Chasin’ Ghosts through the Streets


Apparently if the streets in Joliet, Illinois, near where I spent my formative years were a game of Pac-Man, this is what it’d look like.


Yeah, I know — I just posted! What was it, yesterday? Two days ago?? Well, obviously, this is about the April Fool’s Day pseudo-joke perpetrated by the extreme data mining giant Google, and since it’s about April Fool’s Day, this little feature on Google might not be available after today, so…gotta seize the day, yo.

Everybody and his duck posted to my timeline yesterday (and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, probably yours too) about how Google Maps can turn the map on your screen into Pac-Man; honestly, that’s like getting a die-hard Beatles fan a copy of 1962-1966 as a Christmas present…but enough with that mini-rant. Yesterday only certain areas had the Pac-Man feature enabled, and Google revealed which ones with some ever-so-slightly clues. I immediately recognized one of them as Phildelphia, so I opened up Google Maps in Firefox and simply searched for “independence hall.” I got the map and a little icon that looked like a tiny screen grab from the arcade favorite. Today, however, you should be able to play the game on any part of Google Maps that has enough streets.


In my opinion, Google’s 2010 “doodle” was a better integration of Pac-Man.

You may recall that this is not the first time Google has done a paean to Pac-Man; for the game’s 30th anniversary on May 21, 2010, Google’s “doodle” logo was actually a playable version of Pac-Man, complete with sounds, increasing difficulty levels, interstitial cut scenes, and even 256th-level kill screen. Why Google has chosen to use April 1 this year to have fun with Google Maps, I have no idea, unless it’s to celebrate the 35th anniversary.


Do you see this icon on your map? That means you can turn the streets into a Pac-Man game.

But this is a neat little thing to do with Google Maps, though. Just go to Google Maps on a desktop web browser (I couldn’t get this to work in the iOS app or any mobile browsers), type in any address, and in the lower-left corner of the page you’ll see an icon of the Pac-Man maze. Click that icon and the map becomes Pac-Man; you may get a warning that there aren’t enough streets to generate the game, so you may need to either scroll a little bit or click “I’m Feeling Lucky.”

You’ll need to use your keyboard to play this game; it doesn’t recognize any joystick you have plugged in. (Then again, neither did the doodle from 2010.) You start with five lives. The scoring is the same as in the arcade game: 10 points for a dot, 50 for an energizer, ghosts starting at 200 points and doubling each time you eat a ghost on one energizer, and cherries through keys ranging from 100 to 5,000 bonus points, and a bonus Pac-Man at 10,000 points. The graphics are just like the arcade graphics, except the characters are all outlined. Some streets act as escape tunnels, but be careful — they may exit to unexpected places. And just like in the arcade game, the further you go, the harder it gets: the game play speeds up, and the ghost vulnerability period gets shorter.

As a longtime Pac-Man fan, though, I have to say I’m a bit disappointed. Yes, it’s free, so I shouldn’t complain, but man, if you’re going to do it, do it right. The arcade sounds are there…sort of. You have the ongoing siren that increases in intensity as you eat more dots. But you don’t have Pac-Man’s famous “waka” sound — just the first syllable. (You undoubtedly recall that in the arcade version, the syllables alternate — “wa” for one dot, “ka” for the next, etc.) The vulnerability alert plays after you eat an energizer, and you hear the eaten-ghost sound, but not the eyes-traveling-back-to-the-home-base sound. No chimes when you get a bonus life.


Are the famous cut-away scenes included? Well…sort of.

Do you get the interstitial cut-away scenes when you clear mazes? Ehhhhhhh….kinda-sorta. Every single time you clear a maze, in the info sidebar over on the left you see a very brief version of the first cut-away scene, so it’s not quite like the arcade version. Also different from the arcade version is that in the arcades, the number of Pac-Mans you see at the bottom of the screen indicate how many you have in reserve — meaning that if you see one Pac-Man on the bottom, you have one more life left after you lose the current one; however, on the Google Maps version, the number of Pac-Mans off to the left side of the screen represents the number of lives you currently have, period — if you have just one Pac-Man off to the left, that means you’re on your last life. Yet another difference between the Google Maps version and the arcade version is when the bonus prize comes out. In the arcade version, you need to eat about 70 dots (including energizers) to get the first prize in the maze, and then another 100 for the second. On the Google Maps version, it seems that the number of dots you has to eat varies depending on the number of dots in the maze. In my experience, it’s higher than usual — sometimes I’ve had to clear 200 dots for the first prize of the maze, sometimes as few as 100.


Here’s a game of Pac-Man taking place in downtown Chicago. Pac-Man doesn’t give a damn what gets in the way: his path of dots goes right through CIty Hall in the upper-left portion of this screen cap, just to the right of the dot. And possibly reflecting the…fairness?…of Chicago’s city government, you only get three energizers in this part of town.

In terms of mechanics, the control is kind of clunky, and it has nothing to do with requiring a keyboard to play. The responsiveness is often questionable. With this in mind, plan your turns ahead of time and repeatedly hit the appropriate arrow key on your keyboard to make those turns until you actually do make the turn, especially if you’re turning down a tight “street.” In fact, I Pac-Man‘ed my neighborhood, and in one game I could turn down a diagonal street with no problem, but on another game I couldn’t go down the same exact street, yet the ghosts could but I could only go up on that street. Speaking of streets, the Pac-Man maze Google generates doesn’t even necessarily follow the streets — sometimes the Pac-Man paths actually cut away from the streets. If you and a ghost are about to have a head-on collision, if you get closer than about three Pac-Man-lengths away from the ghost, you cannot turn away — and once you so much touch a ghost in this situation, you’re dead: you won’t live for the ghost to ride your tail as in the arcade game.


Here’s part of my neighborhood as a Pac-Man game. Interestingly, Pac-Man’s path doesn’t go down my street, but it does go down the alley behind the house. It seems pretty random as to whether Pac-Man is allowed to travel southeast down that path, too.

Perhaps what disappointed me the most, though, is one of the most well-known pieces of Pac-Man lore and skill concepts — that Pac-Man moves slower when eating dots, whether or not the ghosts are vulnerable — is missing. You can easily outrun the ghosts, even while eating dots. And the only thing that distinguishes one ghost from another is the color. Each ghost has the same artificial intelligence and speed.

Despite the annoyances I had with Google Maps’ take on Pac-Man, it’s still fun, and I recommend trying it. I admit I played it several times…and I also admit I was hoping to play long enough to see if the split-screen was included; alas, I can’t say one way or the other. Anybody care to try?



About pacmaniax

Sean is a web developer whose obsession with the Pac-Man franchise goes back to 1981, when he first played Pac-Man as an 7-year-old who didn't quite understand that you need to eat one of those big, blinking things first before you attempt to eat the ghosts. For one brief moment, he thought he held the world record for Jr. Pac-Man Turbo in October 2012, but it was actually only the second-highest score on record, and even that ranking only lasted under a day. A music buff, you can see Sean posting not only on and as "dauber," but also on various forums that obsess over The Beatles and Brian Wilson. Sean is also cohost of Pie Factory Podcast.
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