So you’re a video game development company in an era when Asteroids, Space Panic and
Space Invaders are dominating the industry. How do you compete with what’s already out there? Easy, you create a new genre. Namco managed this feat back in 1980 with the release of Pac Man.
Toru Iwatani and his team were the developers responsible for Pac Man although Iwatani was the inspiration. The distinctive sound the game character makes was derived from the Japanese sound of a person opening and closing their mouth; the character shape itself was influenced partly by the Japanese character for mouth (kuchi) and partly by the shape of a pizza although that last part may be apocryphal. The original name for the game was Puck Man and that was retained in Japan but for the United States release the name was wisely renames to Pac Man, removing the temptation for the mischievous to change the ‘P’ to an ‘F’.
It’s a very simple, cute game and this gave it a wider audience beyond the usual young males. The enemies (ghosts or monsters) were specifically designed to appeal to girls. Each stage sees Pac Man in a maze in which he has to consume all the yellow dots while avoiding the monsters trying to catch him. If Pac Man eats a ‘power pellet’, he can chase and eat the monsters for a short period of time.
The game was actually designed to have no ending but a bug in the coding put a stop to
that. This did enable skilled players to ‘complete’ the game by reaching stage 255 – stage 256 is known as the split screen level as half the screen is taken up by random characters.
As with other games releases, when Pac Man was first shown at trade shows, it met a lukewarm response and it was not until the public release that it became popular. It became the highest grossing video game of all time, accepting more then $2.5 billion in quarters during its life span. More than 350,000 arcade cabinets were sold.
Pac Man introduced the maze element to video gaming and is also accepted as the first gamin mascot, as Sonic the Hedgehog or Mario was in subsequent years.