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11 Fun Facts About Ms. Pac-Man

In 1980, a hungry yellow disc swallowed the hearts of gamers worldwide and set off years’ worth of Pac-mania. In 1982, another circle rolled onto the scene and upped the ghost-chasing ante—and, as Ms. Pac-Man herself sang out during 1982 TV commercials, she was “more than Pac-Man with a bow.”

1. She was born as a knock-off.

In the early days of arcade games, programmers created new games by modifying existing cabinets. MIT students Kevin Curran and Doug Macrae of the General Computer Corporation (GCC) first developed Ms. Pac-Man as an enhancement kit for Pac-Man arcade games. Only she wasn’t Ms. Pac-Man at first. First there was Crazy Otto, who had legs and chased monsters—not ghosts—around Pac-Man’s levels.

While the pair was working on developing Crazy Otto, Atari hit them with a lawsuit over Super Missile Attack, an earlier game modification that upgraded existing Atari Missile Command arcade units for faster, more difficult gameplay. Instead of risking similar litigation from Namco, the Japanese company behind Pac-Man, GCC sold Crazy Otto to Midway Manufacturing Co., Pac-Man’s North-American distributor, which was eager for a sequel to capitalize on the original game’s popularity.

2. She was part of a push to get women into gaming.

"Until Pac-Man came around, we couldn't get women to play the games," James Jarocki, advertising promotion manager for Ball Midway, said in 1982. "Admittedly, Ms. Pac-Man was a spin-off, but we also wanted to say thank-you to women who had started playing Pac-Man."

Contemporary critics suggested that the perceived female appeal of games like Pac-Man and Kangaroo—ones that arcade owners saw women and girls playing—had to do with their relative non-violence, among other things: "From a pop psychological point of view, I have heard it said that Pac-Man imitates courtship and mating," Joyce Worley, senior editor for Electronic Games, said in 1982. “One way of looking at Ms. Pac-Man is imagining she is being pursued by the wild males until she turns around and captures them. She tames their wildness as it were."

However, other critics at that time suggested that the wildly popular game’s central premise—eating—accounted for its universal draw.

3. ... BUT ENDED UP WINNING OVER EVERYONE.

In 2009, the magazine Game Informer compiled a “Top 200 Games of All Time” list. Ms. Pac-Man got the #10 spot, and earned the praise that it "trumped [the original] in nearly every way." (Pac-Man did receive, at least, a respectable ranking of #52).

4. HER NAME (AND MARITAL STATUS) CHANGED THREE TIMES BEFORE LAUNCH.

Like her husband, the “pac” in Ms. Pac-Man’s name comes from the original title Puck-Man and the term “paku paku,” a Japanese slang term or gesture for eating or gobbling. However, in the 72 hours before production on the sequel began, Midway marketers changed her planned name of Pac-Woman—which would have kept the Pac-Man brand intact—to Miss Pac-Man.

The programmers then realized that name might not work either. As Macrae later recalled, “[S]omeone pointed out to us that in the third animation (the cartoons between levels of the games) Pac-Man and the female Pac-Man get together and have a baby. We would have had all kinds of people talking about the fact that they had a baby out of wedlock, which would have been very bad.”

The team briefly changed the name to Mrs. Pac-Man before selling on Ms. Pac-Man, which they felt sounded better

5. THE SLOWEST GHOST GOT AN IDENTITY MAKEOVER, TOO.

In Pac-Man, the ghosts’ American names are Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde (descended from the original Japanese characters Fickle, Chaser, Ambusher, and Stupid). For Ms. Pac-Man, Midway changed the name of the orange, slowest ghost from Clyde to Sue, but left it at the rear of the pack.

6. She is ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR ARCADE GAMES EVER.

Ms. Pac-Man was more than just a critical darling. While Pac-Man is ranked as the highest-grossing American arcade game of all time, Ms. Pac-Man is a major title in her own right. The game moved 125,000 arcade cabinets, and by 1987 it had pulled in over $1.2 billion in quarters. By one estimate, it’s the fourth highest selling arcade game of all time.

7. Not everyone loved the Pac-Man craze.

The Pac-Couple have provided such addictively high-quality entertainment that almost since their release they’ve been accused of leading to truancy. A December 1982 Associated Press story shared the woes of two mothers who learned their kids were skipping school to dump quarters into the machines. One headline: “Mothers say school can’t compete with the lure of Pac-Man games.”

8. She inspired weddings.

Maybe it’s the romantic animations between levels. The 1982 arcade wedding of a Des Moines, Iowa couple featured a Pac-Man cake and a honeymoon suite equipped with a cabinet. The news story reported that the couple “said Pac-Man, the popular video game, and its more recent counterpart, Ms. Pac-Man, mean so much to them they decided to exchange vows in the presence of the machines.”

If Pinterest is any indication, this is one tradition that’s alive and well over three decades later.

9. SHE STARRED IN THE FIRST CARTOON BASED ON A VIDEO GAME.

Produced by Hanna-Barbera, Pac-Man ran on ABC for two seasons starting in 1982, and featured Pac-Man, his wife (renamed and restyled as Pepper Pac-Man), Pac-Baby, the ghosts, and a host of new characters. In the short-lived show, the characters lived on and worked to gather Power Pellets in the largely spherical realm of Pac-Land.

10. THE WORLD RECORD SCORE IS WORTH ABOUT 93,000 PAC-DOTS EATEN, OR 465 PEARS.

In August of 2005, Queens, New York resident Abdner Ashman took the high-score title from Chris Ayra with 921,360 points. The difference between the two scores—just 1050 points—could almost be accounted for with the eating of one additional apple (worth 1000 points each) over the course of 130 stages. In 2006 Ashman beat his own score, amassing an amazing 933,580 points

11. IN THEORY, YOU CAN PLAY MS. PAC-MAN FOREVER.

Most arcade-style Ms. Pac-Man units have 133, 134, or 141 levels. Like any arcade game, it can get glitchy and unable to handle the speed and number of internal processes on its most intense levels. However, legend has is that, on the right machine, a player can climb past Ashman’s score of 933,580, watch their score of 1,000,000 tick back over to 0, and just keep gobbling.

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Revisit Your Favorite '90s Screensaver With This Free Game
Cahoots Malone
Cahoots Malone

In the '90s, a significant amount of computing power was devoted to generating endless brick mazes on Windows 95. The screensaver has since become iconic, and now nostalgic Microsoft fans can relive it in a whole new way. As Motherboard reports, the animation has been re-imagined into a video game called Screensaver Subterfuge.

Instead of watching passively as your computer weaves through the maze, you’re leading the journey this time around. You play as a kid hacker who’s been charged with retrieving sensitive data hidden in the screensaver of Windows 95 before devious infomancers can get to it first. The gameplay is pretty simple: Use the arrow keys to navigate the halls and press Q and click the mouse to change their design. Finding a giant smiley face takes you to level two, and finding the briefcase icon ends the game. There are also lots of giant rats in this version of the screensaver.

Screensaver Subterfuge was designed by Cahoots Malone as part of the PROCJAM 2017 generative software showcase. You can download it for free for Windows, macOS, and Linux from his website, or if playing a game sounds like too much work, you can always watch videos of the old screensaver on a loop.

[h/t Motherboard]

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Brain Training Could Help Combat Hearing Loss, Study Suggests
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iStock

Contrary to what you might think, the hearing loss that accompanies getting older isn't entirely about your ears. Studies have found that as people get older, the parts of their brain that process speech slow down, and it becomes especially difficult to isolate one voice in a noisy environment. New research suggests there may be a way to help older people hear better: brain training.

The Verge reports that a new double-blind study published in Current Biology suggests that a video game could help older people improve their hearing ability. Though the study was too small to be conclusive, the results are notable in the wake of several large studies in the past few years that found that the brain-training games on apps like Luminosity don't improve cognitive skills in the real world. Most research on brain training games has found that while you might get better at the game, you probably won't be able to translate that skill to your real life.

In the current study, the researchers recruited 24 older adults, all of whom were long-term hearing-aid users, for eight weeks of video game training. The average age was 70. Musical training has been associated with stronger audio perception, so half of the participants were asked to play a game that asked them to identify subtle changes in tones—like you would hear in a piece of music—in order to piece together a puzzle, and the other half played a placebo game designed to test their memory. In the former, as the levels got more difficult, the background noise got louder. The researchers compare the task to a violinist tuning out the rest of the orchestra in order to listen to just their own instrument.

After eight weeks of playing their respective games around three-and-a-half hours a week, the group that played the placebo memory game didn't perform any better on a speech perception test that asked participants to identify sentences or words amid competing voices. But those who played the tone-changing puzzle game saw significant improvement in their ability to process speech in noise conditions close to what you'd hear in an average restaurant. The tone puzzle group were able to accurately identify 25 percent more words against loud background noise than before their training.

The training was more successful for some participants than others, and since this is only one small study, it's possible that as this kind of research progresses, researchers might find a more effective game design for this purpose. But the study shows that in specific instances, brain training games can benefit users. This kind of game can't eliminate the need for hearing aids, but it can help improve speech recognition in situations where hearing aids often fail (e.g., when there is more than one voice speaking). However, once the participants stopped playing the game for a few months, their gains disappeared, indicating that it would have to be a regular practice.

[h/t The Verge]

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