Google Pac-Man

Since Google’s first year in 1998, the founders have demonstrated their commitment to fun and originality by temporarily reshaping the Google logo to celebrate special events. The Google logo’s typical rainbow letters have been replaced more than a thousand times, with everything from a Moog Synthesizer, to an art deco submarine, to a graceful animated dance routine.

But perhaps no so-called Google Doodle is as beloved and popular as the famed Google Pac-Man. For two days in May 2010, the Google logo was turned into an exact replica of the classic 1980s arcade game, to celebrate Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary. It looked super cool, but most importantly, it was playable!

This was only the second interactive Google Doodle—after an apple tree branch that dropped fruit on command to celebrate Sir Isaac Newton—so a fully playable video game was a huge step up and set the Internet abuzz. It was such a phenomenon, that Google’s engineers left it up for two days instead of one, and then created a separate page to permanently display it once it left the homepage.

To get to Google Pac-Man, you can type in “google pacman” and hit “I’m Feeling Lucky” and it will take you directly to the archived game. The Pac-Man Doodle is archived in Google’s museum of all previous doodles since the first one more than 14 years ago. So fire it up and drop in a virtual coin. Or if you want to learn a little more about how it was conceived and designed, read on…

Recreating a Video Game Classic

Originally called “Puck-Man,” Japanese video game company Namco had a true sensation on its hands when it released the game in 1980. One major factor in Pac-Man’s success was the fact that, unlike many games at the time, it had all-ages, all-gender appeal. It’s beloved by almost anyone, which is why even 30 years after its release it it was such a hit when it was brought to life on the front page of Google.

The tribute turned the word Google into a blue-walled maze, filled with white pellets, and a fleet of ghost enemies emerging from the second “g”. For the first time in Google history, the I’m Feeling Lucky button was replaced with “Insert Coin,” a throwback to the 1980s arcade days. Clicking the button started up the game, but it would also fire up on its own after a while.

Not only was a playable homepage just a cool thing, it was also a near-perfect replica of the original gameplay. When Google Doodle leader Ryan Germick and his team discovered the anniversary was on the way, they were determined to do something really special to do it justice.

Germick teamed up with developer Marcin Wichary to create the game, and while they probably could have just yanked some coding from the original publisher and slapped it on the Google page, they decided to recreate it from scratch, using all modern web tools. It’s just the Google way. Wichary had some history with the subject matter, as his father was a videogame repairman in Poland, and he spent his childhood playing games and watching his elder tinker with the makings of them. So rebuilding the classic was a dream come true.

Over the course of two months, with some guidance from Namco, they created a Google version of the game using JavaScript, HTML and CSS. The sounds, movements and graphics are indistinguishable (unless you’re a real hardcore Pac-Man fan maybe). And people went nuts for it.

Shouldn’t you be working?

On the morning of Friday, May 21, 2010, desk jockeys around the world lost their mornings to a tiny yellow ball and his ghostly, colorful enemies with rhyming names. Google reminded us with their Pac-Man doodle that, even 30 years after its release, the gaming classic is still immensely playable—to the joy of employees everywhere, but perhaps to the dismay of their employers.

“Well, so much for my morning,” tweeted one person in response. Similar good-natured groans were heard across the Internet, along with squeals of delight at the impressive mock-up of a game board that so many people are intimately familiar with.

It was a phenomenon across the Internet, as users logged serious hours playing, trying to find glitches or flaws, and of course, trying to get the top score. There were plenty of jokes about people devoting their mornings to the game, but it wasn’t just a joke. Online time management company RescueTime crunched some numbers and found that Google’s millions of users spent an average of 36 seconds more per visit. They calculated the time spent at 4.8 million hours, and estimated $120 million in lost productivity.

Google Pac-Man Tricks

  • Engineers sought an authentic experience, and built in a bunch of little touches to match the original. The ghosts’ paths follow the same rules as the original game. If you study the logic of their moves, just as in the original, you can learn the game’s patterns.
  • Just like the original game, cute animated scenes featuring the characters of the game are intercut between levels.
  • Kill Screen! In the original game (as in many other arcade games of the time) there was a glitch in the programming that meant the game could only go up to a certain level of play. In Pac-Man, partially through level 256, the game would freeze up and turn into a bunch of jumbled shapes. While Google Pac-Man lacks the original’s limitations, the designers included the same kill screen in level 256 as a tribute. On the first day, a couple players hit the screen and shared it across the Internet.
  • Hit Insert Coin a second time, and Ms. Pac-Man pops up on screen for two-player mode using the W, A, S and D keys. The original game alternated rounds in two-player mode, but the Google version both characters play simultaneously.

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