Pac-Manhattan is a large-scale urban game that utilizes the New York City grid to recreate the 1980's video game sensation Pac-Man. This analog version of Pac-man is being developed in NYU's Interactive Telecommunications graduate program, in order to explore what happens when games are removed from their "little world" of tabletops, televisions and computers and placed in the larger "real world" of street corners, and cities.

A player dressed as Pac-man will run around the Washington square park area of Manhattan while attempting to collect all of the virtual "dots" that run the length of the streets. Four players dressed as the ghosts Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde will attempt to catch Pac-man before all of the dots are collected.

Using cell-phone contact, Wi-Fi internet connections, and custom software designed by the Pac-Manhattan team, Pac-man and the ghosts will be tracked from a central location and their progress will be broadcast over the internet for viewers from around the world.

Q: How many players are needed for PacManhattan?
A: 10. There are five players in the street (Pac Man + 4 ghosts) and five players in a control room. Each Player on the street is teamed with a Controller, both of whom are in constant contact via cellphone for the duration of the game. The role of the Controller is to update the position of their Player as he or she runs through the streets. At every intersection, the Player on the street updates the Controller with their position which is then updated via software and shared with the other Controllers.

Q: Are there really "dots" in the street?
A: Nope. As Pac Man runs through the street, he is in constant contact with his Controller via cell phone. As Pac Man moves from intersection to intersection, he relays his position back to the Controller who updates this position on a software map. As Pac Man's position is updated on the map, the dots disappear. The only way for the Pac Man in the street to know which dots have already been eaten is by talking to his Controller.

Q: How do the ghosts "eat" Pac Man?
A: By tagging him! Same goes for when Pac Man eats a Power Pellet and tries to eat the ghosts.

Q: How do the other ghost know when Pac Man has eaten a Power Pellet?
A: Remember, all players in the street are in constant contact with their Controllers via cell phone. When Pac Man's eats a Power Pellet (read: touches the street sign at that intersection), Pac Man's Controller broadcasts this information to the four ghost Controllers who then relay this information to the Player ghosts on the street.

Q: How long does a game usually last?
A: We've had games last as little 10 minutes and as long as one hour. It all depends on how well (a) the team of Player and Controller work together on the phone and (b) how organized the team of ghost Players and Controllers become over the course of the game.

Q: Can I play too?
A: We're going to start allowing others to join in our games soon. If you're interested in playing, join our mailing list!

Q: Are you planning on doing Pac Manhattan in other cities?
A: Don't wait for us! Make your own Pac Manhattan maps! Feel free to use the rules we created and be sure to send us back any maps you create so we can add them to the website.

Q: What about Ms. PacManhattan?
A: All we need is a bow. :) Look for our first female Pac Man during our next playtest.

Q: Why didn't you use GPS?
A: We tried track the players using GPS, but ran into two problems: (1) GPS does not work well in "urban canyons", where the signal is reflected off large buildings and (2) we could not find an easy (read: cheap) way to send the geo-coordinate data from the GPS receiver back to the network. (It's hard to connect serial data to cellphones and PCMCIA cellular cards are expensive). Anyone want to donate equipment?

Q: Why didn't you use WiFi?
A: We are using WiFi in the control room, but not on the streets where the players are interacting. We were going to try to use WiFi networks as an uplink for the GPS data, but we could not find an area of the city with consistent WiFi coverage over a large area.

Game map from the 4th playtest. (4/29)

Screenshot of the Control Panel. The "controllers" first select which player they are controlling...

... then use this app to update the position of their player on the map. As the player moves from intersection to intersection, he or she updates their Controller with there whereabouts. The Controller then drags-and-drops the icon of the player they are guiding around the map to reflect the change in position. As Pac Man's position is updated, the dots disappear.

When Pac Man eats a Power Pellet, the ghost controllers see this screen for 2 minutes.

Revised game map from the 3rd playtest. (4/22)

Game map from the 3rd playtest. (4/22)

Game map from the 1st and 2nd playtests. (4/15)


Copyright (c)2004,