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Pac-Man (Pakkuman) is an arcade game developed by Namco and licensed for distribution in the U.S. by Midway, first released in Japan on May 22, 1980. Immensely popular in the United States from its original release to the present day, Pac-Man is universally considered as one of the classics of the medium, virtually synonymous with video games, and an icon of the 1980s popular culture. Upon its release, the game—and, subsequently, its derivatives—became a social phenomenon that sold a bevy of merchandise and also inspired, among other things, an animated television series and a top-ten hit single.
When Pac-Man was released, most arcade video games in North America were primarily space shooters such as Space Invaders, Defender, or Asteroids. The most visible minority were sports games that were mostly derivative of Pong. Pac-Man succeeded by creating a new genre and appealing to both genders. Pac-Man is often credited with being a landmark in video game history, and is among the most famous arcade games of all time. The character also appears in more than 30 officially licensed game spin-offs, as well as in numerous unauthorized clones and bootlegs. According to the Davie-Brown Index, Pac-Man has the highest brand awareness of any video game character among American consumers, recognized by 94 percent of them.
The player controls Pac-Man through a maze, eating pac-dots. When all dots are eaten, Pac-Man is taken to the next stage. Four ghosts (Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde) roam the maze, trying to catch Pac-Man. If a ghost touches Pac-Man, a life is lost. When all lives have been lost, the game ends. Pac-Man is awarded a single bonus life at 10,000 points by default – DIP switches inside the machine can change the required points or disable the bonus life altogether.
Near the corners of the maze are four larger, flashing dots known as power pellets that provide Pac-Man with the temporary ability to eat the ghosts. The ghosts turn deep blue, reverse direction, and usually move more slowly when Pac-Man eats a power pellet. When a ghost is eaten, its eyes remain and return to the ghost home where it is regenerated in its normal color. Blue ghosts flash white before they become dangerous again and the amount of time the ghosts remain vulnerable varies from one board to the next, but the time period generally becomes shorter as the game progresses. In later stages, the ghosts do not change colors at all, but still reverse direction when a power pellet is eaten.
In addition to Pac-dots and power pellets, bonus items, usually referred to as fruits (though not all items are fruits) appear near the center of the maze. These items score extra bonus points when eaten. The items change and bonus values increase throughout the game. Also, a series of intermissions play after certain levels toward the beginning of the game, showing a humorous set of interactions (the first being after level 2) between Pac-Man and Blinky (the red ghost).
Initially, Pac-Man’s enemies were referred to as monsters on the arcade cabinet, but soon became colloquially known as ghosts. The ghosts are bound by the maze in the same way as Pac-Man, but generally move slightly faster than the player, although they slow down when turning corners and slow down significantly while passing through the tunnels on the sides of the maze (Pac-Man passes through these tunnels unhindered). Pac-Man slows down slightly while eating dots, potentially allowing a chasing ghost to catch him. Blinky, the red ghost, also speeds up after a certain number of dots are eaten (this number gets lower in higher levels).
A ghost always maintains its current direction until it reaches an intersection, at which point it can turn left or right. Periodically, the ghosts will reverse direction and head for the corners of the maze (commonly referred to as “scatter mode”), before reverting to their normal behavior. In an interview, Iwatani stated that he had designed each ghost with its own distinct personality in order to keep the game from becoming impossibly difficult or boring to play. The behaviors of each ghost have been exactly determined by reverse-engineering the game.
Despite the seemingly random nature of some of the ghosts, their movements are strictly deterministic, enabling experienced players to devise precise sequences of movements for each level (termed “patterns”) that allow them to complete the levels without ever being caught. A later revision of the game code altered the ghosts’ behavior, but new patterns were soon developed for that behavior as well. Players have also learned how to exploit other flaws in the ghosts’ behavior, including finding places where they can hide indefinitely without moving, and a code bug occasionally allows Pac-Man to pass through a non-blue ghost unharmed. Several patterns have been developed to exploit this bug. The bug arises from the fact that the game logic performs collision detection based on ghost / Pac-Man occupancy of grid squares, where the grid squares are large relative to the size of the characters. A character occupies (for collision detection purposes) only one grid square (“tile”) at at time, despite its graphic depiction overflowing to another tile. If a ghost and Pac-Man switch tiles with each other simultaneously (which is not a rare phenomenon, because the tiles granularity is large), a collision isn’t detected.
On June 5, 2007, the first Pac-Man World Championship was held in New York City, which brought together ten competitors from eight countries to play the new Pac-Man Championship Edition just prior to its release on Xbox Live Arcade. The top two scorers, Robert Glashuettner of Austria and Carlos Daniel Borrego of Mexico, competed for the championship in a single five-minute round. Borrego was named Pac-Man World Champion and won an Xbox 360 console, specially decorated with Pac-Man artwork and signed by Tōru Iwatani.
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