Tuesday, April 6, 2010

AA Look - Pacman & Ms Pacman

Everyone knows the deal with Pacman so I'll skip straight to the juicy stuff. I hate the original Pacman game. Seriously it's up there with Space Invaders as the top classic arcade game that I absolutely can't stand. The concept is fine and it has some good ideas but the game itself simply isn't any fun.

I guess the biggest problem lies with Pac-man's lack of speed. I find this rather curious because there have been a number of "official" hacks of Pacman that changed Pac's speed to being almost twice as fast. For some reason Namco doesn't recognize these versions so we're stuck with what I guess is the original setting. I for one never grew up with this. I was around back in the 2600 days and I even remember playing that abysmal Pacman port. All of my remotely positive memories of the game were spent in bars, laundromats, and well anywhere there happened to be a machine along with nothing better to do. Pacman has never been the kind of game I would seek out an actually play, especially in lieu of anything else.

So given the choice between playing Namco's official version of Pacman or anything else I usually stuck with the latter. However with this being Arcade Appreciation and all I think I owe some credit. To me the greatest breakthrough of Pacman is in its complete lack of context. Videogames are never about making sense and the more we apply real world rules to them the less fun they become. Pacman is a curious design. It's not an animal, a plant, and probably not even a man. There's no classification for such a being let alone an explanation for why its in a maze or why it feels the need to gobble pellets until death. The ghosts are also truly unique. Are they ghosts of something? Maybe they're just sheets with eyes or something truly sinister that Pacman was completely in the right for swallowing. While there have been countless games (and even a cartoon) that have explored Pacman's world and shed new light the game itself refuses to do things that would make sense.

In doing so Pacman creates a new kind of sense. This is the kind of sense we apply to all videogames. The rules are determined entirely by the game itself and aren't influenced by what we consider the real world. This videogame logic creates sense out of the nonsensical. You pick up a game like Bubble Bobble. In that game cutesy dinosaurs blow bubbles that trap enemies. These enemies are then popped and crumble to the ground where they turn into a variety of foods worth differing amounts of points. Obviously we don't expect the same results in the real world if such a situation were to occur but when we view it in the game it makes perfect sense. Through the usage of imagination we have discovered countless ways of creating rules for every game that defy all common ideas of logic.

I still hate playing Pacman though so even with this respect I can't bear more than ten minutes of it. Still everything was in place to create a sequel that improves on every aspect of the original. Ms. Pacman provided more than just some make-up and a bow, this game also showed some variety in the maze designs, better programmed ghosts, and most importantly an improved sense of challenge which makes it a more balanced game. Course all the time I spent with this game has been tainted by the fact that Namco refuses to consider the version I most often played in the arcades the official one. The lack of speed is once again a factor but at least here I can sort of get where they're coming from. The extra speed allows for a game based more around reflexes(which I've always preferred for any game) while the decreased speed requires a bit more understanding of the ghost's patterns as well as a bit of strategy. This makes one wonder why Namco didn't just provide for both styles of play with both versions selectable from an options menu but that's their call.

Another interesting aspect of this sequel is that as opposed to the original the fruit in this game actually moves. This is an impressive usage of progression as it builds upon everything with new ideas as well as tweaks to older ones. To give another example after defeating a boss in a 2D shooter whatever enemy firepower that was on the screen was still there for the player to avoid. Later on this firepower dissipated with the death of the boss. Eventually players would get rewarded with bonus points if they destroyed the boss when they had a lot of bullets flying around. It all boils down to finding new ways to challenge the player. With this system of progression the additional twists can lead to more points if the player uses them properly. Even with all of the features of games today it's important that they offer new and fresh challenges so the player never feels like they've played the game before. It's a daunting task certainly with all of the similar genres and styles of play but all of the best developers manage to work with it and continually develop fresh and exciting games.

So even though in the end I couldn't care less about either of these games they do have their importance and if it wasn't for them I wouldn't have Raimais and Pacman Championship Edition.

No comments:

Post a Comment