Tag Archives: Arcade games

Pac-Man Part I

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Today (22/05/2015) marks the 35th Birthday of one of gaming’s most iconic and recognisable characters; Pac-Man.
So I decided to hold a celebration for him in the form of a gaming overview of the original arcade game, a bio of Pac-Man on his 35th Birthday as well as this multi-part retrospective look at every “official” Pac-Man game released in the franchise.
This is going to be my biggest retrospective yet.

So let’s not delay any longer as I get started first with all the arcade released titles and the very first Pac-Man originally released on this very day in 1980…

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Pac-Man: First released in Japan on May 22, 1980 by Namco. It was licensed for distribution in the United States by Midway and released in October 1980. Pac-Man was created by Tōru Iwatani who based Pac-Man’s look on a pizza with a slice missing as well as the Japanese folklore character Paku who was known for his ferocious appetite.

Pac-Man was a simple game involving you controlling Pac-Man around a maze, trying the clear the screen of pellets all while avoiding the enemy ghosts. But eat a power pill and you could turn on your ghost enemies and eat them.
While Pac-Man was a very simple formula, it also held a lot of “firsts” in gaming.
From Pac-Man becoming gaming’s first iconic mascot with his image put on everything from lunch boxes to duvet covers. Pac-Man also became known for one of the first games to feature programmed AI as the four enemy ghosts had their own personalities and behavioural patterns. But Pac-Man was also the first to use cutscenes in the game, while these cutscenes didn’t tell a story, they did provide fun entertainment between levels.

Pac-Man was designed to have no ending. With the idea being that as long as you had at least 1 life left, one could play endlessly. However due to a now rather infamous “bug” known as; The Kill Screen. When/if the player reaches the 256th screen, they would be greeted with this…
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The Pac-Man “Kill Screen”.
The entire right half of the maze is covered with seemingly random symbols, letters and numbers. This overwrites the values of edible pellets which makes it impossible to beat the level. However, some have claimed to have beaten this Kill Screen…
In September 1983 Walter Day, chief scorekeeper at Twin Galaxies, organised and took the US National Video Game Team to visit video game players who claimed they could get through the Kill Screen of Pac-Man. Yet none of the players could demonstrate or prove their claims.
Then in 1999, Billy Mitchell (legendary game player) offered $100,000 reward to anyone who could pass through the Pac-Man Kill Screen before January 1, 2000. The $100,000 reward was never claimed.

Pac-Man initially met with mediocre response as other games like; Space Invaders were proving much more popular at the time. But you don’t get a 35 year old legacy from being mediocre. Pac-Man slowly started to gain favour and soon became a favourite with arcade gamers, grossing over $1 billion within a decade by the end of the 1980s.
Pac-Man sold more than 350,000 arcade cabinets in 1981 and by 1982, the game had sold 400,000 arcade machines worldwide with an estimated 7 billion coins had been inserted into Pac-Man machines around the world.

Pac-Man was ported to pretty much every popular home machine at the time including; Atari 5200, Atari 2600, Atari 800, Atari 8-bit, Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64, Apple II, Intellivision, NES, MSX and many others and is still being ported to modern consoles today.

Pac-Man became hugely popular by 1982 and 1982 is when we would see Pac-Man’s follow up released.

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Ms. Pac-Man: This title didn’t originally start out as a follow up to Pac-Man. The game started out as an enhancement/conversion kit for Pac-Man called; Crazy Otto. This was created by programmers from the General Computer Corporation (GCC). While Crazy Otto was being developed, GCC had to settle a lawsuit with Atari over their Missile Command conversion kit; Super Missile Attack. Part of the settlement terms barred GCC from selling future conversion kits without consent from the original game manufacturer.
Rather than just scrapping Crazy Otto entirely, the programmers at GCC decided to show their project to Midway who were Namco’s American distributor of Pac-Man. Midway had been waiting for Namco to develop its next Pac-Man game to be released in America, and were very happy with what they saw with Crazy Otto. So Midway bought the rights to Crazy Otto, changed the sprites to fit that of Pac-Man universe, renamed the game Ms. Pac-Man, and released it into arcades.

Ms. Pac-Man became wildly popular, even more so than Pac-Man before it. Midway and GCC undertook a legal battle concerning royalties. The game was developed without Namco’s consent, causing both companies (Midway and GCC) to eventually turn over all the rights of Ms. Pac-Man to Namco. Ms. Pac-Man was the first in a series of unauthorized sequels that eventually led to the termination of the licensing agreement between Namco and Midway later on.
Though GCC co-founder Doug Macrae has disputed stories that the game was manufactured without Namco’s blessing, claiming that Masaya Nakamura, who was Namco president at the time had in fact given his blessing to the game and even provided feedback over character artwork during Ms. Pac-Man’s development.

Ms. Pac-Man was a slight update to the previous game offering a few new features and ideas;
The spaces between the walls of the maze have been filled in making the maze easier to see.
The game now has four different mazes that appear in different colour schemes.
The cutscenes were changed to follow a developing relationship and story between Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man.
The orange ghost is renamed Sue, rather than Clyde.
The ghosts’ behavioral patterns were programmed differently, and include some semi-random movements which prevents the use of same playing patterns to clear each round.
Fruit bonuses bounce randomly around the maze instead of appearing in the centre.

As Ms. Pac-Man was just a “re-packaged” Pac-Man, the game sees the return of the infamous Pac-Man Kill Screen which renders the 256th round unplayable.

Ms. Pac-Man became the most successful American-produced arcade game, selling 115,000 arcade cabinets worldwide and helped to cement the Pac-Man name and brand into the gaming world.

The next game would be the “official” sequel to Pac-Man from it’s original developer, Namco.

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Super Pac-Man: Hitting arcades in 1982, Super Pac-Man is considered the first proper sequel to the original Pac-Man as it was developed by Namco. Unlike Ms. Pac-Man before it, this was much more than just a slight re-hash of the original Pac-Man as it was built from the ground up on newer hardware. Super Pac-Man featured all new gameplay mechanics and ideas.

Instead of the classic pellet eating from the previous two games, Pac-Man now collects keys to unlock and open up more of the maze. The mazes would contain various foods, fruits and even a cameo from the Galaxian (another Namco game) sprites. Once all the items had been cleared, you would move onto the next stage.
The power pills from the previous games make a return, which allow Pac-Man to eat the ghosts. Now also included were “super power pills” which when Pac-Man eats them, he becomes “Super Pac-Man” which would turn Pac-Man big and allow him to move faster and even get through locked doors without a key.
Super Pac-Man also included bonus stages that would appear at intervals. Pac-Man is put in a maze full of food items and must eat them all in order to collect the points on a countdown timer.

Super Pac-Man was the least successful of the original Pac-Man series so far with many people commenting on the changes from the previous two games and the difficulty in controlling Super Pac-Man, resulting in Super Pac-Man only becoming a moderate success.

With Super Pac-Man’s mediocrity behind, we move onto yet another one of those “unauthorised” Pac-Man games from Midway.

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Pac-Man Plus: Now the fourth title in the original Pac-Man series of games and released in 1982. Just as with Ms. Pac-Man previously, this follow up to the original was created without Namco’s permission. Despite Midway advertising the game as “the only legal PAC-MAN conversion package” and claiming it was “Exciting” and “New”. Unlike Super Pac-Man before, this was not exactly all that “new” at all. Pac-Man Plus was actually just a single modifier chip, which replaced the original game’s program code and graphics.

Pac-Man Plus really did not differ too much from the original or Ms. Pac-Man. Almost the exact same gameplay mechanics are here, with Pac-Man having to eat all the pellets to clear the stage while avoiding ghosts.
There were a few differences however, mainly cosmetic like;
The maze is green instead of blue.
Vulnerable ghosts are shortened and have a leaf sticking out of them.
The fruits have been replaced by new items such as a can of Coca-Cola.
The ghosts are now slightly cross-eyed.
Pac-Man Plus did bring a few new gameplay idea to the table with;
Eating a bonus item would cause the ghosts to turn both invisible and vulnerable at the same time, which doubles their point value.
Eating a Power Pellet would sometimes has unpredictable results, such as turning the maze invisible or turning only three of the four ghosts blue.
The ghosts were also faster and more aggressive than they were in the original Pac-Man.

Pac-Man Plus was classic Pac-Man with a few tweaks and fans enjoyed it much more than the official sequel, Super Pac-Man.

This about wraps up part I of this retrospective look at the original arcade Pac-Man series. See you in part II where we will see an evolution of Pac-Man and more unauthorised games from Midway.

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Pac-Man – Arcade

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Little Bit of History: Originally released on May 22, 1980 (today’s his 35th Birthday) by Namco. Pac-Man (originally called Puck-Man) was created by Tōru Iwatani based on a pizza with a slice missing. Pac-Man is one of gamings all-time great and most iconic characters. This game featured some very early AI programming in the form of the ghost enemies who were programmed to act differently. The original arcade version is part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Little Bit of Plot/Story: No real plot. You control Pac-Man around mazes having to eat up all the smaller pellets and power pills to clear the maze while avoiding ghosts.

Little Bit of Character: Joining the titular Pac-Man in the game were the just as famous ghosts; Blinky was the red ghost and was the chaser following Pac-Man’s every move. Pinky was the…well pink one and designed to be an ambusher. Inky was cyan in colour and would try to get in front of Pac-Man. While Clyde the orange one was programmed to act quite randomly.

Little Bit of Influence: Pac-Man went on to spawn a long running franchise in games. But also have 2 animated TV shows, a hit single. Pac-Man would even appear in TV and films, plus he had his own themed area at Six Flags Over Texas. But Pac-Man also spawned many clones and for both arcade and home formats.

Little Bit of Memories: That intro music just before you start as well as that little ditty as Pac-Man dies is burnt into my memory forever. I recall this being one of my most loved childhood games and still is today. I also remember those cutscenes that were often very humorous.

Little Bit of Playability: For me, this is still one of the most playable games today. Its simplicity is a huge part of it’s attraction and I have Pac-Man Museum installed on my Xbox 360. I could see modern gamers not really enjoying the game though, but I would recommend trying; Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, which is a stunning remake and offers a lot of gameplay and variety.

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This is just one part of my Pac-Man Birthday celebrations. Please feel free to read my Pac-Man Bio and even multi-part retrospective at every official Pac-Man game in the franchise.

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OutRun – Arcade

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Little Bit of History: Designed by SEGA legend Yu Suzuki, developed & published by SEGA and released in 1986. OutRun was a pioneering arcade racer and often remembered as one of the best arcade games ever made.

Little Bit of Plot/Story: No real plot. Just you taking your girlfriend in a Ferrari Testarossa for a high speed drive across some very pretty scenery.

Little Bit of Character: No real characters either as the two occupants of the car have never been named.

Little Bit of Influence: Pretty much any and every modern racing/driving game today. OutRun may not have been the first game of it’s style, but it was the one that laid the foundations for the genre today. OutRun also went on to spawn sequels and spin offs itself as well as the game being ported to pretty much every home console/computer at the time.

Little Bit of Memories: The graphics blew me away at the time and seemed so “realistic”. The speed the game moved at was just as impressive and really gave a great heart pounding, palm sweating experience. The music was also very memorable and even allowed you to choose what musical track you wanted to listen to while racing via an ingame FM radio. Also, I recall that awesome sitdown cabinet that would react to the action on screen.

Little Bit of Playability: Yes, still very playable today and a great arcade classic. Or you could try one of the more modern OutRun games with OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast being a personal favourite. But if you can get a hold of the arcade original I say give it a go while listening to some Magical Sound Shower.

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Double Dragon – Arcade

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Little Bit of History: Released in 1987. Developed by Technos Japan and published by Tatio. Double Dragon was originally developed to be a sequel to Technos earlier game, Renegade. But during development the game, it was decided to make an all new IP and Double Dragon was born.
Double Dragon was ported to every popular game machine at the time from the Atari 2600 to the Amiga 500.

Little Bit of Plot/Story: You play as Billy Lee in single player or with Jimmy Lee when played in Co-op as you fight the Black Warriors gang with the main goal of trying to save Billy’s girlfriend Marian who is kidnapped during the game’s into.

Little Bit of Character: Along with the two playable brother characters Billy and Jimmy Lee (renamed Hammer and Spike for the American release). There was also plenty of NPCs such as Marian who is Billy’s girlfriend and gets kidnapped at the beginning of the game.
Various enemies:
Linda Lash: was a female character that used a whip.
Abobo: was a recurring sub-boss throughout the game.
Williams: was the most common and basic enemy in the game.
Willy: was the main and final boss of the Black Warriors gang.

Little Bit of Influence: While not the first scrolling beat em’ up, this game certainly popularised the genre and laid the foundation for the direction the genre would go in for decades. The game went on to spawn several sequels, spin-offs, crossovers and even an animated TV show, a movie and even a Marvel published six part comic book. It has also gone on to be remade and rebooted several times

Little Bit of Memories: I’ll always remember this as the very first arcade game I ever completed. I even remember where, it was in Barmouth, Wales in the middle one of the three arcades that used to be on the sea-front while on a family holiday. It was also the first NES port I played at a friend’s house.

Little Bit of Playability: The arcade version is still a good, pointless romp and still very playable today though some may find it dated. But with such a rich legacy, there’s bound to be another Double Dragon game you may find more to your taste. My personal favorite was Super Double Dragon for the SNES which added a lot more variety and interaction to the game. Or there is the more recent Double Dragon Neo.
But for me the arcade original will always hold a special place in my heart and yes I still find that version good fun to play today.

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Karate Champ – Arcade

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Little Bit of History: Released in 1984, developed by Technos Japan and published by Data East. Originally released as a one player game and later re-released as an updated two player cabinet. Introduced a new and innovative two joystick control method.

Little Bit of Plot/Story: No real story here, just two guys fighting to score points. First to two full points wins the round, win two rounds and you move onto the next fight interspersed with bonus rounds such as punching a bull or avoiding objects being thrown at you off screen.

Little Bit of Character: Aside from the two main fighters, one in white and one in red. There was the fight judge and the girls you fight over in the two player version.

Little Bit of Influence: Definitely the genesis of the standard “tournament fighters” we have today from clear influence on Street Fighter. One of the main characters in a white karate gi and the other in a red karate gi really brings to mind Ryu and Ken from the Street Fighter franchise. You can thank this game for your favorite fighting games of today.

Little Bit of Memories: Another one of those games that reminds me of family holidays, playing this in the arcade. My brother was particularly great at this game and spend a few 10ps learning the moves and filling up the high score table with his moniker. I also remeber this game making an appearance in the Jean-Claude Van Damme film: Bloodsport.

Little Bit of Playability: Very much still playable today. I downloaded it for my iPad and enjoy it thoroughly. It’s a game unlike modern fighters in that seeing as one hit can lay you or your opponent out, it’s more strategic and you have to think about your attack and defense a lot more.

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Dragon’s Lair – Arcade

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Little Bit of History: Developed by Microcomputer Systems and published by Cinematronics, released in 1983. This game used laser disc technology to present amazing cartoon animation from ex-Disney animator, Don Bluth.

Little Bit of Plot/Story: Simple and classic plot of you attempting to rescue a princess from a castle where she is being held by an evil dragon.

Little Bit of Character: You play as Dirk The Daring with Princess Daphne being your rescuee. Singe the dragon was the main villain along with Mordroc the wizard.

Little Bit of Influence: Aside from a sequel and other games in the same genre like Space Ace. This game set the path for FMV games of which there was a craze of in the 90’s. It also blended games with film for the first time and even introduced what we now call quick time events (QTEs).

Little Bit of Memories: I always recall the huge lines to play this game, the fact it was always the loudest game in the arcade and you could always hear the attract modes booming voice over before you even set foot inside. Seeing the game for the first time was simply amazing as we were used to much more “simpler” graphics. You’d see classic games like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, etc with their basic pixel graphics…then Dragon’s Lair standing next to them with it’s super smooth animation and cartoon art style.

Little Bit of Playability: Honestly, I never found this game playable back then and still do not now. You have more interactivity just messing around with menus on a DVD/Bluray. In fact you can get this game on DVD. There is zero playability in this game and it could be finished in around 10 minutes if you knew what you were doing. You’d be better off just watching the animation on YouTube as a cartoon.

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Gauntlet – Arcade

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Little Bit of History: This arcade game (originally called: Dungeons) was developed by Atari and Published by Atari/U.S. Gold, Released in 1985. It’s been said the game was inspired by the son of one of the developers who enjoyed playing Dungeons & Dragons and the Atari 800 game: Dandy. The game was one of the first games to use and encourage Co-Op play and even characters with different strengths and weaknesses.

Little Bit of Plot/Story: There is no plot/story to this game. The main goal was to survive as many levels as possible. The basic gameplay mechanic was to just get to the exit of the current level to move onto the next, Collecting treasure and power ups along the way to improve your score.

Little Bit of Character: There were four main selectable heroes each with their own strengths and weaknesses including;
Thor the Warrior (Red) who was strong at hand to hand combat and could deal out and take the most damage, however this made him the slowest of the four and poor with magic.
Questor the Elf (Green) who was fast with above average magic but poor armor so could not take much damage.
Merlin the Wizard (Yellow) who was fairly fast and strongest with magic, but poor at everything else.
Thyra the Valkyrie (Blue) who was average at everything and a good beginner character.

Little Bit of Influence: The developers of Wolfenstein 3D (said to be the granddaddy of the FPS) have said they were influenced by Gauntlet when they made their game, and that influence shows with Wolfenstein 3D’s basic maze/dungeon crawling and basic objective of getting to the exit. One could say Gauntlet inspired the whole FPS genre.

Little Bit of Memories: I recall family holidays playing this game in the arcade with my older brothers. Also I remember one Christmas Eve when my mother had to go to work for a few hours leaving me and my two older brothers at home. So we took a peak at one of our Christmas presents by very carefully opening the wrapping of one of the presents revealing a Commodore 64 and a copy of Gauntlet. So we set up the Commodore 64, loaded up Gauntlet and played for a few hours before packing it all away and re-wrapping it up to be opened again on Christmas. Sorry Mom.

Little Bit of Playability: I still find the game very playable today and now we live in an age where we can have arcade perfect ports on our consoles and computers. If you can get a copy to play, it’s worth it and a great Co-Op experience.

Gauntlet Cabinet

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