Pac-Man turns 40
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 realised 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.