Pac-Man Explained

For other uses see Pac-Man (disambiguation).

Designer:Tōru Iwatani — Game Designer
Shigeo Funaki (舟木茂雄) — Programmer
Toshio Kai (甲斐敏夫) — Sound & Music
Released:JPN May 22, 1980
NA 1980[1]
Modes:Up to two players, alternating turns


Media:aloa I MADE PACMAN
Input:4-way joystick
Cabinet:Standard upright, mini-upright and cocktail
Arcade System:Namco Pac-Man
Sound:1× Namco WSG (3-channel mono) @ 3.072 MHz
Display:Vertically oriented, 224 × 288, 16 palette colors

is an arcade game developed by Namco and licensed for distribution in the U.S. by Midway, first released in Japan on May 22, 1980.[2] [3] Immensely popular in the United States from its original release to the present day, Pac-Man is universally considered as one of the classics of the medium, virtually synonymous with video games, and an icon of 1980s popular culture. Upon its release, the game became a social phenomenon[4] that sold a bevy of merchandise and also inspired, among other things, an animated television series and music.

When Pac-Man was released, most arcade video games in North America were primarily space shooters such as Space Invaders, Defender, or Asteroids. The most visible minority were sports games that were mostly derivative of Pong. Pac-Man succeeded by creating a new genre and appealing to both genders.[5] Pac-Man is often credited with being a landmark in video game history, and is among the most famous arcade games of all time.[6] The character also appears in more than 30 officially licensed game spin-offs,[7] as well as in numerous unauthorized clones and bootlegs.[8] According to the Davie-Brown Index, Pac-Man has the highest brand awareness of any video game character among American consumers, recognized by 94 percent of them.[9]


The player controls Pac-Man through a maze, eating pac-dots. When all dots are eaten, Pac-Man is taken to the next stage. Four ghosts (Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde) roam the maze, trying to catch Pac-Man. If a ghost touches Pac-Man, a life is lost. When all lives have been lost, the game ends. Pac-Man is awarded a single bonus life at 10,000 points by default—DIP switches inside the machine can change the required points or disable the bonus life altogether.

Near the corners of the maze are four larger, flashing dots known as power pellets that provide Pac-Man with the temporary ability to eat the ghosts. The ghosts turn deep blue, go the reverse direction, and usually move more slowly when Pac-Man eats a power pellet. When a ghost is eaten, its eyes return to the ghost home where it is regenerated in its normal color. Blue ghosts flash white before they become dangerous again and the amount of time the ghosts remain vulnerable varies from one board to the next, but the time period generally becomes shorter as the game progresses. In later stages, the ghosts do not change colors at all, but still reverse direction when a power pellet is eaten.

In addition to Pac-dots and power pellets, bonus items, usually referred to as fruits (though not all items are fruits) appear near the center of the maze. These items score extra bonus points when eaten. The items change and bonus values increase throughout the game. Also, a series of intermissions play after certain levels toward the beginning of the game, showing a humorous set of interactions between Pac-Man and Blinky (the red ghost).


Pac-Man technically has no ending—as long as the player keeps at least one life, they should be able to continue playing indefinitely. However, because of a bug in the routine that draws the fruit, the right side of the 256th level becomes a garbled mess of text and symbols, rendering the level impossible to pass by legitimate means. Normally, no more than seven fruits are displayed at any one time, but when the internal level counter (stored in a single byte) reaches 255, the subroutine erroneously causes this value to "roll over" to zero before drawing the fruit. This causes the routine to attempt to draw 256 fruits, which corrupts the bottom of the screen and the whole right half of the maze with seemingly random symbols.[10]

Through tinkering, the details of the corruption can be revealed. Some ROMs of the game are equipped with a "rack test" feature that can be accessed through the game's DIP switches. This feature automatically clears a level of all dots as soon as it begins, making it easier to reach the 256th level very quickly, as well as allowing players to see what would happen if the 256th level is cleared (the game loops back to the first level, causing fruits and intermissions to display as before, but with the ghosts retaining their higher speed and invulnerability to power pellets from the later stages). When the rack test is performed in an emulator, a person can more easily analyze the corruption in this level.[10]

Pac-Man and the ghosts can move freely throughout the right half of the screen, barring some fractured pieces of the maze. Despite claims that someone with enough knowledge of the maze pattern could play through the level, it is technically impossible to complete since the graphical corruption eliminates most of the dots on the right half of the maze. A few edible dots are scattered in the corrupted area, and these dots reset when the player loses a life (unlike in the uncorrupted areas), but these are insufficient to complete the level. As a result, the level has been given a number of names, including "the Final Level", "the Blind-Side", and the ending. It is known more generally as a kill screen. The earliest known kill screen caught on camera was done by 14 year old Ricky Mori on Aug 1st 1982 in San Francisco's Fun Arcade at Fishermans Wharf.

Perfect play

A perfect Pac-Man game occurs when the player achieves the maximum possible score on the first 255 levels (by eating every possible dot, energizer, fruit, and monster) without losing a single life then scoring as many points as possible in the last level.[11] [12] As verified by the Twin Galaxies International Scoreboard on July 3, 1999, the first person to achieve the maximum possible score (3,333,360 points) was Billy Mitchell of Hollywood, Florida, who performed the feat in about six hours.[13] [12]

In December 1982, an 8-year-old boy, Jeffrey R. Yee, supposedly received a letter from U.S. President Ronald Reagan congratulating him on a worldwide record of 6,131,940 points, a score only possible if the player has passed the Split-Screen Level.[12] Whether or not this event happened as described has remained in heated debate among video-game circles since its supposed occurrence. In September 1983, Walter Day, chief scorekeeper at Twin Galaxies, took the US National Video Game Team on a tour of the East Coast to visit video game players who claimed they could get through the Split-Screen. No video game player could demonstrate this ability. In 1999, Billy Mitchell offered $100,000 to anyone who could provably pass through the Split-Screen Level before January 1, 2000; the prize went unclaimed.[12]


The game was developed primarily by Namco employee Tōru Iwatani over eighteen months. The original title was pronounced and was inspired by the Japanese onomatopoeic phrase,[14] where describes (the sound of) the mouth movement when widely opened and then closed in succession.[15] Although it is often cited that the character's shape was inspired by a pizza missing a slice,[4] he admitted in a 1986 interview that it was a half-truth and the character design also came from simplifying and rounding out the Japanese character for mouth, (Japanese: ) as well as the basic concept of eating.[16] Iwatani's efforts to appeal to a wider audience—beyond the typical demographics of young boys and teenagers—eventually led him to add elements of a maze. The result was a game he named Puck Man.

When first launched in Japan by Namco, the game received a lukewarm response, as Space Invaders and other similar games were more popular at the time.[5]

The following year, the game was picked up for manufacture in the United States by Bally division Midway, under the altered title Pac-Man (see Localization, below). American audiences welcomed a breakaway from conventions set by Space Invaders, which resulted in unprecedented popularity and revenue that rivaled its successful predecessor, as even Iwatani was impressed with U.S. sales.[17] The game soon became a worldwide phenomenon within the video game industry, resulting in numerous sequels and merchandising tie-ins. Pac-Man's success bred imitation, and an entire genre of maze-chase video games soon emerged.

The unique game design inspired game publishers to be innovative rather than conservative, and encouraged them to speculate on game designs that broke from existing genres. Pac-Man introduced an element of humor into video games that designers sought to imitate, and appealed to a wider demographic than the teenage boys who flocked to the action-oriented games.

Pac-Mans success in North America took competitors and distributors completely by surprise in 1980. Marketing executives who saw Pac-Man at a trade show prior to release completely overlooked the game (along with the now classic Defender), while they looked to a racing car game called Rally-X as the game to outdo that year.[18] The appeal of Pac-Man was such that the game caught on immediately with the public; it quickly became far more popular than anything seen in the game industry up to that point. Pac-Man outstripped Asteroids as the best-selling arcade game of the time,[19] and would go on to sell over 350,000 units.[20]

Pac-Man went on to become an icon of video game culture during the 1980s, and a lot of Pac-Man merchandise was marketed with the character's image, from t-shirts and toys to hand-held video game imitations and even specially shaped pasta.[21] The Killer List of Videogames lists Pac-Man as the #1 video game on its "Top 10 Most Popular Video games" list.[22] Pac-Man, and other video games of the same general type, are often cited as an identifying cultural experience of Generation X, particularly its older members, sometimes called Baby Busters.


For the North American market, the name was changed from Puck Man to Pac-Man, as it was thought that vandals would be likely to change the P in "Puck" to an F, forming a common expletive.[23] Puck Man machines can be found throughout Europe.

When Midway released Pac-Man in the United States, the company also redesigned the cabinet's artwork, as the Namco-style artwork was more costly to mass produce. Puck Man was painted overall white featuring multicolored artwork on both sides with cheerful Pac-Man characters in different poses while Pac-Man was painted yellow, with simple artwork on both sides front and back.

World Championship

On June 5, 2007, the first Pac-Man World Championship was held in New York City, which brought together ten competitors from eight countries to play the new Pac-Man Championship Edition just prior to its release on Xbox Live Arcade. The top two scorers, Robert Glashuettner of Austria and Carlos Daniel Borrego of Mexico, competed for the championship in a single five-minute round. Borrego was named Pac-Man World Champion and won an Xbox 360 console, specially decorated with Pac-Man artwork and signed by Tōru Iwatani.[24] [25]


Pac-Man is one of the few games to have been consistently rereleased for over two decades. In the 1980s, it was released for the Apple II series, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, the Atari 8-bit computers, IBM Personal Computer, Intellivision, Commodore 64, and Nintendo Entertainment System (1987 and 1990). For handheld games, it was released on the Game Boy (1991), Sega Game Gear (1991), and Neo Geo Pocket Color (1999), as well as Pac-Man: Special Color Edition for the Game Boy Color (1999), Pac-Man Collection for the Game Boy Advance (2001), and an unlockable in Pac 'n Roll for the Nintendo DS. However, it has been most widely distributed in Namco's long-running Namco Museum series, first for the PlayStation in 1996 and for many major consoles released since, as well as the handheld systems Game Boy Advance, PSP, and Nintendo DS. An Xbox 360 port was released via Xbox Live Arcade on August 9, 2006. Pac-Man is also available in its original form as part of the GameTap service. On September 12, 2006, a port was released for play on the popular iPod music player. Also avilable at iPhone and iPod touch, was released on July 9, 2008. There have been efforts to hack the preexisting Ms. Pac-Man cartridge (as well as other variants in the Pac-Man series) to create the original Pac-Man.[26]

Namco has repeatedly rereleased this game to arcades. In 2001, Namco released a 20-Year Reunion cabinet featuring Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga that permits the unlocking of Pac-Man for play. In 2005, Namco released a board openly featuring all three of the games on the 20-Year Reunion board in honor of Pac-Mans 25th Anniversary. The NES version later became a Classic NES Series title for the Game Boy Advance, and was also released for download via the Wii's Virtual Console service in May 2007.

Namco's wireless division, Namco Networks America Inc., released a line of Pac-Man games for cell phones in 2002, starting with the original arcade version and following up with Pac-Man game extensions like Pac-Man Bowling and Pac-Man Pinball. This division also launched a networked game, Ms. Pac-Man For Prizes, in 2004. Pac-Man mobile games are available on both BREW and Java platforms across major cellular carriers, as well as on Palm PDAs and Windows PC phones. There is a port of Pac-Man for Android[27] which can be controlled not only through an Android phone's trackball but through touch gestures or its on-board accelerometer.

Atari 2600 port

See main article: Pac-Man (Atari 2600). The Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man was developed by programmer Tod Frye and published in 1982 by Atari. It was the first port of the arcade game, Atari being the licensee for the video game console rights. Although it sold 7 million units to a user base of 10 million, this port's quality was widely criticized. Having manufactured 12 million cartridges with the expectation that the game would increase sales of its console, Atari incurred large financial losses from remaining unsold inventory. This was one of the catalysts that led to the North American video game crash of 1983, second only to the home video game version of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in terms of unsold inventory.



See main article: List of Pac-Man sequels.

Ms. Pac-Man

Pac-Man spawned numerous sequels, the most significant of which is Ms. Pac-Man. Originally called Crazy Otto, this unauthorized hack of Pac-Man was created by General Computer Corporation and sold to Midway without Namco's permission. The game features several improvements to and changes from the original Pac-Man, including faster gameplay, more mazes, new intermissions, and moving bonus items. Some consider Ms. Pac-Man to be superior to the original, and even the best in the entire series.[6] Namco sued Midway for exceeding their license. Eventually, Bally Midway struck a deal with Namco to officially license Ms. Pac-Man as a sequel.

Bally Midway spin-offs

Following Ms. Pac-Man, Bally Midway released several unauthorized spin-offs, such as Pac-Man Plus, Jr. Pac-Man, Baby Pac-Man and Professor Pac-Man, resulting in Namco severing business relations with Midway. Some of these other titles were generally considered inferior and unimportant, serving to oversaturate the market with Pac-Man games.[28] [4]

Pac-Man Championship Edition

See main article: Pac-Man Championship Edition. Twenty-six years after the original Pac-Man, Microsoft worked with Tōru Iwatani and Namco Bandai to produce a remake of the game, Pac-Man Championship Edition. It was released for the Xbox Live Arcade on June 6, 2007.


See main article: Pac-Man clones. Many unauthorized versions of Pac-Man, such as Funny-Man, were created to profit from Pac-Mans fame.

Non-video games

In 1982, Milton Bradley released a board game based on Pac-Man[29] [30] and another based on Ms. Pac-Man.[31] Several other pocket games and a card game were also produced.[32]

A group of students from the computer science department of Simon Fraser University had developed a "life-sized" Pac-Man system, using laptops and mobile phone tracking to track the location of the dots, ghost and Pac-Man. It has become a regular activity of Computer Science Frosh Week, and is usually played in Downtown Vancouver.[33]

A real-life version of Pac-Man has also been played around the Washington square park area of New York, in a game-christened PacManhattan.[34]


In 2004, Crystal Sky Pictures announced they were producing a theatrical film adaption titled Pac-Man: The Movie. It will combine live-action and special effects.[35] The film was included in a $200 million deal with Grosvenor Park.[36] The movie was apparently never released, as a search on gives no results except video games and a 1982 television series.

Fruit machine

In the early 1980s in the UK, JPM released a fruit machine called "Fruit Snappa". Numbers on the reels move "Pac-Man" around a maze, eating prizes. It was released in 1982 and the Jackpot was a £2 Token Jackpot, and when the Prizes were raised the following year, the Jackpot became £3 and the machine was re-released under the name "Fruit Chaser". The Machine was identical in every other way to its predecessor.


Guinness World Records has awarded the Pac-Man series eight records in Guinness World Records: Gamer's Edition 2008, including "First Perfect Pac-Man Game" for Richard Seabreeze's July 3, 1999 score; "Most Successful Coin-Operated Game"; and "Largest Pac-Man Game", when, in 2004, students from New York University created Pac-Manhattan, a real life reenactment of the game, in which people dressed as Pac-Man and the four ghosts chased each other around Manhattan city blocks. Each player was teamed with a controller who communicated the player's positions using cellular phones.[37]

Further reading

External links

Notes and References

  1. Year 1980 shown on North American Pac-Man title screen.
  2. Web site: Bandai Namco press release for 25th Anniversary Edition. Japanese. Japanese: 2005年5月22日で生誕25周年を迎えた『パックマン』。 ("Pac-Man celebrates his 25th anniversary on May 22, 2005", seen in image caption). Namco Bandai Games Inc.. 2005-06-02. 2007-10-10.
  3. Web site: Oct. 10, 1979: Pac-Man Brings Gaming Into Pleistocene Era. [Bandai Namco] puts the date at May 22, 1980 and is planning an official 25th anniversary celebration next year.. Tony Long. 2007-10-10 (questionable). 2007-10-10.
  4. Web site: Green, Chris. June 17, 2002. Pac-Man. mdy. February 12 2006.
  5. Web site: "Pac-Man: The Phenomenon: Part 1". Goldberg, Marty. 2002-01-31. 2006-07-31.
  6. Web site: "The Essential 50: Part 10 - Pac Man". Parish, Jeremy. 2004. 2006-07-31.
  7. Web site: The Legacy of Pac-Man.
  8. Web site: Pac Man Bootleg Board Information.
  9. Davie Brown Entertainment :: Davie Brown Celebrity Index: Mario, Pac-Man Most Appealing Video Game Characters Among Consumers
  10. Web site: Pac-Man's Split-screen level analyzed and fixed. Don Hodges. 2008-04-29.
  11. Pac-Man review at OAFE
  12. Ramsey, David. "The Perfect Man - How Billy Mitchell became a video-game superstar and achieved Pac-Man bliss." Oxford American, issue 53. Spring 2006.
  13. Web site: Pac-Man at the Twin Galaxies Official Scoreboard. Twin Galaxies. 2006-07-22.
  14. Book: Kohler, Chris. . Brady Games. 2005. 0-7440-0424-1.
  15. Web site: "Daijisen Dictionary entry for Japanese: ぱくぱく, in Japanese". 2007-01-27.
  16. Book: Lammers, Susan M.. Programmers at Work: Interviews. 1986. Microsoft Press. New York. 0-914845-71-3.
  17. Book: Lammers, Susan M.. Programmers at Work: Interviews. 1986. Microsoft Press. New York. 0-914845-71-3.
  18. Web site: Game of the Week: Defender. Bowen, Kevin. 2001. 2006-08-17.
  19. Web site: Player 2 Stage 4: Two Superstars. The Dot Eaters. 2006-08-17.
  20. Web site: Game of the Week: Pac-Man. Bowen, Kevin. 2001. 2006-08-17.
  21. Web site: The Pac-Page (including database of Pac-Man merchandise and TV show reference). 2008-10-24.
  22. Web site: The Top Coin-Operated Videogames of All Times. McLemore, Greg. Killer List of Videogames. 2006-07-22.
  23. Kent, Steve. Ultimate History of Video Games, p.142
  24. Run, Gobble, Gobble, Run: Vying for Pac-Man Acclaim - New York Times
  25. | Calendar of Events - PAC-MAN World Championships
  26. 7800: Pac-Man Completed. - AtariAge Forums
  27. Web site: First LIVE images and videos of FULLSCREEN Android demos!. Nguyen, Vincent. 28 May 2008. 2008-07-05.
  28. Web site: Ms. Pac-Man. Killer List of Videogames. 2006-07-31.
  29. Web site: " Milton Bradley's PAC-MAN Board Game!". X-Entertainment. 2003-04-14. 2006-07-31.
  30. 1982 Milton Bradley Pac-Man
  31. 1983 Milton Bradley Ms. Pac-Man
  32. Web site: "Pac-Man non-video games". Gill, Chuck & Vicki. The Virtual Pac-Man Museum. 2006-07-31.
  34. Web site: "PacManhattan website". 2008-08-21.
  35. "Crystal Sky, Namco & Gaga are game again"
  36. Jaafar, Ali (19 May 2008) "Crystal Sky signs $200 million deal". Retrieved on 4 September 2008.