Pac-Man (Atari 2600)

Pac-Man (Atari 2600)

infobox cvg

platforms=Atari 2600
developer=Tod Frye
publisher=Atari, Inc
modes=Single-player, two-player alternating

"Pac-Man" was a port of the arcade game of the same name for the Atari 2600. It was developed and published by Atari Inc. in 1981. It was the first port of the arcade game, which was developed by Namco and released in 1980. Atari was the licensee for the video game console rights.

At the time, the 2600 was the most popular video game console in the world, and "Pac-Man" was the most popular arcade game in the world, so Atari widely promoted the 2600 version of the game. Upon release, however, the quality of the adaptation of the game was criticized, sales were well below expectations, and even those who bought and kept the game were often dissatisfied. Along with "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (also for the 2600), "Pac-Man" is believed to have triggered the video game crash of 1983 by destroying customer loyalty to Atari and, by extension, consumer confidence in video games in general.

The poor quality of the port is blamed on the Atari marketing department's rush to bring the game to the market. They asked Tod Frye, one of Atari's principal game programmers, to do the port; he showed them a prototype he had already developed. Rather than miss the approaching 1981 Christmas season, Atari produced the game based on the unfinished prototype.cite web
last =Jacobi
first =Scott
title =2600 Pac-Man: Redefining A Failure
publisher =Retrogaming Times Monthly
date = Issue #27 - August 2006
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-14

Atari manufactured twelve million cartridges and sold seven million units. With ten million 2600s sold to date, Atari expected that the game would re-stimulate sales of the console. When this did not happen, Atari had to write off the five million unsold copies, incurring large losses.

Porting differences

While the unfaithfulness of the port is often attributed to the hardware limitations of the Atari 2600, Atari's own subsequent 2600 release of "Ms. Pac-Man" [] proved that the port could have been considerably more faithful. Furthermore, there have been several unofficial "homebrew" conversions that have closely mimicked the original. [] [] The main reasons for the poor quality of the port include the game's very rushed development, and Atari's insistence on a cheaper 4kB ROM chip instead of an expanded 8kB ROM.


At the time, the ability to produce color was a technical achievement, and the marketing department at Atari felt that it was important to stress the color capabilities of the Atari. They asked programmers not to use black backgrounds except to represent outer space.Fact|date=April 2007 As a result, the maze on the 2600 port was given orange walls and a blue background, instead of blue walls on a black background. (Similar treatment was given to the Atari 2600 conversion of "Ms. Pac-Man".)

While the arcade's screen was oriented vertically, standard television sets were oriented horizontally. It appears that Frye intended to compensate by rotating the maze ninety degrees counter-clockwise. The escape tunnels appeared on the top and bottom, and the exit from the ghost pen was on the right side rather than the top. Despite the rotation, Pac-Man and the bonus vitamin still appear on the bottom portion of the screen, as in the arcade version.

Each of the game's four enemies only appears in one out of every four frames. Because of persistence of vision, this presents the illusion of having four flickering enemies on the screen at once. This is a limitation of the Atari 2600 itself rather than by design. The 2600 can only draw two custom player/missile graphics per television scanline, [cite web|url=|title=AtariAge - Atari 2600 Programming||accessdate=December 27|accessyear=2007] and Pac-Man is one of them. To allow multiple ghosts to appear horizontally on the screen at the same time, the software only shows one ghost at a time.

The flicker also makes the colors of the ghosts almost indiscernible (appearing to be a pale yellow or green), but the ghosts are in fact colored differently from one another (light shades of red, yellow, blue, and green, which do not stand out well against the saturated blue background). The eyes of the ghosts on the 2600 port spin constantly, while the eyes of the monsters in the arcade game indicate their direction of movement.

Other differences abound. Unlike in the arcade game, Pac-Man's mouth in the 2600 port continuously opens and closes, whether he is moving or not. Likewise, the Pac-Man sprite has a visible eye and always faces left or right, whether moving up and down or side to side. The dots in the original game became dashes in the 2600 port. All of the bonus fruit symbols were replaced by the same two-color rectangle, known as a vitamin.


The ever-present siren wail from the arcade is missing entirely. A siren is only persistent during the beginning of the ghosts' blue time after Pac-Man eats a power pill. The sound of eating the dots was also changed: on the 2600 port it is a harsh "baamp baamp" sound, unlike the arcade version's distinctive "wakka wakka." The introduction jingle was substantially shortened to four notes.


To imitate the distinct behavior patterns of the original ghosts, Tod Frye made one fast and smart, one slow and smart, one fast and dumb, and one slow and dumb. The distinction between "dumb" and "smart" ghosts is that dumb ghosts follow a pseudo-random path through the maze, while smart ghosts move toward Pac-Man by the shortest path they can find.

Scores in the game are generally reduced by a factor of 10 (e.g. dots are worth 1 point instead of 10, the first blue ghost is worth 20 points instead of 200, etc.). Additionally, an extra life is awarded upon the completion of every stage instead of just once at 10,000 points.


External links

* [ AtariAge entry for 2600 "Pac-Man"]
* [ The original television commercial at Game Pressure]

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