Celebrating Pac-Man’s 35th birthday Maker style

Taking a look at a few Maker projects inspired by the most popular arcade game of all-time.

Did you know Pac-Man turns 35 today? (Okay, now we feel old.) First released on May 22, 1980 by Namco, it would go on to become a fixture at arcades throughout the world as well as an icon in pop culture history. The game was unveiled at a time when Space Invaders and Asteroids’ monochrome graphics ruled the market, yet with a refreshing colorful cartoonish design and an appealing central character, it wasn’t before long that it became a hit. What also made differentiated itself was that it revolved around eating, not shooting things. In the game, the player controlled Pac-Man through a maze, devouring pellets along the way. When all the pac-dots were gone, Pac-Man advanced to the next stage.

So now that we sparked up some nostalgia, what better way to celebrate its birthday than by looking back at a few Maker projects inspired by the most popular arcade game of all-time?

Eating time, not pellets

Created by “Making Things,” this alarm clock features Pac-Man who periodically opens and closes his mouth at random intervals, while a pair of ghosts remain stationary along its side. Based on a Teensy 2.0 (ATmega32U4), the device is packed with a simple RTC module, a servo and a serial LED board for its display. The gears and servo are mounted to a 3D-printed bracket, while the plywood frame is outlined with blue EL wire, giving it that classic little touch.

Sporting a set of blinking braces

Inspired by her love for the arcade classic, Adafruit’s Becky Stern devised a pair of pixel suspenders that add a some extra pizazz to the way you hold up your pants. This set of blinking braces boasts 30 NeoPixels, each of which are sewn to these suspenders and powered by a FLORA main board (ATmega32U4) running a dazzling Pac Man-like animation.

Making bus stops enjoyable

Waiting for the bus can be, well, pretty darn boring. As you sit there twiddling your thumbs, you never actually know exactly when it will arrive. Cognizant of this, the collaboration of Norwegian Creations and Trondheim Makers developed an interactive gaming display that gave those awaiting a ride the ability to pass the time by directing the famous character around a blue maze, eating yellow pellets and avoiding colorful ghosts ints path. This display was also constructed as a promotional effort around Trondheim Maker Faire. To make this possible, the incredibly innovative bus stop was comprised of a pre-cut sheet of plywood with an old computer screen, a Raspberry Pi with the retro game installed, as well as a MaKey MaKey (ATmega32U4) controlled by aluminum foil tape on the glass front of the poster box.

Controlling Pac-Man with bananas

Speaking of Makey Makey, this project is exactly what it sounds like. Using the popular platform, one group of students plugged the board into their computer, attaching its corresponding crocodile clips to some bananas, which were employed as arrow keys to move Pac-Man throughout the maze.

Sipping coffee as you devour pellets


After having purchased a Raspberry Pi, IKEA Hacker Manny Flores decided to transform his IKEA coffee table into a full-out arcade system. To do so, he outlined the shape of the LCD monitor and carefully cut out a hole used to insert the joystick, buttons and control board. Running a version of Linux, the Maker put together a simple front-end for selecting the games in Python. Meanwhile, sound comes out through a pair of inexpensive speakers hidden by a small enclosure at the bottom of the table. While it may not be an Arduino-based project, it’s pretty awesome nevertheless.

Having a plug-and-play system in your pocket

Modder Sam Thornley built this handheld console back way back 2007, and a few years later, shared it with the members of Ben Heck’s forum. The simple design consists of a Namco/Jakks arcade-on-a-chip system melded with a tiny 2.5-inch LCD display and powered by a set of four rechargeable AA batteries for easy travel.

Gobbling up dirt, dust and an occasional ghost

To show his love for the game, one Maker added 448 yellow LEDs to his Roomba so that when it moved forward, it would gobble up dust, dirt and whatever else in its way. When it starts up, it plays the Pac-Man theme song, and upon shutting off, emits its death sound effect.

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