June 26, 2013 8:40 AM   Subscribe

You've played Pac-Man as a terrifying FPS game in 3-D (including ominous music), but Pac-Man is so much more: Pac-Man as a Match 3 game, as a math tutor, as a co-op game, as a 404 error page, as a side-scrolling shooter, as an endless runner, as a Google Doodle, and, finally Pac-Man as an 8-bit roguelike tower defense game. Also, a niceonline clone of the original, which famously caused a coin shortage in Japan when it was released. [some variations from here]
posted by blahblahblah (26 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome post! I didn't know about the coin shortage in Japan. That is crazy.
posted by meta87 at 8:50 AM on June 26, 2013

"What is the difference between Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, really?"

"She has a bow in her head."
posted by seiryuu at 9:03 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

FPS-Man previously.
posted by neckro23 at 9:13 AM on June 26, 2013

Two caveats: (1) Sorry, neckro23, missed the proper hat-tip there. (2) There appears to be some controversy over whether Space Invaders or Pac-Man caused the yen coin shortage.
posted by blahblahblah at 9:16 AM on June 26, 2013

Post title of the year!

However, given how often I tend to search a post by tags ... ya think you could pop it in there, too?

wakkawakkawakkawakkawakkawakkawakka..!!!...weeooweeoo weeooweeoo weeooweeoo whampwhamp
posted by barnacles at 9:33 AM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Actually it was Space Invaders that caused the 100-yen coin shortage in Japan, not Pac-Man.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:40 AM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Pac-Man was actually the first FPS I ever played.
posted by stopgap at 10:08 AM on June 26, 2013

You missed Pac-Man as a room, a collaboration between Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy) and Dr. Clement Shimizu (The Elumenati) for Babycastles Summit in New York last summer.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 10:25 AM on June 26, 2013

JoeZydeco is correct, it was Space Invaders that caused the shortage, at least according to every source I've ever heard. I seem to remember hearing that the popularity of Pac-Man was a mostly American phenomenon; it didn't do badly in its home territory, but it *exploded* in the US, which is part of why people at the time saw it as Bally/Midway's success instead of Namco's, why the game is generally known as Pac-Man now instead of its original Puck-Man, and why Ms. Pac-Man was grandfathered in as part of the game's official lore despite having been created by an outside company. (Jr. Pac-Man wasn't nearly so popular, and so wasn't so lucky, despite being a pretty good game, if hard.)

Previously on Metafilter:
Footage from the Ms. Pac-Man factory
An improved Atari 2600 Pac-Man
World's Biggest Pac-Man (note, the total number of dots consumed is over two billion, and has hit the signed 32-bit integer limit)
Post-mortems of various game development processes, including among them Pac-Man
Original Pac-Man concept art and sketches from creator Toru Iwatani
The Pac-Man Dossier (my post), which remains the definitive document explaining Pac-Man's inner workings
Video of Pac-Man patterns
A miscellany of Pac-Man links
An old Salon article about the game's cultural impact.
posted by JHarris at 10:49 AM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

"What is the difference between Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, really?"

This is all from memory and personal observation:
1. Of course, there are four different mazes instead of one, the intermissions are different, fruit are different and move around, the attract mode is different, and the level variables (monster speed, blue time, etc.) are subtly different. That's pretty obvious.
2. The most significant non-obvious game change: for awhile at the beginning of each level, the red and pink monsters move randomly, which makes it impossible to come up with infallible patterns. By forcing players to improvise a lot more instead of relying on canned movements, Ms. Pac-Man becomes a much more interesting, and harder to master, game.
3. After level 7 the fruit are random, which is Ms. Pac-Man's worst design flaw since it adds an aspect of the game completely outside of player skill.
4. Sometimes monsters don't slow down upon entering the tunnels. Also, and notably, the game doesn't have Pac-Man's one-way passages for the ghosts, which I think makes it less interesting.
5. Ms. Pac-Man's kill screen occurs around level 145 instead of 256. While the original's screen is well-documented in the Pac-Man Dossier (linked above), I'm not sure what causes it in Ms. Pac-Man.
posted by JHarris at 11:01 AM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Pacman, of course, was one of the first games that had appeal to women and girls and could be played one handed (so you could hold your drink in the other).
posted by plinth at 11:08 AM on June 26, 2013

JoeZydeco is correct, it was Space Invaders that caused the shortage, at least according to every source I've ever heard.

Which makes it either true or, according to Wikipedia (and most of the google links for for "shortage of 100 yen coins"), an urban legend. (Also if you say "Space Invaders" into a darkened mirror three times a flying saucer will not appear.)
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:10 AM on June 26, 2013

It could well be an urban legend, it has that kind of feel to it, like everyone who's reported the story got it from someone else going back to the 80s. But sometimes there is an original source to it all, if one looks hard enough. I have not, yet.
posted by JHarris at 11:18 AM on June 26, 2013

Pacman, of course, was one of the first games that ... could be played one handed (so you could hold your drink in the other).

A friend of mine told me that once while cutting through the little alcove full of video games at Union Station in Chicago as a short cut to the stairs out, she witnessed a gentlemen playing the Ms. Pac-Man machine with one hand and, as she put it, "doing the laundry by hand" with the other. I think that takes Rule 34 and raises it two.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 11:54 AM on June 26, 2013

I apologize again for getting the yen coin story wrong!

To make up for it, I did some research, and the Space Invaders coin story has some interesting elements.

The earliest mention I could find was the New York Times in 1980, which wrote "Last year, it is said to have caused the Bank of Japan to triple its production of 100-yen coins to satisfy the demand. Yesterday, it moved Robert Stenzler, a fourth-grade teacher in New Rochelle, to get up at 6:30 on a Saturday morning to drive his son Andrew, 12 years old, to the Citicorp Center at 53d Avenue and Lexington."

Of course, Omni magazine reported it as real soon after in 1980, but Omni believed everything back then. Interestingly, William Burroughs also appeared to have written about the coin shortage in Esquire in 1981, but I can only find a fragment of the article.

There is a nice article by Mark Fox that actually looks at the statistics of the Japanese mint to get at the truth. He finds no doubling or tripling of the number of coins, and no evidence that this actually happened, and shows that there were occasional coin shortages, but not due to Space Invaders. He does report, however, that a truck used to gather the coins from the machines had flat tires as a result of the weight.

So, I am wrong. But so are you. It's the MetaFilter way!
posted by blahblahblah at 12:34 PM on June 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

The tower defense version is rather addictive, if frustrating - the fact that your inputs only take effect when you reach the middle of a square starts to really drive me nuts around level 9. I'm kinda tempted to hack up a Pac-clone that controls more like I expect Pacman to control. And doesn't have graphics that make the Atari VCS look decent.
posted by egypturnash at 3:03 PM on June 26, 2013

Bride of Kill Screen analyzes and fixes the Ms. Pac Man killscreen, offering a fix in 14 bytes of ROM.
posted by jepler at 4:48 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

So basically one could create a UTF-8 console version of Pac-Man using the Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics Unicode block? Very cool!
posted by Creosote at 7:17 PM on June 26, 2013

More than that, Creosote -- one of the little-known secrets uncovered by the Pac-Man Dossier is that, internally, all collision detection is done by the game on the tile level. In a real sense, what you see on the screen, with Pac-Man and the monsters gliding around pixel by pixel, is just window-dressing; internally, the game figures each entity is in one tile, and (please pardon my onomatopoeia) clicks into the next one when its sprite representation moves halfway into it. This is why, once in a while, sometimes Pac-Man and monsters will pass through each other; they both clicked in the same game frame.

So, not only could you use text characters to represent the game, bu you could pull a Dwarf Fortress and use them in a simulated console window, and still have the same game! It'd look different, but it could play exactly right.
posted by JHarris at 8:07 PM on June 26, 2013

jepler, your link is broken. Is this what you were trying to point at?
posted by JHarris at 8:09 PM on June 26, 2013

No Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures? I loved that game, even if it was completely inexplicable in all regards.
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:15 PM on June 26, 2013

There is also somehow a new Pac-Man TV show on the Disney channel.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:59 PM on June 26, 2013

jharris: yes, thanks.
posted by jepler at 4:59 AM on June 27, 2013

Pac-Man taught me how to love.
posted by nowhere man at 5:53 AM on June 27, 2013

Thanks for bringing up that article by the way jepler. It goes over, in detail, why Ms. Pac-Man hits a kill screen much earlier than Pac-Man does, starting around level 134. It makes for very interesting reading, if you know anything at all about assembly, or even if you don't. Basically, the programmer used a compare function that, instead of checking the Carry flag to see if the level number was greater than 3, checked the Positive flag instead. Most processors use the high bit of a value to store its sign, so here using that kind of comparison would give false positives starting around level 134. (The high bit is 128, and 134 is one more than 28 + 3.)

The table lookup that this executes "paints" certain locations on the screen with a code that signals to the monsters that they should move slowly through those spots. The first three levels have two different mazes, and each has its own table of locations to paint with the code. What happens is, the table lookup is being called for mazes that were never intended to have slow monsters, and thus the "table" it looks up is actually arbitrary, nonsensical data. Hilarity ensues.

The problem seems to start on 134, but due to pure luck the data treated as a table ends quickly with a zero value there. But there is one visible effect: one spot on the screen, directly beneath one of the energizers, is painted with the slow monster code, and a very VERY attentive player would notice something was amiss on that one level if he ever happened to see a monster travel through that spot. On later levels the results are more drastic, possibly tuning the screen upside down, miscoloring monsters, and eventually locking up the chip and causing the system to reboot.
posted by JHarris at 6:22 AM on June 27, 2013

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