Saturday, March 26, 2016

Remnant of the Golden Age of Arcades : Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga 20 Year Anniversary

Recently I conducted a survey of all establishments, arcades and restaurants within a thirty minute radius of my house or within my county to find some classic arcade machines.  I used this ancient site, and my memories of seeing classic machines in my travels.  I live in the sticks but there are several major population centers within that distance and well over half a million people live within it.

Any video game made during the Golden Age of Arcade Video Games, the 1970s or the first half of the 1980s was to be included.  After having visited every place that had been reported to possess a classic arcade machine or was likely to possess a classic arcade machine (i.e. malls), I technically came up empty for finding machines built and released during that time period

However, this did not mean that a classic experience was impossible to find within a reasonable distance from my house.  In 2001, Namco released a machine called Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Class of 1981 / 20 Year Reunion.  As its name suggested, this was a 2-in-1 arcade machine that allowed you to play Ms. Pac-Man or Galaga.  The machine was hugely successful and mush have sold at least 10,000 units.  Considering the huge decline in arcade machines sold after the Golden Age, this was an impressive achievement.  As is well-known, there is a special code you can input to play Pac-Man instead of Ms. Pac-Man.

In my area, I found two Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machines, one of which was a cocktail unit.  I also know of that two other machines were available until recently, but I believe one of the units belonged to an establishment that may have gone out of business.  I found nothing else of note, although I did note a few arcade machines from the 90s in one or two locations.

Namco would later follow the machine with a Pac-Man 25th Anniversary Edition in 2005 (allows you to select Pac-Man without a code) and Pac-Man's Arcade Party in 2010 (adds more games but Ms. Pac-Man is lost for the arcade versions).  However, these machines have not been nearly as successful as Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga.  I have been pretty sharp about spotting classic machines but I am not sure if I have ever seen one of the later machines.

If a classic arcade game is running in a machine has an LCD screen or looks like it is running MAME, I would not have considered it.  I did not find any such machines, but I know they exist in more tourist-pandering areas along the coast.  LCDs and classic arcade machines go together like oil and water.  The lag generated by an LCD (especially the cheap ones they use) is absolutely hostile to improving your skills on an arcade machine.

There are several differences between the original Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga and the original machines.  The standalone 1981 games were sold in three styles, a large vertical "Upright" unit with a 19" monitor, a smaller vertical "Mini" unit with a 13" monitor, and a horizontal "Cocktail" unit with a 19" monitor.  In 2001, there were only two versions, an Upright and a Cocktail, and both had a 24" monitor.  This made the resulting graphics look a lot sharper if blockier.  I have also read complaints that the monitor size is so large that it is harder to keep track of everything going on on the screen.

The original Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man used a large PCB with two (Pac-Man) or three (Ms. Pac-Man) daughterboards.  These boards were populated entirely of discrete components and a Z-80 CPU.  Galaga had two large boards sandwiched together and used three Z-80s.  The Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga uses one small board with a Z-180 CPU and two custom circuits to handle most of the gameplay.  While the original games used lots of small ROMs and PROMs for game code, video and color data and waveform sample storage, the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga only uses two large ROMs.

Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man had 4-way joysticks, but Galaga only needed a 2-way joystick.  For obvious reasons, the joystick on the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machine is a 4-way stick.  The sticks for the original games were all leaf sticks where contact was made by pressing one metal strip against another.  The stick on the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machine uses micro-switches.  Micro-switches pretty much work on the same principle, but have a click to their activation.  I believe true aficionados of these games prefer the smoother action of the leaf joysticks.

The other obvious difference between the original and Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machine is the addition of continues to the games in Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga.  The original games did not allow you continue once you used up all your lives.  You had one credit and that was it.  A second credit meant starting over.  All three games contained in the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machine allow you to continue from exactly where you left off, even during the middle of a level.  If your ship is captured in Galaga, you will be able to rescue once you continue your game, essentially giving you an extra life of sorts.  Your score is not reset, so you can feel good about obtaining a high score after spending $10 in quarters at each game, but no one else will be impressed.

The title screens for Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga have a website address  When the originals were released in 1981, only the academic community and the military had access to ARPANET, but by 2001 everyone was able to access the Internet.  Unfortunately you cannot buy these machines from Namco anymore.  Arcade dealers do have them, but the going rate for a full, working cabinet is at least $1,000.

The original games used dipswitches to change settings like how many coins it would cost to play a game and how many lives you were given with each coin.  Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga uses a test switch and an in-game menu.  The options for Ms. Pac-Man also apply to Pac-Man.  Except for the number of credits per coin, the options for the standalone games and the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga versions are the same except as noted below.

Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Galaga's options include Attract Sounds On/Off.  Stand-alone Galaga had sound when it was playing automatically in the "Attract Mode".  The bonus lives for Galaga follow the Midway version released in the US.  Galaga also features a Rapid Fire option as well as a Fast Shot option.  Rapid Fire allows you to hold down the Fire button to shoot multiple shots.  Original Galaga always required a button press for each shot.

Each game has a default fast/slow setting.  When the fast Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man option is selected, you move extremely quickly relative to the ghosts in the earlier levels.  When the fast shot is selected in Galaga, you can spam the fire button to fire many shots instead of the two shots on screen the game typically allows.  These options are throwbacks to the speedup modifications and hacks often done on the original machines.

The Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machine has two well-known secret codes entered with the joystick and fire buttons.  The first code allows you to play Pac-Man.  The second code allows you to toggle the fast  Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man and fast shot option on and off.  If the machine has been set to fast mode, you can input the code to use the slow mode, and vice versa.

Codes are entered only when you are on the game select screen.  The code for Pac-Man is Up, Up, Up, Down, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left.  If you are successful, you will hear the sound in Pac-Man indicating you earned an extra life and Blinky will turn into Pinky.  The code to toggle the fast Pac-Man/fast Shot is Left, Right, Left, Right, Up, Up, Up, Fire.  If you enter it correctly, you will hear the sound of Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man eating a fruit.  You should take your time when entering these codes, unlike the Konami code, slower is better.  Each code only lasts until game over (including continues).

You will have to input the code again on the game select screen to play Pac-Man or toggle the game speed.  Even if you see the Pac-Man attract screens giving the ghost names, you must still input the code.  You will not see the following screen, you will only see the Ms. Pac-Man or Galaga select screen.

Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Galaga has an error in the Galaga attract mode compared to original Galaga.  The enemies in Galaga fire shots that white and red, with the red end going toward you.  In the Attract Mode for Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Galaga, the shots are reversed.  The in-game shots look correct.

Tricks in the original games work as they should in the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machine.  Thus, for example, you can hide Pac-Man in the upper left corner of the "T" junction where he starts and the ghosts will never catch him.  You can control the ship in the Galaga Attract Mode by using the controls when the enemy comes to capture the ship and cause the machine to reset itself (allowing you to view the version of the ROM it uses).

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