Google Pays Tribute to Pac-Man's 30th Anniversary

Pac-Man game on Google home page
Pac-Man game on Google home page

Millions of online users returned to their 1980s roots Friday when they logged on to (GOOG) and were given another reason to slack off Friday and play a free version of Pac-Man, the perennial favorite arcade game.

The search engine, which busts out creative new designs for its home search page on holidays and anniversaries, broke the mold with its Pac-Man game.

It's the first time Google has made its home page logo interactive, letting searchers hit an "insert coin" button to play the game or wait 10 seconds until it turns on automatically. The game includes a whopping 256 levels, and the same pizza-shaped character gobbling dots in a maze.

Dot-Gobbling Character Sticking Around

The game went live on Friday, the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the original game, and will be available for 48 hours, also unusual for the daily rotating page. "Because it's too cool to keep for just one day," the creative force behind the game said in a blog post.

Sam Diaz, a senior editor at technology news site ZDNet, spent some time playing the game Friday, admitting that he was better at the old-school game. He did say it was yet another creative use of Google's logo on the start page, and a great way to reach millions of people.

"You can tell they have fun paying tribute to holidays and events," Diaz said. "It was an appropriate tribute by the company to the 80s, and really showcases how Google stays creative." Diaz also noted that he got several messages from friends who were hooked on the game, and complaining that the work day was pretty much a loss.

Apparently that was the case elsewhere. A CNET blogger was sent an email from an IT manager from Miami-Dade County, saying they were having problems with their Google home pages.

"We're used to Google celebrating this and that and placing some pictures on the home page, but today it was the annoying sound of (Pac-Man.) Recreational games are banned by county regulations, so I had no choice but [to] delete Google as one of (the) home page tabs on users' PCs," the manager wrote.

Another Reason to Slack Off on Friday

The way-out-of-the-box idea came from Marcin Wichary, a Google senior UX designer and developer, and Google doodler Ryan Germick.

"When I was growing up, my dad had the best job I could possibly imagine: He was an arcade game and pinball technician," Wichary said in a blog post Friday. "For me, that meant summer trips through Poland's coastal cities with their seasonal arcade parlors, peeking inside cabinets to learn programming and engineering secrets, and -- of course -- free games."

Wichary and Germick said they wanted the game to be true to the original Pac-Man game, including everything from the graphics to the ghost's original personalities. They also added what they call an "Easter egg," allowing user to throw in another coin, and Ms. Pac-Man joins the party, allowing joint play. The up, down, right, left keys control Pac-Man and the WASD keys control his female partner.

Google's Pac-Man buzz Friday is welcome relief for the company that has been busy defending itself from criticism for improperly collecting Wi-Fi data from its "Street View" cars used to take pictures for Google Maps. Co-founder Sergey Brin apologized for collecting the data, saying the company "screwed up."