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The Story of Pacman on Atari 2600 (Retro Gamer Magazine)

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It looked pretty good on Atari computers before Atari 2600 Pac-Man was released, so somebody knew how to make a faithful representation of Pac-Man. That's why we pre-ordered Atari 2600 Pac-Man. We thought everyone at Atari was on the same page. We thought Atari 2600 Pac-Man would at least slightly resemble what we saw at Woolco department store on the Atari computer that they had set up with Pac-Man playing on it. Did he not go near any computer that had Pac-Man or a ripoff Pac-Man playing on it? The ripoff Pac-Man games looked more like Pac-Man than Atari 2600 Pac-Man.

 

He might be able to fool people who weren't alive at the time, but there were plenty of good quality legal and ripoff adaptations of all kinds of games, including Pac-Man, before he started working on Atari 2600 Pac-Man, so he wasn't all alone, a pioneer with zero road maps, creating something out of nothing. If he really thought that at the time, it's a shame that he didn't bother to look around.

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I don't agree with Tod's comments in that article. To me 2600 Pacman's flaws lay with design choices more than system constraints. Starting with the color scheme.

 

By '82 people wanted the arcade experience at home and also understood that on the Atari it wouldnt be 100% accurate but so much of arcade pacman just isnt there.

 

The movement/feel, sounds, and colors make it seem like a company trying to make a "pacman" style game without getting sued, rather than a legitimate version.

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Interesting read. Something I never realized until now - that Tod also did the 800 version of Asteroids.....which back at the time I always considered the worst arcade port on the 800... so I guess I'm not surprised to learn that.

 

Pacman was definitely the game that turned me off to the 2600. For 2 years prior to its release I was always buying the latest 2600 releases. The day Pacman released, my mom drove me to the mall after school to get it. I came home all psyched to play....turned it on...and was like "what is this crap?". For the next 6 months I was very selective about my game buying, and then moved on to the 8-bit computers.

 

The saddest thing about the whole 2600 pacman story is that Tod made a million bucks off it, while better 2600 programmers before him (ie - David Crane, Larry Kaplan, etc) got paid squat by Atari.

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I don't agree with Tod's comments in that article. To me 2600 Pacman's flaws lay with design choices more than system constraints. Starting with the color scheme.

 

By '82 people wanted the arcade experience at home and also understood that on the Atari it wouldnt be 100% accurate but so much of arcade pacman just isnt there.

 

The movement/feel, sounds, and colors make it seem like a company trying to make a "pacman" style game without getting sued, rather than a legitimate version.

Agreed 80% of the problem was design choices, not restraints. Take Pacman's eye. It might actually consume more memory to give him an eye than not, because otherwise you could simply mirror the top and bottom.

 

fixing the colors would not consume more resources

 

Making the map more like the arcade shouldn't consume much more, if any.

 

making the sounds more arcade-like may or may not consume more.

 

fix just those few things and it would have gotten a better reception than it did, but still you could go further as Pacman 4K proved.

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My goodness Tod Fry was only 26 when he made that game?

 

I enjoyed the game, & it does meet the court's definition of Pac-Man; it's a maze game where players collect objects to keep track of progress, & it stars a gobbler & monsters, which are the same basic shape as those in the arcade game. It may be a very poor implementation of Pac-Man, but it's still Pac-Man.

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I'm in with those that thought Pac-Man was "OK" and "That's what Atari looks like" back in the day, I also remember wanting an Atari 400/800 back when because the Pac-Man game looked so much better. It was easy to assume the 2600 couldn't really do a better, more accurate Pac-Man game than that ... Until Ms. Pac-Man, Jr. Pac-Man, and the homebrew remakes showed up, that is.

 

While I wouldn't say Tod Frye made the best decisions regarding Pac-Man, I understand where he's coming from, about how porting and 'translating down' from the arcade platform was a relatively new idea at the time and there was tons of trial and error involved in catching the 'spirit' of a game when it's basically impossible to recreate all details of the audiovisual and gameplay. You only need to look at some of Atari's other arcade ports that came out close to the same time - Defender, Asteroids, Warlords, Berzerk, back to Space Invaders - and they all have a mix of concessions to hardware limits with decisions that just are. (the fact that simple graphic hacking can make some games seem more arcade-y with no other modifications attest to that - why do Atari Invaders look nothing like Taito invaders, for example?)

Edited by Feralstorm
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Pacman was fine. It's easy now with hindsight to criticise and talk about 8bit computer versions - that hardware had a totally different architecture. The 2600 was WELL past its sell-by date re technology by the end of the 70s! This was the Atari 2600 we are talking about here. No modern programming techniques known 30 years later either.

 

He could have used a different colour scheme. And that sound - he could have made that easier on the ear ! That would have made a big difference.

 

He also claims the flicker could have been lessened by having more ROM (probably to hold code that would perform better flicker management which would have only multiplexed the ghosts on the same scanlines) - pity there was no business case made for that which given projected sales could have been made - but then Atari were greedy so maybe not. It would have meant space for bonus fruits too. CRTs helped a bit with flicker anyhow. And a different colour scheme would have helped too.

 

I give him credit for retaining the 2 player mode which was a strain on RAM resources keeping track of two sets of dots.

 

Yes - Ms Pacman showed how it could be done - but it's a fair bet the devs "went to school" on the original Pacman and they learned a lot from it.

 

I wouldn't play it now of course (actually Jr Pacman is my choice now) but I was never a big fan of the game back then anyhow so I didn't play it that much but I thought it was OK as a port apart from the ugly colours and sounds.

Edited by davyK
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Perhaps I’m thinking of another 2600 game, but this article contradicts some of the things I thought I knew about 2600 Pac-man.

 

It states that Frye spent 80 hour weeks for 6 months creating the game, but I’d heard that he was given only 6-8 weeks and was stuck with 4K to work with even though 8K carts had recently become available. (Maybe I’m thinking of E.T. re: the time limit?)

 

Anyway, after 2600 Donkey Kong Jr., Pac-man is the game from my childhood I’m most bitter about. I played it, as it was one of only a few carts I owned, but it was such a huge disappointment.

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First issue of the magazine i have bought in a while and even then i bought it for the superb Dreamcast Minority Report article.

 

I appreciate the magazine likes to treat articles like this as a celebration, but i do feel they went a little easy on Tod,questions wise.

 

From comments i have seen Tod make in various interviews prior,i have always had the impression that that was simply a job..convert a maze game with dots,main character,tunnel exits and the rest..and start work on the next project.

 

So, that's what he gave Atari,within the confines of what they gave him to work with,cart size etc.

 

I mean no disrespect to Tod by this,but when he states he doesn't get why his positioning of the tunnel exits at top and bottom of the screen rather than left and right hand sides, it's hard to believe he really appreciated what made the gamr so special.

 

As for the rather blasse Fuck The Press comment by him, sorry but no,it's not that simple.

 

As a kid, who pleaded with his parents to buy Pac-Man on the VCS and thus had them spend hard earned money on it, how do you explain the dissapointment on a childs face to parents who have no idea what's wrong with the game?

 

 

Here in the UK, so much was made of Atari's advertising tag line that no-one could beat Atari at it's own game, yet that's exactly what was beimg done with Pac-Man clones on the home micro's,at a far cheaper cost.

 

It damaged Atari's reputation to many.

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I suppose I can't blame Tod Frye for taking some "creative liberties" with the story behind why Pac-Man turned out the way it did. I mean, I get that it made him wealthy and that should certainly be comfort enough, but I guess that regardless having your sub-par creation called out for the past 36 years can get tiresome.

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Perhaps I’m thinking of another 2600 game, but this article contradicts some of the things I thought I knew about 2600 Pac-man.

 

It states that Frye spent 80 hour weeks for 6 months creating the game, but I’d heard that he was given only 6-8 weeks and was stuck with 4K to work with even though 8K carts had recently become available. (Maybe I’m thinking of E.T. re: the time limit?)

 

Anyway, after 2600 Donkey Kong Jr., Pac-man is the game from my childhood I’m most bitter about. I played it, as it was one of only a few carts I owned, but it was such a huge disappointment.

The article is correct that it took 6 months to create the game of Pac-Man. 6-8 weeks is a persistent rumor that is untrue.

 

It is true, however, that he was stuck with a 4k rom size. He wanted 8k but could not get it.

 

E.T. was more like a 5 week development time.

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The article definitely seems at odds with what I thought the dev time of the was. I always thought it was put together quickly as a proof of concept that management decided to run with and with little to no further work approved on it.

 

Doesn't seem to be the case according to this article.

 

Also interesting to hear a bit more about Todd Frye and the impact getting all that money had on him....

 

 

an re going easy on him in an interview. I don't see retrospective interviews being any other way - the subjects don't have to do it and I doubt they get paid for them either - so a series of withering, challenging questions isn't going to work.

Edited by davyK
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It doesn't have to be a series of challenging questions,just 1 based around comments he made about not seeing the alterations to the maze lay out as being a big deal,would of been sufficient.

 

When you have someone who's past interviews are easy to find online and your doing a paid for article,which RG staff writers are doing, it would be nice to see them using their interview to get a touch more clarity,if possible,on comments made in previous interviews.

 

The confusion over how long Pac-Man took to develop appears to of come from Tod himself in past interviews:

 

 

6 weeks - as is quoted in the book, Racing The Beam (pg. 67)

 

5 months - as quoted in the April 1998 Next Generation article

 

6 months - as quoted in the documentary Stella At 20.

 

Which kind of reinforces the point I am making, it would of been nice if he had been asked why there had been 3 seperate answers to the 1 question about how long the game took to develop.

 

Just to add a degree of clarity to this aspect.

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Convert a maze game with dots, main character, tunnel exits and the rest . . .

It reminds me of cover bands who squat and squeeze out crappy music that barely resembles the original masterpieces. "Hey, I'm screaming into a microphone, abusing a guitar, and jiggling my ass; same thing, right?" Or shitty off-key orchestras with a dipshit standing in front flailing a stick at them who thinks he's as good as John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra from the late 1970s and 1980s. Important details and the essence of what makes something great is lost on them. They can't tell the difference between a candy bar and a dog turd. "Both are brown. Same thing, right? I don't see what the big deal is. Both taste the same to me."

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;-) I will stress again my unpopular opinion,isn't meant to be disrespectful to Tod.

 

Anymore than my views that i personally don't feel Jeff Minter was the 'right' person to update Defender on the Atari ST or Jaguar, were to Jeff.

 

I can only form an opinion on interviews i read or watch on YT,so have no idea,magazine interviews espically, if anything has been cut to fit a word count and a quote is not in full context.

 

Jeff adds his own ideas to Defender, which for myself don't work and Tod doesn't seem to understand why the placement of exits on Pac-Man is a thing for fans of the game..

 

Which is why he can come across as more of a coder than fan of the game itself.

 

He took a rather..asecptic look at what the game basically was..a maze..exits..dots etc and that's what he coded.

 

And i have raised the issue of why,why likes of RG writers gave access to key industry figures, questions aren't asked about what became of..?

 

Or..in the past you have said X then later said Y..would you mind trying to give some clarification to what you meant,as it's causing some confusion.

 

I see interviews like these as an opportunity, whilst people are still with us, to try and get some real closure.

 

Maybe that's just me though.

 

It's not meant as critiscm.

 

I just look at all the industry names we have sadly lost and all the things they were never asked..

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I seem to recall reading something about the fact that 2-player mode being included took up resources that could have been used elsewhere. It also added to the development time (which I also thought was short but looks like that may not be the case). I was under the impression that these two things were a big factor as to why it turned out the way it did. However, I know nothing about programming these games so I have no idea as to the validity of those statements.

 

I will say I have very fond memories of the game. As a kid we had very few games and our parents rarely (next to never) bought us games. This was one of the few games we had and we played the ever loving crap out of it. Sure, it was ugly, but to us it was still fun. We would go back and forth trying to get the high score. I guess it will always hold a special place due to that nostalgia. :-D

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It doesn't have to be a series of challenging questions,just 1 based around comments he made about not seeing the alterations to the maze lay out as being a big deal,would of been sufficient.

 

When you have someone who's past interviews are easy to find online and your doing a paid for article,which RG staff writers are doing, it would be nice to see them using their interview to get a touch more clarity,if possible,on comments made in previous interviews.

 

The confusion over how long Pac-Man took to develop appears to of come from Tod himself in past interviews:

 

 

6 weeks - as is quoted in the book, Racing The Beam (pg. 67)

 

5 months - as quoted in the April 1998 Next Generation article

 

6 months - as quoted in the documentary Stella At 20.

 

Which kind of reinforces the point I am making, it would of been nice if he had been asked why there had been 3 seperate answers to the 1 question about how long the game took to develop.

 

Just to add a degree of clarity to this aspect.

6 weeks was unheard of at the time which is why E.T. having only 5 weeks to develop was such a big deal, so 6 weeks is very unrealistic. 5 months would be possible, but that wouldn't really be a rush job. 6 months is what Tod himself said in Stella At 20 so I would go with that one.

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Bit of a sideways post, but recently been updating Unseen64 with it's entry on Galleon, by Tomb Raider creator,Toby Gard.

 

Now,aside from the fact the Nintendo press were convinced this was going to be a launch Game Cube title ..

 

2 seperate Dreamcast magazines interview Toby and not 1 of them asks how far along the Dreamcast version is,if it indeed has even been started :-))

 

And again as a reader,i am left thinking why on earth was this never asked?

 

And as a result,despite finding 2 seperate interviews, we still don't know if the DC Version was anything but vapourware.

 

This is why press interviews can so often frustrate me.

 

You have the guy there,ask him the key questions.

Edited by Lost Dragon
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.............

 

Jeff adds his own ideas to Defender, which for myself don't work and Tod doesn't seem to understand why the placement of exits on Pac-Man is a thing for fans of the game......

I think I remember reading that Minter was forced to make the ship in Defender 2000 large against his will which more or less makes the game unplayable. I would have liked to have seen what he would have done with the franchise without any external involvement.

 

I'm more a fan of t2K than Minter to be honest , I'm not a fan of his overuse of effects. Would be good if he added options to scale them up and down.

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Digging this up--it's funny, because I stumbled on this thread while working on a new project I'm doing: https://twitter.com/365ofpac

But I also wanted to say that I wrote this article. It was an editorial oversight that they didn't print my byline in the article. See below:
 


And as for criticisms of this article, people asking why I didn't "call Tod on the carpet" on past discrepancies or ask "tough questions" about the game development, I think you're missing the point. This wasn't a GOTCHA article, and if you've ever been in a journalist's shoes, that's not generally how it goes. But my larger aim was to put this game in context, and to give him a chance to reflect and share his views. It wasn't my goal to prove that his approach or justifications were a cop-out, but to understand his process. They did what they did, and if you think anyone at Atari was half-assing it on a game that was so hugely hyped (and expensive to license!), then you're sorely mistaken. Everyone wanted to make money. The idea that there was already an established WAY to make arcade ports is silly--if there were, Atari would have been happy to embrace it. Easier, simpler, more money made. You can't ret-con the idea of what we think of translations today to what was going on in the pioneers' basement in 1981. 

But everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I just wanted to shed more light on this game and the topic. :)
 
 

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