The Game: The denizens of Pac-Land must surely know how to do something other than just devour dots and munch monsters. And they learn from Professor Pac-Man himself, the dean of dot-gobblers. Professor Pac-Man poses questions of all kinds to you (and an opponent, if you have a second player), including visual recognition tests and matching puzzles. A Pac-Man gobbles a row of dots from left to right, counting down the seconds you have to correctly answer the question. Correct answers gain points and fruit, while incorrect answers will cost you. Lose more points than you have to spare, and the game’s over. (Bally/Midway, 1983)
Memories: This is one of those games where you can just picture someone in the marketing department saying “How can we exploit the Pac-Man license from Namco in a way that’s never been done before?” Video trivia games were nothing new, but the talent assembled to produce Professor Pac-Man was appropriately prodigious. Marc Canter and Mark Pierce, both Midway staffers, went on to form their own company in 1984 called MacroMind; a few changes in direction and a few strategic mergers later, MacroMind became none other than creativity software powerhouse Macromedia, and Canter and Pierce, along with longtime Midway veteran Jay (Gorf designer and Bally Astrocade console creator) Fenton, had a hit on their hands with a little software package called Director. You may have heard of it. Just about anyone who has ever slapped a Flash animation onto the web certainly has.
Probably the single most obscure game in the Pac-canon (with the possible exception of Pac & Pal), Professor Pac-Man hasn’t sunk completely into obscurity. Oddly enough, Namco took the character on board, and the munching mentor has made cameo appearances in such relatively recent fare as Pac-Man World and Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness, apparently earning a place in the Pac-pantheon alongside Ms. Pac-Man and Baby Pac-Man.
In and of itself, Professor Pac-Man is actually quite fun, though it’s easy to see where a trivia game with a pre-programmed selection of puzzles and questions would have had a limited shelf life. Canter has gone on the record as saying that Midway was ready to develop add-on modules that would have customized Professor Pac-Man to specific settings like bars, or would have added a wider variety of questions and answers. But in this case, it was one trip to the Pac-well too many – Professor Pac-Man simply didn’t catch on, so there was no justification in proceeding with those expansion plans. It would take the Professor quite a while to graduate into a permanent member of the cast.