Programming - - By Alex Walker

Google and the Ghosts of Pacman’s Past

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 http://www.google.com/pacman.

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

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