Saturday, January 12, 2013

Life of Pac Man

  I remember when Pac Man came out.  Supposedly it was around in October of 1980, but I don't remember seeing it until early December 1980 at Salem, New Hampshire's "The Rockingham Mall's" video arcade right next to Child World.  Back then, adults played there to the likes of Phoenix, Asteroids, Battlezone, Defender, Galaxian, Missile Command, Night Driver, Moon Cresta, New York New York, Polaris, Rally-X, Star Castle, Tempest, and of course, Space Invaders.  

  Games like Street Fighter were not to come out for seven more years.  Men dumped rolls of quarters into machines while they blew-off some steam from work still wearing sports-jackets, drinking beer or hard-liquor (with kids around in the arcade, laws were realistic and lax back then) and chain-smoking, leaning over such arcade games after a long day "at the office" circa 1980.

  Other games, such as Dig Dug or Sinistar were not to be for another two years, a lifetime to a 10-year-old if you can remember back then.  The mere concept of "A Mall" was pretty new back-then as well, at least in my neck-a'-tha'-woods.  The neon tubing all-the-rage, and Spencer's gift-store was the taboo and cool one with the black-lights and bikini-clad-model posters and card-games like Pass-Out.  Folks still had muscle-cars from the '70s but were rusting-out pretty quickly from the salted roads as GM was using recovered steel that already had rust embedded in it to begin with and paint-jobs on such cars had classic over-spray as they were hand-painted and the assembly lines were too quick to adjust minor errors.  Almost no one was using halogen lights for headlamps yet.


  Having just turned eleven a few months back by December, the concept of "The Arcade" was, of course, mesmerizing.  To an 11-year-old in the drab aftermath of 1970's dreariness, it was a sharp contrast to reality's drab brown silence and "attract-modes" worked on said games well.

  Of course, by now, everyone remembers Pac Man or has at least heard of it, the spherical maze-game where you avoid four opponent "ghosts" while "eating" all the dots on the maze, effectively hitting every part of the maze before continuing on.  Four larger dots marked the corners of the maze where you could pass over them and your opponents were vulnerable for a short time.  A little x=0 / x=255 horizontal "tunnel" existed in the middle on either side of the maze where you could wrap-around to the other.  "Fruits" appeared occasionally in the center of the maze for bonus points, designated per-level.  That's about it.  It spoke to everyone in the world and was wildly popular by the Japanese company, Namco, and that, along with Honda probably pulled Japan from ending up like the other 3rd-world Asian countries are today.

  It was a great honor back when you were a pre-teen to make it to the "9th key" "fruit" in Pac Man, which was about 16 completed mazes into it.  Most people I knew could make it about 4 or 5 levels.  There were no continues.  Some people couldn't make it past the first level "cherry".  These people later voted Obama.

  Pac Man was so popular, Hollywood tried to get in on it.  Unfortunately, like many things, the hype had died down after a year or so.  By 1982, no one was playing Pac Man as there were a ton more games that were more interesting such as Black Widow, Dig Dug, Sinistar, and Donkey Kong Jr.  The game Pac Man sat often alone next to a more-popular maze-changing Ms.PacMan and a one-year-old getting-long-in-the-tooth Galaga.  Video games' popularity lasted about a year or so and then folks sort of moved-on.  In September of 1982, Hanna-Barbera shoved a 2-year-running cartoon on ABC and I remembered how lame that was being two years late and already past it's prime.  In 1983, Geneal Mills Cereals made Pac Man Cereal as well and I was annoyed by it.  It was already irrelevant and unfresh like Andrew "Dice" Clay's aging, un-updated "comedic" material when he complains (recently) about a "blonde" who's land-line phone has "call-waiting" and complains "What does she need that for?"  Um.. Andy?  It's 2013.  Call-waiting was designed for home-use in 1971 and everyone had it in 1979.  His original joke was uttered in 1989.  Very Pac Man Cereal indeed, a decade too late, and though I still have one for fidelity's-sake, land-lines are almost completely dead.  (Everyone knows I refuse to upgrade technology if it's lesser in quality.. except for CDs because my vinyl records scratch on Colorado Springs roads.)  Only the album, Pac Man Fever which came out in 1981 made the train.

  Pac Man stickers and shirts were coming out by 1984 and it became in bad-taste to have anything about it.  The media flooded us with it WAAAY too late and we were all sick of it.  Toys and home-console versions that failed to excel buried the concept utterly.

  I kind of liked Pac Land which was a Mario-like side-scroller arcade game with some interesting twists, and Baby Pac Man pinball was so-so, but face-it, Namco, it's done.

  I sort of feel bad for kids not my age in the 1980's.  It was a magical time.  Many folks I meet missed-out on it.  I think only better would be to be in your early 20s then, because then if you got a girl with all that Duran-Duran makeup you'd know what to do with her (besides hold her hand and maybe buy her a Pepsi).

  Hollywood now tries to jump ahead of the game before things even come-out, learning from its mistakes a little too well it now shoots in the dark, trying to predict the next fickle thing before it's too late, but was Pac Man a fickle craving?  I think not, dear reader.  It was a fun game for a few years, and that's saying a lot in this day and age.  So raise a golden goblet to the memory of Pacus Manus!  May his gobbling never end in our hearts and minds!

Come come...


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