How Google Pulled Off Pac-Man Maps

10 Apr 2015 by Lauren Kisicki, No Comments »

To the dismay of many, Google will probably be removing its ingenious experiment, which launches Pac-Man onto the real streets via Google Maps. The program was launched two weeks ago as an April Fools joke, so it wasn’t meant to stay for long, despite all the love it’s been receiving. However, even before the game was launched, there was a story behind it.

The program was created by John Tantalo, a software engineer at Google, and his wife Mary Radcliffe, an assistant professor of mathematics in the field of graph theory at University of Washington. Radcliffe was a big fan of Ms. Pac-Man in college, and Tantalo had been thinking about mashing up Pac-Man and Google Maps since an engineering internship at Google in 2006. The onlt problem? It wasn’t technically possible in 2006. Come 2010, the story changed.

In 2010, Google Maps started using vector graphics to create its maps instead of patchwork of 256×256-pixel images. This caused many improvements to the program. It also helped make Google Maps Pac-Man a reality.

“The vector tiles allow us to use just the road network to create the maze,” Tantalo says. “(And) place pac-dots, power pellets and bonuses, and enable Pac-Man and ghosts to traverse it.”

Two years after the development was made, Tantalo rejoined Google and pitched the idea to his superiors. It was an instant hit and was added to 2015’s arsenal of April Fool’s Day pranks. Google worked closely with Namco, the owners of the original Pac-Man game during development and the entire Google Maps team got to work. The “cross-functional effort” was coded using a number of computer languages, including Objective C, Java, and Javascript. According to Google, the project took a couple of months to get working and running smoothly across the various screen sizes and platforms Google Maps runs on.

The result was one of Google’s finest April Fools’ Day stunts ever. Even though it doesn’t seem to affect maps performance, it is by definition meant to be a one-time deal. Pac-Maps must die so a tradition of tomfoolery may live on.

“Google’s annual April Fools tradition … normally only lasts a day,” Tantalo says. “We’re glad it’s delighted so many people, but it wouldn’t be an April Fools ‘prank’ if it were to stay around forever.”


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