Atari VCS Pac-Man

I remember the excitement surrounding Pac-Man being released for the Atari VCS (the machine later renamed to the 2600). I was in junior high school and living in Houston, Texas at the time. I recall full page newspaper ads for this cartridge.

I had played Pac-Man in the arcades a few times, but I was not good at it and therefore it was not one of my favorite games to spend a quarter on. A quarter in 1980 would be about $1 today, according to a U.S. government inflation calculator. (And yowza to that. When the Up-Down bar-arcade opened in Des Moines, Iowa about ten years ago, the inflation rate made that quarter worth about .72 then.)

No wonder my grandmother wasn’t keen on me spending money at arcades ;-)

The Pac-Man conversion was very different from the arcade original. Some of the changes made to the game were due to limitations of the hardware — such as the “dots” being replaced by “video wafers” (so said the manual) that looked like dashes. The power pills were squares. This is understandable, though future Atari ports of Pac-Man games such as Ms. Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man looked much better, thanks to using twice as much cartridge ROM as the original Atari Pac-Man.

However, other changes to the game — such as playing a tune that was NOT the Pac-Man tune, and having the tunnels at the top and bottom of the screen rather than the sides, along with a maze that did not at all resemble the arcade original, seemed … just wrong. It was “Pac-Man in name only.”

It dawns on me that many of this “in name only” ports were more “inspired by”– new games using elements inspired by the original. This is much like how movies based on books are made–changing the plot so much it is barely recognizable except for some character names and general concepts.

The more movies I see that are quite different than their source material, the more I understand the 1982 Atari Pac-Man.

After all, we have seen modern programmers use the same 4K ROM size and create a much more faithful Pac-man (see video below) though I do not know if they could have written this in the same time constraints the Atari programmer had to do his version in…

For an interesting history on the original Atari Pac-Man, check out this video:

Until next time…

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