Japan: PacMan, still a hit after 30 years

With his trademark piechart head and onomatopoeic “paku paku” chomp, Pac-Man looms large in the history of the modern video game. No other game character can be said to have captured the world's attention so thoroughly and transformed the game industry so profoundly. Born out of Japan's burgeoning game industry of the early 1980s, Pac-Man has outlived many of its contemporaries and remains popular even today.

In a sign of Pac-Man's longevity, many this weekend celebrated the 30th birthday of the famous game character. The game's creator, Japanese video game company Namco, took the opportunity to announce a brand new twist on the Pac-Man legacy: a new game, referred to as “Pac-Man Reborn”, reportedly be played via Twitter. Released in beta form this weekend in Japan only, the new game has been described as “the largest demolition derby of tiny pie charts ever seen“. (Follow @pacman_reborn in Japanese for more details.)

Pac-Man circa 1980

Google's Pac-Man logo, circa 2010

For most people however, including many in Japan, the reminder of Pac-Man's 30 year birthday came not from its maker but from Google, who commemorated the event by inserting the game into its own logo. Many Japanese were pleasantly surprised to stumble into the character, one of their country's most famous cultural exports, in its new online setting.

On Twitter in Japanese, people tagged comments on Google's java-based game with the hashtag #googlepacman_jp.

@cagesmile writes:

Googleロゴがパックマンだ!生誕30周年だって。しかも実際に今日から2日間遊べる!忠実に再現されている。InsertCoinボタンをもう一度押すと対戦プレイ。懐かしいなぁ。当時もそうだったけど、いつも見ているほう。1面もクリアできない…。 #googlepacman_jp

Google's logo is Pac-Man! It's the 30-year anniversary apparently. And for the next two days, you can actually play it! They've reproduced it really well. You can start a game by clicking the “Insert Coin” button. Feels like old times, doesn't it? I'm always the one who just watches [not plays], just like I was back then. I can't even get past the first stage…

@fall_meet, who finally managed to clear the first level, pinpoints one of the charms of Pac-Man:

ゲームは苦手なので単純なものしかやらないです。でもパックマンは気軽に遊べていい感じ。 #googlepacman_jp

I'm no good at games so I only play the really simple ones. But I like Pac-Man because it's so easy to play.

Blogger ss1200, a more experienced Pac-Man player, recalls:

高校生のころPC-6001MkII のパックマンをやりまくってました。結構うまく移植されてましたですよ。

When I was in high-school, I used to play Pac-Man like crazy on the PC-6001MkII [personal computer]. They've ported it really well.

Blogger and twitterer Yoshio (@yoshio_will), who had trouble getting past the second level of the game, decided to delve deeper to see if he could skip ahead to the rumored 256th level. Describing Google's code for the Pac-Man game, he writes:


What can I say, it's really a mess something. Like they only use a single letter for the variable names. And there are absolutely no newlines so it's really hard to read.

They seem to be using [the HTML5 rendering engine] Canvas to create the images. I wondered what they were doing for the sounds, but it seems that it's calling a dedicated Flash script to produce them. Hmm…

A closer look revealed the key:




g.lives is the number of lives remaining and g.level is the current level. To start I just set the level to 254. When I then released the pause, the game came back with the same first level screen, but the number switched to 254.

So first of all I just cleared the level, while in this state. When I cleared it, the next stage that came up was level 255.

After forging ahead through level 255, thanks to a bit of tinkering to grant extra lives, the blogger got to the 256th level, at which point things became strange.

Level 256 from the Google version of Pac-Man


What…? Does this mean that when you force your way to the 256th level you hit a bug? That's what I thought to myself, and indeed it seems that they recreated the bug from the arcade game.

The bug is in fact a “kill screen” from the original version of the game, meaning that the Google version — with its colorful 256th level — is in fact true to the original after all.

If the novelty of the new Pac-Man game and its mysterious 256th level were not enough to entice you to give it a try, consider that the game can also be played in 2-player mode. Catch it will it lasts!


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