It’s been exactly 40 years since Pac-Man, the iconic video game, hit arcades across Japan. By the end of 2020, it’ll be Pac-Man‘s 40th worldwide anniversary. 40 years seems like a lifetime ago, but this yellow pellet-eating sprite has taken over the world as one of gaming’s biggest icons. Here we’ll look back at where Pac-Man came to be, and how they were able to create this iconic game.
Released in arcades in Tokyo, Pac-Man became a quick success after positive player feedback. This was all thanks to Namco—now known as Bandai Namco Entertainment—and its 9-person team with Toru Iwatani as its lead developer. The year was 1980, and Iwatani, a 25-year-old game developer, strived to make games for women and kids. This was derived from his opinion on arcades, as he thought they were seedy places and wanted to make them more family-friendly.
He ended up being quite successful, as Pac-Man embodied games being for anyone and everyone. Iwatani thought that Pac-Man would be suited to eating pellets through his famous “waka-waka” mouth sounds, seeing as he believed one of women’s favourite pastimes was eating (I mean, he’s not wrong, we do love to eat).
What helped the arcade machines draw players in was the brand new RGB colour display. Since this was quite new for this time, Iwatani and his team were able to use bright colours for Pac-Man and his ghosts.
The Not-So-Spooky Ghosts
Pac-Man’s design was quite different and fresh for its time. They programmed a hidden tile system, and in each tile sat a white pellet. This made it so the developers could program the ghosts to target a specific tile to reach. This point-A-to-point-B system also helped to create unique personalities for each ghost.
They were all programmed to do the same things, but in different modes; chase, scatter, and frightened mode. Chase is the usual business where the ghosts scramble to get you. The ghosts scatter after a while and decide to disperse, each choosing a tile in a different corner of the maze. Frightened mode is simple, and it happens when Pac-Man eats the power pellets, the only time he can eat the ghosts himself.
Did you know that each ghost does something different? The red one, Blinky, is already out of the “ghost house” when the game begins, and has the personality of a shadow. Like a real shadow, Blinky always targets Pac-Man’s tile and follows closely behind. Pinky (obviously the pink one) is speedy and exits immediately after Blinky. Pinky isn’t technically faster, but his target always attempts to predict where Pac-Man is going next.
On the other hand, Inky—the blue one—is bashful and whimsical. Inky leaves a bit later than Pinky, and uses both Pac-Man’s facing positions and Blinky’s position to find the yellow fiend. Then there’s the orange one, Clyde, who is the last to leave. He’s considered “otoboke”, or in English, “feigning ignorance”. As said, Clyde just does whatever and goes wherever, without a set path in mind.
May 22nd, 1980 was the start of it all. After just one year, Namco sold over 100,000 arcade units, and since 2020 ported the game to over 20 platforms. Pac-Man was even a record-breaking success, with 8 Guinness World Records, and the first game to have power-ups and individualistic AI.
Pac-Man transcended past the video game industry and into everyday life; not even Iwatani could predict this happening. Even in 2020, Pac-Man reigns as one of Namco’s highest-grossing games in sales, and an icon in the gaming world. We all congratulate Namco and Iwatani for their huge success and wish Pac-Man a wonderful 40th anniversary.