you asked me to name the greatest videogame of all time, I'd probably
say Tetris. If, however, you asked me to name my absolute favorite,
it's Ms. Pac-Man.
probably spent more money on this game than all the other ones combined.
A few quarters here, a few quarters there. Keep that up for a quarter
century and you'll wind up with a hell of a stash. That could be
the plot to a really, really slow caper movie.
thought has also occured to me that I've poured more money into
Ms. Pac-Man than I have into college. Now there's a winning decision.
I still don't have that English degree, student loans are piling
up, I'm stuck working at a bank in the ghetto, and I'm struggling
to find an editor willing to publish some crazy book about classic
videogame essays. But at least I can capture the high score at any
bus station or laundromat I walk into. Yeah, that's a fair trade;
the kind that make parents shake their heads and blame one another
for the botched contraception.
often wondered what happened to those teenagers back in the '80s,
who would play arcade games on cheap television shows for days straight
until they would finally pass out. What did they do with the rest
of their lives? Did they really put their game-playing talents on
resumes? Education: Stanford. Experience: Passed out after playing
Asteroids for three days straight. Objective: to kick your ass on
Ms. Pac-Man. But what I really want to do is direct.
dogs. You know this is how the dot-com boom happened. That and the
XFL. Admit it.
during the first videogame fad of the early 1980's, video arcades
were literally everywhere. These machines were practically a license
to print money, and they were found not only in arcades, but restaurants,
laundromats, sports stadiums, bowling lanes (what do you call those
places, anyway?), bus terminals, airports, novelty gift shops, and
various Mom-and-Pop tourist traps. Those days are, of course, long
gone, but that little yellow ball with the bow is still there, lurking
this day, every single laundromat I walk into has a Ms. Pac-Man
machine somewhere. And, yes, most often when I see one I put another
quarter into it and have a quick spin. At this point in my life,
I'm far beyond playing the game for endurance; I've memorized the
patterns and strategies ages ago. What I prefer to do is simply
play until I break the current high score or pass 100,000 points,
whichever is greater. Maybe I'll keep going until I've seen all
three intermissions and all four mazes. It largely depends on my
mood, and whether or not I need those quarters for the dryer.
of all the Pac-Man sequels and spinoffs from that era, I think Ms.
Pac-Man is the best. It took what, at the time, was the greatest
videogame ever made, and made is almost feel obsolete. There were
game sequels before, but they all felt like minor upgrades, usually
offering nothing more than a simple variation (to this day, I still
don't know the difference between Space Invaders 2 and the original).
This was the real deal - a game that in expanded the scope of the
original, stretched it.
ever really minded moving Pac around one maze, because it was the
next evolutionary step in games. But the Ms. came in with four mazes,
each one completely different in design, requiring different strategies
and new approaches, and all with the same number of dots. You have
to change your tactics every three levels. For 1981, this was revolutionary.
It remains the gold standard for gaming sequels, and probably always
think these mazes are a masterpiece of design. If nothing else,
they're terrific just to look at. Bold, full of bright colors and
iconic characters - Ms. Pac and the Four Ghosts (sounds like a Motown
group, doesn't it?). It's like chomping your way through a collection
of early Mondrian paintings. I really cannot overstate this enough;
most of the later Pac-Man games suffered from weaker mazes, or as
was often the case, only one maze. How does somebody go back to
a single board after this?
dear readers, for the big surprise. How many people know that Ms.
Pac-Man is the product of hackers? True story. The game was created
by programmers at General Computer Corporation as a Pac-Man hack
called Crazy Otto. They were so impressed with the quality of the
game, they pitched it to Bally Midway, who were Pac-Man's American
was growing impatient for a sequel to the biggest-selling videogame
in history, so this prospect was the perfect answer to their prayers.
They bought Crazy Otto, changed the character sprites appropriately,
and christened the game Ms. Pac-Man.
the game became hugely successful, Namco caught wind and promptly
brought Midway and GCC to court. Both American companies handed
over game's rights to Namco to avoid trouble, and the Ms. became
a part of the official Pac-Man canon.
wouldn't be the last time Namco clashed over unauthorized sequels.
Midway would later create Baby Pac-Man (featuring a mini-pinball
table), Junior Pac-Man (with its large scrolling mazes and brilliantly
devious monsters), Professor Pac-Man (a trivia game to cash in on
the Trivial Pursuit craze), and Pac-Man Plus (which I once
called, "the black sheep of the family") - all without
permission, which resulted in Namco dissolving their relationship.
final note from me. Ms. Pac-Man has been ported to nearly every
computer and console system ever made, and I honestly don't think
there has ever been a bad translation. Every home version, while
different from the arcade in their own unique ways, had succeeded
in capturing the magic. Even the Atari 2600 had a superb version,
which only makes their trampling of the original Pac-Man even more
no other videogame I can say that about. Have I yet mentioned that
this is my all-time favorite? Ms. Pac-Man is the finest American
videogame ever created.