Pacman has become so iconic in video games that it’s hard to believe he’s just over 35 years old! Toru Iwatani first conceived him in 1980 as an extra game character who would help set the original Japanese version of Pacman apart from the American one.
But it wasn’t until Pacman made his way to Western shores the following year that he became a true pop culture phenomenon, spawning toys, cartoons, and even hit novelty songs like Pac-Man Fever. Why do you think Pacman has become such an enduring character?
A Brief History
Taking up a mere eight kilobytes of memory, Namco’s Pac-Man was by far the most popular arcade game in history. Released in Japan on May 22, 1980, more than 100,000 cabinets were produced and installed around North America.
The game caused a sensation. Almost immediately upon its release, rival developers hacked it to produce bootleg versions to be sold outside of arcades—where they might be played for free by anyone with a few quarters to spare. Pacman 30th anniversary, Vist now!
The Beautiful Design
As we’ve mentioned before, Pac-Man is a beautiful game. The simple black-and-white maze—while crude by today’s standards—still looks beautiful, thanks to Iwatani’s technical mastery. And it runs fast, even on early 80s hardware! For its time, it was simply stunning. Today, it still holds up as an example of how good games can be both fun and attractive to look at.
He’s as iconic as Mario and Sonic, as familiar to millions of players as Pikachu or Donkey Kong. But who is Pac-Man? Is he a hero, like Sonic, or an antagonist like Bowser? Could his role be closer to that of Ganon, whose villainy was foiled by The Legend of Zelda’s Link—the hero he inspired, inspiring Pac-Man to do what heroes do and chase after him? These are questions I seek to answer.
Everyone who has spent more than a few hours playing video games is familiar with Pac-Man. But how well do you know him? Pac-Man was created by Toru Iwatani and first released in 1980 as an arcade game. It quickly became one of Atari’s most popular titles, selling more than 350,000 units by 1982.
Pac-Man was a massive sensation upon its release in 1980, selling over 100,000 machines and quickly becoming one of America’s most popular arcade games. Today, he’s still considered a vital video game icon, with dozens of remakes and new iterations finding their way into pop culture regularly. This piece in VentureBeat calls him the most iconic character to emerge from gaming’s formative years. Ouch!
How It Changed the Gaming Industry
Pac-Man was a bit different from what video gamers were used to when it first came out. The cartoonish characters and simple gameplay made for an accessible experience that people of all ages could enjoy—and enjoy they did! For many gamers, Pac-Man was their first introduction to gaming; some even credit it with sparking their interest in technology and computer science.
Where it all started
In 1980, Japanese video game developer and publisher Namco launched a game called Puck Man in Japan. The character was based on an American cartoon from MGM named Hanna-Barbera’s The Pac-Man Show. Upon seeing Puck-Man, Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani recognized its potential and made some slight modifications to it to come up with his version: A yellow circle with large eyes and simple facial features.
Pacman is undoubtedly one of the most iconic video game characters in history. His legacy will live on for decades, and he will continue to inspire new generations of gamers. However, Pacman is more than just a video game character; he’s an icon that represents our generation and culture.