Hey folks! Atsinganoi here welcoming you to my first of many 1 More Castle articles and telling you that I’ve been brought here to restore the Atari 2600 to it’s rightful place in the video game console pantheon. I’m here to right the wrongs of the past and maybe even wrong a few rights once in a while (whatever that means). My choices might be controversial at times (maybe even all the time), but understand that I am always serious. Seriously.
So, with that, how about we move on and begin by taking a look at possibly the first survival horror game ever created and one of the greatest Atari 2600 game of all-time?
Some people may have told you that Pac-Man was called Puck-Man in Japan, and that when Midway brought it to North America, they changed the title to avoid having people rub out a part of the “P” to turn it into an “F”. You may also have heard that he was named Puck-Man because he resembles a puck. Finally, you may also have heard that those ghosts have cute little names like Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde. Well, I’m here to tell you something: ALL OF THAT STUFF IS LIES! With a practice that would soon become commonplace, a Japanese game was altered for Western audiences because it was assumed we just couldn’t take it.
Tōru Iwatani, the game’s creator, got the inspiration for the game from an urban legend originating from his hometown. He wrote it as a screenplay, but after it was rejected, he decided to turn it into a video game.
Iwatani grew up in a small town that happened to have an abandoned hospital and insane asylum. In it lived a man known to the local population as “Pac-Man”. Rumour had it that this man was in a terrible car accident with four of his friends. No identification was found on any of the men and they were never able to identify them through other means. The four friends all died. The lone survivor was named Pac-Man because “PAC” was the first three letters on the car’s license plate.
Though Pac-Man survived, the crash mutilated all of his limbs, thus they were all amputated. As a result of the crash, amputations, and various other operations, he became addicted to painkillers, or the “little white pellets”. The Japanese, being Japanese, clearly made Pac-Man a super-advanced mind-controlled wheelchair. Using this wheelchair, Pac-Man roamed the halls in search of more drugs. In this state, Pac-Man would hallucinate and the doctors and nurses chasing him would appear as his dead friends. Sadly, on occasion, Pac-Man would get very angry at his dead friends tormenting and and would decide to chase them. This is how Pac-Man managed to murder everyone who came to the hospital; the staff, police, visitors, everyone.
To this day, townsfolk still claim that on calm nights, you can still hear Pac-Man roam the halls of the abandoned facility, continuously repeating the only words anyone ever heard him utter: WAKA-WAKA-WAKA-WAKA.
Initially released in the arcades and eventually becoming the most successful arcade game of all-time, a port was created for the Atari 2600. Along with E.T., Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 is credited with almost irreparably destroying the video game industry. Sadly, the people making these claims were misinformed and thus did not appreciate what is likely the first survival horror video game ever created.
Now, you might watch that Youtube video, listen to the sounds, and think to yourself: “Those are some terrible sound effects and there isn’t even any music at all!” Unfortunately for those who do think this, you all happen to be idiots. The Atari 2600 port of Pac-man, rather than being considered inferior, is more like the director’s cut to a young filmmaker’s masterpiece that was originally butchered in editing by the studio. Pac-Man was never supposed to have cheerful little bleeps and bloops. It takes place in an abandoned hospital and stars a wheel-chair bound drug addict. In the 2600 port, we have unsettling silence periodically shattered by uncomfortable and unnatural sounds. This immediately sets the tone and mood for the whole game.
Gone are the bright colours, replaced by clashing and toned down colours that come across as strange and offputting. Luckily, this is exactly the desired effect.
One more important thing to note is the “flickering”. In the image shown above, only 1 ghost and 2 power pellets. As you can see in the video, this is due to the fact that the ghosts and power pellets (whick also flickered in the arcade version) are constantly flickering. This was done intentionally to better convey the experience of Pac-Man wandering the halls of the hospital, constantly haunted by his dead friends, highlighting their half-real/half-halucination nature.
This is the final aspect of the game that saw changes when it got ported. To give the game a more constricting feel, gone are two of the warp gates. As well, the paths in the game, especially those on both sides of the screen, have been altered to give some of them more of a “hospital room” look.
The combination of graphics and sound also fueled the frantic gameplay to create a very tense and thrilling experience. When a player controls Pac-Man down the creepy coloured halls accompanied by strange noise and the flickering abominations, slowly getting cornered until he is trapped and forced to accept his death at the hands of what remains of his friends, he or she is forced to suffer all of the emotions experienced by the real-life Pac-Man of Iwatani’s youth. It is both disturbing and exhilarating, unnerving and stirring.
As with many works of art created decades ahead of their time, Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 was a misunderstood and under-apreciated masterpiece. All elements of the game work together in perfect unison to create a complete experience for the player. Unfortunately, on a generation of gamers that were lead to believe that video games were simply supposed to be a form of mindless entertainement, Pac-Man was regrettably wasted in more than one way.