What Pac-Man Brought to Game Design | Design Icons

July 23, 2020

While a nascent games industry was laser focused on emulating the success of Taito’s Space Invaders, one designer tried to make something completely different – and ended up creating our second design icon: Pac-Man.

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Retro Gamer UK Issue 61 | Retro Gamer

Toru Iwatani, 1986 PacMan Designer | Programmers At Work

Pacman: The Phenomenon | GameSpy

Q&A: Pac-Man Creator Reflects on 30 Years of Dot-Eating | Wired

The Pac-Man Dossier | Gamasutra

Pac-Man Interview with creator Toru Iwatani at GDC 2011 | YouTube

Interview 1 Vol. 1 with Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani | PacMan.com

Vintage Games: An Insider Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto… | Google Books

Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani | Japan Times

I Am Error… | Google Books

These games inspired Cliff Bleszinski, John Romero, Will Wright, and Sid Meier | Joystiq

GO3: Kojima Talks Metal Gear History, Future | Gamasutra

Learn More

Pac-Man Creator Toru Iwatani Biograph | Pac-Man Museum

Postmortem: Pac-Man, Iwatani’s rhapsody in yellow | Gamasutra

The Pac-Man Principle: A User’s Guide To Capitalism | Google Books

Toru Iwatani: Pac-Man and the real life of games design | Financial Times

Toru Iwatani – Mechanics of Pac Man | YouTube

Extra Footage

Tokyo Landscapes | Bolo Bellheimer

The Ultimate Early 80s Arcade Tribute | Patrick Scott Patterson

Pinball Machine, 1970s USA | thekinolibrary

80s Japan – Video Arcade | NichiBeiTrader

Happy Birthday Pac-Man: A look at news coverage in 1982 | Patrick Scott Patterson

Professor Toru Iwatani Gamelab Legend Award Interview | Gamereactor

Traffic, Busy Streets, Shibuya Crossing | thekinolibrary

Manhattan, New York 1980 | Mackenzie Rough


1984 Pac-Man Cereal Commercial | xntryk1

Pac-Man Atari commercial compilation | Toy lover

When Pac-Man was King – CBS Evening News | Shatner Method

Music used in this episode

Sun Bleach – Lifeformed (
Various – Lee Rosevere (
Pac-Man Fever – Buckner & Garcia

Wreck-It Ralph © Disney
Tom and Jerry © Warner Bros
Popeye © Turner Entertainment
Little Ghost Q-Taro © TV Asahi
Casper the Friendly Ghost © DreamWorks
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World © Universal Pictures
Pac-Man © Warner Bros

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All Comments

  • Pac man is the first stealth game

    Kaleb Dodge July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • 11:45 yeah … everyone knows that piece of trivia, including me, an everyday person who knew that trivia like everyone else 👀. what? i’m not sweating—you’re sweating!

    Drew S. July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • Ghosts turn back after 5sec→25sec→30sec→50sec→55sec

    ドライブイン環8 July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • I knew I recognised that intro sting. Double Fine Adventure is awesome, and its soundtrack is so good!

    Wires Dawson July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • Can you please continue this series? I just loved these videos:))))

    jonas wolthaus July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • Whatever happened to design icons?

    Tubbs Tubbs. July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • Wow Pac-Man is a lot more complicated than I realized!

    CortlandOrigami July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • It's got something for everyone; action and gameplay for men, cute graphics and silly cutscenes for women, simple design and understandable gameplay for casual players, complex and intricate ai for advanced players, easy to grasp and understand for beginners, challenging and difficult for experts, and overall with its simplistic nature it leaves almost everything up to the imagination. It's really amazing, isn't it?

    Caylie C. July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • When I was a kid and Pac-Man was in arcades, I was utterly confused by the teardrop-shaped, legged yellow character depicted on the cabinet. I suppose that depiction illustrates that the circular digital character was at first considered a best effort at approximating some creature we might imagine in the real world. And only later did the caretakers of the brand realize they should embrace the unusual but simple representation.

    Ben Timberlake July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • "Creating a fun game is not about satisfying yourself as a developer." – I feel like this a lesson that amateur designers really need to learn. So many people's first attempts at making games, especially puzzles, is more about proving how smart they are and how clever their puzzles are. But good designers make the players feel smart and clever. That's the real challenge–making something just hard enough that it feels good to solve while still giving players enough tools to solve it.

    The Antimuffin July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • This is such a great series – I wish you’d do more.

    Ian Phillip July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply

    Ryan Anderson July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • Ultima Underworld had a replica of Pac-Man in level 5 (iirc) complete with ghosts and pellets.

    ndal_ July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • This series lasted all of one month. Bit of a shame, too; I was really looking forward to episodes in the 1985-2005 region, because those games really changed everything

    wundrweapon July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • Crazy to think that concerns about the level of violence in games was a thing even back then. And that so much of the industry, again even back then, was reliant on just making knockoffs of what was already popular.

    Pocket Fluff Productions July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • Dustforce!

    Evan Watkins July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • 3:50 uhh did you forget something?
    The pinky up bug
    If pacman is facing up, pinky'starget is 4 tiles in front AND to the left of pacman.

    TJC games July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • Toru Iwatani, I salute you. 🙂

    Ixapter July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • Those are computer monitors in Sonic???? I always thought it was like a glass box……..neat!!!

    Indy Lockheart July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • what's the music playing at 1:17???

    bigd4465 July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • 1:22 Hey, that looks like the ghosts! Looks like both designs had that inspiration.

    John McWeasel July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • Did you know that the original name for Pac-Man was Puck-Man? You'd think it was because he looks like a hockey puck but it actually comes from the Japanese phrase 'Paku-Paku,' which means to flap one's mouth open and closed. They changed it because they thought Puck-Man would be too easy to vandalize, you know, like people could just scratch off the P and turn it into an F or whatever.

    NedBark July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • Fascinating! I love the simple rules that give the illusion of ghost teamwork.

    Michael Patterson July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply
  • Please more Design Icons PLEASE?

    Craig Hinrichs July 23, 2020 5:34 am Reply

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