How Real Was Bud Light’s Life-Size Pac-Man Game? The Technology Talks

Digi International
February 10, 2015

One of the most buzzworthy commercials of Super Bowl XLIX was Bud Light’s Real Life Pac-Man spot for the #UpForWhatever campaign. The advertisement features a life-sized Pac-Man game where a seemingly unaware contender, Riley Smith, is challenged to munch pellets while being chased by ghosts Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde.

Here’s the commercial in case you missed it:

The Twitterverse thought that it was awesome and most people wanted to try the game out for themselves.

Real life Pac-Man! A million high fives to the first bar to make that a regular thing in their establishment.” –@mattlindner

Can real life Pac-Man be a thing with permanent game sets around the world?” –@DishNation

New life goal: be in real life Pac-Man.” –@NatalieAlynLind

We have failed as a society if human Pac-Man isn’t a real thing in the next 2-3 years” –@fsmikey

Then, there were others who were too skeptical to fully enjoy the spot:

Hey ad agencies, stop pretending it’s real. Anyway, sick ad. Bud Light” –@MathieuLcz

So, how real was real life Pac-Man? Is it be a game that you could really try in the future? Bud Light states that Smith’s participation was 100% organic. They say it was a live event, a real person, a real game board, all captured in real time. While we’ll leave Smith’s participation and the authenticity of the event up for debate, we can tell you that the game board itself was absolutely real. Bud Light and partners utilized Internet of Things technology to bridge digital and physical worlds and bring the Pac-Man game we all know and love to life.

Here’s How

Rick Galinson and Legacy Effects of Los Angeles, the same shop that provided Jurassic Park, Iron Man and Terminator effects designed the ghosts for the interactive game board.

Each roller-skating ghost costume is lit with about 4,000 LEDs, animated by a tiny open-source computer, the Parallax Propeller QuickStart Board, that communicates using Digi International’s tiny radio module, an XBee-PRO 802.15.4. The remote operator uses a laptop and another XBee module to send commands for the ghost’s flashing sequences.

“With the pressure of over 100 million viewers and a multi-million dollar campaign resting on these electronics, the Propeller chip from Parallax coupled with an XBEE PRO from Digi was an easy choice,” Galinson, SPFX Designer, said. “They performed flawlessly, are easy to implement and will remain my controller and communication products of choice for years to come.”

The technical details of the project had to be as straightforward as possible given short deadlines. Rob Faludi, Digi International’s Chief Innovator and author of Building Wireless Sensor Networks explains, “XBee radios are popular with artists and industrialists alike. They simplify radio communications between devices and the Internet, so critical projects can meet their deadlines without requiring extensive engineering efforts. There’s certainly no postponing the Super Bowl, so XBees were a great choice to ensure this project came off without a hitch.”

A total of five ghost costumes were produced with one serving as a backup. It took about twelve people to assemble the costumes in time for the commercial. Be sure to get a close look at their eyes, which exhibit the original video game character and move with the roller-skating ghost’s movement. Jon McPhalen’s Spin/ASM WS2812 driver figured prominently as a key source code object for this project.

Here’s a behind the scenes look at the game and event coming together:

“It’s now easier than ever with IoT technology to create mesmerizing digital experiences in the physical world. We’re not only seeing this in entertainment with Bud Light’s Pac-Man game, but also commercially with connected solutions for energy systems, transportation monitoring, medical care and even municipal street lighting, Faludi said. “XBees can be a power-up for almost any connected device project.”

So, to answer a question that may be burning in many fan’s minds: yes, it’s totally possible that you too could be running from Blinky the ghost in real life (IRL). Maybe coming to a bar near you? We’re not sure. But one thing we’re positive about is our digital and physical worlds will continue to come together to create these incredible dream-like experiences; both for fun and entertainment and for solving real-world problems.