Gaming, Geek, History

The History and Success of Pac-Man

In 1980, Namco and its investors didn’t think much of their new arcade game, Pac-Man. They considered Rally-X, a game released at the same time as Pac-Man, to be the stronger of the two, but they were quickly proven wrong. Just a little over a year after its debut, over 100,000 Pac-Man arcade machines were sold and people spent more than $1 billion in quarters playing the game.

Thirty-five years later, and after over 30 official spin-offs, Pac-Man still permeates our culture. But, before it was a worldwide phenomenon, it was just a simple idea conceived by a 27 year-old Japanese man named Toru Iwatani.

The Birth of Pac-Man

Legend has it that Toru Iwatani was at a pizza parlor with Pac-Man game developers when someone took out the first slice and provided inspiration for the shape of the Pac-Man character. Prior to Pac-Man, most arcade games appealed to young boys and teenagers, and Iwatani wanted to create a game that anybody could enjoy. This is what inspired the maze element and the choice to base the game off of eating instead of violence. During development there were only three main people working on the game: Toru focused on planning and designs while the two others worked on programming and composing the music.

Ms. Pac-Man

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After the enormous success of Pac-Man, a year later developers decided to release the first arcade game to feature a female protagonist — Ms. Pac-Man.

Midway Games, a U.S. distributor, developed and released Ms. Pac-Man in the states in 1982, but didn’t get permission from Namco, the Japanese company that owned the rights to Pac-Man. Namco soon took legal action and Midway Games had to revoke its license for the entire Pac-Man franchise. However, Ms. Pac-Man was so popular that Namco continued to support it and still releases versions of the game to this day.


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In 1984, developers at Namco decided to try something other than the well-established maze-based gameplay. Instead, they created Pac-Land, a 2-D side-scroller that features elaborate artwork based off the Hanna-Barbara Pac-Man cartoon from the early ’80s.

This added detail necessitated a more complex Pac-Man character, so arms, legs and a face were added. In Pac-Land, the Pac-Man avatar can walk or run left and right as you race him through each stage. You can score points by eating different fruit, picking up Power-Pills and eating the ghosts while they are turned blue. Pac-Land remained a popular game in arcades throughout the 1990s.

Pac-Man VR and Pac-Man World

Pac Man World

Although the 1990s saw the release of new Pac-Man games such as Pac-Man 2, Pac-Mania and Pac-In-Time, the franchise changed drastically when game developers immersed the Pac-Man character into a full 3-D environment.

In Pac-Man VR, released in 1996, players wear a virtual reality headset and play the game from the perspective of Pac-Man, who is navigating a maze while eating dots and being chased by ghosts. Pac-Man World, released in 1999, is a 3-D platform game made for the PlayStation and Game Boy Advance. This game features an added ground pound attack, a spin dash to increase Pac-Man’s speed and the ability to throw pellets at all non-ghost enemies. Both of these games became quite popular and helped usher Pac-Man into the 21st century.

Pac-Man Today

Play Pac-Man in Google Maps today

In 2010, Google celebrated the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man by changing the Google doodle into a playable version of the original arcade game. This was the first time Google put a playable game on their homepage. According to Rescue Time, people around the globe spent almost 5 million hours playing the game, which goes to prove the popularity of the Pac-Man franchise.

The latest game to feature Pac-Man is the 2014 Super Smash Brothers, which was released for both the 3DS and Wii U. Furthermore, a live-action Pac-Man game was featured in a Super Bowl commercial and Google released a Pac-Man maps game for April Fool’s Day in 2015. So, if you want to get in on the live Pac-Man action, be sure to get a costume for yourself and the ghosts, and set up an epic maze in your yard or local park.

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