The Flickering Ghosts of Pac-man

By Deane Barker on March 20, 2006

Pac-Man: Remember the Atari 2600 port of Pac-man back in 1983? You remember how back it sucked? And remember how the enemies flickered so bad? Here’s why:

The game suffers from poor design choices as well as limitations of the hardware, which only draws one enemy on the screen at a time, so that each of the game’s four enemies only appears in one of every four frames; due to persistence of vision this presents the illusion of having four enemies on the screen at once, but they flicker badly. For this reason, the game’s instruction manual calls the enemies “ghosts” instead of “monsters”.

Another interesting note about the Atari port:

It is interesting to note that, despite its perceived inferiority, sound effects from the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man are possibly the sounds most often used as stock sound effects in films and television series to represent the sounds of a game being played in the background of a scene. This continued for years after the crash of 1983, and despite the fact that the game shown in any given TV or movie scene was usually a completely different video game, and sometimes not even being played on an Atari 2600; the sounds have even been used to represent background noise from arcade machines.

Gadgetopia

Comments

  1. “For this reason, the game’s instruction manual calls the enemies “ghosts” instead of “monsters”.”

    Umm, no. The enemies are called “ghosts” because that’s what they were ALWAYS called in the game. The 2600 version had nothing to do with it. They were never called monsters. In fact, just looking at the shape shows that they look like floating sheets with corners at the bottom.

  2. To the person who commented that the enemies were always called ghosts, this is wrong. In the original Pac-man arcade game, they are called monsters. The Atari 2600 version was the first to use the name ghosts.

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