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This one fact about Pac-Man will blow your mind

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David Cornish
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Well waka-waka us sideways, we'd never heard of this one before.

Just about everyone with a set of opposable thumbs and a passing interest in entertainment has played Pac-Man: in the 36 years since its release, the classic arcade game that sees players flee a set of roaming ghosts through the tight twists of a maze has made more than $2.5 billion.

Yet in all those years, we'd never stopped to think just why those ghosts kept up their relentless pursuit. Then we stumbled down the rabbit hole that is GameInternals - the work of gamer and programmer Chad Birch.

In a brilliant article entitled Understanding Pac-Man Ghost Behavior (admit it, you're already hooked), he outlines that not only do the ghosts follow a set pattern (an opening 'scatter' of predetermined length, followed by a 'chase'), but they actually have an intelligent set of personalities based on rules.

This is how the ghosts of Pac-Man actually behave. 

  • This one fact about Pac-Man will blow your mind

    The Red Ghost

    Real name: Shadow/Blinky

    The real bastard of the Pac-Man experience, after an initial scatter toward the top right-hand corner of the maze, Blinky will then pursue the player in a ceaseless 'chase'. He's always on your tail, targeting the tile that you're currently occupying. Depending on what level you've reached, he can also get a five per cent speed boost at random points in the game. We loathe him. 

  • This one fact about Pac-Man will blow your mind 1

    The blue ghost

    Real name: Bashful/Fickle

    This little cockwomble is incredibly tricky to predict, because the direction he's headed is based on two factors: the direction Pac-Man is going, and the direction that the Red Ghost is taking to chase him.

    That means if the Red Ghost is closing in on you, this Bashful blue chap will start to aim at tiles immediately ahead of you and your pursuer, making your avenue of escape even trickier to find. If Red isn't in sight, this guy will probably dance around the bottom left of the maze.

  • This one fact about Pac-Man will blow your mind 2

    The Pink Ghost

    Real name: Speedy/Ambusher

    An easier ghost to predict, this fleshy nemesis will always aim to reach a spot four tiles ahead of Pac-Man when he enters chase mode (when you get too close, basically).

    This mean's he's constantly in threat of ambushing you in a tight corner - however, it also means that if you're heading straight for him in a head-on game of chicken, the target tile for the Pink Ghost is actually behind him, so he can duck out of the way of Pac-Man at the last second. Honest. Give it a go.

  • This one fact about Pac-Man will blow your mind 3

    The Orange Ghost

    Real name: Pokey/Ignorant

    Don't be fooled by the apparently random movements of this bandit: old Pokey actually has a very sophisticated targeting sequence. If Pac-Man is within eight tiles of him, he'll head to his scatter area, in the bottom left area of the maze. If Pac-Man is more than eight tiles away, he'll head directly toward him, like the red chaser. 

    This gives the Orange Ghost the appearance of a mad man, following the player before dashing off when he appears to get too close. It makes him deeply unpredictable, and hateful.

    So there you have it. Thanks again to Chad Birch, who has bestowed us with what feels like sacred knowledge to reach a new Pac-Man high score. You legend. 

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David Cornish

Shortlist.com’s esteemed Tech Editor. David has a keen interest in video games, Star Wars and stuff that runs on batteries.

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