Pac-Man at 40: The history of the famous arcade game on its anniversary | Instant News


Written by Jacopo Prisco, CNN

When “Pac-Man” debuted in Tokyo 40 years ago, no one could predict it would be the most successful arcade game of all time.

Although video games are a relatively new medium, the recipe for success at that time is well established: People want to shoot things.

But the creator of “Pac-Man,” a young game designer named Toru Iwatani, wants to try something completely different.

“When I started putting together this project in the late 1970s, arcades were filled with violent games about killing aliens,” said Iwatani, who worked for Japanese gaming company Namco at the time. “They are gloomy places where only boys go to hang out. What I want to do is make the arcade a more lively place that women and couples might enjoy, so I think it’s best to design a game by thinking of women. ”

Iwatani has little experience. He is only 25 years old, and prefers to work on pinball machines, not video games. His first title, “Gee Bee” in 1978, was basically a digital version of pinball and was not very successful. There is little indication that the next project will change the history of video games forever.

However, when the first “Pac-Man” machine was placed in an arcade in the bustling Shibuya district in Tokyo on May 22, 1980, he did so.

“Pac-Man” is the most successful arcade game of all time. Credit: Courtesy of Bandai Namco

The game was not called “Pac-Man” at the time, but “PuckMan,” which offered a glimpse of its origin. “Taberu nails” is a popular Japanese phrase for eating something, with “nails” imitating the sound of a broken mouth and “taberu” meaning “eating.”

“I began to assume that themes such as fashion and romance might be most suitable for a female audience,” Iwatani said. “But then I thought – and this might be presumptuous of me – that women also enjoy the act of eating, or ‘taberu’ in Japanese, and that’s how I found myself focused on these keywords and the act of eating as a concept.”

While compiling ideas for food-based games, Iwatani takes a slice of pizza from a box and has an epiphany: The remaining slices of pizza form the Pac-Man shape, and the rest is history (or so the story goes, according to Iwatani).

Game designer named Toru Iwatani created “Pac-Man” in 1980. Credit: Courtesy of Bandai Namco

However, when the game was imported into the US, the name “PuckMan” was deemed inappropriate. Although the titular character somewhat resembles a hockey chip, American game distributor, Midway, is afraid the children will scrape the tent, changing “P” to “F.” After the name was changed, the game became an instant hit, with nearly 300,000 units sold worldwide from 1981 to 1987.

“Pac-Man” pioneered a number of innovations in gameplay and game design. It features the first “power-up” – the big pill that makes ghosts vulnerable – and the first cut scene, a sequence of small animations between one level and the next. It was also one of the first games in the “maze” genre.

But most importantly, it has a clear main character, which was unheard of at the time according to Chris Melissinos, a video game historian and curator of the 2012 Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibit “The Art of Video Games.”

“Here is where the game is brightly colored and centered around characters who really don’t have a gender,” he said. “And suddenly, we found a mascot – the first character in a video game that exists not only in the artwork, but in the game itself.

“We are starting to see women going into the arcade, several generations playing in the same room. For the first time we have a game that is not about aggression, so it fundamentally changes the type of game that designers say they can create.”

In honor of his role as a pillar in the history of video games, “Pac-Man” is one of the titles added to the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 2012.

“We are not only fascinated by the use of expert flat landscapes, but also the writer’s good intentions in terms of human behavior that can be generated and played by video games,” said Paola Antonelli, senior curator at MoMA. “Toru Iwatani wants to develop nonviolent games for teenage couples, not only for boys. In creating the Pac-Man (colorful ghost) ninja, Iwatani chooses cuteness rather than scarcity.”

Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) played “Pac-Man” at the exhibition preview in 2013. Credit: Emmanuel Dunand / AFP / Getty Images

The appeal of “Pac-Man” lies, perhaps, in its simplicity. Unusually, this game doesn’t require players to press any button (except to start one or two players), and the control system instead uses one joystick. However, that doesn’t mean that Pac-Man is an easy game: This is, in fact, really difficult in a way that only classic arcade games can devour quarters.

That’s why it took almost 20 years for anyone to complete the perfect “Pac-Man” game – finishing without losing lives and the maximum number of points from each level.

“It takes between five to six hours,” said Billy Mitchell, who became the first person to achieve a perfect game in 1999, and is still one of the few in the world to have done it. “The hardest part is sitting there and continuing to focus, not allowing distractions. You have a system to play. If you exit your system for a moment, it creates total chaos on the board.”

Mitchell agrees that simplicity sustains the eternal success of the game. “No matter how old you are or when you last played, everyone understands what ‘Pac-Man’ is. Also, if you watch from behind someone, you can understand the drama that is going on.”

Mitchell’s perfect play made him reach level 256 and scored 3,333,360 points. At that stage, the game runs out of memory and can no longer draw a complete board, so half the screen is messed up, making it impossible to advance further. Doubting anyone would go that far, Iwatani and his team never even programed the end of the celebration.

Billy Mitchell reached the last level of “Pac-Man” in 1999. Unfortunately, at that time, the game ran out of memory and could no longer draw a complete board. Credit: Courtesy of Bandai Namco

However, he spent many months programming the ghost’s behavior. Named Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde, they each have a “personality” determining their strategy.

“We introduce an AI-like algorithm that sends ghosts to surround Pac-Man from all sides,” Iwatani said. “Some of the other touches we added (including) starting over from adversity were a little easier after the player slipped and was caught, or sometimes sent ghosts who were chasing after course, back to their positions to give players space to breathe. We had all kinds tweak to make sure we don’t just stress the player. ”

The inspiration for the ghost’s appearance came from the Japanese manga called “Little Ghost Q-Taro,” which Iwatani read as a child, as well as the American cartoon “Casper the Friendly Ghost.”

“The relationship between Pac-Man and ghosts is a relationship that is meant to pit their sheep against each other but only in a very superficial way, which does not cause real hatred,” Iwatani said. “That relationship is influenced by the ideas of the cartoon ‘Tom & Jerry’.”

“Pac-Man” spawned countless sequels, the most popular of which was “Ms. Pac-Man.” This also paves the way for narrative-based titles such as “Donkey Kong,” offering a game out of their stereotyped shoot up.

It’s still very addictive: When Google replaced its logo with a version of Pac Man that could be played in 2010, it cost nearly 5 million people in the world and $ 120 million in lost productivity, a study concluded.

A gamer plays “Pac-Man” at a trade show in Cologne, Germany in 2019. Credit: Ina Fassbender / AFP / Getty Images

Iwatani last worked on the Pac-Man title in 2007, and he now teaches game design at Tokyo Polytechnic University. He was not particularly impressed with modern games, and said that in adapting to smartphones and other small screens, the ideas behind them also became small.

“When ‘Pac-Man’ was first released, video games were still something new and unusual for everyone except game fans. For many people, I think it ended up being their first experience with video games,” he said, talking about inheritance the game.

“And now today, 40 years later, it’s still enjoyed not only by women, but men and women, young and old, all over the world. If we compare it with music, it might be like a popular song that everyone knows and has heard before . “

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