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First Mention: Pac-Man

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There are so many things we quaintly describe as retro. Our producers sometimes dig through the NPR audio vault to find our earliest reference to products or issues that ended up being a big deal, something we now take for granted. We call these audio explorations...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

First Mention.

SHAPIRO: Today's First Mention comes from June of 1981. Host Bob Edwards was explaining a figure that had become pretty big in pop-culture.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BOB EDWARDS, BYLINE: A little yellow ball and four ghost monsters named Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde - the game is called "Pac-Man."

SIEGEL: Pac-Man, the lovable yellow ball that looks like a pizza with a missing slice. The Japanese company behind the game, Namco, had been looking to design a game that would appeal to everybody. Up until that point, videogame arcades were filled with teenage boys playing shooting games like "Space Invaders." Namco wanted to attract younger kids and women, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEOGAME, "PAC-MAN")

SHAPIRO: Pac-Man chomping through pellet-lined mazes was the answer. The game launched in the U.S. in the fall of 1980, and by the time this story was on our air the following spring, it was a full-on sensation. Namco's idea worked.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I get real excited. And it's a challenge. I love the sounds it makes. And they're cute (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: A lot of the other games, you know, you just shoot missiles at something. "Pac-Man" - you're running away from a guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEOGAME, "PAC-MAN")

SIEGEL: Those "Pac-Man" fans were in a story by reporter Mark Gunshon out of Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MARK GUNSHON, BYLINE: "Pac-Man," like most video games, combines the colorful and animated computer-generated graphics with sound...

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEOGAME, "PAC-MAN")

GUNSHON: ...Lively music...

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEOGAME, "PAC-MAN")

GUNSHON: ...The crunching Pac-Man sound...

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEOGAME, "PAC-MAN")

GUNSHON: ...And the agonizing, almost tragically sympathetic sound when you have lost your eating hero.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEOGAME, "PAC-MAN")

SIEGEL: Well, sort of music. Gunshon also spoke to a game room attendant at Northwestern University who explained how popular "Pac-Man" was by how many quarters he counted.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No, we don't keep track of how many people, but we keep track of how much money we take in. In one week, it takes in usually around $4,000.

SHAPIRO: Did you get that? One week of quarters in the "Pac-Man" arcade game equaled $4,000 - not bad for 1981.

SIEGEL: It's been reported than within 15 months of its release in the U.S., more than a billion dollars in quarters were spent to play the game.

SHAPIRO: Videogame graphics have come a long way since then, but there is still nothing like getting to that next level of "Pac-Man." Do you remember the first time you played the game? Let us know on Twitter. We're @NprATC. I'm @AriShapiro.

SIEGEL: And I'm @RSiegel47. We'd love to hear your first memory of today's First Mention.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEOGAME, "PAC-MAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.