Pac-Man (Japanese: パックマン Hepburn: Pakkuman), stylized in all capitals, is an arcade game designed by Toru Iwatani of Namco and first released in Japan as Puck Man in May 1980.
Licensed for distribution in the United States by Midway Games, it was released in October 1980 when top arcade games were stark space shooters, such as Asteroids. Pac-Man established the conventions of the maze chase genre, and is considered one of the classics of the medium and an icon of 1980s popular culture.
The game and subsequent entries in the series—became a social phenomenon that crossed over to other media, such as the Pac-Man animated television series and the top-ten Buckner and Garcia single “Pac-Man Fever.” Dozens of similarly-styled maze games appeared over the next several years, with some becoming successful in their own right.
60% of Pac-Man players were women according to one estimate published in 1982, while 90% of those playing space shoot-em-up Omega Race were men.
It is also one of the highest-grossing video games of all time, having generated more than $2.5 billion in quarters by the 1990s. Adjusted for inflation, all versions of Pac-Man are estimated to have grossed over $12 billion in total revenue.
The character has appeared in more than 30 officially licensed game spin-offs in addition to bootleg versions. 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. Pac-Man is one of the longest-running video game franchises from the golden age of video arcade games. The Google Doodle version was estimated to have been played by over 1 billion people worldwide in 2010 Pac-Man is part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
The player navigates Pac-Man through a maze containing dots, known as Pac-Dots, and four multi-colored ghosts: Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. The goal of the game is to accumulate as many points as possible by collecting the dots and eating ghosts. When all of the dots in a stage is eaten, that stage is completed and the player will advance to the next one. Between some stages, one of three intermission animations plays. The four ghosts roam the maze and chase Pac-Man. If Pac-man comes into contact with a ghost, he loses a life. The game ends when all lives have been lost. The player begins with 3 lives, but DIP switches in the machine can change the number of starting lives to one lifer, two lives, or five lives maximum. The player will receive one extra life after obtaining 10,000 points. The number of points needed for a bonus life can be changed to 15,000, 20,000, or disabled altogether.
Near the corners of the maze are four flashing Power Pellets that provide Pac-Man with the temporary ability to eat the ghosts and earn bonus points. The enemies turn deep blue, reverse direction and usually move more slowly. When an enemy is eaten, its eyes remain and return to the center box where the ghost is regenerated in its normal color. Blue enemies flash white to signal that they are about to become dangerous again and the length of time for which the enemies remain vulnerable varies from one stage to the next, generally becoming shorter as the game progresses. In later stages, the enemies go straight to flashing, bypassing blue, which means that they can only be eaten for a short amount of time, although they still reverse direction when a Power Pellet is eaten. Starting at stage nineteen, the ghosts do not become edible, but they still reverse direction. There are also fruits, located directly below the center box, that appear twice per level; eating one of them results in bonus points (100–5,000).
The table on the right lists each round, the fruit that appears in each round, the number of points the fruit is worth, and the amount of time the ghosts are blue when a power pellet is eaten:
The enemies in Pac-Man are known variously as “monsters” or “ghosts”. In an interview, creator Toru Iwatani stated that he designed each enemy with its own distinct personality to keep the game from becoming impossibly difficult or boring to play. Iwatani described the enemy behaviors in more detail at the 2011 Game Developers Conference. He stated that the red enemy chases Pac-Man, and the pink enemy aims for a position in front of Pac-Man’s mouth. The blue enemy is “fickle” and sometimes heads towards Pac-Man, and other times away. Although he claimed that the orange enemy’s behavior is random, in actuality it alternates from behaving like the red enemy when at some distance from Pac-Man and aiming towards the lower-left corner of the maze whenever it gets too close to him.
A perfect Pac-Man game is when the player achieves the maximum possible score on the first 255 levels (by eating every possible dot, power pellet, fruit, and enemy) without losing a single life, and using all extra lives to score as many points as possible on level 256.
The first person credited with achieving this score was Billy Mitchell, who claimed to perform the feat in about six hours. In April 2018, Twin Galaxies removed all of Mitchell’s scores from their database after ruling certain Donkey Kong submissions were not achieved using original arcade hardware. Since Mitchell’s Pac-Man achievement, 7 other players have attained the maximum score on an original arcade unit. The world record according to Twin Galaxies is currently held by David Race with the fastest completion time of 3 hours, 28 minutes, and 49 seconds for the maximum possible score of 3,333,360 points.
In December 1982, an eight-year-old boy, Jeffrey R. Yee, 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 he had passed level 256. 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 said they could get through level 256. No video game player could demonstrate this ability. In 1999, Billy Mitchell offered $100,000 to anyone who could complete level 256 before January 1, 2000. The prize expired unclaimed.
Up into the early 1970s, Namco primarily specialized in kiddie rides for Japanese department stores. Masaya Nakamura, the founder of Namco, started to direct the company toward arcade games, starting with electromechanical ones such as F-1 (1976). He later hired a number of software engineers to develop their own video games as to compete with companies like Atari, Inc.
Pac-Man was one of the first games developed by this new department within Namco. The game was developed primarily by a young employee named Toru Iwatani over a year, beginning in April 1979, employing a nine-man team. It was based on the concept of eating, and the original Japanese title is Pakkuman, inspired by the Japanese onomatopoeic phrase paku-paku taberu, where paku-paku describes (the sound of) the mouth movement when widely opened and then closed in succession.
Although Iwatani has repeatedly stated that the character’s shape was inspired by a pizza missing a slice, he admitted in a 1986 interview that this was a half-truth and the character design also came from simplifying and rounding out the Kanji character for mouth, kuchi. Iwatani attempted to appeal to a wider audience—beyond the typical demographics of young boys and teenagers. His intention was to attract girls to arcades because he found there were very few games that were played by women at the time. This led him to add elements of a maze, as well as cute ghost-like enemy characters. Eating to gain power, Iwatani has said, was a concept he borrowed from Popeye. The result was a game he named Puck Man as a reference to the main character’s hockey puck shape. Later in 1980, the game was picked up for manufacture in the United States by Bally division Midway, which changed the game’s name from Puck Man to Pac-Man in an effort to avoid vandalism from people changing the letter ‘P’ into an ‘F’. The cabinet artwork was also changed and the pace and level of difficulty increased to appeal to western audiences.