What if Atari's Pac-Man was better?

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VideoGameCritic
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What if Atari's Pac-Man was better?

Postby VideoGameCritic » April 11th, 2011, 5:48 pm

When people think back to the great crash of 1983, they point their fingers toward a lot of questionable games like the Atari 2600 Pac-Man or ET.  Few would put the blame squarely on Pac-Man, but many would call it a contributing factor.

So what would happen if Pac-Man turned out different?  What if it was more like the 2600 version of Ms. Pac-Man which preserved the looks and arcade gameplay extremely well. 

Would this have helped people's perception of Atari?  I think perception is key, because the crash was mainly caused by the media thinking the whole video game fad had come to an end.  They were wrong, but for a time that perception was a reality.

I think it's an interesting "what if" scenario.


Adamant1
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What if Atari's Pac-Man was better?

Postby Adamant1 » April 11th, 2011, 6:02 pm

Then people would've pointed fingers at whatever other game they hadn't played but the internet told them killed video games, and the situation would've been just the same.

oldschoolgamer

What if Atari's Pac-Man was better?

Postby oldschoolgamer » April 11th, 2011, 10:44 pm

Well, I personally think ET was a symptom of a much larger problem, namely the fact that Atari was continuing to prioritize the 2600 which was an increasingly less capable system at a time when games were becoming more complex.

PacFan

What if Atari's Pac-Man was better?

Postby PacFan » April 11th, 2011, 11:32 pm

I wish it was that easy. I know now with the recession of '82 it would not have made a difference. There wasn't enough spending money to go around.

My parents grew up on radio and drive-in movies. Videogames weren't that important. When it hit Ohio, people were losing jobs and homes/marriages were breaking up. Not living on the streets was my parents priority not pac-man's looks. Dad would talk on the CB Radio and I remember this fellow's kid always playing pac-man when he would key the mic. I would stand by my dad just listening for those sounds. I didn't care about looks either I just wanted that game. When I finally got the Atari 2600 and pac-man I wasn't disappointed. But unbeknownst to me the crash had already began.

Nowadays some people's priorities would have them living in the box the 70 inch tv came in so they can afford the newest systems. The good news is with people like that there will never be another crash again!

fish

What if Atari's Pac-Man was better?

Postby fish » April 13th, 2011, 5:03 pm

I don't know if there really was a video game crash, per se.  There was an Atari crash, which was synonymous with video games in general.  But reading through articles and interviews, it seems that Atari's problems were much bigger than any one game.  In fact, I'd wager that Atari's problems were bigger than games themselves.

Atari failed, and while Colecovision and Intellivision were cool competitors, they cost way too much for the average consumer.  Atari mis-fired with the 5200, was struggling to figure out what to do with their once excellent computer line, and had enough internal strife and struggles to melt virtually any company to ruin.

I don't think any one thing was to blame, other than Atari, itself.

All of which is to say: A better Pacman would have meant a better Pacman, but failure was perhaps still imminent.   I'd be curious to see the sales numbers for a game like Ms PacMan, which, on the 2600, was pretty awesome.

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What if Atari's Pac-Man was better?

Postby scotland171 » February 16th, 2015, 6:29 pm

[QUOTE=The Video Game Critic]When people think back to the great crash of 1983, they point their fingers toward a lot of questionable games like the Atari 2600 Pac-Man or ET.  Few would put the blame squarely on Pac-Man, but many would call it a contributing factor.

So what would happen if Pac-Man turned out different?  What if it was more like the 2600 version of Ms. Pac-Man which preserved the looks and arcade gameplay extremely well. 

Would this have helped people's perception of Atari?  I think perception is key, because the crash was mainly caused by the media thinking the whole video game fad had come to an end.  They were wrong, but for a time that perception was a reality.

I think it's an interesting "what if" scenario.

[/QUOTE]

This is a neat What If / Elseworlds scenario.   I think it would have made a world of difference.   Atari made 12 million Pac Man carts, selling 7 million.  That's good sales, but a poor percentage (and thus the rumor that many of the carts in the New Mexico dump are Pac Man carts).   People really did buy 2600 units for Pac Man, only to be disappointed.  Worse, some felt worse things than disappointment.  In my experience, a family bought a 2600 and Pac Man as a status thing ... lookie what we can play in our own homes...and for the game to be like that.

Pac Man was also not just some game...it eclipsed even Space Invaders.   Where people understood that maybe your home version of space invaders would not have so many invaders, pac man is a pretty simple game.  1 hero, 4 ghosts, a simple maze and some dots.  If you can't handle that, what are you trying to peddle?    In reality, the arcade game (a Z80?) was vastly better than the 6502, but the audience saw simplicity in a game, and a cartridge with hazy ghosts.

Plus, at this time Atari could have chosen an 8k cartridge, but went for 4k.  They chose their own shovel.  That meant they could not even replicate the maze.  

Pac Man was iconic.  People knew this game...really knew it.  The Pac Man, the ghosts, the maze, the sounds...this was big.  I would say bigger than Space Invaders, but at least at that level.  This was one time where differences between the arcade and the port really mattered.   It was like that movie Beneath the Planet of the Apes, where the studio got this guy who looked a lot like Charlton Heston.   Sorry Charlie, you aren't Charlton Heston and everybody knows it.

Pac Man was also game of memorizing patterns....and Atari even changed the maze.   A lot.   It would be creating the first computer chess game, but oh, we got rid of the knights and made them pawns. Atari then pushed it as Pac Man the genuine article...not something similar or inspired by, but Pac Man.   Again, they chose their own shovel.

The oddity is that the game that we know is not horrible...(Dave does give it a D, and the 67 reader votes have it as C- ... but I wonder if it had been called Munchie Munchie or something it would be received any better).  Yes, E.T. has its guardians who tell us to read the manual, but you can pick up and play Pac Man just fine.  Its just that its so darn hard to call this thing Pac Man when we all knew Pac Man so well.

So, I think yes, had Atari done this game better, the 8K ROM, managed expectations (called it Pac Man Jr or something at the time), then maybe they would have sold all 12 million, and those 12 million owners would still have had faith in the Atari brand.

E.T. was huge of course, but for me, Pac Man is the Mt. Everest of its day.  Like Icarus, if you fly too high, you fall pretty far.  Atari fell far.

Oh, one poster mentioned the early 80s recession, which is a good theory that implies the crash was coming regardless of what Atari did.  That's a nice debate, but I think that video games were in the range of being in our grasp even with a recession (if only quarter by quarter in the arcades).



LS6501
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What if Atari's Pac-Man was better?

Postby LS6501 » February 16th, 2015, 9:43 pm

Naw.  I was there BITD and no one who played Pacman VCS hated it enough that it would have made any difference.  It's not THAT bad of a a game....

One game can not change the world.

goldenband1
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What if Atari's Pac-Man was better?

Postby goldenband1 » February 17th, 2015, 12:39 am

[QUOTE=The Video Game Critic]I think perception is key, because the crash was mainly caused by the media thinking the whole video game fad had come to an end.[/QUOTE]

I think that contributed, and perception obviously plays a huge role in many market failures. But there's a fair amount of scholarship pointing to other causes as being more important in the crash of 1983-1985.

Maybe the biggest and simplest one is that companies simply overextended themselves, and made more product than the market would support, while wasting important cash reserves on ill-advised ventures. Atari, Mattel, Coleco -- all made terrible tactical blunders.

From what I understand, the VCS was a fairly steady seller through most of the 1980s. It just wasn't generating enough revenue to finance attempts at massive expansion, or make up for colossal misjudgments like the 5200. When you combine that with a corporate culture that had execs openly saying they could "put s--- in a box and sell it", it's not hard to see that the seeds of death were already well planted even when the cash was flowing.

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What if Atari's Pac-Man was better?

Postby strangemachine011 » February 17th, 2015, 11:37 am

I know when I played PAC MAN on the 2600 when I was 5-6 years old back in the day I didn't think it was some let down and I clearly remember the arcade version. Nobody else I knew hated it either, then or every few years when I would crack out my old system and play. I loved the TOMY handheld digital version too. The simplicity of the game was fun in any form. People were fine with any version of the game back then including the board game because of it. I think this backlash is a bit of revisionist history. An arcade perfect version back then was unthinkable. 20 year old game bloggers don't realize that minimalism is all we had and it was amazing. Atari's real problem I think was they just manufactured way too many of them.

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What if Atari's Pac-Man was better?

Postby VideoGameCritic » February 17th, 2015, 1:03 pm

I'm not sure it was all revisionist history.  This thread triggered a long-dormant memory of mine.

A friend of mine in school named Chuck had somehow obtained an advanced copy of Pac-Man because his mom worked at a department store or something like that.  When he was describing it, he was absolutely disgusted.  I don't remember all the details but he was ripping it  to shreds.  He was especially annoyed by how the dots had been replaced with big dashes.  I can still picture us in that classroom having that conversation.

Funny how my memory can be so bad at times, yet when it comes to video games it's crystal clear.



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