Pac-Man: A Look Back At A Videogame Icon
August **, 2003
Let me take you back to the year 1980. "The Empire Strikes Back" was released in theatres to stellar reviews and fan reaction. Pink Floyd's greatest song "Another Brick In the Wall" hit the air waves. "M*A*S*H" continued it's long sucessful television run. Hell, even Martin Scorsese's masterpiece "Raging Bull" was released. Man, what a movie. What a great year and too top it off the first videogame icon stormed into the public's eye.
Too say that Pac-Man was a sucess is an understatement. The little gold disc would go on too become the arcade industry's first mutli-million/multi-media sucess story. You see, back in the day all that existed in the arcades were space and sports games. You had your Pong and you had your Space Invaders. You had your Asteroids and you had your Atari Football. In 1979, a little Japanese arcade company had released (you guessed it) a space game of their own. Galaxian was a huge sucess. It was a more intense version of Space Invaders with bright colour and great graphics. Aliens not only marched back and forth on screen, but they swooped down in on you kamakazee style. Sweet. Galaxian still remains a great title and launched Namco in a whole new light. Next they released the classic but not entirely sucessful Rally-X, an action title featuring little cars chasing each other and snaggin' points. The follow up was as phenominum.
A young japanese game designer named Tory Iwatani was eating pizza one night. Fed up with (guess again) space and sports games dominating the arcades, he sought out to create a game with a little more imagination and character. Removing a slice of pizza from the circular shape revealed his greatest creation, Pac-Man. Thus began the birth of the first videogame character, one who would become the unofficial mascot for the entire videogame industry.
Pac-Man was a little round disc on screen with a mouth that was constantly chomping pellets and fruit. Around a dark blue maze he'd go while being constantly chased by four ghosts named Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. The colourful designs of the ghosts was very important not only visualy but also contributed to the psychology of the player.
The game presented a very interesting and challenging AI scheme. As the game demo ran a charcacter description and nickname was given to each of the antagonists. Blinky the red ghost is given the charcter description as "Shadow" for his relentist pursuit of our little hero. The pink ghost Pinky, is known as "Speedy", the fastest of the group. Inky the blue group is "Bashful", shy and not as gung ho as the rest of the group. Finaly, Clyde our little orange ghost is known as "Pokey", the slowest member. With their unique design's and big eyes, the ghosts were just as much loved as our yellow hero.
When Pac-Man smashed into arcades in 1980, not only was it capturing the imaginations of boys of all ages but he captured the hearts of girls. It was the first time that the player wasn't blowing crap up in a space ship, Pac-Man was a cute little guy avoiding the baddies, eating his yummies and calling it a day. Once women entered the arcades and started throwing as much money as the guys in the machines, you had your first arcade phenominum.
Pac-Man became an overnight sensation and whould have his own toys, books, clothing, bumper stickers, hit song, arcade to console translations and a saturday morning cartoon curtiousy of Hannah-Barbara. Wherever you went, he was there. A year later, the mania grew even bigger with the release of Ms. Pac-Man.
Ms. Pac-Man was a kick ass sequel, one that topped the original in all areas. The Miss featured more mazes, better gameplay and a tougher ghost A.I. Today, there isn't an arcade or bar that dosen't have a Ms. Pac-Man machine tucked in it's corner with someone playing it. A truly great game, one that would last throughout the videogame ages.
When I was five years old and experienced the game for the first time, it was just fantastic. It was one of those great gaming moments, one that took the industry too a higher level like such modern classics such as Metal Gear Solid and Super Mario 64 did.