Pac-Man: Your Thoughts on the Pie Guy!

Matt Barton's picture

Pac-ManPac-ManPac-Man fever! That's what I have now that I've started work on the Pac-Man chapter in the book I'm currently writing with Bill Loguidice, the acclaimed collector and game historian. :) As usual, I started off by reading the wikipedia entry on the game, which this time was actually extremely detailed and helpful. One interesting thing about the wikipedia article is that it claims that the game designer, Toru Iwatani, was not inspired by a pizza as the old story goes. The article cites a book called Programmers at Work: Interviews, which I unfortunately do not own. If anyone does have this book or has thoughts on this matter, please let me know!

As I see it, there are at least three reasons why Pac-Man is an important game. First, it got the whole mascot and game character thing really rolling. Some sources claim Pac-Man is even better known than Mario, even today! I mean, before that you had stuff like Space Invaders and Asteroids, but I can't think of any truly memorable characters in those games. Second, it was big on the licensed merchandise. Now, I remember having a tape and book based on the game Asteroids back in the early 1980s, but obviously no game before Pac-Man attracted nearly as much licensing deals. Thirdly, Pac-Man is interesting from a modding and legal perspective, since there was that business with Ms. Pac-Man, which began as an unauthorized but commercially available mod from a third party. Of course, many people think Ms. Pac-Man is superior, so that naturally aroused Namco's concern.

There are also other fun things to talk about here. One is the infamously bad Pac-Man game for the Atari 2600, which some claim caused or at least helped to cause (along with E.T.) the videogame crash. I don't buy that myself, but would be interested to know what you think. There are also the tons of clones, which range from things like K.C. Munchkin to a Commodore clone I played where the Pac-Man had been replaced with a Commodore logo. I don't remember the name of this game, though, and can't seem to find it online.

I am also aware of some of the better remakes, updates, and so on for the game, including the celebrated one for Xbox Live that involved the original designer. If you have a favorite remake, let us know.

All in all, it's shaping up to be a fun chapter to research and write, but I'd love to hear from you. Chime in with your thoughts on one of the greatest games ever made!

Fun video about a Commodore 64 Pac-Man clone.

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Mark Vergeer
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Pong & Pacman are games

Pong & Pacman are games everybody remembers as being the archetypes of video-games. Even kids who grew up without Pacman!
I did a little review on KC Munchkin and Pong a little while back:

Title: Munchkin / Videopac 38
Maker: Philips / Magnavox
Year: 1982
Available platform: Philips Videopac / Odessy2
Screenshot:
Videopac Happelaar

Way back in 1982 (I was 12) pacman was a big hit in the arcades, that success resulted in quite a number of pacman versions on the various consoles that were out there at the time. And magnavox / philips created KcMunchkin. It was quite a controversial title bacause it closely resembled Namco's Pacman. It was actually pulled of the shelves because of a lawsuit. Still it remained on sale in Germany if I remember correctly. I remember I felt quite proud to own it back then - still do!

In the Netherlands, most of my friends that owned a console had a 2600 in those days. When my birthday came up my parents decided to get a console for me and my brother. They got me a g7000 philips videopac sysem together with KCMunching - Videopac no 38 and No 39 Freedom fighters. At first I was disappointed because it wasn't the 2600 I was hoping for. But later I learned to appreciate the blocky graphics.

In time I even preferred it over the 2600's pacman - because of the fast pace and the fact that all those pills moved around the screen! The cart had some nifty options like:
1. program your own maze - without a grid it's too hard let me tell you.
2. play with an invisible maze
3. play with a forever changing maze

This game get's me in 'the zone' (if that exists at all) when the scores comes to 240, by then it's all reflexes and neurons firing in your cerebellum & spinal cord. My mom always got very nervous when she saw the muncher speeding around the screen and me controlling it together with that super nerve wrecking blip blip blip tweet tweet tweet sound that kept on going faster and higher. Even today (on the g7400 (videopac+ system) all my reflexes still work and I get pretty decent high scores.

Graphics: 5/5 (nothing more is needed for a good pacman game if you like lots of square pixels like I do)
Gameplay: 4/5 (when you reach a certain level the game becomes virtually unplayble because the ghosts become much faster than you and all the 'patterns' in the world will not help you).
Sound/Music: 5/5(It's no music actually, more some sort of blipping drone that gets higher & faster time after time. Either you like it or you absolutely hate it)

I have the boxed version, in mint condition even though it is played to bits! Anyways, this is the game that got me hooked to anything that looks and plays like this: PAC MAN. :)

Title:Pong / 2 player Tennis / single player tennis / Soccer slash Hokey licensed by Magnavox
Year:1976
Available platform:Magnavox / Tokyo 4 colour

The system:

I played the the bright orange PAL version (everything plastic that's grey on this machine was bright orange in ours). It was a cold day in the beginning of march 1976, we were supposed to visit our grandparents. I was 6 and my brother was 4. We arrived early and it turned out that they weren't home yet. So we decided to visit my favourite comic book collecting uncle that lived close by. My uncle showed us a queer little bright-orange machine that you had to connect to the television set. It turned out to be some sort of game that you could play on your tv. Both me and my brother were handed a little orange control box with a turning knob that was connected to the machine with a small jack plug. The machine had a square blue and a square white knob with rounded edges with a texture that somehow intrigued me (even reminded me of chocolate for some reason I can't explain and only now remember whilst typing this text).
Then my uncle turned it on and the screen came alive: two zeroes in the middle on top and two bats on either side of the screen and a square blip that moved around diagonally. The score was already adding up for one of us and we didn't even know which bat was ours. It was my first experience with a video-game. Me and my brother were amazed and we even got to take it home with us!!! We played it for hours if we got the chance to! (now it seems weird that such simple game-play held our attention for so long) It even had sound: 2 different blip sounds coming from a small speaker on the device itself. Know we all know it as PONG or variants of that. I remember that all my friends wanted to play the television game (as we called it back then) when they came over to play.
Rating back then in 1976:
Graphics: 5/5 (how realistically the ballmovements were and how it brought out competitiveness in my brother and me)
Gameplay: 2/5 single player (even back then it was very boring playing by yourself)
Gameplay: 5/5 two players (interact with an unpredictable smart fellow human on the screen. We always won from our parents and they didn't let us win - we slaughtered them)
Sound: 4/5 (quite annoying blips, but at the time perceived as realistic 'ping pong'- sounds)
Nowadays I am not able to rate the game any higher than 1 on all items. It is sad but true. I guess I got spoiled by all games that came later.... ;)



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Bill Loguidice
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Nice!

Thanks, Mark. KC Munchkin and the related legal controversy with Atari will certainly be mentioned briefly in the chapter, and Pong has a chapter of its own.



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Bill Loguidice
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Commodore

Cosmic Cruncher, Matt! If I remember correctly, it was my first game for my first computer, Commodore's Vic-20! It wasn't reviewed well at the time, but I enjoyed it and it was certainly better than what Atari came up with for the 2600...



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Matt Barton
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Anybody know about whether

Thanks, Mark and Bill! Cosmic Cruncher was definitely it. Funny thing is, I remember seeing that game and actually being proud of it at the time, rather than floored at the clone issue.

Anybody know about whether Toru was or wasn't influenced by the pizza? Man, I gotta get that book--I've seen it referenced quite a bit elsewhere, too.

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Bill Loguidice
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Pac-Mania
Matt Barton wrote:

Anybody know about whether Toru was or wasn't influenced by the pizza? Man, I gotta get that book--I've seen it referenced quite a bit elsewhere, too.

I forget where I read it, but I think it is an apocryphal story, yeah. It's probably worth mentioning just in the context of the legend of Pac-Man itself (like Pac-Man Fever) with the caveat that its validity is dubious at best. I think the "Puckman" "F-uckman" story is accurate though from what I remember, and looking at the original Pac-Man art with Mr. Man's rather phallic nose makes me think it was a good decision!



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larzini
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Was it the pizza?

I'm currently reading POWER UP: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life. In it there's a sidebar where author, Chris Kohler refers to a conversation with video game historian Steven Kent regarding Iwatani and the pizza. (sidebar quote appears on p.22)

I asked video game historian Steven Kent about this via email, and he told me that inhis first interview with Iwatani, he told the story as truth...but that in a later interview, his comments were translated as something like "I wish I could say that this is how it happened." And in Shida and Matsui, volume 1, page 43, he is quited as saying: "it's already passed into legend, so I'm going to stick with this: I took one slice out of a pizza and saw Pac-Man" (my translation).

The Puck-Man story is accurate according to this book as well.

Found this Iwatani photo. Good stuff.

Keep in mind that Pac-Man was the first game to use cinematic scenes after clearing some levels. Good luck on the book, Matt.

Mark Vergeer
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Actually MsPacman is the

Actually MsPacman is the better game I think. I played that game to death on the real c64. The Arcades never were big in The Netherlands so I didn't get to play the arcade game much. In 1993 when I went to the US for the first time I was exposed to a real MsPacman arcade cabinet for prolonged periods of time as it was situated in a laundrette that I used to go to. Funny thing was that I was able to get quite a huge score on it probably because it was so incredibly similar to Ms Pacman game on my old c64.



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Bill Loguidice
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Yep! Ms. Pac-Man

Ms. Pac-Man was definitely a better game overall, and in fact in the US I believe it was the best selling arcade game of all time in terms of revenue. In fact, here in the US, it's the only classic arcade game, often in combination with Galaga (it's a dual cabinet: http://www.quarterarcade.com/Game.aspx/577?m=1), that you'll find with regularity in places that have arcade machines, which are typically just light gun, environmental/ride style and a few fighting games.

While there are many arguments to be made about how to do a sequel - some say just incremental improvements, others say start over - Ms. Pac-Man is definitely a case of the former done to perfection. It's Pac-Man improved just enough in every way that was necessary.



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Matt Barton
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I got a chance to visit the

I got a chance to visit the arcade at Gameworks in Ybor City, Tampa last week. You're right--it's all redemption machines, light gun games, dance/ride type things, and of course lots of driving games. I had a lot of fun with the turret game that spins you around, though I was very disappointed in the graphics. The resolution was pitiful! Seems insane to spend so much money designing a cabinet like that, then skimp on the graphics.

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Mark Vergeer
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little video showing off KC Munckin on the Videopac G7000

This is interesting as well, a little video showing off KC Munckin on the Videopag G7000

Courtesy of Classic Game Room Productions



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