Greg Sakundiak Makes 40 Years A Perfect Pac-Man Moment

Jason Bennett,

June 6, 2020 11:55 AM

Thirteen years of determination leads to a perfect score on the 40th anniversary of Namco's iconic title

Over the years, there have been a number of ways to describe Greg Sakundiak.

National breakdancing silver medalist.

Three time Canadian professional arm wrestling champion.

Guinness World Record holder.

When I caught up with Greg over the phone, he was pulling into his driveway for a quick pit stop before heading out to the lake for a weekend of fishing. Walking through his house to grab a few odds and ends for the trip, he mentioned that his friends came up with a new name for him following his recent exploits.

“They’re calling me the 40th Anniversary Perfect Pac-Man Champ,” he laughed. 

Four decades after Pac-Man debuted at a test location in Tokyo, Greg has joined an elite group of gamers and realized a lifelong goal that began in earnest when he moved a Pac-Man arcade machine into his Saskatoon home arcade 13 years ago. 

On May 20, Greg steered his way to a score of 3,333,360 points, joining Rick Fothergill as only the second Canadian player to ever reach this kind of pixelated nirvana - the highest possible score that can be achieved by eating every dot, energizer, bonus, and ghost before the game ends prematurely on level 256 and prevents the player from advancing any further. 

The famous kill screen (also known as split screen) on Level 256 with a perfect score of 3,333,360 [Photo Credit: Greg Sakundiak]

In an echo of the proverbial mountaineer, Greg’s ambition to reach the arcade summit was long-standing and self-sustaining.

“I set out to get the perfect game of Pac-Man because it was something that I always wanted to do,” Greg explained matter-of-factly. “I also had heard of a couple others that had done it and I knew that I had the skills to get it.”

Those skills were first honed as a 12 year old gamer at a Grande Prairie, Alberta arcade appropriately called The Fun Factory. While hanging with friends after school and on weekends, Greg immersed himself in the arcade scene, trying his hand at all the latest titles. Then in early 1981, Greg arrived to find a bright yellow cabinet that featured a game with a maze, dots, ghosts, and a yellow dot-muncher. In short order, Pac-Man became one of Greg’s favorite games as well as the zeitgeist of the computer age, spawning a pop-culture phenomenon complete with its own soundtrack by Buckner & Garcia. 

 

“I was drawn to Pac-Man because it's the most popular game in the history of arcade games,” Greg recognized, “[and] if I was able to get the perfect game everyone would know.”

After countless hours of play supported by bottle collecting and a modest allowance, Greg steered Pac-Man at that time to a score of 3.1 million, an incredible feat for a game where a casual player would have trouble cracking 30,000 points. 

Exceeding the records achieved by other players at The Fun Factory led Greg to wonder how his scores compared to other gamers outside the city. After some investigation, he and his friends found an arcade co-owned by Walter Day that tracked high scores from around the world located in Ottumwa, Iowa. By 1985, Greg found himself in Victoria, BC competing for the opportunity to enter the Guinness World Book of Records at the annual Video Game Masters Tournament organized by the same Ottumwa arcade known as Twin Galaxies. By the end of the year, Greg had wracked up records on 10 games, including world records on Tag Team Wrestling and Dragon’s Lair that stand to this day.

To be sure, Greg’s competitive spirit wasn’t limited to video game achievements. Outside the arcade, Greg excelled at track and field and embraced the burgeoning breakdancing scene of the era with zeal, teaming up with four friends en route to the National breakdancing competition at Peace River in the summer of 1985. 

“We were called the Ice Breakers,” Greg recalled, combining images of Canadian winters and awkward party introductions into possibly the best name ever conceived for a team. The Ice Breakers wowed the crowd and ultimately popped and crabwalked their way to a second place finish.

But as the decade drew to a close, Greg’s continuing passion for high score competition collided with an arcade scene that had irrevocably changed.

“It was hard to accept. It was really hard,” he said in a 2007 interview with the Star-Phoenix, reflecting on widespread arcade closures that swept the country. “It was a wake-up call for me to do something with my life. I realized that I can’t play games forever.”

Although he stepped back from competitive gaming in 1987, Greg never fully heeded his own advice. In 1994 he decided to open his own arcade in Sicamous, BC, just as the scene was enjoying a revival with games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II. When he sold the arcade a few years later and moved to Calgary he took up work as an electrician but also managed to find the time to open a new arcade. Despite being surrounded by games, competitive gaming was still on the backburner. 

By 1998, Greg was channeling his competitive drive into arm wrestling. He first entered the sport in May, and by autumn he claimed his first championship. Over the next five years, he competed on both right and left arm, leveraging his work as an electrician to maintain conditioning during the day followed by strength training in the evening in order to compete at events over the weekend. 

During his time on the tournament circuit, Greg met Kristina, who was a decorated arm-wrestling champion with an impressive resume of city and provincial titles. In short order, the formidable duo decided to marry, and over the coming year they were wrestling with the exciting changes brought on by the arrival of their daughter. In balancing his new responsibilities with training, Greg realized that determination to compete wasn't enough.

“You have to pour your life and effort into [arm wrestling],” Greg observed, underlining the demands that the circuit requires to stay on top. “And if you’re not willing to do that, you can’t be the best.”

As Greg moved away from the circuit, his competitive spirit soon found a new outlet with an old pastime. In 2005, Greg received an invitation to participate as a headliner in the “Legends of the Golden Age” arcade tournament in Humble, Texas. The following year he reintroduced himself to the Twin Galaxies community and was recognized in the 2007 edition of the Guinness World Book of Records for his original arcade world records.

If there was ever a cosmic hint to start gaming again, this was it. 

Greg took the hint in stride, and set himself a goal that long appealed to him - achieve a perfect game on Pac-Man.

For the next 13 years, Greg set out to practice when he could based on the demands of work and family, sometimes disappearing for 6 to 8 hours at a time. Progress towards the perfect result was uneven, but Greg was never truly alone in the home arcade as he drew inspiration from friends who called or wrote to lend support or share strategies. 

Finally, on the night of May 20, he mentioned to his daughter that he was heading to the game room. 

“I had a feeling this was going to be the game,” Greg recounted.

Settling in at his machine, Greg was also aware that it was Pac-Man’s 40th birthday, and what began at The Fun Factory decades earlier converged on this moment. Four hours, 23 minutes, and 28 seconds later, Greg steered his last Pac-Man over the ninth invisible dot on the splitscreen, securing himself the maximum possible score.

Greg Sakundiak enjoying the moment of achieving a perfect game on Pac-Man [Photo Credit: Greg Sakundiak]

“I can't even begin to express how exhilarating it is to finally achieve a life long goal,” he said, looking back over the path leading to his perfect game. “It's like winning a gold medal at the Olympics knowing that you're the best in the world.”

With his truck loaded up, Greg pulled out of the driveway. He wanted to add that while the record bears his name, no achievement is truly a solo effort.  

“I want to thank my wife and my daughter for giving me the time to play as it took a lot of time away from them,” he said, undoubtedly reflecting on the countless evenings practicing, “and a big thanks to Rick Fothergill for helping me with the patterns, to Neil Chapman for the patterns I borrowed from him, and to Jon Stoodley for inspiration.”

Greg was now on the open road, the start of the weekend just a short drive away. I thanked Greg for taking the time to talk, but as we were just about to close the call, he remembered one final anecdote. 

“Last night I got another perfect game,” he said, half-surprised that a lifetime goal would be replicated in two weeks. Greg is now looking to compete on the classic equivalent of a Pac-Man speedrun, the fastest time to achieve the maximum score. “If I hadn’t made two mistakes, I would have moved up to third place on the [fastest completion] leaderboard.”

Will we be adding “Fastest Perfect Pac-Man player” to Greg’s roster of descriptions? If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that if it takes him 13 years of practice and effort to get it, he’ll take it.

You can watch Greg's Perfect Pac-Man run here and you can also follow his progress for the fastest compeltion of a perfect game on Twitch.



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