35 years ago today, Pac-Man first waka waka waka-ed its way into Japanese arcades, and it’s nearly impossible to overstate the game’s influence. Pac-Man was the first game to feature power-ups, and its level design and AI was far more advanced than anything else on the market at the time. Pac-Man was the first title to prove video games could be more than simple, reflex-testing digital toys. Pac-Man had characters, carefully designed stages, and — in its own simple way — actually told a story. Oh, and it was also really fun.
Pac-Man is one of those rare games that simply refuses to age. Three-and-a-half decades later, the little yellow guy is still going strong. Here’s a few tasty facts you may not know about the original Pac-Man…
The creator of Pac-Man had no formal training, and didn’t even like computers.
The creator of Pac-Man was in no way qualified to create Pac-Man. Toru Iwatani joined Namco in 1977 at the tender age of 22, with basically zero qualifications. Iwatani had no formal training in engineering, programming or graphic design and had no particular interest in video games. The guy didn’t even like computers.
“I don’t have any particular interest in [computers]. I’m interested in creating images that communicate with people. A computer is not the only medium that uses images, it just so happens I use the computer. There’s a limit to what you can do with a computer. Hardware limitations become my limitations. They restrict me, and I’m no different from any artist – I don’t like constraints.”
Iwatani wanted to get into making pinball machines, but Namco didn’t even make pinball machines. Whoops. So, the bosses filed this unqualified, directionless kid away in their design department, likely expecting to never hear from him again. Little did they know.
Iwatani may not have had the qualifications, but he was clearly quite the artiste.
Pac-Man was designed to appeal to female gamers. Iwatani’s general disinterest in gaming and computers would actually serve him well. Iwatani wasn’t a fan of ’70s arcades. He thought they were dirty and smelly and figured they’d be much nicer places to visit if somebody other than teenage guys hung out there, so he specifically set out to create a game that would appeal to women and couples.
Unfortunately, poor Iwatani didn’t have a terribly deep understanding of the women he wanted to attract. In his mind, girls really liked to eat, particularly sweets and desserts, so he decided to make a game based around eating. I’m not sure that chomping desserts is specifically a girl thing, but it worked out well for Iwatani, so maybe I’m the one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. In addition to the eating theme, Iwatani focused on less violent gameplay than the shooters that were popular at the time and made the game’s enemies pastel-colored little cuties (the president of Namco wanted them all to be red).
Iwatani’s gambit worked. While hardened Space Invaders fans turned their noses up at Pac-Man (yes, the hardcore vs. casual gamer divide already existed in 1980) kids, women and older gamers gravitated toward the unique, less stressful charms of Pac-Man. Quickly Pac-Man became the title less obsessive gamers sought out when they were dragged to the arcade, and soon even the hardcore types started to come around.
Pac-Man doing exactly what it was designed to do.