back to article WTF happened to Pac-Man?

During the finale of this season’s King of the Nerds, one of the nerd challenges was to complete the first level of Pac-Man in a set time. I was delighted to see they were playing the original arcade version, albeit on an iPad. Pac-Man: original and best? Pac-Man: original and best? Pac-Man is 34 years old this year. With …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    For me the only 'update' worth visiting is Pacmania. A nice update on the original that doesn't meddle with the gameplay too much.

    Pacland is fun but is a different game using the same characters.

    1. LarsG

      Re: Pacmania

      I'm sure I played it on a large coffee table kind of console at the local pub.... Unless it was the beer clouding my memories?

    2. Jedit

      "For me the only 'update' worth visiting is Pacmania"

      I'm curious - what is it like, to be so wrong? The definitive Pac-Man game is Ms Pac-Man, which tweaked the original format and maze to their optimal levels. Nothing since has matched it, not even Championship Edition.

      (Smiley face, because there is no Pac-Man icon.)

  2. Jim 59

    Play on emulator

    eg. mame. It's the only way.

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: Play on emulator

      but only if you have a FOUR-way joystick available. I made the same mistake as many in building mine with two eight-way sticks. Playing PacMan and Donkey Kong with eight-way joysticks is an exercise in extreme frustration.

      Ultimately, I removed the second eight-way stick and replaced it with a four-way, wired in parallel with the first so that I could use either as needed. Most of the games played on my box aren't "two players simultaneously" anyway so the loss of the second stick is unnoticed. The only thing I can't do now with this arrangement is play the wonderful Atari classic Battlezone.

      1. ThomH Silver badge

        Re: Play on emulator (@Ugotta)

        ... or, much more importantly, Robotron?

        1. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: Play on emulator (@Ugotta)


          Oh hell yes!!! Most insane game I've ever played!

          1. stucs201

            Re: Robotron!!!! Most insane game

            Er not quite. Jeff Minter's robotron inspired Llamatron was the truely insane one...

            1. xperroni

              Re: Robotron!!!! Most insane game

              Jeff Minter's robotron inspired Llamatron was the truely insane one...

              Had to Google this one. Gosh, you can say "insane" again... Must have been a pretty bad trip, the one that led to writing this game!

              1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

                Re: Robotron!!!! Most insane game

                All of Minter's Llamasoft games were insane. Fond memories (too many years ago!) of playing them on my old Vic-20, C64 and Speccie. Stuff flying everywhere at manic speed, dying quite quickly but always wanting to go just that little bit further. Some good tunes on the C64 one too if I remember well.

                Definitely Robotron inspired, and absolute classic. I feel an emulator evening coming on...

                1. Tom 38 Silver badge
                  Thumb Up

                  Re: Robotron!!!! Most insane game

                  I was always fond of Revenge Of The Mutant Camels, got to kill all them polo mints, red phone boxes and wave after wave of Jeff Minters.

                  1. ThomH Silver badge

                    Re: Robotron!!!! Most insane game

                    I think it's iOS exclusive but Minotron is Jeff's own work making Llamatron even more crazy — El Reg loved it:

                    It's iCade compatible but, honestly, I found that the touch controls worked quite well.

      2. usbac

        Re: Play on emulator

        @ Ugotta B. Kiddingme

        I love Battlezone. I actually have a working original 1978 Atari Battlezone arcade machine. I also have an original Asteroids Delux of about the same time.

        Both work (most of the time). Between Atari's cheap IC sockets and trying to keep capacitors fresh in the old Electrohome monitor chassis, it takes a bit of work to keep them going. Guests really seem to enjoy the nostalgia of playing the old games, though.

        I got both of them for free in non-working condition. I passed on an opportunity to buy a sit-down Star Wars arcade game years ago, and sometimes wish I didn't. Then I have to move these things, and remember why I did.

  3. Sandy Ritchie

    interesting find

    I was playing an old Pacman machine yesterday (Easter Sunday) while my son played in the local kiddies play centre (the place was an arcade back in my day). They just happened to have some of the old arcade cabinets set to free play, I presume to keep the adults occupied.

    Half way through level 1 one of the ghosts turned into a pink ghost rabbit, early Easter egg I supposed.

    Anyway, it has a tenous link to this topic, but hey it was pacman.

  4. WonkoTheSane

    Obligatory "Weird Al" song...

    1. Michael Habel Silver badge

      Re: Obligatory "Weird Al" song...

      yay CHEESE SANDWICH!!!

    2. mark 63 Silver badge

      Re: Obligatory "Weird Al" song...

      I love Weird AL but DAMN that song is annoying!

  5. User McUser

    Pac-Man Pinball

    I remember playing a PacMac variant which was half PacMan, half pinball machine in an upright case. Had a screen on top which played PacMan and a condensed pinball table underneath. The play action switched back and forth when triggered by specific events on either part.

    The Internet tells me that this was the game "Baby PacMan."

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: Pac-Man Pinball

      Yes, Baby PacMan was a MOST interesting variant and darned hard to find in working condition. I know of only two publicly available units - one in Austin, TX and one in Las Vegas, NV. There are doubtless several in the hands of private collectors unbeknownst to me.

  6. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Not much of a game player

    Pacman was the kind of game I could play. I never cottoned on to kind of games that left you in the "darkened room" endlessly trying to find the special brick that would let you out and get started properly. Nor could I be bothered to shoot too many descending/advancing aliens, after a while that just got too samey.

    But somehow I could play Pacman for hours.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The current Pacman...

    Is there entirely to drive sticker book sales (through brand recognition and addiction to the "gamble" of getting the gold/silver stickers that never seem to be included for some unknown marketing reason ;) ), and plastic toys linked to DLC codes for character skins...

    ... me bitter? No, just honest.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: The current Pacman...

      The gold/sliver stickers that no one ever seems to get? You mean like trying to win ANY corporate marketing contest?

      You'd have better luck at Pachinko.

  8. J.Goodwin

    The modern update to Pac-Man is Pac-Man Championship Edition (and the success Pac-Man Championship Edition DX). This game is a successor to Pac-Land (based on the original shitty 1980s Pac-Man animated series), based on the current animated series.

    From the screens, it appears to be an entirely faithful realization of that vision.

    If you want good gameplay reminiscent of the original, you should check out Championship Edition or DX instead.

    1. Daniel B.


      Indeed, Pac-Man Championship Edition is closer to the arcade experience and IMHO, it's far less frustrating in that sense. It was also the one game I could play during my 2 month one-armed handicap period (motorcycle accident, clavicle fracture. immobilized right arm, very annoying!).

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wot no Ms. Pac-man?

    Seems the best game in the series is pay for DLC.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: Wot no Ms. Pac-man?

      What are you smoking? That was where it all started to go wrong.

  10. Herby

    Then there is ...

    The screen saver I use on my Linux desktop. I (and my cubemate) look at it and wonder just who is playing the game with all the dumb decisions that are being made. It does amuse me though.

    One of these days it might get close to "winning", but I don't see it as likely.

    1. sisk

      Re: Then there is ...

      I used to have that one. I eventually came to the conclusion that it was being played by a random number generator rather than an actual bot.

  11. sisk

    Has anyone else noticed how much these classic games have in common with the biggest casual titles of today in terms of gameplay? Seriously, give Pac-Man a graphics makeover and he'd be right at home with the likes of Angry Birds and Flappy Bird and Temple Run. Funny how the most profitable games today aren't much more complex than the ones they were making 35 years ago.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      It's no coincidence, but good observation, nonetheless.

      Have a thumb up.

    2. Daniel B.


      Most mobile games are of the arcade variety because they fulfill the "kill some time" requirement. Back in the day, it was more about who could set a high score on PacMan than beating the game, thus the infinite never-ending nature of PacMan. Many of the mobile games like Flappy Bird cash in this concept, especially as many of the 80's arcade gamers are usually the same people carrying iSlabs these days. And when they fire up games, they're usually trying to kill some time.

      Actual games, the ones made for consoles have evolved far beyond the good ole Pacman days.

      1. sisk

        Re: Actually

        Actual games, the ones made for consoles have evolved far beyond the good ole Pacman days.

        Hence my reference to casual games. :-) Oddly enough, from what little I've seen of it, the net profit is much higher with those < $5 games on phones than on console games. They have a far larger target audience and the development costs for them is generally a fraction of a percent of what they pour into developing the top console games.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The good old days

    Pac-Man was a mirror of the society.

    We were all eating pills, running around in circle on repetitive electronic music :-)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The good old days

      "Pac-Man was a mirror of the society."

      No, it wasn't. You f****d up the joke you were trying to steal *and* missed its point.

      Pac-Man came out (and was at its cultural peak) in the early 1980s. The ecstasy-and-repetitive-electronic-dance-music-led rave/club culture didn't take off until the end of the decade, by which point Pac-Man was already a relic of an earlier era.

      The original quote (apparently from Marcus Brigstocke) was...

      “If Pac-Man had affected us as kids, we'd all be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive electronic music.”

      ...which makes a lot more sense.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: If Pac-Man had affected us as kids

        BUT it did affect me as a kid.

        To this day if I see one, I can't walk by one without dropping money in the slot to play a round.

  13. Cornholio

    That reminds me...

    ...I have a boxed Grandstand Munchman waiting to go on eBay. Ah, great days!

  14. Gartal

    The only problem with Pacman

    was that it was horrible. Like Galaga and Pong and a raft of others. Almost as execrable as Mario. And Donkey Kong.

    1. 404

      Re: The only problem with Pacman

      One of two things.. ok, maybe both...

      1. You have no soul.

      2. You be a youngin'

      Have respect for the classics.

      1. sisk

        Re: The only problem with Pacman

        I'm guessing he's a youngin'. That or his parents never let him drop a quarter into an arcade machine growing up.

        Here's a tip ya whipper snapper. If we hadn't had Pacman and Galaga and Pong, or if they weren't awesome in their day, you wouldn't have Call of Duty and Skyrim and whatever else it is that the kids play these days.

        I'll be over here....playing Galaga on MAME. Don't go running of with my cane, and keep off my grass you darned kids.

  15. J. Cook Silver badge

    I think VG Cats said it best...

    (comic is... not exactly safe for work.)

    1. xperroni

      Re: I think VG Cats said it best...

      I think it speaks volumes of our kind that we can look at our childhood idols getting abused like this and smirk in amusement.

  16. Paul Webb

    £14.99 for PAC-MAN MUSEUM

    Outrageously overpriced - but asking 10p per play would see me happily coughing up even more!

  17. WonkoTheSane

    3 Million Points

    Once you passed 3 million points, the original version of Pacman would display its source code, but only on the left-hand side of the screen.

    This made getting much further almost impossible.

    1. Richard Wharram

      Re: 3 Million Points

      The trick was to get the maximum points before the kill screen.

      (not that I did.)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 3 Million Points

      Not three million points. Not source code. Not the left-hand side of the screen. And not almost impossible. Apart from that, you got it right!

      (It's when you pass level 255, at the start of level 256, regardless of score. It's not the source, which isn't included in the ROMs, it's just some binary data. It overdraws the right-hand side of the screen. And it's completely impossible to proceed, because there aren't enough dots to munch in order to finish the level. For full details, see

  18. h4rm0ny

    Video Games

    Pacman is the best proof that video games do not affect a child's development. If they did, then my generation would have spent its teenage years consuming pills in darkened rooms whilst crazy electronic music and flashing lights bombarded us.

    Uh oh!

    1. Keith 21

      Re: Video Games

      An excellent joke first told by British comedian Marcus Brigstocke.

  19. Evan Essence

    Bonobo playing Pac-Man

    The bonobo is called Kanzi.

    1. h4rm0ny

      Re: Bonobo playing Pac-Man

      Really interesting and impressive. One thing I noticed is that there was little patience on the chimpanzee's part. She went directly for the power pills and immediate ghost catching. That's the same way a young child plays. An adult is more patient, often saving the power pills a little while until there are multiple ghosts within reach.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    anybody remember the Pac-Man cartoon must have been early to mid 80's on ITV in the summer hol's I think

  21. 404

    Donkey Kong

    Was better-> stoner snob back in the Day-> Ya'll will love this. Ar Force guys from the local Titan Missile bases would get me fscked.exe and we'd ice up* the Donkey Kong over at the Sicilian pizza place down the road...

    Good times


    * ice up: load the top-facing facade with quarters, preventing anybody from calling the machine.

  22. DaneB

    Other weirdness

    Where's Ms. Pacman or, more to the point, the mystery of that Happy Eater logo???

  23. Steve 16

    Pacman simulator

    One of my kids shared this gem with me at the weekend.

    Place your index finger just inside the entrance to your ear canal and wiggle it up and down.

    Waka Waka Waka Waka....

  24. Michael Strorm

    I haven't played "Pac Land" personally, but from what I've seen the mechanics and design look totally unrelated to the original Pac-Man game.

    That apparently came out only a few years after the original, but whether or not it's a good game in its own right, it does appear to be an early example of creating "sequels" based solely around the "characters" rather than the gameplay mechanics of the original- the same thing that led to the modern, soulless Pac-Man-in-Name-Only game that the author decries.

    In fact, apparently the graphics in its US release were based upon those in the Hanna Barbera Pac-Man cartoon. (Which I remember being a fan of as a kid- I think before I'd ever actually played the original Pac-Man game- but doesn't look that great to me now!). So *that* was a sort-of-spin-off of a cartoon as well!

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    smbc's take

    I love smbc's take on pacman.

  26. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    We weren't all after high scores

    Instead, it’s all about competing for the high score and comparing those scores with friends.

    No doubt it was for many, but I never cared about my arcade-game scores, and I don't believe any of my friends did either. For us they were a diversion, and a social one - it was rare to play a game without one or two friends watching over your shoulder - but completely uncompetitive. I don't think any of us wanted to devote the time or money required to actually become any good at any of those games.

    (And yes, this was my era; I was in high school in the first half of the '80s.)

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: We weren't all after high scores

      You must be nuts - arcade games cost per play. High scores are achieved by playing for a long amount of time on one credit, and therefore, achieving high scores was actually akin to playing for the cheapest amount.

      Take Street Fighter 2, if you just played one round and died, thats 10p for 2 minutes. On the other hand, if you complete the game on one credit, thats 10p for 30 minutes play. I don't know about you, but when I was playing arcade games, I wanted to play for as long as possible as cheaply as possible.

  27. jelabarre59 Silver badge


    The first PacMan game I saw was in a local nightclub (The Left Bank in Mt Vernon, NY). It had a monochrome screen, was in a Space Invaders cabinet, and was called "Munchies" (with the name hand-made with Letraset letters). I remember watching Andy Gill (from The Gang of Four) playing it.

  28. BenBell


    Just when I thought I'd managed to box up my SNES for good, I read this. As soon as I get home from work, out it comes and in will go PacMan followed shortly by Zelda (LTTP) and possibly Mario 1 & 3.

    There goes my weekend

  29. aqk

    Get DIGGER! It's Free and runs on all platforms!

    Not sure about win 8.1 though... I haven't tried it here. But it did run on my old Win-7.

    And you do not even need a 5¼" floppy!

    Windmill Software's famous 1980 Digger!

    See DIGGER.ORG for the disgusting details.

  30. herman Silver badge

    Yah, when Pacman hit the arcades, four function electronic calculators were still newfangled notions. In the end, Pacman eat the pinball machines and everything became electronic.

  31. Zot

    The Pac-man dossier

    ...Includes information about every aspect of the game, including ghost movement analysis, and tile locations. It's quite interesting in parts, especially each ghost's targeting code which is basically a how to win guide.

    I never really played it myself, I thought it was a girl's game to be honest. :p

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