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Pac-Man Review from 1982


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(even Combat and Circus Atari are not ports...the name is different from the arcade game it was inspired by)

Sure they are. Or at least Combat is (I'm not familiar enough with the lineage of the Circus Balloon Popper genre to speak to that). Combat is a collection of games, including Tank, which couldn't be anything BUT a port of the 1974 Kee Games (really Atari) arcade title of the same name. The only thing the 2600 version is missing is the landmines.

 

The Biplane and Jet Fighter games in Combat were also Atari arcade games, IIRC.

Edited by BassGuitari
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@Retro:

Most of the examples you listed are not official ports of any game (even Combat and Circus Atari are not ports...the name is different from the arcade game it was inspired by). Breakout is a notable exception, tho...with the home version existing before it was coded for arcades.

 

He asked for arcade games on the 2600 in general, which those all are. And actually, most of them are official ports. The bulk of the early titles were specifically done as home versions of earlier Atari/Kee games, which the 2600 was specifically designed to play. Some were (Basketball, Baseball) were done during their counterpart's internal development (i.e. they were far enough along to be in field testing already). Whether or not marketing decided to change the names is really irrelevant to them being a port. :) For example, Combat itself is a port of two different previous games (Tank and Jet Fighter), hence it doesn't specifically use one or the other for it's collective title. But each of those were direct ports of the coin counterparts and were started specifically as such. Likewise whether a game like Circus Atari was officially licensed or not is not really relevant to it being a port either. Circus Atari was an attempt to port Exidy's Circus without a license (something that both Manny and Ray demanded regularly if they couldn't get a license and were actually prepared to do with Space Invaders if they weren't able to get the license originally). In most cases, the porting process was the programmer directly playing the arcade counterpart (which was on location. In fact by the time they were at Gibraltar they had their own arcade room full of coins they were porting) and trying to duplicate the play on the 2600.

 

Technically "port" is the wrong term for all these games anyways, whether licensed or not, as usually none of the 2600 versions were based on any original coin code. The process used (described above) was more of what's called a conversion. But I understand people often go back and forth between these two terms in informal discussions.

Edited by Retro Rogue
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Late to the party as usual and I know this praise will probably get lost in the banter, but… !? First I'm seeing of this hack. Wow, even without the re-imagined ghost monsters, Pac himself and siren - the change of background and maze colors is about all it would have taken for the 2600 version of Pac-Man to be a decent conversion. I would have been able to take the game a lot more seriously BITD had only those two things been changed. Fuckin' Atari. :rolling:

 

And yes, IMO - was idiotic to insist on a 2-player version of the game. Space War… of course. Baseball…. sure. Pac-Man… why? :ponder:

 

 

post-13896-0-64731800-1422750868_thumb.png

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I can't figure out why the escape tunnel had to be vertical instead of horizontal? Can someone explain it to me?

 

Probably because the sprite can smoothly go off the screen up or down without immediately popping into the other side of the screen. So he didn't have to use any tricks and waste code space on it.

 

Move the sprite in this example program off the sides in all directions and you'll see what I mean:

 

randomterrain.com/atari-2600-memories-batari-basic-commands.html#find_border_coordinates

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Port, conversion, whatever. I stand by the statement. If you don't have the exact title, there's no need (or expectation) for it to stick to it's conventions. Usually, enough is present in a ripoff/pirate for consumers to make the connection anyway. Bonus points to be had if gameplay is similar in such a case...but very little grumbling over deviations (i.e. the lack of land mines). But the timespan between versions also plays a role here. I'd imagine that the same level of bitching could have happened if 2600 Space Invaders (as it exists) was introduced in '82 instead of '80.

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Probably because the sprite can smoothly go off the screen up or down without using any tricks and wasting code space.

Even more savings than that...you'd also lose vertical maze section repetition by using a side tunnel. Of course...when all was said and done, the amount of space he actually saved (using dedicated sub-kernels instead of mapping the whole maze in rom) is arguable. The same issue is present for using hardware sprite reflect, and collision-detection too. He cheated a little for the gfx, and ended up having to code in a lot of exceptions to the program.

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Late to the party as usual and I know this praise will probably get lost in the banter, but… !? First I'm seeing of this hack. Wow, even without the re-imagined ghost monsters, Pac himself and siren - the change of background and maze colors is about all it would have taken for the 2600 version of Pac-Man to be a decent conversion.

It's worth mentioning that the code changes to produce a hack which looks like the picture can be done without increasing the size of the rom. Separate dot color, 6-digit scoring, 4-way directional player sprite, forgiving collision-detection, and a better color scheme are all doable without much modification to the program (even by '81 standards). There was almost enough space for separate level items too. Just by removing the code exceptions mentioned above.

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An attempt to make use of the full screen & keep the arcade's aspect ratio. Ghost Hunter, Dot Gobbler/Dot Trot, Maze Craze Construction Set all did this...the original Puckman ripoff even went as far to make turning your monitor sideways a requirement (before it was reworked into Snoggle). If you noticed, Frye's got the ghosts leaving the pen horizontally just like those did.

Edited by Nukey Shay
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  • 2 weeks later...

So many years later, I like Pac-Man more now than I did at the time, when I felt it was not a great game. (That said, it was one of the first games I and my brother had for the console, so we played the heck out of it)

 

These days, I still think it's a terrible version of Pac-Man (doubly so considering it was the official version for one of the most wide-spread consoles in the world at the time), but I've come to enjoy it as its own thing. If I want to play the arcade version of Pac-Man, there's plenty of ways to do so now that I didn't have access to then. I play the 2600 version on its own merits.

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There was that weird Miller Light (or Bud Light) human Pac-Man commercial towards the end of the Super Bowl. Before he enters the maze, you hear a few "bonk bonks" from the 2600 version of Pac-Man. This infamous version will live on, but once us old farts are long dead, will anyone talk about it anymore...

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There was that weird Miller Light (or Bud Light) human Pac-Man commercial towards the end of the Super Bowl. Before he enters the maze, you hear a few "bonk bonks" from the 2600 version of Pac-Man. This infamous version will live on, but once us old farts are long dead, will anyone talk about it anymore...

That was my favorite commercial in this year's Super Bowl! I want this... :D

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9A1NowrnGI

Edited by stardust4ever
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BTW the 8k "standard" bankswitching technique was originally conceptualized for Video Chess...but not used until Asteroids came along.

 

Yeah, I've always wondered about that...did they wind up not using it because Wagner and Whitehead decided that they didn't need it after all, or was there some eleventh-hour, Pac-Man-foreshadowing stinginess in management?

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BTW the 8k "standard" bankswitching technique was originally conceptualized for Video Chess...but not used until Asteroids came along.

 

Yeah, I've always wondered about that...did they wind up not using it because Wagner and Whitehead decided that they didn't need it after all, or was there some eleventh-hour, Pac-Man-foreshadowing stinginess in management?

Conceptualized, not developed. 8K ROMs were still extremely cost prohibitive for use in game carts in the late 70s. When their costs started coming down in '81, the formal work on developing the actual circuitry for the production version began.

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Just had a short convo with Tod on Facebook to further answer the 4K/8K limitation question:

Were you offered to move to 8K for Pac-Man towards the end of coding for it?

Nope. 8k wasn't even an option until after Pacman coding was complete.
I did have a meeting after Pacman came out, to assess the possibility of a quick revision with less flicker, if we used 8k as an option
.

So where did the claim that you originally asked for 8K come from?

It came from thin air. I never considered 8k. rom was not really an issue. ram was.



Remember, the context of the above ROM vs. RAM issue is that because of the 2-player game demand that RAM was even shorter supply than normal. Likewise there's the issue of again adding more routines which would have needed more ROM as well. Had he decided not to do the "more ghost like" route, Tod did mention further that he something to minimize the flickering but that the resources weren't there:

I did have a sprite reuse kernel, that would use re-position players as the screen went down. The scheduler that would minimize flicker was under consideration, would have needed some ram, and was a very tricky algorithm.

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Thanks for the extra information, Marty. It seems Atari should have waited and done the game with 8k, rather then trying to 'aproximate' Pac-Man on the 2600 so horribly. But I don't think anyone could have done a better job with just 4k to work with and the demands put on the project (two players and all that). Sure, the flicker could have been minimized I suppose, but you're left with a version that fell way short compared to the arcade version. Defender was totally different also, but it played like a easier version of Defender, which my 7 year old self much liked. :)

Edited by SoulBlazer
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Just had a short convo with Tod on Facebook to further answer the 4K/8K limitation question:

 

Were you offered to move to 8K for Pac-Man towards the end of coding for it?

Nope. 8k wasn't even an option until after Pacman coding was complete.

I did have a meeting after Pacman came out, to assess the possibility of a quick revision with less flicker, if we used 8k as an option.

So where did the claim that you originally asked for 8K come from?

It came from thin air. I never considered 8k. rom was not really an issue. ram was.

 

Remember, the context of the above ROM vs. RAM issue is that because of the 2-player game demand that RAM was even shorter supply than normal. Likewise there's the issue of again adding more routines which would have needed more ROM as well. Had he decided not to do the "more ghost like" route, Tod did mention further that he something to minimize the flickering but that the resources weren't there:

 

 

I did have a sprite reuse kernel, that would use re-position players as the screen went down. The scheduler that would minimize flicker was under consideration, would have needed some ram, and was a very tricky algorithm.

Do we have a precedence of single player games existing prior to Pacman? I know ET and a bunch of others were single player affairs, but many of them came after Pacman. It seems that if there was one game that could have benefited from being single player only, Pacman was it.

 

Atari's rules of forcing non-black backgrounds for non-space titles and multiplayer everything sure did contribute to the Pacman SNAFU. How rigid were these rules, and was there any existing policy in place to waiver them if it meant better game design?

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Atari's rules of forcing non-black backgrounds for non-space titles and multiplayer everything sure did contribute to the Pacman SNAFU. How rigid were these rules, and was there any existing policy in place to waiver them if it meant better game design?

 

There were no rules for backgrounds, we discussed that earlier in the thread.

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So where did the no-black-bgs thing come from?

 

Probably the same place the "Tod had two versions of of Pac-Man" and "Tod had a rushed deadline" came from. "The air." ;)

 

 

I'm almost thinking the "two versions" one came from a mutation of the whole having the sprite reuse kernel but not be able to fit it in because of space limitations thing. I.E. these claims arose from what's essentially a bad game of telephone. Then you could account for the "Tod asked for 8K" one arising from the fact they looked at doing an 8K version after the release (as revealed a few posts above). Likewise, Tod did just say to me that the development was slightly accelerated because of his own sense of urgency over implementing what's essentially a complicated algorithm with minimal RAM and ROM during a standard dev window. That's probably what morphed into the "Tod only had a short time to develop Pac-Man" claim (as if he was forced to rush it out for Atari management like Howard with ET).

Edited by Retro Rogue
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  • 2 months later...

This seems to be appropriate to this topic: I just read the excellent Racing the Beam for the second time in a few years, and Frye told Bogost and Montfort that he had completed Pac-Man in six weeks. Perhaps it depends on who he's talking to, and whether or not he feels the need to provide a (real) excuse for the flickering. :)

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