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Pac-Man (Atari 2600)

Pac-Man (Atari 2600)

Pac-Man (Atari 2600)

In 1982, Atari Inc. released a port of Namco's hit arcade game Pac-Man for its Atari 2600 video game console. Like the original arcade version, the player controls the titular character with a joystick. The object is to traverse a maze, consuming all the wafers within while avoiding four ghosts.

The game was programmed by Tod Frye, who was given a limited time frame by Atari to complete the project. The technical differences between the Atari 2600 console and the original's arcade hardware—particularly the amount of available memory—presented several challenges to Frye. Given the popularity of the property, Atari produced 12 million units , anticipating a high number of sales.

While the port is the best selling Atari 2600 game of all time, sold 7 million copies, and was the best-selling home video game of all time when it was released, it was critically panned, with customers returning the game in large quantities. Critics focused on the gameplay and audio-visual differences from the arcade version. Initially, the port boosted the video game industry's presence in retail, but has since been cited as a contributing factor to the North American video game crash of 1983. It was followed by Atari 2600 ports of Pac-Man's arcade sequels.

Pac-Man (Atari 2600) Gameplay

Pac-Man is a version of the original arcade game, which Namco released in 1980, and features similar gameplay. The player uses a joystick to navigate the round, yellow titular character, which starts each game at the center of a maze. The goal is to eat wafers scattered throughout the maze by moving Pac-Man over them while avoiding four ghosts. Each time Pac-Man comes into contact with a ghost, he dies, losing a life and reappearing at the center of the maze. When Pac-Man runs out of lives, the game ends. Four of the wafers are larger than the others and temporarily make the character invulnerable to the ghosts. During this time, Pac-Man can eat the ghosts for additional points, after which the ghosts will respawn. Extra points are also awarded when Pac-Man eats special items that occasionally appear. Once the player collects all the wafers in a stage, the level is completed and the player progress to the next level. Differences from the original include a different maze pattern and orientation. In-game items—like the wafers, vitamins, and power pills—differ from their arcade counterparts in name and appearance, but still serve the same functions.

Anticipation for the game was high. Goldman Sachs analyst Richard Simon predicted the sale of 9 million units during 1982, which would yield a profit of $200 million. Pac-Man met with initial commercial success, selling 7 million copies and eventually becoming the best-selling Atari 2600 title; Frye reported received $0.10 in royalties per copy. More than one million of those cartridges had been shipped in less than one month, helped by Atari's $1.5 million publicity campaign. However, purchases soon slowed and, by summer 1982, unsold copies were still in large quantities. Many buyers returned the games for refunds, and Atari was left with 5 million excess copies in addition to the returns. By 2004, the cartridges were still very common among collectors and enthusiasts—though the Sears versions were rarer—and priced at low amounts.

File:Pac-Man Atari 2600 footage.ogv

Pac-Man must eat the wafers while avoiding the ghosts. The ghosts take turns appearing on the screen, creating a flicker effect that was widely criticized.

Critics negatively compared the port to its original arcade form, panning the audio-visuals and gameplay. In 1983, Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games reviewer Danny Goodman commented that the game fails as a replica of its arcade form. Conversely, he stated that such criticism was unfair because the hardware could not properly emulate the arcade game. Goodman further said that the port is a challenging maze game in its own right, and it would have been a success if fans had not expected to play a game closer to the original. In 1998, Next Generation Magazine called it the "worst coin-op conversion of all time", and attributed the mass dissatisfaction to its poor quality. In 2006, IGN's Craig Harris echoed similar statements and listed it as the worst arcade conversion, citing poor audio-visuals that did not resemble the original. Another IGN editor, Levi Buchanan, described it as a "disastrous port", citing the color scheme and flickering ghosts. Skyler Miller of Allgame said that although the game was only a passing resemblance to the original, it was charming despite its many differences and faults.

Ed Logg, a former lead designer at Atari, considered the development a rushed, "lousy" effort. Frye did not express regret over his part in Pac-Man's port and felt he made the best decisions he could at the time. However, Frye stated that he would have done things differently with a larger capacity ROM. Video game industry researchers Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost attribute the poor reception to the technical differences between the 1977 Atari 2600 console and the 1980 arcade hardware used in Pac-Man cabinets. They further stated that the conversion is a lesson in maintaining the social and cultural context of the original source. Montfort and Bogost commented that players were disappointed with the flickering visual effect, which made the ghosts difficult to track and tired the players' eyes. The two further said that the effect diminishes the ghosts' personalities present in the arcade version. Chris Kohler of Wired commented that the game was poorly received upon its release and in contemporary times because of the poor quality. However, he further described the game as an impressive technical achievement given its console's limitations.

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