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Brian R.

Was PacMan really a "flop"

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People who read newspapers, read magazines, watched TV news, etc. It was very well covered from '82 through '83 in all those media channels, and in fact in regular news - it has nothing to do with "rich people" watching the stock market.

 

My parents and a lot of other parents watched news on TV when they could, but they didn't read the paper every day or read magazines other than things like Ladies' Home Journal. Seemed like most people didn't have VCRs, so they couldn't record the news. If you were at your job or on your way home from your job during the news, you missed it unless you stayed up to watch the news at 11.

 

Finding articles or news stories about the crash doesn't mean that most people saw them or read them.

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My parents and a lot of other parents watched news on TV when they could, but they didn't read the paper every day or read magazines other than things like Ladies' Home Journal. Seemed like most people didn't have VCRs, so they couldn't record the news. If you were at your job or on your way home from your job during the news, you missed it unless you stayed up to watch the news at 11.

 

Finding articles or news stories about the crash doesn't mean that most people saw them or read them.

 

You're making a lot of generalizations there, seemingly based on your personal experience. For example, most people I knew had VCR's since the late 70s, and were well home to watch the 10 o'clock news. They read the newspapers in the AM or during lunch or relaxing at home after, and same with magazines. Your claims do not match my experience of the people in the average suburban neighborhood I grew up in. That doesn't make either viewpoint on what one personally experienced any less valid, just that making claims that infer only rich stock market analysts watched the news, read the newspapers, read Time and other magazines, seems a bit odd.

 

Regardless, getting back to the original topic: While the initial sales of 2600 Pac-Man were strong, by the summer of '82 they had petered out. Pac-Man had been manufactured at all three of Atari's US plants plus the Taiwan plant, and was being put in as the pack-in for the 2600s being manufactured that year. So when it started stalling that summer, it only added to the overall inventory problems. When they decided (i.e. were forced) to finally get inventory under control after the bomb of an earnings report on December 7, two days later the order went out to stop manufacturing Pac-Man for the 2600.

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You're making a lot of generalizations there, seemingly based on your personal experience. For example, most people I knew had VCR's since the late 70s, and were well home to watch the 10 o'clock news. They read the newspapers in the AM or during lunch or relaxing at home after, and same with magazines. Your claims do not match my experience of the people in the average suburban neighborhood I grew up in. That doesn't make either viewpoint on what one personally experienced any less valid, just that making claims that infer only rich stock market analysts watched the news, read the newspapers, read Time and other magazines, seems a bit odd.

 

Yes, and everyone had a pony and went sailing on their yachts. I implied that rich people and the upper middle class were more likely to pay attention to the stock market, watch the news, read the daily newspaper, read the latest magazines, and so on. Sounds like you were upper middle class.

 

I didn't know anyone who owned a VCR until the mid to late 1980s. Your own personal experience is coloring what you think most people knew back then. The masses of poorer people without VCRs and all of that good stuff weren't sipping tea with their pinky's in the air as they downloaded mass quantities of news into their brains.

 

It was a struggle for us to even buy an Atari 2600 in 1982. There's no way that we could have afforded a VCR.

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Jetset is of course mistaken, those few articles I shared actually do concretely document the beginnings of the crash (at least the public awareness of it) and specifically the stock market problems that heralded it (including their surprise it started with juggernaut Atari).

Um...those quotes in quotes I quoted were quotes quoted from your articles. I admit I didn't read each one word for word, but concrete = real numbers and comparisons to prior numbers. I saw none of that.

And, the second set of links does little more to distinctively prove a crash. Layoffs are just as often a cost cutting measure to a healthy company as they are a struggling one.

Maybe the rest of these articles shed more light...half of them have hardly a paragraphs' worth of speculative "information" then a link inviting you to pay for membership to read more.

At best, they point to a downturn but hardly a crash.

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Yes, and everyone had a pony and went sailing on their yachts. I implied that rich people and the upper middle class were more likely to watch the news, read the daily newspaper, read the latest magazines, and so on. Sounds like you were upper middle class.

 

I didn't know anyone who owned a VCR until the mid to late 1980s. Your own personal experience is coloring what you think most people knew back then. The mass of poorer people without VCRs and all of that good stuff weren't sipping tea with their pinky's in the air as they downloaded mass quantities of news into their brains.

 

It was a struggle for us to even buy an Atari 2600 in 1982. There's no way that we could have afforded a VCR.

 

Nope, we were lower middle class, both my parents worked full time and struggled. Again, you're making continued assumptions. And re: me putting forth my experience as the norm or coloring things, absolutely not, what are you smoking? It's like you didn't read my previous post where the whole reason for me even stating my experience was that your experience doesn't mean everyone had the same experience or were rich socialites. I.E. that you're the one coloring things. And your whole premise is a bit offensive, stating that " I implied that rich people and the upper middle class were more likely to watch the news, read the daily newspaper, read the latest magazines" comes off as stating poorer people were more likely to be dumb and less informed. I've known some very well informed and smart lower income people in my time. Is that really what you're saying? Where's your data for tv watching, newspaper reading, and vcr watching for lower income and lower middle class in 1983? And how did VCR even get into this? Because you made the assumption the majority of "average joes" couldn't find time to watch the news at any one of a plethora of time slots, read a newspaper, or read a magazine or were less likely to because of your personal experience. Regardless, this whole class argument is silly and I'll state again "That doesn't make either viewpoint on what one personally experienced any less valid," nobody speaks for everyone else's experience or what was most likely. Again, this is getting way off topic and I'm done.

Edited by Retro Rogue
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Um...those quotes in quotes I quoted were quotes quoted from your articles. I admit I didn't read each one word for word, but concrete = real numbers and comparisons to prior numbers. I saw none of that.

And, the second set of links does little more to distinctively prove a crash. Layoffs are just as often a cost cutting measure to a healthy company as they are a struggling one.

Maybe the rest of these articles shed more light...half of them have hardly a paragraphs' worth of speculative "information" then a link inviting you to pay for membership to read more.

At best, they point to a downturn but hardly a crash.

 

Stock market crash, beginning of major downturn (industry crash). That's what's concretely stated in just those few examples. Unless you were under the illusion that the industry crash was just this sudden thing? Or that it would be trumpeted "This is the crash, it's just started" when such statements are usually retrospective once it's already underway? It started in December '82 as shown and built up momentum in '83 and completed by summer '84. Looking at all the "big picture" and full spectrum of documentation and interviews, the industry crash started with this stock crash in '82. It's only speculative if it's not true, and in this case the claimed speculation was followed by the actual downturn of the industry. No different than the .com bubble, where people were speculating events that were happening would lead to a crash, then the event the speculation was surrounding actually leads to the crash, crash is occurring and it's stated the bubble has burst, and then we can look back and say "Hey, that event they were saying was going to lead to the crash - it did."

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Stock market crash, beginning of major downturn (industry crash). That's what's concretely stated in just those few examples. Unless you were under the illusion that the industry crash was just this sudden thing? Or that it would be trumpeted "This is the crash, it's just started" when such statements are usually retrospective once it's already underway? It started in December '82 as shown and built up momentum in '83 and completed by summer '84. Looking at all the "big picture" and full spectrum of documentation and interviews, the industry crash started with this stock crash in '82. It's only speculative if it's not true, and in this case the claimed speculation was followed by the actual downturn of the industry. No different than the .com bubble, where people were speculating events that were happening would lead to a crash, then the event the speculation was surrounding actually leads to the crash, crash is occurring and it's stated the bubble has burst, and then we can look back and say "Hey, that event they were saying was going to lead to the crash - it did."

If you're going by the stock market, then there was never a boom in the industry either. Anytime from '68 to 84 could have been considered a stock market crash. As I mentioned before the economy was in horrendous shape particularly in the late 70's and early-mid 80's.

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Where does this idea that only rich people read newspapers in 1982? If anything, more people read newspapers then than today. Circulations were higher. Newspapers were not the purview of the well-to-do. They were/are cheap and accessible. And they weren't only read in the AM - many newspapers were AFTERNOON papers, that people didn't get and read until they got home from work. In Pittsburgh, until 1992, the dominant daily newspaper was an afternoon paper.

 

I didn't have a VCR until the late 80s myself. I went from middle class to living in a trailer park, where I got money to buy that VCR on layaway by mowing lots with my neighbor's mower (and gas!).

 

It's hard now to say what people did or did not know then. But the many examples cited point that probably a good many did. My memory is simply that video gaming was waning, there was the move to computers, and it seemed video games were maybe being relegated to a passing fad or trend, or at best, being a "toy." We did it for a while, we got tired of it, we moved on.

 

Our own perception of what we or those in our immediate circles knew doesn't mean that 's what others knew.

 

And in my opinion, despite the Internet and our current technology, I tend to think of this as more of the "Misinformation Age" - never in history have people had access to so much, yet known so little.

 

P.S. Instead of the NY Times, WSJ and such, I'd like to see stories done by smaller metro and local papers about video games. They'd be more likely to talk to local shoppers, residents and store owners about what they were seeing, experiencing, buying/not buying. Maybe they'd be more telling of what the "common man" was doing and seeing.

Edited by Brian R.

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Nope, we were lower middle class, both my parents worked full time and struggled. Again, you're making continued assumptions. And re: me putting forth my experience as the norm or coloring things, absolutely not, wtf are you smoking? It's like you didn't read my previous post where the whole reason for me even stating my experience was that your experience doesn't mean everyone had the same experience or were rich socialites. I.E. that you're the one coloring things. And your whole premise is a bit offensive, stating that " I implied that rich people and the upper middle class were more likely to watch the news, read the daily newspaper, read the latest magazines" comes off as stating poorer people were more likely to be dumb and less informed. I've known some very well informed and smart lower income people in my time. Is that really what you're saying? Where's your data for tv watching, newspaper reading, and vcr watching for lower income and lower middle class in 1983? And how did VCR even get into this? Because you made the assumption the majority of "average joes" couldn't watch the new at any one of a plethora of time slots, read a newspaper, or read a magazine or were less likely to because of your personal experience. Regardless, this whole class argument is silly and I'll state again "That doesn't make either viewpoint on what one personally experienced any less valid," nobody speaks for everyone else's experience or what was most likely. Again, this is getting way off topic and I'm done.

 

Most people I knew in various states that I lived in were just above the poverty line or lower middle class. We got 3 to 4 channels on TV if we were lucky in most places. The news was on in the morning (no time for that), around noon (nobody home), and at 11 (if you don't want to get fired, you better be asleep by then). If you didn't have a VCR and your schedule didn't match, you could go days or weeks without seeing news on TV.

 

If you are trying to save money, you wouldn't have a daily/weekly newspaper or news-related magazines. No matter how you or I lived or what we knew, there a millions of people who weren't up on the latest news and millions who just didn't care. If it wasn't on Entertainment Tonight, a lot of people didn't want to know about it (same as it is today with a lot of people).

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Yes, a lot of people choose to be ignorant. As a newspaper reporter, I've seen it for 20 years. I'll write for months about something that will directly effect people, and just before it happens, they'll come out and complain and say they didn't know, when it was reported prominently for quite some time. It's quite frustrating.

 

Today, people are more prone to follow opinions rather than facts, and think they're informed, when they're not.

Edited by Brian R.
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...And in my opinion, despite the Internet and our current technology, I tend to think of this as more of the "Misinformation Age" - never in history have people had access to so much, yet known so little.

 

We talk about this phenomenon all_the_time! :lol:

 

Sad really.

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Retro is right, as it was stated in Atari Inc (good book btw) but for me at least, video game magazines were the daddy, the people with knowledge were Katz and Kunkel, what they wrote was gospel

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I still say that the game is not nearly so bad as modern legend would lead you to believe. Just by saving space via data table sharing and altering JMP instructions to use unconditional branching instead...you can see that it's a very enjoyable game even by more modern standards. The game engine is completely unchanged in the 4k hack that formed the basis for the later 8k version:

Pac-Man(gfx_edit).bin

Edited by Nukey Shay
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I still say that the game is not nearly so bad as modern legend would lead you to believe. Just by saving space via data table sharing and altering JMP instructions to use unconditional branching instead...you can see that it's a very enjoyable game even by more modern standards. The game engine is completely unchanged in the 4k hack that formed the basis for the later 8k version:

 

That's a testament to Tod really, and how his motivation with the limited resources was to get the game play itself down rather than the look. I'll tell you, when we were interviewing a lot of the other Consumer Division programmers in the group interviews, they all stated they had a lot of respect for Tod with what he was able to accomplish and called it amazing. Keep in mind, this was also Tod's very first game after starting at Atari (and all they got as an intro was a manual to the VCS hardware and were told to read it and get to it). How long did it take all the 2600 homebrew programmers here before they learned all the ins and outs and tricks to optimize and squeeze more out of things? And without the pressure of a needing to produce an actual commercial product for their employer?

 

Interestingly, some other myths surrounding this game recently popped up in the Atari Museum Facebook group and Tod himself appeared to dispel them. Myths like him supposedly holding out during development for more money, or the time frame of development.

Edited by Retro Rogue
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That's a testament to Tod really, and how his motivation with the limited resources was to get the game play itself down rather than the look. I'll tell you, when we were interviewing a lot of the other Consumer Division programmers in the group interviews, they all stated they had a lot of respect for Tod with what he was able to accomplish and called it amazing. Keep in mind, this was also Tod's very first game after starting at Atari (and all they got as an intro was a manual to the VCS hardware and were told to read it and get to it). How long did it take all the 2600 homebrew programmers here before they learned all the ins and outs and tricks to optimize and squeeze more out of things? And without the pressure of a needing to produce an actual commercial product for their employer?

 

Interestingly, some other myths surrounding this game recently popped up in the Atari Museum Facebook group and Tod himself appeared to dispel them. Myths like him supposedly holding out during development for more money, or the time frame of development.

Concerning Tod and the myths around him and Pac-Man, I didn't see this one covered in your book....rumor has it that Tod got a $1 million dollar check from Atari when he finished the game, and he photocopied and taped it to his office door. A lot of folks would see that as a ultimate sign of ego and hubis if it's true, especily given the modern perception of this game. Any truth to this?

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I'd ask what requirements were imposed by management. A native 4k environment is known to be true, and a switch-selectable palette with "attract mode" color shifting was part of the company rulebook (a resource hog that most modern homebrews forgo completely). But what about the 2-player option? That certainly would make the task more challenging. How many dot-eating VCS games (including homebrews) can you name that has it?.

To a lesser extent, where the maze layout and colors chosen came from (tho this was often attributed to the programmers' unfamiliarity with the game being ported).

The vertical tunnel and side (rather than top) door on the ghost pen suggests that he was attempting to retain the arcade's horizontal/vertical ratio...were asymmetrical maze walls to fit that design once also part of the original concept before development?

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I'd ask what requirements were imposed by management. A native 4k environment is known to be true, and a switch-selectable palette with "attract mode" color shifting was part of the company rulebook (a resource hog that most modern homebrews forgo completely). But what about the 2-player option? That certainly would make the task more challenging. How many dot-eating VCS games (including homebrews) can you name that has it?. To a lesser extent, where the maze layout and colors chosen came from (tho this was often attributed to the programmers' unfamiliarity with the game being ported). The vertical tunnel and side (rather than top) door on the ghost pen suggests that he was attempting to retain the arcade's horizontal/vertical ratio...were asymmetrical maze walls to fit that design once also part of the original concept before development?

 

According to Tod he used up too much memory being 2-player (where he'd have to keep track of the two mazes) which, combined with using ghost patterns, severely limited the resources he was given. His stated goal was to implement what he considered the important features of the game to accurately reproduce the game play vs. the look. The problem, as the many programmers stated it to us, was it was a learning curve at the time because they were being asked to port more advanced bit-mapped games to a non bit-mapped architecture.

 

In answer to the rest of the questions, per directly quoting Tod's interview with us:

 

"We were still new at doing advanced arcade ports to the VCS - there was Space Invaders and Asteroids - both of those used their own color schemes, and Asteroids looked and played different from the arcade. I wanted to add more color to the maze instead of black and blue, so I chose the colors. The maze was also very difficult to implement, so the exits were placed on the tops and bottoms instead of the sides. My primary focus was on the game play and making sure the game mechanics of the arcade were in the VCS title as close as could be done."

Tod also developed a flicker reduction kernel for Pac-Man and it wound up being taken and used in Asteroids before Pac-Man was released. As for why he had the ghosts flicker, he felt it was more ghost like.

 

As far as "unfamiliarity," I'm not sure where you got that idea. The consumer programmers at Gibraltar had their own arcade - literally a room full of coin-ops that were all the latest games that they were considering porting or in the process of. That's how a lot of the ports were done at the time, they had a chance to play the actual arcade games and refer to them repeatedly during coding.

Concerning Tod and the myths around him and Pac-Man, I didn't see this one covered in your book....rumor has it that Tod got a $1 million dollar check from Atari when he finished the game, and he photocopied and taped it to his office door. A lot of folks would see that as a ultimate sign of ego and hubis if it's true, especily given the modern perception of this game. Any truth to this?

 

Sure, it's on page 582.

 

"For Tod’s effort in coding his first game, when he received his first bonus check for $320,000 for Pac-Man, the result was a screaming, yelling, and cheering

Tod - all while walking the walls. Tod even makes a photocopy of his first check and tapes it to the door of his office."
It wasn't a million and it wasn't hubris, other people were getting bonus checks at that time as well. This was Tod's first game and he was very excited about getting a bonus.
Edited by Retro Rogue

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Any chance of some sort of synopsis of what was said re Pacman on your Facebook group? I'd be really interested in what rumours were brought up and which ones were dispelled by Tod. Verbatim responses would be hugely appreciated if possible. I'm in China and have no FB - that's why I'm asking. Thanks in hope. :)

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Any chance of some sort of synopsis of what was said re Pacman on your Facebook group? I'd be really interested in what rumours were brought up and which ones were dispelled by Tod. Verbatim responses would be hugely appreciated if possible. I'm in China and have no FB - that's why I'm asking. Thanks in hope. :)

 

Tim Trezpacz brought up a rumor that Tod had done something to cause the "first ever royalties" at Atari.

 

I responded with:

 

"There was originally a bonus program in place in the late 70s as well in Consumer (across the board for management, engineers, and programmers) but Warner's people did some Hollywood accounting to cause it not to happen and that resulted in the exodus of people from Consumer. Ray started a regular royalty bonus program in Consumer ('81/'82 on-wards) after more (Howard Scott Warshaw, Tod, and a few others) threatened to leave. We covered the program in the book and Howard covers it in Once Upon Atari. Likewise, according to Owen, Coin had a complex royalty system for it's games plus they started receiving royalties from Consumer as well in the early 80's for games being ported over to the 2600/5200."

 

Tim elaborated on the full rumor:

 

" The story of Tod Frye's royalty, as it was told to me was that Tod waited until he was 2/3rds of the way done with the Pacman coding and then marched into Ray Kassar's office and demanded a 10 cent per cartridge royalty. Knowing that nobody else would be able to pick up the code and finish it in time, or rewrite from scratch and still make Christmas, he capitulated and Tod got Atari's first ever royalty."

 

I responded with:

 

"Tim: Told by who? That's one of several myths (including the one about there being several versions of Pac-Man). First off, the game wasn't released for Christmas, it was released in March '82 (with the official "Pac-Man Day" release in April). We interviewed Tod and Howard direct for the book, and what you're claiming was not done. It was Tod's first game after joining Atari, he wasn't in any sort of position to have clout like that. There was no crunch time frame, the game was simply put into the list of games "the Zoo" had available to them for projects. Bob Polaro had already passed on it because of the 4k limit to do Defender, which Tod wanted, so Tod instead took Pac-Man. Tod was already on probation per his annual review by Dennis Knoble, so he made sure to put in a lot of extra hours and effort on Pac-Man. He started in May '81 and finally finished the second week of September. It was after Pac-Man was done that they planned to go as a group to let Atari know they were planning on leaving (20th Century Fox had approached them about doing games), Tod spilled it to George Kiss who in turn let Ray know. Two days later there was a general meeting called with everyone and people were handed bonus checks, and the royalty program started right after that.

 

In fact, Howard brought up about this event again during the first day of group meetings we had with a lot of the ex-Consumer programmers in front of their old Gibraltar Drive location. Steve Woita was gracious enough to organize the two days of meetings for us, and they were simply indispensable as a resource - allowing everyone to feed off each other in an informal setting so there was a lot more ground and stories covered than normal (and details remembered).

 

Likewise, our entire chapter section on Tod, Pac-Man, etc. was reviewed directly by Tod before publication. Most of the material in the book that dealt with specific people and instances was in fact sent to those people for review/corrections before publication."

 

Tim responded with:

 

"The story was related to me when I was working at 3DO, not by Tod, but by others who worked with him at the time. When I first mentioned Tod, I was hoping he would relate it so that I would not have the chance to be wrong. Marty's version of the story may be the correct one, I was just relating what I had been told."

 

Then Tod showed up and stated (across three different posts that I've gathered as one):

 

"Marty's version is for the most part correct. PacMan was done, wrapped, sent off for ROM mask long before the compensation was adjusted at Atari. The story that i extorted Ray has a certain cachet, but is completely bogus. One develops a certain skepticism of all history once one's history has been written by those who were not there. Some stories are more fun than the reality of the time. i mean look, if i had the business chops to extort management for a percentage, i would have gone a lot higher that $0.10 per cart. the margin was like $25, so i would have gone for at least $1.00... more likely $2.50. then i would have bought MS, and really rocked for 25 yrs..."

 

 

 

For the record, I personal messaged Tod and asked him what minor elements were wrong with the version I recounted from the book that caused him to say "for the most part" (considering he proofed the material before it was released, and it's a combination of what he and Howard stated), as we'd like to correct anything we missed for the second edition. He has yet to write back.

Edited by Retro Rogue
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Thanks for posting all of that. It's always nice to hear the full story. :)

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