COVID-19 INFORMATION What you need to know about the coronavirus if you are living in Japan or planning a visit.
From humble beginnings, Pac-Man became the most successful video game of all time Photo: AFP/File

Gobble gobble: Pac-Man turns 40

By Richard CARTER

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.

From these humble beginnings, Pac-Man would go on to be recognized 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 recognized 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 colorful and cute. It was so fun. I remember I played a lot at my relative's house. Happy birthday Pac-Man!" said one.

© 2020 AFP

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

Happy birthday Pac-Man !!..

Thank you so much, Iwatani San !! ..

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Ms. Pac-Man was the bomb.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Played this in the 80s as a kid. It is actually a great game. Doesn't work on consoles or handheld devices, but in a standup arcade machine it was excellent.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Serrano - Yes, it was the bomb. However, Pac-Man is and will be a classic, next to Donkey Kong and Space Invaders. I enjoyed playing them in the arcades and with my Atari 2600. Anybody remember Atari?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Ms. Pacman gobbled a lot of my money. Oh, how I wished I had invested in Microsoft, Apple, or anything at that time...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Wasted a lot of money playing those machines as a child.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Classic game although I was better at Phoenix.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

And Still a virgin at 40. Even Henry the Hoover has a wife named Hetty.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

And Still a virgin at 40. Even Henry the Hoover has a wife named Hetty.

Surely he is married to Ms Pacman? After all, they've got the same name.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites