What Pac-Man looks like naked
If not for an alert WoSblog viewer, though, this reporter might have missed out on a Pac-party taking place just along the road, in what's rapidly becoming WoSblog's twin town of Swindon.
For it was Swindon's own tiny but dedicated Museum Of Computing that decided to mark the anniversary of the pizza-shaped pill-popper's videogame debut with a series of public events last Saturday. It seemed churlish not to take the 25-minute train ride to see what was going down.
The festivities were in three parts over two locations. Firstly, the museum itself had a small display of Pac-paraphernalia in a little room off the main exhibition, comprising a few consoles and dedicated handhelds playing various Pac-games along with a few miscellaneous items like the Pac-Man boardgame and an original Spectrum Zuckman cassette (with photocopied and hand-written inlay!), all soundtracked by the famous Buckner & Garcia "Pac-Man Fever" album.
It was a modest catalogue, of which the most interesting exhibit was a small digital photo frame running some fascinating video clips including original TV ads for the Pac-Man breakfast cereal and Pac-Man pasta. My personal favourite aspect of the museum's Pac-tribute, though, were the extremely tasty free biscuits.
It was far too hot a day to be inside a museum anyway, so I headed off to Swindon's civic square, Wharf Green, home of the 25-square-metre biggest TV screen in the South of England. (By my back-of-an-envelope calculations that makes the screen something in the region of 275 inches corner to corner.)
On the way, though, I stopped off at the 99p Store to look for snack treats (delicious grape flavour Mentos sweets from Japan, 99p for a 12-roll box! Bargain!), and as I entered I was startled at the sight of Pac-Man and Blinky hurrying down the street and into the Brunel Shopping Centre opposite. Perhaps they'd been off buying a Pac-lunch! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
I ran ahead to snap the shot at the top of this page, and then followed them the few hundred yards to the Green.
Slightly disappointingly, the giant-screen version of Pac-Man promised on the flyers turned out to be the version from the Plug'n'Play TV game, ie basically a tweaked version of the NES port rather than the proper arcade one. That was fine, as it's a very respectable port and is probably better suited to the square's wide landscape-format screen than the portrait-monitor coin-op would be, but it would have been nice to see the real thing on its birthday.
(Viewers! What would be the best solution? A netbook with a good battery life running a version of MAME, perhaps, attached to a decent USB arcade stick?)
A respectable crowd (dozens rather than hundreds, but still the most people I'd ever seen in Wharf Green at once) had begun to gather, to strain their ears and eyes trying to pick out the words of the rather underpowered MC and see the onscreen action in the blazing sunshine, and there was a large spontaneous round of applause the first time someone cleared the maze.
Mingling amongst the crowd were the protagonists of the day's main event – the Human Pac-Man game. Pac himself, plus Inky, Blinky and Pinky (Clyde had called off sick, museum curator Simon Webb told me when I bumped into him) were milling around the square in their rather spiffy costumes, doing little skits and posing for lots of photographs with the public (including many grown adults old enough to know better).
This was in part due to technical delays in setting up the Human Pac-Man game, which was supposed to be depicted via an overhead camera on the giant screen. (By the time I left for another engagement at around 1pm they hadn't managed to get it working yet, but were due to run the game several times during the course of the afternoon, so hopefully they got it sorted.)
The ghosts in particular kept themselves amused, and at one point I got a bit of a jump when I turned round from watching the screen to find an eight-foot-high Inky standing right beside me. "It's really hot in here!", said a tiny young voice plaintively from inside the tent-like construction.
Since it was about a thousand degrees in the sun-drenched square whether you were wearing a costume or not, I could offer little sympathy and he scurried off to chase some little children.
The game itself eventually got under way, albeit without the overhead camera. I didn't fully follow the rules, but it seemed to involve the player shouting out a colour, which referred to either the balloons attached to paper plates on the floor of the "maze", or to the four painted pieces of cardboard on sticks, one in the centre of each outside wall.
According (somehow) to the colour shouted, Pac-Man would stomp balloons and stoop to pick up the paper plates, while the ghosts ambled around the maze (either randomly or in specified patterns, I couldn't tell), and if they bumped into Pac he collapsed theatrically to the ground and lost a life.
(All the arcade game's jingles and sound effects were played at the appropriate points via a PA attached to a laptop.)
It was all very charming, low-budget fun in proper British village-fayre style, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. But you don't want to hear about that, do you? You saw the headline and you just want to know what Pac-Man looks like naked, don't you?
Well, chase the children from the room and brace yourselves.
ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?