Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Ghosts of Christmas Pac

Via my friend Lapsed Cannibal, an interesting article on Ghost Behavior in Pac-Man.

If you've played Pac-Man a fair bit (I haven't) then you already know the ghosts each have a unique personality. This article explains exactly how they "think". The fact that they behave in predetermined ways is what makes it possible for a very few people to play the game well past the point where the "power pills" essentially stop working - because as the human player you can predict what they will do; even though they're faster than you, and can kill your Pac-Man with a touch, they are somewhat predictable.

Did you know...

...The game was called Puck-Man in Japan, but the title was changed to Pac-Man when the game came to the U.S.... due to fears that American children would vandalize the "P" in Puck, into an "F".

...Toru Iwatani was inspired to create the game when he took the first slice from a pizza, and saw the now-iconic "circle with a wedge shaped mouth" shape (Iwatani-san has since admitted this story is a bit of a fabrication.)

...The total number of Pac-Man cabinets installed worldwide since 1980: 293,822 (a Guiness World Record, awarded to Iwatani-san this year.)

... Iwatani-san never received any special compensation for creating Pac-Man, a game that has earned untold billions over the last 30 years. He merely received his normal salary.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good bite.

UPDATE: My friend Sam just sent me another interesting link about Mr. Pac, with two tidbits I did not know: There was originally to be a "shelter" that would move up and down, and would partially squash a ghost if it squeezed him; and the president of Namco originally ordered that all the ghosts should be red, to head off potential player confusion. Luckily, Mr. Iwatani stood his ground and the game is more colorful for it.

Here's to 30 more years....

More information at Wikipedia

Friday, August 6, 2010

Discovering Video Games

Today we have a special treat here on the blog - a guest post from my father. He's provided some memories of my first video arcade trip.

The time was 1977, an important year - the Apple II went on sale in June, the Atari home game system came out in October, and of course even before those, Star Wars was released in May and changed everything.

I had just turned eight a few months before, and had heard about computers and video games, but hadn't seen one. My dad and I walked the boardwalk that evening - a sunny, salty day fading to twilight - and strolled into PlayLand, a corner arcade in the small amusement park at the end of Rehoboth Beach. Now, my dad was later known to play a mean game of Space Invaders, but he's never been a big fan of noise or crowds, so he stepped out into the evening breeze before I exited. I don't recall how long I stayed inside. The machines would have been primitive in those days - black-and-white space and shooting games, some with plastic overlays on the screen to give the impression of color; electromechanical pinballs clicking and ringing - but the moment clearly made an impression on me - I will let Dad set the scene:

You were totally enthralled, as if you had just stumbled into Wonderland.
I remember how loud and clangy it was, and the blinking lights. I probably stepped out for a smoke, but really, the audio-visual stimulation was at blast level. The smells... sweaty, salty, sweet.
I watched you play a couple different games from the boardwalk, and smiled at how you approached each one somewhat gingerly before you engage with reckless abandon and total absoprbtion. When you emerged, you were hot and flushed, your face a splotchy red.
I think you were speechless; I don't remember that you said anything.
And that my friends, just about says it all - a lifetime love of games begun in a single memorable moment.

See at left a photo from about the same era (but not from the beach) with the principals of this story pictured (top left and bottom right).

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Friend at 25

The Amiga celebrated its 25th birthday a few days ago.  Kind of mind-bottling to think this number is only going to get bigger.   The link has a nice video of Andy Warhol and Debbie Harry, though - check it out!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

How many obsolete things can you find in this photo?


Incandescent lamp
Glasses with plastic frames
Amiga computer (the guy on the right met his wife on Internet Relay Chat on this one)
Floppy discs
Music cassettes
Compact discs
Giant speakers
Cassette-based analog 4-track recorder
Using a door and file cabinets as a table
CRT monitor
Wood paneling

Still in use today:

Striped grunge shirts
Tattoos (especially trendy with teenage girls)
Guitars, drums, bass, MIDI interface I assume are all basically unchanged; music keyboards, digital effects processor, other rack components much more advanced
The guy on the left has a much more streamlined haircut now, the guy on the right looks the same.

This comes courtesy of a friend (pictured at right) who found and scanned this photo from my room circa 1994.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tanks, for the memories

One of the earliest computer game genres is that of the "artillery game," in which players (generally two in number) take turns adjusting the angle and power of their respective projectile launching device, then letting fly while the other guy cringes. This type of game goes back so far (no one is quite sure when it started) that the early ones didn't use graphics or, in some cases, even a monitor screen - the program communicated the game's progress via dot matrix "hard copy" printout! Not very "green", but a good way to ensure your game was saved for posterity (though who would save such a thing?) You can get an excellent idea of the game play of one of these Ur-tillery games via this BASIC listing in the Atari archives.

Wendell Hicken breathed new life into the genre with Scorched Earth for the PC in 1991, and Michael Welch spread the fun to the Amiga a few years later with Scorched Tanks. Mike released Pocket Tanks for the PC in 2001; as fate would have it, shortly after the terrorist attacks that year. But so-called "Tank Games" have never been about violence - at their essence, they are mathematics and physics in a fun, lightly tactical turn-based challenge. Some versions have dialed down the potential carnage by introducing scenarios such as two gorillas throwing bananas at each other, or Worms throwing sheep at each other, etc. (Turning on "wind" makes it much more challenging, you'll need to adjust either your power or angle before every shot, if the wind speed or direction changes.)

Artillery games are still being actively developed. Some have expansive 3-D environments. But stick with the simple 2-D versions. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.

Wikipedia has some pretty good info on this topic, and "Scorched Parabolas" by Matt Barton is probably the definitive piece.

If you want to play a single-player artillery game right now in your browser, you can do so thanks to the Discovery Channel.

I don't know what this is, but I like it already

It appears to be some short fiction with an 80s computer flair, by an author named Love:


More of her stuff is here.