By Alex Walker

Google and the Ghosts of Pacman’s Past

By Alex Walker

It’s one of the web’s great ironies. Although Google owns arguably the web’s most iconic page — the Google front page — they’ve spent a great deal of time and effort giving us ways to completely bypass it. I know most of my searches are made directly from the Chrome address bar and every day more searches originate from any number of search bars, browser extensions, phone apps, plugins and toolbars.

This makes one thing abundantly clear: It’s the results page that pays the bills at Google.

However, looking back over more than 10 years of tribute doodles, I think Google’s heart and soul still lives in it’s front page. Over that time we’ve seen hat-tips to everything from morse code to Burning Man to Lego and yesterday, in case you missed it, the 25th 30th anniversary of Pacman.

Pacman on Google.comOnly this time, they may well have outdone themselves. Not content with a simple visual tribute, this time the Googlers coded their logo into the maze of a working Pacman game. Click the ‘Insert Coin’ button and suddenly you’re playing a slick, authentic take on the classic 80’s chomper.

This was an impressive effort for lots of reasons.

Firstly, they’ve managed to construct the whole shooting match from garden variety HTML divs, image sprites and JavaScript. Impressively they haven’t even resorted to any new-fangled Canvas or SVG, let alone Flash or other 3rd party tech.

Secondly, to my knowledge, this is the first time Google has incorporated sound into a tribute, with a glorious soundscape of ‘gloop-gloops’, ‘peeps’ and wailing sirens serenading our little yellow guy on his adventures. However, although this was certainly a technical triumph, it would be fair to say it hasn’t been entirely without user experience problems.

Not long after launch, help forums at Google, Mozilla and Yahoo started getting increasingly alarmed complaints of inexplicable sirens emanating from their computer.

While some users were simply unknowingly launching the sounds when they launched their browser, others had a more serious underlying problem. Apparently a bug in the popular Cool Previews Firefox extension allowed the Pacman soundscape to persist even after they had left the Google page.

Now, I love Pacman but that could get old fast.

Cooliris patched the bug quickly but these things take a while to make their way out into the wild. You could argue this wasn’t Google’s fault, but it might give you pause for thought when experimenting with sound on the web.

Anyway, if you did miss Pacman’s visit to the Google front page, fear not. Happily he’s found a permanent home at

Hmmm.. Is that the sound of falling productivity I can hear?

  • Hmmm.. Is that the sound of falling productivity I can hear?

    From the traffic on Twitter I saw yesterday and earlier today, it certainly is!

  • Utterly brilliant! (Not wishing to show my age, but it’s PacMan’s 30th birthday.)

    Looking through the code, they have resorted to using Flash for the sound effects, but it’s an incredible effort for something which lasted one day!

  • jc07

    Clicking on the Insert Coin Button twice allows you to play two player with Ms. Pacman using the A,S,D,W keys!

  • AndrewCooper

    Haha I must have spent a whole hour playing Pac-Man on Google! :D Glad that they decided to keep it up permanently as this will provide some great entertainment in the future and it’s a great implementation of a game using the three Front-End Web Development languages (aside from Flash for the sound, but heck!)

    Andrew Cooper

  • Yeah it’s a big problem with sound on the web – annoying visuals are easy to look away from, but annoying sound is always intrusive. Whenever I visit a page that plays sounds at me by default, I close it again without even thinking – it’s a gut reaction.

    The best thing to do I reckon is never implement default sound – always leave it off by default and ask users to turn it on. If it’s really “important” you can actively prompt for permission, but otherwise, a simple icon does the trick.

  • I agree with James (Brothercake) that sound on web pages should be off by default. Aside from basic usability—not pissing visitors off—it’s a good thing for accessibility too. Try this Pacman special from Google with a screen reader, or see

  • David

    So THAT”S where those siren noises were coming from. I thought I was losing it for half the day hearing sirens every time I opened Firefox. Didn’t happen in any other browser. Finally ended up uninstalling and reinstalling it to get it to go away. Phew… at least now I know that the voices in my head or the only thing to worry about. :)

  • Interesting adjunct to this story. According to Compete’s blog, traffic to Mozilla’s Support site went through the roof in the days after the Google Pacman launch.

  • I missed the “insert coin” part. I appreciate Google showed it up, it rekindles few old spirits.

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