Every man and his dog must have played Pacman at some point in their life, and if not, then they surely must know who Pacman is. I consider him to be the first real videogame “celebrity”, if I can call a collection of yellow pixels a celebrity. His arcade game debut was in 1980 in the classic game created by Japanese company Namco, and since then he has been the star of countless other games and even a cartoon series.
The game itself is pretty simple to understand. Pacman is a little yellow circle with a mouth who must move around a maze eating little white dots and the occasional piece of fruit to increase his score. Trying to stop him are four ghosts who also wander the maze, and if they catch him then Pacman will lose a life. Pacman can turn the tables however by munching on a much larger dot called a power pill. This makes the ghosts turn blue and run away from Pacman, as he can now eat them. If he manages to devour a ghost, then the ghosts eyes will then be left zooming around the maze trying to get back to the central ghost area where they will be given a new body. If Pacman manages to eat all the dots in the maze, he is presented with another screenful of dots to glutton himself on.
Depending on which version of the arcade original you played the ghosts had different names. I will always remember them as Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde, as that’s what the UK released machines tended to call them. Pacman himself was also originally christened Pucman, but Namco changed this on the release of the game in the US, as it was too easy too deface the ‘P’ in the title to another letter that would make the name distinctly ruder…
Pacman moved on from eating dots in mazes to rescuing fairies in Pacland, and gained arms and legs in the process, which also led to him becoming the star of his own cartoon show. He was also joined by Ms. Pacman, who looked identical except for lipstick and a red bow in her, er.. head. She didn’t have hair as such, though I guess the bow must kind of imply she did. There are still regularly Pacman releases on todays game consoles which see him running around eating dots and solving puzzles in a more three dimensional world. There was even a strange Pacman pinball machine, where the ball was supposed to represent Pacman himself. If you got the ball into a certain hole on the Pinball machine, you got to play a game of Pacman on the TV screen embedded in the top of the table for extra points.
The original game of Pacman must be one of the most programmed games in history. It’s a fair bet that anyone interested in programming games on a computer has at least attempted to write their own version of Pacman at some point, and their are countless hand held game versions too, one of the best of which was the Grandstand Munchman version. The Jakks Pacific Namco TVGames also features an arcade perfect version, although it is a little tricky to track down now.