Pac-Man turned 40 this week, even though you wouldn’t know it to look at him. There isn’t a line or wrinkle on his perfectly round face / body / pie chart.
When I was a young teenager in the early 1990s, and I would go down to the arcade in town with my friends to waste money on the gaming machines, Pac-Man was still capable of attracting an audience. I mean, I wouldn’t go so far as saying that playing Pac-Man was in anyway the cool thing to do – you had to be good at ‘Street Fighter’ to be considered cool – but Pac-Man was still a game people would be happy to play. (By the way: to this day I don’t know how my mates had so much change to put in the machines. Not when I got only £3.50 a week from a paper round!).
One thing for sure is that Pac-Man has stood the test of time. I can’t claim to have ever been any good at the game, but in the course of reading coverage of Pac-Man’s birthday some interesting facts and stats have come up, including tales about the small number of people who really are stellar players and have managed to achieve ‘the perfect score’.
It turns out the perfect Pac-Man score is 3,333,360. This score is achieved over 256 levels, and this latter number leaps out (geek alert) because the square root of 256 is 16. Computer programming languages often use a hexadecimal counting system, which means 16 is used as the base rather than base ten in the decimal counting system that we typically use day-to-day. Binary coded-values are easily enough represented in a hexadecimal system, which might explain why Pac-Man crashes when you complete level 256 and try to go any further. The 8-bit game coding results in a lack of memory for the game to continue, so the goes kaput without so much as a ‘Well Done’.
There is some controversy attached to the 3,333,360 number, too. The first person to ever achieve this feat was a famous gamer called Billy Mitchell. This Billy Mitchell is American, rather than the fictional British soap opera character.
Mitchell completed this feat in 1999, some 19 years after Pac-Man was first unleashed on the world. However… Mitchell was also the record holder for the highest score at Donkey Kong too, until sufficient doubts were raised around the veracity of his achievements that all of Mitchell’s gaming records were struck from the book in 2018.
That said, if we include Mitchell’s dubious achievement, at the time of writing only six people have achieved a perfect score on Pac-Man. Six people in forty years deserves a tip of the hat to the original Pac-Man game designer, Toru Iwatani, for making a game so difficult that it is almost impossible to complete.
Post-Script: Many thanks to Tony at the Arcade Blogger for letting me know that another person has achieved the magical 3,333,360 maximum score in Pac-Man. Congratulations to Greg Sakundiak in Canada! That means there are now seven people in the Pac-Man perfect score club. You can find a link in the comments below.