Pacman - Thirty Years and Still Counting

Pacman, the little yellow character, who chased yellow dots and tried to avoid the Ghosts, was originally conceived in the late 1970s before being released in game format in 1980. Three decades later the game is still being played throughout the western world either in one of the first formats or as one of the later Pacman clones.

Conception and Birth

A Japanese programmer called Toru Iwatani whilst working for Namco, invented Pacman, and over the following eighteen months, Iwatani and several other Namco programmers took the fledgling character and created the room mazes and Ghosts.

Iwatani had created the Pacman shape - he took the Japanese kanji symbol which means mouth, a square which had the edges softened, and then gave it a mouth. This way it would be able to consume the pellets. The name Pacman is derived from the Japanese words "pakku pakku taberu", as in Japanese "pakku pakku" is a sound which implies the speedy opening and closing of the mouth.

Once the rooms and Ghosts had been satisfactorily programmed then it was time to add another element which was the Fruit. This was designed to be a random piece to encourage the players to take a risk in trying to get additional points rather than just taking the predicted route through the maze. The first release of the game was in Japan and included all of the various elements on 22nd May 1980. At that time the game was called Puck-man.

Something which must be remembered is that when the game was released in 1980 there weren't computers and game consoles and that this type of game would have been produced as an arcade game.


Unfortunately when Puck-man was released it wasn't received with open arms or much enthusiasm as the "big" games or the day, the shooting games Galaxian and Space Invaders were riding high in popularity.

During 1981 the Puck-man game was brought to America and within a short period this "new kid on the block" reached popularity and sales above Space Invaders. Until that time Space Invaders had been unrivalled in the popularity stakes.

One problem which had to be addressed was the name Puck-man. It was decided that the original name was very close to an English expletive, so the name was changed to Pacman.

As the game of Pacman reached a wider audience, sales increased exponentially and competitions were held both locally and at national level. During the early years these competitions took place at arcades around the world. There have only been a handful of perfect scores throughout the lifetime of Pacman. In 2007 the first Pacman World Championship was staged in New York City. This was to promote the new Pacman Championship Edition for the Xbox360.

Looking Forward

Over the past three decades Pacman has achieved much more than would have been anticipated. Who would imagine that a little yellow character, gobbling up little yellow dots whilst trying to avoid losing a life by coming into contact with a Ghost would still be relevant in today's market where so many games are bloodthirsty and violent?
The more gentle nature of Pacman and the concentration required to move up the levels and its contrasting style in comparison with so many recent computer games may be where the yellow man scores - there again, it could just be that it is an aging population of gamers who first started playing some quarter of a century ago who still keep Pacman alive.
Pacman has not only survived but has thrived regardless of the reasons.