There isn’t a person from my generation who hasn’t heard of Pac-Man. And there are very few people from my generation who haven’t played Pac-Man. Personally, I never was a huge fan of the video game, but that may be because I was never very good at it. Pac-Man, you say? What is this Pac-Man game to which you refer? If you’re asking the question (or something similar), you must not be from my generation, but I’ll indulge you with a brief description.
The game begins with you in the middle of a maze as a yellow circle. The maze is full of little yellow dots that you eat for points and some bigger “power-up” dots. Above you in a center box are four enemies (Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde). Their goal is to track you down. Your goal is to eat all the little dots before you’re tracked down…pretty straightforward. The power pellets turn the enemies blue, making them suitable for you to eat. Once you clear all the dots, there is some funky music and you progress to the next level. Subsequent levels introduce additional bonuses like fruit, but I rarely saw those because I stunk at the game.
If you were a very adept player, there were basically an unlimited number of levels you could play. The monsters would get faster and stay under the “power-pellet” influence for shorter periods of time. I say “basically” because, while the game was meant to have unlimited levels, a bug in the software limited the fun to just 255 levels. But still, you could play to that point and have wasted several hours of your day for just a quarter…not a bad investment.
So all in all, a pretty simple concept. On May 22, 1980, the gaming company Namco released this little experiment on the world, probably with no idea that it would become one of the most popular video games of all time. Kids (of all ages) took to Pac-Man like parachute pants, break-dancing, and The Cosby Show, dropping quarter after quarter down the money-hungry maw of the console. Hundreds of thousands of consoles were sold and billions of dollars were “invested” in an effort to, as one song-writer penned, “carve my name in a video game.”
I spent a few dollars on Pac-Man, but quickly realized that I didn’t have the patience or skill to advance past the second or third level. While the game has largely gone the way of…well…parachute pants, break dancing, and The Cosby Show, there are still those who work to achieve perfection. That consists of clearing all 255 levels and all the associated bonuses, which earns you a couple million points…and the loss of a quarter.
The bigger cash out, in my mind, is that Namco’s creation forever changed the landscape of gaming. If you replace the 2-D maze with a 3-D version, modify your character to be a person with a gun, and change the enemies to monsters, you have created any of the first-person shooters that came on the scene a decade later. These includes best-sellers like id Software’s Wolfenstein/Doom/Quake franchises or Half-Life or any of dozens of other examples.
Expand your vista a bit and replace the maze with a 3-D world and put your character in the military. You’ve just created Bohemia Interactive’s incredible Operation Flashpoint / Armed Assault series, the Medal of Honor series, or again, any of a number of military-based shooters.
This is not to say that none of these other games would have come into existence without Pac-Man. But Pac-Man truly showed that these types of games were not only feasible, but undeniably popular.