Google has become famous for changing its logo for special events, but it has never converted it into a playable game before. Today, it is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man’s launch in Japan with a version that lets you steer your pizza-shaped protagonist* around a maze that spells out Google’s name – at least for as long as you can evade the ghosts Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde
To play, simply click the button that usually says “I’m feeling lucky” but now has the legend “Insert Coin”. However, if you don’t do anything, the game will start by itself.
If you click twice on “Insert Coin” then two people can play. Ms Pac-Man joins the game, with the second person controlling her movements using the WASD keys.
Marcin Wichary, Google programmer and senior user interface designer, says: “When I was growing up, my dad had the best job I could possibly imagine: he was an arcade game and pinball technician. For me, that meant summer trips through Poland’s coastal cities with their seasonal arcade parlors; peeking inside cabinets to learn programming and engineering secrets; and – of course – free games!”
Although Tōru Iwatani’s Pac-Man and Ms Pac-Man are now free “casual” games, they were state-of-the-art in the early 1980s, and they harvested billions of dollars in loose change. The games soon appeared on home computers, too, though a Pac-Man cartridge for an Atari 800 cost more than £30.
Ms Pac-Man was also one of the first video games to attract a female following at a time when most players were (at least reputedly) spotty boys.
Wichary says Pac-Man “seems like a natural fit for the Google homepage. They’re both deceptively straightforward, carefully hiding their complexity under the hood. There’s a light-hearted, human touch to both of them. And we can only hope you find using Google at least a quarter as enjoyable as eating dots and chasing ghosts. You know, without actually needing any quarters.”
Incidentally, Google is not alone in celebrating Pac-Man’s birthday. The Museum of Computing in Swindon is marking the milestone on Saturday when “a specially constructed maze in Swindon Town centre’s Wharf Green will be the venue for a unique ‘Human Pac-Man’ event.” Visitors to the museum will also be able to play the game on various retro machines, without the need to stock up on 50p pieces.
* Pac-Man was based on the Japanese character for ‘mouth’.
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