figures, plush toys and even lamps. Buckner & Garcia wrote a song about Pac-Man that reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March of 1982.
Pac-Man also spawned a number of sequels in the arcade (both authorized & unauthorized) and countless home versions for consoles & computers. The Ms. Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man arcade games were developed here in New England by General Computer Corporation. What started off as an enhancement kit for Pac-Man ended up being Ms. Pac-Man, which went on to be the most successful American arcade video game. Over its lifetime, Ms. Pac-Man sold over 115,000 cabinets.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+ launch trailer.
Pac-Man lives on today in several forms. While popular on mobile phones and tablets, the best form of the game today is Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+ available on Xbox, PlayStation & Windows PC formats. To celebrate this 35th anniversary, Namco had a big party at Level 257, their gaming-themed restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. Toru Iwatani was in attendance as well as other notable dignitaries such as Jerry Buckner of Buckner & Garcia.
Pac-Man will appear this summer in a movie called PIXELS starring Adam Sandler & Michelle Monaghan. In this movie, aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war. They attack the Earth in the form of the video games.
The American Classic Arcade Museum has Pac-Man and many of its sequels on display for the public to enjoy.
PIXELS official movie trailer.