It’s safe to say that pretty much anyone reading this site is familiar with Pac-Man. He’s one of the most recognizable characters around, not to mention the immense popularity of his much-ported arcade debut and the fact that his more recent starring roles are still received relatively warmly.
Some parts of the Pac-Man legend are relatively well-known — for instance, his origins as Puck-Man, a name that was later changed to avoid crude vandalism — but the complexity of the ghosts that are tasked with preventing Pac-Man from successfully eating his fill of pellets and fruit is something that frequently flies under the radar.
Thankfully, this week’s edition of PBS Game/Show sees Jamin Warren break down just why the ghosts are so impressive. Each of the four spirits that you’re up against has its own individual strategy to take down Pac-Man, and their tactics are perhaps better thought out than you might expect from a game that was released to arcades by Namco some 35 years ago.
For instance, Blinky — known as ‘Shadow’ in the Japanese version of the game — will head straight for Pac-Man no matter where he is in the maze, following him as closely as his Japanese moniker would suggest. Pinky, on the other hand, is referred to as ‘Ambusher’ in Japan, and as such will try and predict where the player will go by heading for a position four tiles ahead of Pac-Man.
Inky and Clyde have similarly unique stratagems that Warren analyses in the video, and the whole thing is enough to make you think a little more about what we expect from enemy AI in games. The intelligence of computer-controlled opposition in a game is a difficult thing to judge, as proven by the amount of players who can’t tell the ghosts of Pac-Man apart — and that can make it a difficult thing to properly evaluate.
Last year saw The Lord of the Rings: Shadow of Mordor tout its Nemesis system as a potentially game-changing feature, and it wouldn’t be too surprising to see more titles try a similar tactic. As graphical advancements taper off, developers will have to find new was to set themselves apart from the pack, and improved AI could be a prime candidate — and perhaps we have Pac-Man to thank for that.