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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday Night At The Arcade: Pac-Man

Gluttony has been described as one of the seven deadly sins, and those who partake in the act of it are doomed to be stereotyped and ridiculed by others who are supposedly better than they are.

I mean, imagine a life where your sole purpose in life is to eat everything and anything in your path.  To some, it might seem a bit monotonous, depressing, or even insane.

Yet for the video game character who is being featured in today's entry, it's been a way of life for him for over thirty years.  He eats, and eats, and eats.  It's a miracle that he can even get around the dozens of labyrinths in his world, for he has no eyes.  And forget about friends coming over to visit...he eats the right morsel of yummy food, and they end up becoming dessert.

So imagine the surprise when Google announced a plan to celebrate the little dude's 30th birthday last year.

Anybody who has visited the Google website knows that the classic Google logo sometimes changes to celebrate some sort of occasion.  It could be a holiday, it could be an anniversary of something, or it could be something completely out of the ordinary.

That day, Google had apparently known ahead of time that this video game character was approaching a big birthday.  A thirtieth birthday, to be exact.  In May 2010, Google put up an interactive logo that doubled as an arcade game.  A game that starred this hungry yellow circular guy in action.

http://www.google.com/pacman/

I'm talking about Pac-Man, of course.  And with the creation of Pac-Man came the ideal that gluttony was no longer a sin.  It was in fact, encouraged, as the more that Pac-Man ate, the more points that one could accumulate.

Pac-Man was first introduced to gaming communities on May 22, 1980, and since its appearance in arcades, amusement parks, and 7-Eleven stores all over the world, it has become the highest grossing video game of all time, with a record $2.5 billion in quarters being deposited into the machines through the 1980s and 1990s.

The plot of the video game was incredibly simplistic, especially compared to current video games released today.  You had to guide Pac-Man through a maze filled with little yellow dots.  If Pac-Man eats every single dot in the maze, he wins the level and is taken to the next stage.  Sounds pretty simple, right?



Alas, it is not.  It wouldn't be a very fun game if there weren't antagonists in the maze, ready to attack you at every corner.  Meet the four ghosts who try to throw a monkey wrench into Pac-Man's 'all you can eat' quest.  You have Blinky (in red), Pinky (in pink), Inky (in cyan), and Clyde (in orange).  These four ghosts surprisingly enough have their own attack patterns, and have their own distinct personalities.  It's true!

According to the creator of Pac-Man, Toru Iwatani, he says that when the ghosts were programmed, they were given their own actions as well as their own methods of catching Pac-Man.  For example, Blinky was designed to be almost like a tracking ghost, following Pac-Man everywhere he went.  Pinky and Inky are more like the kamikaze type ghosts, literally coming at Pac-Man dead on, in the hopes of ambushing him.  Clyde, on the other hand, was more random in the development phase.  Although he sometimes puts on the Blinky shoes and follows Pac-Man around, depending on the direction Pac-Man is facing at the time, Clyde will drift towards the lower-left hand corner of the maze.


The ghosts may seem scary and relentless.  And they are in a way.  I mean, one false misstep and one touch of the ghosts, and it's Pac-Man's funeral.

Alas, there is hope.  As long as you gobble up one of those oversized power pellets inside the maze, then you have the power to really increase your food intake.  For every power pellet that Pac-Man inhales, it means a few seconds where the ghosts shed their vibrant robes, and expose their indigo coloured naked bodies in all their glory.

No, seriously, the ghosts all turn blue, and a blue ghost is a delicious ghost.  So, chase after those ghosts and swallow them whole.  It means, big points, as well as more time to get those hard to get Pac-dots.  Be warned.  It doesn't last forever, and you don't want to be around a ghost when they get their groove back, as well as their original colouring.

Oh, and lest you think that Pac-Man only has a diet of pixelated dots and cerulean tinted ghosts, think again.  For all the eating that Pac-Man does, he really seems to incorporate healthy choices in his diet.  Sure enough, as the game progresses, little pieces of fruit will appear somewhere inside the maze.  Nothing fancy...just apples, oranges, cherries, strawberries, and melons.  Eating these fresh produce items will not make Pac-Man feel better and keep fit, but they will also increase your score.  Keep in mind that for every ten thousand points scored, you get an extra life, so it's important to make sure you keep that point tally high.

At any rate, the original Pac-Man game provided hours of Pac-dot munching, ghost chasing, and fruit devouring, and provided endless fun for those who enjoyed playing Pac-Man.

Oh, wait...did I say endless fun?  My bad.



This is level 256 in the game.  As you can see, it's a little bit messed up.  The left side looks perfectly fine, but what's the deal with the right?  The fruit icons have been turned into a salad, half of the maze has collapsed, and apparently, poor Clyde ended up completely pancaked.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.  When Pac-Man was first designed, it was intended for the game to go on forever on an endless loop, so long as players managed to still have one Pac-life left.  A computer bug somehow prevented this from happening.  Normally, no more than seven fruits are displayed at the bottom of the screen at any one time. But when the internal level counter, which is stored in a single byte, reaches 255, the subroutine that draws the fruits erroneously rolls over this number to zero, causing it to try to draw 256 fruits instead of the usual seven. This corrupts the bottom of the screen and the entire right half of the maze with seemingly random symbols, making it impossible to eat enough dots to beat the level. Because this effectively ends the game, this "split-screen" level is often referred to as the "kill screen".

So, the game that wasn't supposed to have an ending, ended on level 256.

An interesting point of trivia for you all.  Taking into account the game-crashing bug of level 256, the highest possible score that could be achieved on a standard Pac-Man game without losing a single life, and eating every Pac-dot, power pellet, fruit, and ghost, is 3,333,360 points.  That score was first achieved by a man named Billy Mitchell in July 1999.

Pac-Man endeared itself to millions of gamers in his two-dimensional form.  Almost twenty years later, Pac-Man would come to our screens with a whole new dimension.



On September 30, 1999, the video game Pac-Man world was released for the PlayStation console.  The video game featured the classic 1980 version of the game, but it also had a new quest to take part in.  Designed to coincide with the game's 20th anniversary, Pac-Man arrives home to celebrate his birthday, but notices that all of his friends have been kidnapped by a robotic Pac-Man clone named Toc-Man. 

Some of these friends appeared in the various spin-offs from the original game.  Naturally, Ms. Pac-Man is one of them, but you also had Pac Jr, Baby Pac, Professor Pac, Chomp Chomp the dog, and Pooka.  Each of these characters can be found in various worlds in the game.  There's a pirate themed world, a space themed world, and even a factory themed world. 


While the idea of a three-dimensional Pac-Man was a brand new way of playing Pac-Man, you'd be surprised to know that a lot of the mechanics of Pac-Man World were exactly the same as the original Pac-Man game.  Just in 3-D.

Throughout the level, you could collect pieces of fruit (some of which you needed to unlock doors within the level), you could eat Pac-dots (which you could then throw at enemies), and even chase a few ghosts.  If you collected a Galaxian symbol, you could even be warped to a three-dimensional Pac-Man maze where you'd do battle against Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde.

At the end of each stage, all the fruit you collected was thrown into a machine, and you got the chance to play a slot machine.  If you matched three fruits, you won extra lives.  In addition, there were six letters hidden in each level that spelled the word Pac-Man.  Collect all six, you got to play a bonus stage where you could collect more fruit to earn more chances at the slot machine.

All in all, the three-dimensional version was a huge success, and spurned two more sequels on the PlayStation 2.

Not bad for a little yellow circle that couldn't suppress his appetite, huh?

I think that's all that I have to say about the world of Pac-Man, so I'm going to leave you with this song from 1982 by Buckner & Garcia.  Peaking at #9 on the Billboard Charts in 1982, here's a song that fits this entry well.

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