Pac-Man Kill Screen in Counted Cross Stitch

In the ’80s, Pac-Man was an unstoppable force of popular culture. It’s the first video game I remember that tapped into the possibilities of merchandising, and as a result, a fairly straightforward maze game turned into a great big huge deal.

It was my first obsession (if you don’t count my 4-year-old self being infatuated with Jimmy Carter, that is. I may have been the only preschooler with a Jimmy Carter campaign button on her backpack). I had Pac-Man everything: the lunchbox, the sleeping bag, a really cool tan nylon purse that I think is still in my mom’s house somewhere, the Pac-Man breakfast cereal, a board game (hundreds of marbles? OK.), the legendarily crap-tastic Atari 2600 version of the game, Pac-Man sheets and pillowcases… my mom even found some fabric and made up Pac-Man curtains for my room. That list isn’t even exhaustive – it doesn’t even mention the notepads, pencils, erasers, stickers, figurines, comic books, shoelaces, and t-shirts I owned. I even have a wind-up Pac-Man who walks and opens his mouth. I’d take a photo as proof, but I had to hide it from my daughter and I forgot where I put it.

The point is, Pac-Man was A THING with me. The irony is that I am distinctly terrible at the actual game.

A few years ago, I watched the documentary “King of Kong,” which is about the quest to get the highest score on Donkey Kong. It touches on other games, too, and there is a bit of discussion about the “kill screen.” That’s the point at which these early 8-bit games ran out of memory and basically barfed out a bunch of junk on the screen. The kill screen is the highest level, the farthest you can go, and a bit of a Holy Grail in gaming circles.

The most famous of these is the Pac-Man kill screen. From what I’ve seen via a few internet searches, it’s the most visually interesting, too. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks that, because there is a lot of art dedicated to the Pac-Man kill screen, from T-shirts to cross-stitch patterns.

AHA!! I came across the cross-stitch pattern for this, downloaded it, and promptly forgot about it for a couple of years. Then I read “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline and was reminded of it. So I dug out the pattern, went to the craft store, and got started.

The black Aida cloth was difficult to find. It comes in various sizes and uh, stitch count (densities), from 10 stitches per inch to 18 or more. I chose 18-count, because I didn’t want this thing to be a bedspread. I found it online for about $12. The thread is ridiculously cheap (about 40 cents), especially to someone who is used to buying expensive yarn.

I did the math approximately 23245 times. I didn’t want to get 80% of the way through this thing and realize I needed an extra half-inch on both sides, so I did a lot of measuring, multiplying, and dividing to make damn sure. Once I was satisfied that it was all going to be okay, I got started.

The Pac-Man kill screen cross-stitch chart is a 9-page behemoth of a thing. It looks really intimidating until you realize that a great deal of it is actually empty space. Then it just looks hard. I decided to start in the middle, because that’s how my mom taught me to do it. You start in the middle and work your way out. Why? I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a reason, even if that reason is “Mom said so.”

A picture of an in-progress cross-stitch project showing the Pac-Man kill screen.

The going was slow, because in the beginning of a project like this, I really have to concentrate and COUNT because one teeny mistake could throw the whole thing off. Even though your average observer wouldn’t be able to see the mistake, I would know. And I would never be able to see anything else.

I did a lot of yanking out and re-stitching in the beginning, there.

Another impediment to progress was the fact that using black Aida cloth is an exercise in frustration. The only time I could really work on this was during the day, preferably in bright sunlight. Otherwise, it was nearly impossible to see the holes. Some experimentation with a second light-source helped when I was working on it in the evenings, but for the most part, I did what I could in the odd half-hour I could grab.

A close-up of Pac-Man kill screen cross stitch.

The junk on the far right is at the border of the piece, so I was able to get a better sense of how big it was going to be. Thank goodness was mostly empty space. At this point, I realized that the colors I was using represented the Japanese version of Pac-Man, where the pink ghost is actually white. I spent about three hours being REALLY annoyed by that but then I got over it and kept a’stitchin.

Here we are at 2/9ths complete.

A picture of the Pac-Man kill screen being cross stitched only black fabric.

The good news at this point was that the left-hand was mostly the dots and blue paths. That went quickly enough, despite a really bad day where I forgot how numbers worked and counted wrong and had to take out a couple hundred stitches.

There was still a long way to go though, and it appears that I never could take a good picture of this thing. Photography is not a thing that I am good at. Alas.

Here is the progress at just about halfway. It was going very well, despite me finding one flaw that necessitated a lot of ripping out and re-doing. RAGE. Getting those dots situation just right was a bit frustrating, because moving from page to page in the chart would be confusing for someone who maybe wasn’t paying full attention. In my defense, I was binge-watching Gossip Girl. That Chuck Bass, right? RIGHT??

Again, the photography… sigh.

A picture of the Pac-Man kill screen being cross stitched only black fabric.

Like a dummy, I saved the two busiest pages of the chart for last, so it was going to be quite the haul from here on out. I got about 80% done and was planning my victory dance until I realized that there was still A LOT of stitching to do, still.

A picture of the Pac-Man kill screen being cross stitched only black fabric.

I still need to trim it, and find someone to mount and frame it, but IT IS DONE!

A picture of the Pac-Man kill screen cross stitched on black fabric.

I can’t really estimate the number of hours this took. I started it on May 4th and finished it on July 23rd, with a couple of week-long rage breaks in between. There were a lot of stitches. There was a lot of cursing. There was a lot of Gossip Girl.

The weird thing about finishing a huge project like this is that I can’t seem to get started on anything new. Even something small, I find myself thinking “Eh, why waste my time?” Or something big: “It won’t be as cool!” Right now I’m in the middle of my holiday-gift knitting, so any new cross-stitching will have to wait. And if I ever say “Hey, let’s do that on black cloth!” please hit me.

2 thoughts on “Pac-Man Kill Screen in Counted Cross Stitch”

  1. Is there a mood thingy for sympathetic?

    I’m currently working on a 11X14 cross stitch on 18 count Aida for my nephew’s Christmas present. Previous to this I’d done a small backstitch pattern, a pattern of my own making that I’d turned into a cushion for my sister and a 12 character Doctor Who villains cross-stitch for myself.

    This project is a Star Wars alphabet sampler I started on August 27th and I still have X, Y and Z to go. The pattern takes up 9 pages and there are 14 characters where the pattern crosses two pages and 4 characters where the pattern is on 4 pages each. Did I mention that there are 64 separate floss colours and 2 blended colours?

    Obviously, I’m not that bright.

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