Behavioural Analysis of Pac-Man’s Ghosts

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 Paclady

This weekend, the 5 minutes of personal, free time I managed to wangle away from family responsibility ended up being spent on what I thought was a fascinating read. As somebody who could only be considered a casual Pac-Man player, I had no idea that the enemy AI in the game was so complex, or at least, seemingly complex.

I’d imagined that each ghost was simply a palette swap, that their names and displayed characteristics were spurious – and that their sole aim was to chase and capture the iconic, dot-munching circlet. Well, I imagined wrong. Very wrong.

Each of the ghosts you see, is programmed with it’s own characteristic AI. Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde each behave differently, cycling through different modes of engagement, with little visual clues to tell you which mode they’re in.

“This is the heart of the game. I wanted each ghostly enemy to have a specific character and its own particular movements, so they weren’t all just chasing after Pac Man in single file, which would have been tiresome and flat.”

– Toru Iwatani, Pac-Man creator

Reading the full analysis helps you understand just how gosh-darned clever the game’s developers were, and how simple instructions can lead to some pretty complex behaviour. It’s a good read, if you have the time, inclination, and a cup of coffee.

Check it out, over at GameInternals.

Failing that, try the Google Cache link

Last Updated: December 6, 2010

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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