When Pac-Man was released, most arcade video games in North America were primarily space shooters such as Space Invaders, Defender, or Asteroids. The most visible minority were sports games that were mostly derivative of Pong. Pac-Man succeeded by creating a new genre and appealing to both males and females. Pac-Man is often credited with being a landmark in video game history, and is among the most famous arcade games of all time. The character also appears in more than 30 officially licensed game spin-offs, as well as in numerous unauthorized clones and bootlegs. According to the Davie Brown Index, Pac-Man has the highest brand awareness of any video game character among American consumers, recognized by 94 percent of them.
When first launched in Japan by Namco, the game received a lukewarm response, as Space Invaders and other similar games were more popular at the time.
The following year, the game was picked up for manufacture in the U.S. by Bally division Midway, under the altered title Pac-Man (see Localization, below). American audiences welcomed a breakaway from conventions set by Space Invaders, which resulted in unprecedented popularity and revenue that rivaled its successful predecessor, as even Iwatani was impressed with U.S. sales. The game soon became a worldwide phenomenon within the video game industry, resulting in numerous sequels and merchandising tie-ins. Pac-Man's success bred imitation, and an entire genre of maze-chase video games soon emerged.
The unique game design inspired game publishers to be innovative rather than conservative, and encouraged them to speculate on game designs that broke from existing genres. Pac-Man introduced an element of humor into video games that designers sought to imitate, and appealed to a wider demographic than the teenage boys who flocked to the action-oriented games.
Competitors and distributors were taken completely by surprise by Pac-Man's success in North America in 1980. Marketing executives who saw Pac-Man at a trade show prior to release completely overlooked the game (along with the now classic Defender), while they looked to a racing car game called Rally-X as the game to outdo that year. The appeal of Pac-Man was such that the game caught on immediately with the public; it quickly became far more popular than anything seen in the game industry before. Pac-Man outstripped Asteroids as the greatest selling arcade game of the time, and would go on to sell over 350,000 units.
Pac-Man went on to become an icon of video game culture during the 1980s, and a great deal of Pac-Man merchandise was marketed with the character's image, from t-shirts and toys to hand-held video game imitations and pasta. The Killer List of Videogames lists Pac-Man as the #1 video game of all time on its "Top 10 Most Popular Video games" list. Pac-Man, and other video games of the same general type, are often cited as an identifying cultural experience of Generation X, particularly its older members, sometimes called Baby Busters.
For the North American market, the name was changed from Puck Man to Pac-Man, as it was thought that vandals would be likely to change the P in Puck to an F, forming a common expletive. Puck Man machines can be found throughout Europe.
When Midway released Pac-Man in the United States, the company also redesigned the cabinet's artwork, as the Namco-style artwork was more costly to mass produce. Puck Man was painted overall white featuring multicolored artwork on both sides with cheerful Pac-Man characters in different poses while Pac-Man was painted yellow, with very simple and easy-to-stencil artwork on both sides front and back.
Near the corners of the maze are four larger, flashing dots known as power pellets that provide Pac-Man with the temporary ability to eat the ghosts. The ghosts turn deep blue, reverse direction, and usually move more slowly when Pac-Man eats a power pellet. When a ghost is eaten, its eyes return to the ghost home where it is regenerated in its normal color. Blue ghosts flash white before they become dangerous again and the amount of time the ghosts remain vulnerable varies from one board to the next, but the time period generally becomes shorter as the game progresses. In later stages, the ghosts do not change colors at all, but still reverse direction when a power pellet is eaten.
In addition to pac-dots and power pellets, bonus items, usually referred to as fruits (though not all items are fruits) appear near the center of the maze. These items score extra bonus points when eaten. The items change and bonus values increase throughout the game. Also, a series of intermissions play after certain levels toward the beginning of the game, showing a humorous set of interactions between Pac-Man and Blinky (the red ghost).
Initially, Pac-Man’s enemies were referred to as monsters on the arcade cabinet, but soon became colloquially known as ghosts.
The ghosts are bound by the maze in the same way as Pac-Man, but generally move slightly faster than the player, although they slow down when turning corners and slow down significantly while passing through the tunnels on the sides of the maze (Pac-Man passes through these tunnels unhindered). Pac-Man slows down slightly while eating dots, potentially allowing a chasing ghost to catch him.
Blinky, the red ghost, speeds up after a certain number of dots are eaten (this number gets lower in higher levels). The accelerated Blinky is unofficially called Cruise Elroy, although opinions differ on the origins of this term.
|Ghost Color||Original Puck Man||American Pac-Man|
Despite the seemingly random nature of some of the ghosts, their movements are strictly deterministic, enabling experienced players to devise precise sequences of movements for each level (termed "patterns") that allow them to complete the levels without ever being caught. A later revision of the game code altered the ghosts' behavior, but new patterns were soon developed for that behavior as well. Players have also learned how to exploit other flaws in the ghosts' behavior, including finding places where they can hide indefinitely without moving, and a code bug occasionally allows Pac-Man to pass through a non-blue ghost unharmed. Several patterns have been developed to exploit this bug. A common rumor speculates that this only happens when Pac-Man's mouth is completely closed.
Pac-Man technically has no ending – as long as the player keeps at least one life, he or she should be able to continue playing indefinitely. However, because of a bug in the routine that draws the fruit, the right side of the 256th board becomes a garbled mess of text and symbols, rendering the level impossible to pass by legitimate means. Normally, no more than seven fruits are displayed at any one time, but when the internal level counter (stored in a single byte) reaches 255, the subroutine erroneously causes this value to "roll over" to zero before drawing the fruit. This causes the routine to attempt to draw 256 fruits, which corrupts the bottom of the screen and the whole right half of the maze with seemingly random symbols.
Through tinkering, the details of the corruption can be revealed. Some ROMs of the game are equipped with a "rack test" feature that can be accessed through the game's DIP switches. This feature automatically clears a level of all dots as soon as it begins, making it easier to reach the 256th board very quickly, as well as allowing players to see what would happen if the 256th board is cleared (the game loops back to the first level, causing fruits and intermissions to display as before, but with the ghosts retaining their higher speed and invulnerability to power pellets from the later stages). When the rack test is performed in an emulator, a person can more easily analyze the corruption in this level.
Pac-Man and the ghosts can move freely throughout the right half of the screen, barring some fractured pieces of the maze. Despite claims that someone with enough knowledge of the maze pattern could play through the level, it is technically impossible to complete since the graphical corruption eliminates most of the dots on the right half of the maze. A few edible dots are scattered in the corrupted area, and these dots reset when the player loses a life (unlike in the uncorrupted areas), but these are insufficient to complete the level. As a result, the level has been given a number of names, including "the Final Level", "the Blind-Side", and the ending. It is known more generally as a kill screen.
In December 1982, an 8-year-old boy named Jeffrey R. Yee supposedly received a letter from U.S. President Ronald Reagan congratulating him on a worldwide record of 6,131,940 points, a score only possible if the player has passed the Split-Screen Level. Whether or not this event happened as described has remained in heated debate among video-game circles since its supposed occurrence. In September 1983, Walter Day, chief scorekeeper at Twin Galaxies, took the US National Video Game Team on a tour of the East Coast to visit video game players who claimed they could get through the Split-Screen. No video game player could demonstrate this ability. In 1999, Billy Mitchell offered $100,000 to anyone who could provably pass through the Split-Screen Level before January 1, 2000; the prize went unclaimed.
On June 5, 2007, the first Pac-Man World Championship was held in New York City, which brought together ten competitors from eight countries to play the new Pac-Man Championship Edition just prior to its release on Xbox Live Arcade. The top two scorers, Robert Glashuettner of Austria and Carlos Daniel Borrego of Mexico, competed for the championship in a single five-minute round. Borrego was named Pac-Man World Champion and won an Xbox 360 console, specially decorated with Pac-Man artwork and signed by Toru Iwatani.
Namco has repeatedly re-released this game to arcades. In 2001, Namco released a 20-Year Reunion cabinet featuring Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga that permits the unlocking of Pac-Man for play. In 2005, Namco released a board openly featuring all three of the games on the 20-Year Reunion board in honor of Pac-Man's 25th Anniversary. The NES version later became a Classic NES Series title for the Game Boy Advance, and was also released for download via the Wii's Virtual Console service in May 2007.
Namco's wireless division, Namco Networks America Inc., released a line of Pac-Man games for cell phones in 2002, starting with the original arcade version and following up with Pac-Man game extensions like Pac-Man Bowling and Pac-Man Pinball. This division also launched a networked game, Ms. Pac-Man For Prizes, in 2004. Pac-Man mobile games are available on both BREW and Java platforms across major cellular carriers, as well as on Palm PDAs and Windows PC phones. There is a port of Pac-Man for the not-yet-released Android OS.
The Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man was developed by programmer Tod Frye and published in 1982 by Atari. It was the first port of the arcade game, Atari being the licensee for the video game console rights. Although it sold 7 million units to a user base of 10 million, this port may have been rushed to market and its quality was widely criticized. Having manufactured 12 million cartridges with the expectation that the game would increase sales of its console, Atari incurred large financial losses from remaining unsold inventory. This was one of the catalysts that led to the video game crash of 1983, second only to the home video game version of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in terms of unsold inventory.
Twenty-six years after the original Pac-Man, Microsoft worked with Toru Iwatani and Namco Bandai to produce a re-envisioning of the game, Pac-Man Championship Edition. It was released for the Xbox Live Arcade on June 6, 2007.
A group of students from the Computer Science department of Simon Fraser University had developed a "life-sized" Pac-Man system, using laptops and mobile phone tracking to track the location of the dots, ghost, and the Pac-Man. It has become a regular activity of Computer Science Frosh Week, and is usually played in Downtown Vancouver.
A real-life version of Pac-Man has also been played around the Washington square park area of New York in a game christened PacManhattan.