Almost everyone has played the world famous computer game “Pacman”. This week marks 40 years since the game was conceived in Tokyo.
It was one of the most popular video games worldwide in the 1980s and the standard for future game developers. Pacman still charms today by its simplicity, but there is more to it than you might think. Especially the many sources of inspiration are unique to say the least.
The game was created by 24-year-old Toru Iwatani, a Japanese video game developer. The concept of the game is simple: maneuver a yellow figure through a maze and let him eat as much as possible without being attacked by the ghosts. That idea made Iwatani more than a billion dollars, which is a lot more than the first film in the popular Star Wars series.
Although the game is also simple in terms of controls, it took no less than twenty years for someone to play it perfectly. Pacman also came up with an innovation that is still common in video games today: “the power-up”. That is a kind of pill that gives game characters a special power for a short time, for example invulnerability. The entire game was copied several times and led to a so-called “Pacmania”.
What makes Pacman extra special is the original goal. Iwatani wanted to make the arcades a bit more woman and child-friendly, as they had so far been dominated by violent shooting games that only boys played. That plan also worked, because women and many different generations played the game.
Food as a source of inspiration for gasping Pacman
Pacman has many interesting sources of inspiration, such as 80s pop culture, but the biggest is food. The view of the yellow play figure is, according to Iwatani, based on a pizza with one piece missing. While eating the Italian delicacy, he saw the shape and thought it resembled a character.
You will also find that link with food in the game itself. After all, the intention is for Pacman to eat as much as possible through his missing pizza slice mouth, while wandering through a maze. The fact that the figure becomes stronger through eating has to do with the famous American cartoon character Popeye. He owed his muscles to all the spinach he played inside.
It had long been established that the computer game was about food. Iwatani had in mind a game aimed at a universal and gender-neutral audience. And say it yourself, we all eat. Even Pacman’s melody is linked to food. When Iwatani ate a piece of fruit, he got the idea to use that sound for his game.
He asked the sound designer to produce music similar to the sound when swallowing. In Japanese it resembles “Paku Paku”. The game was therefore first called “Puckman”. Later it evolved into Pacman, as we still know it today. The name change has a lot to do with American children, who would dare to replace the “p” of “Puckman” with an “f”.