Hello Puck-Man! Yes, that was the spherical video game star’s original name — because he looked like a hockey puck, right? He did, but the “Puck” was changed to a “Pac” for the game’s international roll-out. And the result was arguably the greatest video game of all time.
Part of Pac-Man’s inexorable rise to world domination was the fact that this was a game that was neither “sport” or “war” based. It was deliberately targeted to a unisex audience.
That had been the intention of its designer, Toru Iwatani, then 24. In 1979, Toru led a nine-person development team at his parent company (Namco, of Japan), for a year: Pac-Man was released at the start of the new decade.
The game was not an instant hit in Japan, but broke through when brought across the Pacific to the States. The success took its distributors, and Namco, by surprise. Within a year, it had grossed over $1 billion in quarters, and surpassed what was then the highest-grossing film of all time — Star Wars.
Essentially a maze game, Pacman eats pellets while being chased by four ghosts (whose original names were Chaser, Ambusher, Fickle, and Feigned Ignorance). The game technically has no ending, but that’s not quite true. When you get to level 256 (which takes somewhere between four and six hours), the game just crashes. According to legend, only seven people have attained level 256 and witnessed the crash.
Such was its cultural impact in the early 1980s that Pac-Man was turned, inevitably, into an animated TV series.
The plot was as follows: Pac-Man, his wife Pepper, their child Pac-Baby, their dog Chomp-Chomp and their cat, Sour Puss, live in Pac-Land. The Pac-family’s daily lives are spent in eternal battle with Ghosts called Blinky, Inky, Pinky, Clyde, and Sue. The Ghosts are in the employ of Mezmaron, an evil figure who… well, you’ll have to watch and find out.
(Trivia time: Sour Puss was played by voice actor Peter Cullen, who also played the animated voices of Eeyore, and Optimus Prime. He still does play Optimus Prime.)
In total, that little Puck generated more than $14 billion for Namco, and is indeed the highest grossing video game of all time.