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[What design and AI lessons can we learn from Namco's seminal Pac-Man? From history through behavior, Gamasutra presents a comprehensive Jamey Pittman-authored guide to the classic game.]
In 1999, Billy Mitchell of Hollywood, Florida became the first person to obtain a perfect score of 3,333,360 at Pac-Man, eating every possible dot, energizer, ghost, and bonus on every level without losing a single life in the process.
But perhaps what is most amazing is the fact he can play without using any memorized routines widely known as "patterns".
Instead, he relies on his familiarity with how each ghost behaves as it moves through the maze, using that knowledge to keep Pac-Man one step ahead of his enemies at all times.
Unlike Mitchell, most players are only able to rack up high scores with the aid of multiple patterns that take advantage of the game's deterministic nature.
These patterns require perfect memorization and recall to be of any real use - a single hesitation or wrong turn during execution can make the remainder of a pattern useless.
Not surprisingly, an over-reliance on these routines leaves many a player clueless as to how to effectively avoid the ghosts and finish off the remaining dots in the higher levels once a mistake occurs.
Most Pac-Man strategy guides available on the internets today are very similar in content to the books that used to be sold back in the early 80s
A summary of gameplay and scoring is provided first, followed by a list of patterns to be memorized by the reader, but very little insight is offered on how the game works or how the ghosts make decisions.
Therefore, the purpose of this guide is to give the player and game designers a better design understanding of Pac-Man by taking a closer look at gameplay, maze logic, ghost personalities, and the mysterious "split screen" level.
All information provided has been extracted from or verified with the disassembly output from the Midway Pac-Man arcade ROMs along with controlled observations of actual gameplay. As such, I have a high confidence in its accuracy.
That said, if you notice an error or omission, please contact me so it can be corrected as soon as possible. I hope you find the information just as interesting and useful as I did for gaining a better understanding of this classic game.
Special thanks to Don Hodges (www.donhodges.com) whose invaluable contributions to this guide can be found in every chapter.