This column is mostly focused on farm equipment and trends — yet I came across a fascinating demonstration, and frankly, had to know more. When Caterpillar sent out a release that its Trial Series had returned, and No. 9 was a full-size Pac-Man game board where skid steers were the characters? Well, color me curious.
The Trial was in celebration of Cat’s 95th anniversary in 2020, and it coincides with Pac-Man’s 40th anniversary, but I wanted to know more.
I connected with Jeffrey McAllister, a motion graphics designer in the creative department at Caterpillar, to learn more. McAllister, whose home office is filled with interesting 3D-printed projects, was fascinating to chat with. And while I was focused on the remote-control skid steers, he says Trial No. 9 was more about the Cat Grade with 3D system.
“At the end of it, the precision at which the maze was created was the point,” he says. “We had one person dig the maze based on specifications from Bandai [the company that owns Pac-Man].”
Essentially, Caterpillar got the familiar computer game maze dimensions and loaded them into that 3D system, and then a single operator dug it out in 70 hours. “If you were going to do that with traditional stakes, I believe it would have taken, like, 100 hours,” McAllister says. The tech offers as much as a 40% savings in time — yet it was also precise.
“We later could lay a computer image of the maze back on an image of the dig site, and they matched perfectly,” he adds.
Caterpillar then put five 236D3 remote-controlled Skid Steer Loaders from the Cat rental store into the maze. The idea was that one would be Pac-Man, and the other four would be Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde. McAllister explains that producing the “game,” with the skid steers moving through the maze as if they were game pieces, was not as simple as just running around.
MAZE FROM THE AIR: The precision maze dug here by a single operator took just 70 hours. With traditional methods, it would have taken nearly 100 hours. The graphics on the left and the right are really present in this image. The top and bottom bars were added later.
“There’s no way to really replicate that, because in the game, each character has a personality,” he says. “So, we just plotted this out as a video production, and the operators got time to play.”
In each case, operators stood at the top of the maze and ran their machine as directed by McAllister and his colleague J. Archie Lyons, who is creative director, global brand strategy and activation, Caterpillar. As the game was “played,” there were four corner Power Pellets that put Pac-Man on the offensive. Each represented Cat dealer services — Customer Value Agreements, Repair Options, Cat Financial and Cat App.
Those became part of the final production, which had Pac-Man graphics added as part of a final video (embedded at the end of this story). And while in real life the operators weren’t moving exactly like the digital versions, they did get a lot of experience running the machines in tight quarters.
Choosing skid-steer operators
The company pulled in a diverse group of operators, too, offering them a chance to give these remote-controlled machines a run.
Pac-Man was operated by Jim Kosner of JIMAX Landscaping and Demolition, Peoria, Ill.; Blinky was run by Joey Stone, NASCAR/Richard Childress Racing eSports driver of the No. 8 virtual car (but “behind the wheel” for real this time); Inky was operated by Alfonso Farjardo of Horsepower Site Services, Charlotte, N.C., a Caterpillar Global Operator Challenge regional finalist; Clyde’s operator was Tom Gardocki, The Dirt Ninja, a social media influencer and professional heavy equipment operator in landscaping and construction; and Pinky was run by Blitz, a social media influencer, YouTube gaming content creator and civil engineer.
The digging and on-site movement of skid steers were choreographed carefully, but then the next level of work had to be done. Because the final video includes Pac-Man characters following the skid steers around the maze, “We had like 53 shots that we did to make this work,” McAllister says.
For gearhead readers, the maze was dug with a Cat 336 Next Gen Excavator. There was 6,880 yards of cut/fill dirt to dig the maze and build the berm around it. There was a 1% grade from the top right to the lower left of the maze for drainage. “If it had rained, that would have filled up fast,” McAllister adds.
The actual game board was 162.4 feet by 180.4 feet, and it was 19,040% larger than the original scale of the maze in the classic arcade screen.
You can get more information at cat.com/trial9.