Pac-Man clones vs. Tetris Clones

Have you ever noticed that if you play a Tetris clone, it’s usually as much fun as the original; however, if you play a Pac-Man clone, most of them seem to be missing something that makes them less fun compared to the original?

I think Ms. Pac Man was at least as popular as Pac Man.

Agreed, but that might not qualify as a clone.

Technically you can consider Ms. Pac Man a clone because it does attempt to mimic Pac Man. It was made by the same company (and I think the same -guy-) who made Pac Man, so I think it is more properly called a sequel.

The guy who made Ms. Pac Man had source access and access to the original’s thoughts and ideas; he added a few wrinkles here and there, but he knew why Pac Man worked and made sure those elements were still in there.

Whereas if you download a Tetris clone, even some crappy one made by some shmuck writing it in VB using the Windows GDI for graphics, it’s almost always just as much fun as the original.

What that suggests is that the guy who made Pac Man did right to make it so much fun (to the point of being a huge 80’s craze) is not obvious. Even future clones of Pac Man made by Namco seem to lack something that the original had.

Yeah, Ms. Pac Man’s not a clone since the same people made Pac Man. But yes, for some reason the cloned versions of Pac Man just feel wrong somehow. Tetris clones usually add things to the gameplay. Even if the only difference is the graphics, they’re usually at least as fun as the original. But I’m sure it’s because the original Tetris was the type of game that just didn’t have any real personality, so clones can’t really take that away from it. Pac Man’s the opposite in that respect.

**edit: I’m slow, apparently. This post wasn’t intended to be of the “me too” variety as Rimbo said pretty much everything I did.

It might be because Pac-Man is sooooo hard. The Ghosts way outnumber you, you have offensive ability on a par with the guy from Burger time, and pickles are fatal. It is simple, but it is haard.

As I remember it Ms. Pac Man was the high point of the series. It also did much better with women, leading to “the joke”.

Speaking of which, isn’t Ms. Pac Man generally considered to be the first video game to include cut scenes?

I rather liked Munch Man for the TI99/4a.

Pac Man had cutscenes as well, set to the music for “I’m the One”* by Van Halen.

[size=2]* “I’m the One” by Van Halen can be replaced by these other songs also by Van Halen:
Outta Love Again
Bottoms Up!
Get Up
AFU (Naturally Wired) – really, listen carefully :)

I thought I remembered that Ms. Pac-Man was an american-designed (Bally/Midway) release, whereas Super Pac-Man was considered the “true” sequel by japan-based Namco.

And while we’re on the subject, why haven’t any of these retro compilations included the best game of the series, Pac-Man Jr.? I was hoping that the new Namco Museum Battle Collection would have it, but no…

Pac-Man sucks. Tetris forever!!!


Yeah, but Pac Man had a hit single. Can Tetris top that?

I thought I remembered that Ms. Pac-Man was an american-designed (Bally/Midway) release, whereas Super Pac-Man was considered the “true” sequel by japan-based Namco.

That’s pretty much it. Toru Iwatani had nothing to do with Ms. Pac-Man. General Computer, a group of nine or so MIT students, reverse engineered the Pac-Man circuitboard and created a conversion kit that would turn Pac-Man machines into a game called Crazy Otto which was basically Pac-Man with legs.

They were obviously in danger of being being sued by Bally-Midway, but thanks to a lawsuit settlement / business opportunity with Atari over a Missle Command conversion they did without permission, General Computer has the legal ammo to “suggest” that Bally-Midway and their company team up to create a true sequel to Pac-Man. The result was Ms. Pac-Man of course. Bally-Midway sold the conversion kits that included a daugherboard that plugged in the the Pac-Man circuitboard and decals that would go over the Pac-Man artwork.

Tetris is an ingenious puzzle game that is addictive because of its concept and formal rules. It’s so powerful that the accoutrements (Soviet imagery, for example) are transparently, obviously unnecessary.

Pacman’s appeal is, however, like most games: part gameplay, part graphics, part marketing, part difficulty, part design, and so on. Its simplicity decieves us into thinking that the elemental concept is powerful. I submit that it isn’t – it’s just a maze game, made more than the sum of its parts by Pac Man’s unique assemblage of the aforementioned elements.

When it comes down to it, Tetris only has one “part” , and it’s almost impossible to screw up. But with Pac Man, anything can make a mess of it – poor level design, too-slow movement – and if one part is wrong, the entire thing loses its magic.

Ok ok ok ok.

What the hell is the difference between Pac-Man and Ms Pac-Man?

That’s gotta be the greatest way to upgrade ever. I remember when we had an arcade machine in our house for while and Dad replaced the Space Invaders “card” with Pac-Man - what a hell of a process (but so so worth it!).

Not really a whole hell of a lot.

Gameplay wise?
1 maze vs. 4 mazes
1 warp tunnel vs. 2 warp tunnels (on most mazes)

Graphics wise?
Plain yellow character vs. Eyes, mole and a bow
Mazes walls shown only with blue lines vs. Maze walls filled with color

Oh, and this is the true pinnacle of the series…

I think you’re onto something here: There are two things that are fundamental to Pac Man (and Ms. Pac Man) that are almost always missed by the imitators.

I actually purchased Namco Museum just so that I could play Ms Pac Man and try and figure out why it “felt” right, where the clones didn’t.

  1. Pac Man eats the dots.
    This is so basic and obvious, it’s surprising how many of the clones miss it. Take a look at “Pac the Man,” a popular clone for OSX, for a typical example. In it, your Pac Person moves its mouth, moves in the maze, and is utterly oblivious to the dots in the maze.

In Ms. Pac Man and the original Pac Man, Pac actually slows down and takes the time to munch each individual dot.

  1. Pac Man jumps corners.
    In Pac Man and Ms. Pac Man, Pac doesn’t turn corners – it actually jumps the corners. The rounded edges of the maze aren’t just there for decoration; they are subtle clues to this effect. Pac turns the corner before actually arriving at it, and enters the corner already into the new tunnel. As a result, even when eating dots, Pac can turn corners much, much faster than the ghosts, who have to line themselves up and enter each new tunnel properly.

Because of this, the key technique of the game – evading the ghosts – requires that you be able to turn corners constantly when you need to. This element is tied in perfectly with how the levels are designed – constantly turning corners is easy because there are tons of turns, but hard because the turns available are always different; you can’t go e.g. left, up, left, up, etc. if you need to make a lot of turns.

What all this points to is that the key gameplay element of Pac Man is not understood by most of the people writing clones from scratch; most people who play the game aren’t consciously aware of the above two things happening. There’s no complicated interaction there that isn’t in Tetris or any other fun game; it’s just that the basic rules of how Pac Man should move (and a proper maze design to support it) are not reproduced in the clones.

Great, now I’ve got the Gameboy version of the Tetris theme stuck in my head.

  • Alan