Retro Coin Op Synopsis
Over dinner with friends, programmer Toru Iwatani saw a pizza with one slice missing, and the face that launched a thousand arcades was born. Pac-Man was the most successful arcade game in history, but more than that, the little yellow orb with the enormous mouth became the official image of the entire video game industry. Space Invaders made video games into family entertainment, but Pac-Man gave them personality.
Iwatani’s game was based on a classic Japanese tale about a creature that protected children from scary monsters by eating them. In Iwatani’s version, the creature was more interested in eating little power pellets, dots of energy that lined the corridors of a bright blue maze. Four pastel-colored ghosts chased our hero through the maze, stopping the feeding frenzy with a single touch. But with one chomp of an energizer pellet (found in each corner of the screen), the hunter became the hunted as the ghosts turned temporarily blue and fled for their lives.
Bonus points came in the form of tasty fruits—cherries, strawberries, oranges, apples and more—which popped up near the center of the screen. The gobbling yellow hero could also escape the ghosts by slipping through a tunnel at the side of the screen. Once a maze was cleared, the dots reappeared for another try, this time with faster ghosts.
With this easy-to-grasp concept and vibrant, silly graphics (including between-screen animated segments), the game became a genuine phenomenon in its native Japan. Lines formed behind the machines, and the country faced a shortage of 100-yen coins. Namco, which developed the game, decided to move the game across the Pacific, and Bally/Midway was more than willing to introduce Iwatani’s game to America. They made only one request: a name change. In Japan, the game and its star had been known as Puckman, but knowing how the minds of America’s youth work, Bally/Midway altered the title to Pac-Man. The rest is video game history.
Pac-Man’s American conquest was instant and total. This was a game everyone could understand and appreciate, and kids of all ages quickly turned Pac-Man into the biggest hit in arcade history. The arcade craze swept the nation, and Pac-Man’s colorful, playful look inspired hundreds of imitators and pretenders to the throne. Video games now had a face, and that face had yellow skin and a gigantic mouth.
Within a few years, Pac-mania had spread beyond the arcade into every aspect of American life. Pac-Man merchandise ran the gamut from stickers, backpacks and bedspreads to toys, pasta and breakfast cereal. Hanna-Barbera produced a successful Pac-Man cartoon series and Buckner & Garcia scored a #9 pop hit with “Pac-Man Fever.”
Despite all the side business, Pac-Man didn’t forget his video game roots. The first sequel arrived in 1981. Realizing that Pac-Man was attracting as many female players as it was male players (the arcade had been pretty much an all-boys' club to that time), Bally/Midway gave the game a feminie twist. Ms. Pac-Man added a few new mazes, smarter ghosts, bouncing fruit, and new between-level scenes showing the courtship of Pac and Ms. The new game was another instant classic, considered by many to be the best in the series.
The following year, Pac-Man Plus arrived, throwing in a few curves for players who had already mastered the original. Power pellets now produced random effects—turning the maze temporarily invisible, making the ghosts themselves invisible or turning only three out of four ghosts blue—and the new bonus items created the same effects.
Super Pac-Man, also released in 1982, added even more new features. Fruits and other foodstuffs now took the place of power pellets, and Pac-Man had to eat keys to unlock certain doors to the maze. Regular energizers still played a part, but the maze also included a pair of “super energizers,” which would make Pac-Man twice his original size and impervious to the ghosts’ attacks.
Still in 1982 (a busy year for Pac and company), Pac and Ms. welcomed a new addition to the family. Baby Pac-Man was a pinball-video game hybrid, mixing the traditional maze action with fast-flipping pinball skills.
The little-seen Pac and Pal came on the scene in 1983. This time, Pac-Man had to chew on a handful of special items, which were stuck behind locked doors. By flipping over playing cards scattered around the screen, Pac unlocked the doors, gaining access to the coveted objects. Once Pac grabbed the items, players could press a button to fire off special attacks at the ghosts. The “Pal” in the title was a small green ghost who wandered around the maze and grabbed items for his yellow buddy.
If Pac & Pal was a departure from the original game, Professor Pac-Man was a quantum leap. No mazes, no pellets, no ghosts; just Pac-Man in a cap and gown, asking multiple choice trivia questions. Pac-fans showed little interest, and Professor Pac-Man swiftly disappeared.
The series went back to its roots for Jr. Pac-Man, another 1983 installment. Propeller-capped Junior chomped through mazes that were twice the width of the screen. As an added challenge, the bouncing bonus items turned any pellets they touched into larger dots, which slowed Junior down when he ate them.
1984 brought Pac-Land, which took a more cartoon-like Pac-Man on a side-scrolling adventure to rescue the denizens of Fairyland. Pac-Land started a trend in platform games that eventually led to the extraordinarily successful Super Mario Bros., but Pac himself was unable to reap the benefits of his innovation. 1984 was also the year the video game market crashed, and not even the powerful Pac-Man franchise was immune.
After a few years of market rebuilding, Pac-Man attempted a comeback with Pac-Mania, which rotated the mazes into a mock-3-D isometric view. Gameplay returned to basic Pac-Man mode, with the addition of a special jumping ability for Pac and the ghosts. The comeback was short-lived, however, and Pac retired from the arcade business.
In the ensuing years, the Pac-Man series lived on in home video game conversions, appearing on every system of the day. Another arcade edition, Pac-Man VR, was introduced in 1995, but the costly virtual reality equipment restricted the game’s reach to a few select locations.
Don’t shed any tears for poor Pac-Man. The yellow fellow continues to pop up on home systems, including the Playstation’s Pac-Man World: 20th Anniversary in late 1999. Pac’s arcade legacy continues as well. Ms. Pac-Man machines still earn their share of quarters in many arcades, and lifelong fan/game whiz Billy Mitchell made headlines in July of 1999 with the world’s first perfect Pac-Man game: 3,333,360 points (on one life). And the Pac-mania goes on…
Arcade Machine Release History1980 - Pac-Man
1981 - Ms. Pac-Man
1982 - Super Pac-Man
1982 - Pac-Man Plus
1982 - Baby Pac-Man
1983 - Professor Pac-Man
1983 - Jr. Pac-Man
1983 - Pac & Pal
1984 - Pac-Land
1987 - Pac-Mania
1996 - Pac-Man V R