Gobble gobble: Dot-chomping, ghost-dodging Pac-Man turns 40

Pac-Man was recognized by Guinness World Records as the most successful coin-operated arcade game of all time. (AFP file photo)
Short Url
Updated 22 May 2020

Gobble gobble: Dot-chomping, ghost-dodging Pac-Man turns 40

  • Game was originally called Puck-Man but was changed when it launched in the United States
  • First edition of arcade game was placed in a cinema in the trendy Tokyo district of Shibuya

TOKYO: Forty years ago, a new video game featuring a bright yellow, dot-chomping, ghost-dodging character called Pac-Man appeared in Tokyo. It would become the most successful arcade game of all time.
The hero — shaped like a mouth opening and closing — races around a maze noisily gobbling dots and occasionally fruit for extra points, all the while avoiding four cunning ghosts named Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde.
As every Pac-Man player knows, the greatest joy comes from turning the tables by munching a power pellet, sending the ghosts fleeing in all directions as they suddenly become edible themselves.
The game was originally called Puck-Man (an onomatopoeic play on the Japanese word “paku,” meaning to gobble) but it was changed when it launched in the United States for fear gamers would inevitably change the “P” to an “F.”
Game designer Toru Iwatani came up with the shape for the adorable hero when he took a small slice from a pizza and realized the remainder looked like a wide-open mouth.
Pac-Man was aimed at women and couples — a different audience to the violent alien shoot-em-ups popular in Japanese arcades at the time, Iwatani explained in a 2010 interview with Wired magazine.
The first edition was placed in a cinema in the trendy Tokyo district of Shibuya rather than a male-dominated arcade to test the target audience, he said.
“The women and couples were very happy about the machine, very excited. They came up to it and put their hands on it, so we thought that our target concept had been very much in sync and correct,” he said.
Hard-core gamers turned up their noses but “it was for people who didn’t play games on a daily basis — women, children, the elderly.”
The idea of Pac-Man turning the tables on his spooky tormentors came from the cartoon series Popeye, where the nautical hero is only able to take on his nemesis Bluto after a healthy dose of spinach, Iwatani explained.
From these humble beginnings, Pac-Man would go on to be recognized by Guinness World Records as the most successful coin-operated arcade game of all time.
It has spawned several spin-offs, including “Pac ‘n Roll,” “Ms. Pac-Man,” “Pac-in-Time” and “Pac Panic” — a massive money spinner for creators Bandai Namco.
The firm claims the loveable character has a brand recognition of 90 percent around the world — “one of the most recognized on the planet.”
To celebrate the game’s 30th birthday, Google unveiled its first-ever playable “Doodle” and the Internet giant also rolled out a version of the game for its Maps service — turning the real streets of a city into a labyrinth to gobble up pellets and ghosts.
According to Wired, the “perfect score” is 3,333,360 points — possible only by getting to the final level 256 without losing a life and eating every dot, fruit and ghost possible.
“It was tremendously monotonous,” Wired quoted the first record-holder, Billy Mitchell, as saying.
Pac-Man’s 40th was celebrated with a special Twitter hashtag in Japan, with fans all over the country wishing their hero a happy birthday.
“The characters are colorful and cute. It was so fun. I remember I played a lot at my relative’s house. Happy birthday Pac-Man!” said one.


Silent but cheerful, mannequins enforce social distancing at Tokyo bar

Updated 15 min 28 sec ago

Silent but cheerful, mannequins enforce social distancing at Tokyo bar

  • Tokyo recently began to ease restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus

TOKYO: They may not be helping out with chants but complete with cheerleader uniforms and pom-poms, mannequins at one Tokyo bar are helping keep customers a safe — and cheerful — distance apart.
Tokyo recently began to ease restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, a respite for bars and restaurants dependent on the city’s normally thriving nightlife even if customers are not yet back in full force.
“Our restaurant looked very empty and we wanted to add more excitement,” said Arata Funabara, owner of Cheers One, a cheerleading-themed bar in the capital’s upscale Ginza district which counts both women and men among its clientele.
Other safety measures include face shields and gloves for the bar’s cheerleader waitresses who perform karaoke songs on request. The shields and gloves are also on offer for patrons.
Waitress Chinatsu Fujii said the mannequins made for a safer work environment.
“It takes a bit of getting used to but it’s reassuring that they are here and I think of them of workmates,” she said.
Japan has recorded some 17,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 900 deaths.