A Legend Is Born
The company Namco gets the credit for developing the most popular arcade game of all time. Toru Iwatani designed the game over the short time of 18 months (yeah back then one guy could write a game on his own, imagine that today?). Iwatani drew inspiration for his game via a famous Japanese phrase known as "Paku-Paku Taberu". This odd sounding name (odd only because it's not English of course) is symbolic of the noise made when one opens and closes their mouth rapidly. After a short 18 months, the game was complete and launched as "Puck Man". Strangely enough, it was NOT a big success after launch.
Namco and Iwatani may have developed "Puck Man" in Japan, but it was Midway who marketed to the United States and saw sales fly through the roof. Nobody had ever seen a game like it before. Renamed to Pac-Man in the US, it became an instant hit. It caught everyone by surprise and even the so called experts overlooked Pac-Man while reviewing arcade games (don't the experts always do things like that?). Keep in mind that we're talking Arcades here not consoles. Atari came after this.
Atari Pacman Title Screen
Original Pacman Commercial For Atari
When Atari came along and ported the game into its system it expected more big results. It got them but only sort of. Seven million copies were sold but unfortunately Atari produced twelve million and ended up taking a loss in the end. Despite Atari's loss, Pacman itself was a huge success. Check out the American commercial below.
Pacman Pasta Commercial
Pacman's success naturally led to merchandise such as toys, t-shirts, plush dolls, and of course foods. What's that you say?! You've never tasted Pacman Pasta? I'm sure Pacman shaped pasta tastes better than the ordinary kind. Yeah. Well at least the Pacman Pasta commercial is pretty cool.
Here are some cool snap shots of the old Pacman cartridge from the 1980's when Atari ruled the world and Nintendo had not even been created yet! (weird to think about now). I can't even imagine what something like this would be worth today if you had it in mint condition with all the goodies that came with the original atari game.
Doesn't it just piss you off when you play Pacman for 17 straight hours and you get to level 256 and the screen is all messed up? Yeah I never got by level 10 myself but if you're in that 1% of 1% who actually made it this far or if you just want to know where this is going, then read on.
Nerd Version: See at the dawn of video games, everything was about memory. The goal was always to use as little as possible. This led to a hexadecimal system for video game data instead of decimal. 0-9 followed by A-F which adds up to 16 digits. Data was commonly stored as a byte which could hold two hexadecimal digits. Naturally the maximum hex that could be formed would be FF or 255 (remember in Zelda how you could only get 255 rupies?). Naturally, the biggest number formed with 2 digits in our decimal system is of course 99.
Talk To Me Like I'm A 3 Year Old Version: The game can't handle numbers bigger than 255.
Anyways, if you get to level 256 the data can't handle it and funky things start to happen. In Pacman this meant that the right side of the screen became jarbled. However, the left remained intact which led to the nickname for this level as "The Split Screen Level" (see video below). It became so popular that Billy Mitchell of Florida (the first guy to get a "perfect Pacman score" which is: 3,333,360 points) offered anyone $100,000 if they could beat the split screen level. Nobody ever did. Supposedly the level has never been beaten! Until....
When Pacman was rewritten in flash, level 256 could finally be completed and WHAT HAPPENED THEN!!?? Did the planets align? World Peace? The Holy Grail? No. The game rolled over back to level 1 again. Like in Contra or many others. You just "start over". Wow. That's really special.
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