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How do Pac-Man’s ghosts work?

2 min read


Pac-Man is one of those iconic games that’s forever, intextricably linked with gaming itself. Though by no means the first arcade game, it kickstarted the whole arcade revolution, helping propel videogames to the mainstream. It was an undeniable pop culture phenomenon. But beyond its simple graphics and simple enough premise lie some astoundingly clever design decisions – without which, Pac-Man likely may never have achieved its global success.

A few years ago I read Jamey Pittman’s exhaustive, thoroughly detailed Pac-Man Dossier, a weighty digital tome that thoroughly catalogues the game’s inception, concept and design. It’s a long read, but a worthwhile one if you’re in to retro gaming, game design, or just want further insight in to how one of the most legendary, well known games came to be.

One of the best bits in the dossier is how the ghosts – the coloured things named Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde that actually make the game fun – work. It’s exceptionally clever stuff. Using info from the dossier, PBS Game/Show did a nice little video explaining how it all works.

It’s very likely that you’ve been chased by the ghosts of Pac-Man for as long as you can remember. Maneuvering through tight corners, ducking to the other side of the screen, dodging between walls… all to just avoid those singular baddies that never seem to give up. BUT HOW DO THEY WORK? Why do some of them seem to always know where you are? Why do others seem…dumb?

Last Updated: February 4, 2015

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