the history of video games : from pong to pac-man..there was bell, there was edison, and then there was higinbotham .............................................
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the history of video games
from pong to pac-man
- september 2000 -
by william hunter, curator of ' the dot eaters '.
© the dot eaters
for more info, links and videoclips:
4 of 4 pages
arcade game producer universal (not the movie studio)
gives birth to one of the most venerable categories in
gaming history with 'space panic', the first platform game,
released in 1981.
platform games generally deal with the player climbing
ladders and running across platform levels, avoiding bad
guys and other life-ending objects.
in 'space panic', the enemies are little evil space-apples intent
on taking a bite out of the hero's backside.
luckily, the protagonist is armed with a shovel that seems to be
able to dig through solid brick, allowing him to trap the aliens in
holes that can then be filled in, dispatching them.
he must, however, keep an eye on the oxygen level, which will
asphyxiate him if it runs out.
this game is the basis for about a million console games.
... that other popular yellow character of the 'pokémon'
has not managed to usurp the spotlight from the beloved 'pac-man'
in 1980, namco game designer moru iwatani is tired of the glut
of shoot-em-ups littering the arcades. he wants to create an arcade
game that looks more like a cartoon than a videogame, and
appeals to women as well as men.
like many famous figures, its origins have taken on mythical proportions.
the designer was inspired by 'paku', a japanese folk hero known for his
appetite,his original design calls for an animated pizza with a missing
wedge for a mouth running around a maze eating everything in sight.
technological restraints at the time, however, require a graphics
scale-back to a simple, solid yellow circle.
the large wedge of a mouth does remain, though, and the character
and game is christened 'puckman', from the japanese phrase pakupaku,
meaning to flap one's mouth open and close. after the distinctive theme
music plays, players find themselves guiding 'puckman' around a single
maze eating dots, while avoiding the four ghosts 'blinky', 'pinky', 'inky'
and 'clyde' (each with varying levels of hunting skills), who escape from
a cage in the middle of the screen and will end our little yellow friend's
life if they touch him. in each corner of the square playfield is a large
dot that when eaten will turn the ghosts blue for a brief period, during
which time the tables turn and 'puck' can eat the ghosts, leaving only
the apparently indigestible eyes which make their way back to the
cage for reincarnation into another ghost. during every screen a treat
appears for the player under the ghost-cage, in the form of fruit or a bell
or some other symbol waiting to be devoured.
the game is deceptively simple, with only a four-position joystick needed
to guide 'pac-man' around the maze, but with each successive screen
the ghosts get faster and their time of blue-invulneribility less.
tension is added with a steady whining sound effect that increases in
pitch as the game is played.
the game is an absolute smash in japan, following 'space invader's lead
in causing another yen shortage nation-wide as tens of thousands of
'puckman' machines start gobbling them up.
after changing the name to 'pac-man' in order to discourage vandals
from replacing the p with an f, bally/midway releases the game in
north america. the game goes on to become the most popular arcade
game of all time. in fact, it's the first videogame to spawn a massive
merchandising bonanza, with t-shirts, jackets, sweaters, coffee cups,
stuffed dolls, bed sheets, cereal, board-games, books, towels...
ten arcade sequels follow the original game, first of which is
'ms. pac-man', released in 1982. it is developed in america by midway,
and is a more obvious attempt to lure women into the arcade.
instead of one maze, 'pac-man's female counter-part (her identity
confirmed by the red bow and lipstick...even a beauty mark)
has four different ones, with the special treats roaming around
instead of staying motionless under the monster cage.
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'space panic', 1981
'pac-man', 1980 -81
'ms. pac-man', 1982