Two pieces on Pac-Man

The Pac-Man Dossier, a free book-in-a-website by Jamie Pittman, is an exhaustively researched and thoroughly enjoyable exegesis on the flagship game from the golden age of video arcades. After an initial chapter that lays out the backdrop of Pac-Man's development in Japan and subsequent worldwide introduction, Pittman delves into the machine's inner workings, keeping to a designer's-eye view.

Of particular interest to me is the clear but exact explanation of the different ways the four ghosts behave. The reader learns that the game's enemies share a set of deterministic rules for movement, but each one also carries an additional rule unique to that ghost. These rules are elegant and easy to describe, if you know the trick - but to a player of the game, they're visible only as slippery and subtle effects, enough to give the ghosts the distinct "personalities" that help make the game so memorable. Truly masterful design.

As a child, I revered - was obsessed by, really - this game and its manifold mysteries. Seeing them all laid bare like this over a quarter-century later feels... oddly satisfying, actually. It's less like reliving a significant part of my childhood than it is like discovering a heretofore unknown director's commentary track attached to it.

And here's a transcript from Darius Kazemi of a talk by Ian Bogost about the origins of Ms. Pac-Man. For some reason, I didn't know that the game was an American invention, delivered directly to Bally/Midway after Namco declined to produce a sequel to Pac-Man. (Wikipedia confirms this, so it must be true.) Contains bonus noodling about what Ms. Pac-Man can tell us about The Bible and late 20th Century feminism.

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