Pac-Man, the inventor of video games, turned 40 years old this week, as did anyone else who was born around this time in 1980. (I was born in 1987 so I still get to be glib about these things for a few more years, until my body finally dries up and blows away in the wind, like so much Maruchan ramen broth powder, as I’m lead to believe happens when one turns 40.) To celebrate, Amazon Games, which still exists, announced Pac-Man Live Studio, a new Pac-Man game and game maker that will be built directly into popular streaming website Twitch.
Amazon gave no launch date for Pac-Man Live Studio, despite this seeming extremely like the sort of “and you can play it right now!” announcement that would accompany a 40th anniversary, but we do know that the game will feature three primary modes whenever it does eventually launch. Classic mode, as you might guess, is just regular-ass arcade Pac-Man from 1980 running in a browser, as you can tell from the nebulously on-purpose mouse cursor in the below screenshot. Based on the way that Amazon words things in its announcement, it sounds like Classic mode will feature global score leaderboards at a minimum, though it’s unclear if players will also be able to see how they stack up against their friends specifically.
Endless mode is a live multiplayer roguelike-like version of Pac-Man, which is a hell of a weird thing to type out, wherein multiple players try and clear a stage, but only one person needs to actually survive until the end for the entire team to move on to the next round.
The real meat and potatoes of Pac-Man Live Studio seems to be its Maze Creator, seen in the header image at the top of this page, which allows people to — you guessed it! — create their own Pac-Man mazes, which is a fun idea. Players have control over everything from pellet placement to block color, and even where the Pac-Man(s) spawn at the beginning of the level. Mazes can be published and shared with others through the interface, with mazes that are played the most rising to the top in a specially curated tab. There’s no way of knowing what kind of moderation, if any, Amazon has in place to handle Pac-Man Live Studio mazes that look like dicks and/or swastikas — the announcement makes no mention of any such systems or protections.
While I’m sure that Bandai Namco, which still owns the rights to Pac-Man after all these years, must somehow be involved in the project, its name and iconography are entirely missing from Amazon’s official page for the announcement, as well as Pac-Man Live Studio‘s official Twitter and Instagram pages, so that’s weird. It’s also weird that we live in a time where playing Pac-Man could be construed as crossing a picket line, since tensions between Amazon and its deeply endangered workforce continue to approach a boiling point, as the COVID-19 pandemic inches closer and closer to 100,000 deaths in the United States alone. Of all the things I expected to write about in 2020, Pac-Man labor rights in the context of a global pandemic wasn’t one of them.