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Pac-Man At 35 – Still Chomping

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Pac-Man At 35 – Still Chomping  

In 1980 a new video game revolutionized the medium and became a cultural phenomenon. Famous for his insatiable appetite, Pac-Man is the granddaddy of today’s video games, having spawned countless spinoffs and products - from a cartoon show, to a top-ten single, to canned pasta. And he’s not done yet.

First released in Japan on May 22, 1980, Pac-Man arrived in the U.S. in October of that same year and was an instant hit. At the time, Space Invaders and Asteroids were the reigning video games. Aimed at boys who mostly played them in arcades, these were shoot-‘em-down games without any real characters. Pac-Man had a recognizable character and appealed to girls as well. This was indeed the intention of its creator, Japanese game developer Toru Iwatani. According to Iwatani, his inspiration came while eating a pizza: a round character with a big chomping mouth. He originally named his game “Pakkuman,” which was meant to suggest the sound your mouth makes when it pops open and closed in rapid succession. This was shortened to Pac-Man for the US launch. The ravenous little dot-eater was an instant hit. The game had loads of personality. Along with Pac-Man there were colorful ghosts - Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde - the first arcade-game characters with names. It also had yummy-looking fruits, kooky music and blinking lights, creating a zany, playful atmosphere that proved irresistible.    

Asides from being the first video game with a recognizable character, Pac-Man was the first to utilize artificial intelligence that competitively hunted down the player. It was designed to have no end as long as the player kept playing, but with a “bug” that made eating enough dots to beat the “kill-screen” impossible - another reason Pac-Mac kept millions coming back for more. The highest possible score was 3,333,360 points, officially achieved by one Billy Mitchell, who made it all the way to the kill screen, level 256.

 Pac-Man became one of the most famous and profitable arcade games of all time, eating up billions of dollars in quarters. In the first 18 months, 350,000 Pac-Man arcade machines were sold, generating over $2.5 billion dollars in revenue over the following decade. Over a billion dollars of Pac-Man merchandise was sold in the US alone. The hungry little guy went on to appear in over 30 licensed spin-off games and countless bootlegs. Notable spawns were Ms. Pac-Man (which became even more popular than the original), Super Pac-Man, Pac-Man Plus, Baby Pac-Man (which combined pinball and video), Jr. Pac-Man and Professor Pac-Man (which was really a quiz game), and Pac-Land. Hanna-Barbera created the first Pac-Man cartoon, Buckner and Garcia recorded the album "Pac-Man Fever," and Chef Boyardee created Pac-Man canned pasta. Most significantly, Pac-Man changed the makeup of video games as we know them.

35 years later, it’s no exaggeration to say that Pac-Man is a verifiable cultural icon, a symbol of the first video-game generation. Today his progeny carry on in the animated series Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. And this July will see the film release of “Pixels,” in which aliens misinterpret our 80s arcade games as a declaration of war. Among their weapons, a giant car-chomping Pac-Man. Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani plays himself in the film. In the following trailer we get to see him attempt to tame the monster he created.


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