In my next few posts, I am going to write about Pac-Man, the spin offs, and ports to the Atari 2600 and 7800 systems.
Pac-Man is probably the most well known video game in history. It was developed by Namco in 1979 and distributed in the United States by Midway. In Japan (and in parts of Europe) the game was known as Puck Man. Pac-Man was developed over a period of about eighteen months by Namco employee Toru Iwatani. When Pac-Man was first released in Japan, it was not a hit as Space Invaders continued to dominate the arcade scene. When Pac-Man was released in the US, everything changed. It seemed that the American public welcomed the change from Space Invaders and the seemingly endless number of arcade space shooters. Midway sold more than 350,000 Pac-Man arcade units and it became an even bigger hit than Atari’s Asteroids.
The game of Pac-Man is based around a pretty simple concept. The player must control Pac-Man and have him eat all of the dots in the maze, while avoiding the ghosts. There are four power pills (at the corners of the maze) which give Pac-Man invincibility and the ability to eat the ghosts. Each ghost eaten is more valuable. The ghosts (Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde), which all have different personalities, get re-incarnated when their eyes return to the box at the center of the screen. As the game progresses, the time period of invincibility becomes shorter. Additionally, fruits appear periodically and, when eaten, give the player bonus points.
Most gamers don’t know that it is impossible to finish a Pac-Man game. There are 256 levels, but there is a bug in the arcade ROM that prevents completion. Normally there are seven fruits displayed across the bottom of the screen, but an error in programming causes 256 fruits to be displayed on the 256th level, destroying the right hand side of the maze.
Due to its popularity, Pac-Man was ported to almost every home console of the era including the Atari 2600, 5200, and 8-bit systems. It was also ported to the Intellivision, NES, and Commodore 64.
Believe it or not, Ms. Pac-Man started out as Crazy Otto. General Computer Corporation (GCC) had developed an enhancement kit for Missile Command arcade units. This didn’t make Atari very happy and they sued GCC. The suit was settled when GCC agreed not sell any more enhancement kits without the agreement of the original manufacturer. GCC also agreed to collaborate with Atari on some future projects. GCC had developed an enhancement kit for Pac-man called Crazy Otto. Per the agreement with Atari, they were compelled to show it to Midway. Midway ended up liking it so much that they bought it from GCC and re-worked it into what is now known as Ms. Pac-Man.
Ms. Pac-Man became a monster hit for Midway when it was released in 1982. In fact, Ms. Pac-Man became one of the most popular arcade games of all time. It was the first to feature a female character and Midway sold more than 100,000 Ms. Pac-Man arcade units. Unfortunately, Midway did not obtain authorization from Namco for the development and release of Ms. Pac-Man. Fortunately, Ms. Pac-Man was so popular that Namco did reach agreements with Midway and GCC and Ms. Pac-Mac became an officially licensed Namco game.
Like Pac-man, Ms. Pac-Man was ported to a number of home consoles including the Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, and 8-bit systems. It was also ported to the NES, Commodore 64, and Apple II.
This is the third game in the series and, unlike Ms. Pac-Man, was actually developed by Namco. Super Pac-Man becomes ‘super’ by eating one of the two ‘super’ pellets. When ‘super’, he is larger, faster and can eat through doors. When ‘super’, he is also invincible to the ghosts. When normal, he must eat the keys which open the doors to allow him to eat the fruits.
The Super Pac-Man concept was quite a deviation from Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man and was only a moderate success. It was also developed to run on a Motorola 6809 CPU versus the Z80’s used the the previous Pac-Man arcade units.
Due to its limited success it was only ported to the Atari 5200, but was never released by Atari.
Pac-Man Plus was released by Midway in 1982 and, like Ms. Pac-Man, it was not authorized by Namco. Pac-Man Plus is similar to Pac-Man with the biggest differences being the green (versus blue) maze and the fruits being replaced by ‘other’ objects such as beverages. Additionally, eating a power pill sometimes causes unexpected results such as making the maze invisible or only turning three of the four ghosts blue.
Because Pac-Man Plus was released just before the ‘Video game collapse of 1983′, it was never officially ported to any home consoles. It was reasonably popular in the arcades and, actually, outsold Super Pac-Man.
Midway also developed a Ms. Pac-Man Plus arcade system which was identical to Ms. Pac-Man, only with different mazes.
Jr. Pac-Man was another version developed by Bally Midway without permission from Namco. Jr. was closer to the original Pac-Man format than Super Pac-Man. The biggest change is that the maze is now twice as large and, as Jr. moves, the maze will pan across the screen horizontally. There are also six power pills instead of four and, due to the scrolling mazes, there are no tunnels. Jr. Pac-Man also has the added challenge of things happening off-screen. Additionally, the toy candies (versus fruits) transform the dots and make them more valuable to eat, but they can also destroy the power pills.
Released in 1983, Jr. Pac-Man was only a moderate success. It was ported to the Atari 2600, 5200, and 8-bit systems, but only the 2600 version was released. Since Jr. Pac-Man was developed Bally Midway, the arcade systems run on Z80 CPU’s like Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man.
In my next post, I will write about the Atari 2600 ports of the Pac-Man series…
December 26, 2012 at 4:42 pm
Are you going to discuss the ultra-rare “Professor Pac-Man?”
December 26, 2012 at 4:46 pm
No, but you can find information about Professor Pac-Man here: http://www.arcade-museum.com/game_detail.php?game_id=9135
December 28, 2012 at 8:19 am
Cool – my favorite topic 🙂