What’s your earliest video games memory?
If you’re anything like us, it’s pumping quarters into the Pac-Man machine in the corner of your local diner — then nagging Mom or Dad for more when you ran out. And if that’s the case, get ready for a shock: the classic arcade game celebrates its 30th anniversary this month.
Makes you feel old, huh? This might be little consolation, but you’re not the only one. Pac-Man — created, as legend would have it, when Namco’s Toru Iwatani caught sight of a pizza with a slice missing — is the most recognizable character in the whole of video game history, with as many as 94% of US consumers able to recognize the ever-hungry yellow blob.
A Namco rep put the game’s success down to what at the time was an innovative artificial intelligence system that could provide players with a stiffer challenge than other 80s coin-ops.
“Many games at the time when Pac-Man was originally released had very simple behavior for the enemy characters in the games,” he told us. “Pac-Man’s enemy AI for the ghosts was revolutionary in that each was specifically programmed to have a different behavior or personality so they each reacted to Pac-Man differently. One ghost would be programmed to chase Pac-Man while another was programmed to be ahead of him to cut him off. These characteristics and traits made the game more challenging and more fun to play and is probably what made so many people spend hour after hour trying to win at Pac-Man.”
But it wasn’t just the game — and its 30-odd sequels and spin-offs — that captured the public imagination. Hundreds of licensed consumer products flooded the market, including everything from air fresheners and breakfast cereal to a board game, where plastic, articulated Pac-Men snap up marbles instead of pills. There was even a novelty song, which reached the dizzy heights of number nine on the Billboard pop chart in 1982.
Does anybody still play it? You better believe it. In fact, it took until 1999 for a player to reach the game’s maximum possible score, 3,333,360 points, when the game’s display becomes corrupted and no further play is possible. That was the work of veteran arcade master Billy Mitchell, who would go on to appear in the King of Kong movie documentary — and it’s a feat that’s been equaled, though never surpassed, by numerous people over the last decade.
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