The VCS is an extremely limited economy. You have 128 bytes of RAM, 76 processor cycles on a line, twice as many if you update every two lines. You need memory for the dots, for two players, which takes almost all of your RAM, to say nothing of other bits of system state.
Could Pac-Man have been improved? Sure, a blue maze, black background, but Atari did have a few guidelines against black backgrounds for space games. Put the maze holes on the right axis? sure, could have been done.
A flicker manager? Yes, this has been proven to be possible when you have more than 4K of ROM to be able to create more unrolled kernels.
I am sick and fucking tired of people, who quite frankly have _ZERO_ understanding on the difficulties of WRITING a VCS game, just shit all over "game x" .... When you have spent many weeks counting to 76 and carefully timing each instruction to make sure that you have enough time to reset each element of playfield, player, missile, and ball, to create something that can DRAW the game state you have...and you go through the difficulties of trying to carefully make sure that your game state calculations happen within the allotted time when things AREN'T being drawn.... then you'll have perspective...and will be much more likely to shut the fuck up about it.
When you are Atari, and you just paid for the home rights for the biggest game in history up to that point-- probably paid through the nose for it. How do you have zero regard for quality? That's gross mismanagement!
It should have been their flagship game and they should have pulled out all the stops to make it shine, like Coleco did with Donkey Kong on the CV, because Pacman is a game that will be (or should be) a system seller.
If one programmer isn't capable of producing it, give it to another. Better yet, give the game to a few programmers, make it a competition and release the best version. When you can expect to sell millions of copies, paying a couple extra programmers for a few weeks/months of time is peanuts.
So yes it may not be the easiest thing, but it's up to the Atari management to find someone up to the challenge. And they blew it. "It's not easy" is not a valid excuse here. It was too important a title to take chances with.
Well, like I have on my web site, it was out on Atari computers before it was released on the Atari 2600, so that's why my family thought Atari 2600 Pac-Man might look similar.
Good point, but for many of us, the Atari home computers were too expensive, and a lot of us didn't realistically think we'd ever own one, at least until 83 when prices dropped drastically.
Interesting how the alleged "non-space games can't have a black background" policy didn't seem to apply to Atari computers. Nor did the "The public doesn't care about arcade accuracy-- ship it!" mentality.