Deconstructing a Classic: Jumpman, Part 1
I have a serious pet peeve: sequels and classic game reboots (or even just re-using the name for something only loosely in common with the original.) for instance, let’s take a quick look at the history of Pac-Man.
Pac-Man had a very specific sort of DNA in its gameplay. With Pac-Man, there’s a very specific, very tight gameplay style. Of course, it’s no coincidence it was the great-grandfather of all maze-based games – it wasn’t just the first, it had such strong DNA, it ended up persevering as one of the best.
I’m not going to fully explore Pac-Man’s gaming DNA, but I’m going to brush on it as an quick example, both of strong DNA and the dilution of that DNA.
With Pac-Man (1980), there was a very specific game style and control style. With Ms. Pac-Man (1981), they repeated the formula very closely – yes, there were more mazes to explore, but, that DNA was very, very strong still. Gameplay and controls were identical. Super Pac-Man (1982) amped up the speed of the game, and added new gameplay features, but the DNA Of the game remained mostly in tact. Pac-Man Plus (1982) went back to original game, and slightly modified it (speed and bonus changes, along with maze changes, but the DNA was just as strong as with the Ms. Pac-Man release. Jr. Pac-Man (1983) expanded the game further, adding larger mazes (larger than the screen), slowed the gameplay speed a bit, and added a new gameplay option (dots that further slowed the player after a bonus item touched it) but generally, the DNA was still in tact. For the most part, until 2007’s release of Pac-Man Championship Edition, it’s going to be a while before we see a game with the same strong DNA as these titles.
A new set of ideas for Pac-Man came about, diluting the DNA. Pac & Pal (1983) (or a later remake, Pac-Man & Chomp Chomp), for instance, changed the game radically with the addition of a “pal” for Pac-Man in the form of ghost that could remove items from the play field. Surprisingly, this changed the game radically. Pac-Mania (1987) set the Pac-Man in a pseudo-3D environment, where Pac-Man could jump over the ghosts. The 2.5 S maze changed the controls slightly, and produced a radical departure from the “feel” of the game.
Further dilution of the game’s series happens starting very early. Professor Pac-Man (1982) has absolutely nothing to do with the DNA of Pac-Man, instead being a quiz game. This is the first of the “in-laws” that married into the Pac-Man family, bearing the name, but none of the genetic lineage. Baby Pac-Man (1982) was at least a half-breed, being that it was a pinball game with a video game portion where the player switched between playing Pac-Man and pinball, depending on what was going on.
Pac-Land (1984), while popular, had very little to do with the original game’s DNA. A side scrolling platform game, the only thing it had in common was the Pac-Man character (who was suddenly a whole lot more humanoid), the ghosts, and the infrequent dots and bonuses. Gone were the mazes, the top down game view, and simple, tight gameplay.
Mainly, so far, I’ve only poked mainly at the arcade games (which almost all saw home ports at some point or another), but if we peek at the convoluted lineage of the console and computer games, we can see how weak the DNA becomes in the franchise. Even with the original Pac-Man game, the much maligned Atari 2600 port (1981) shows how how even the very core-most game to the series can end up with weak DNA. The Atari 2600 version had a maze, dots, Pac-Man, and Ghosts. But… it played incredibly slow, the controls were sloppy, the ghosts & Pac-Man flickered so badly as to be almost unplayable.
Pac-In-Time (1995), for instance, threw Pac-Man into a weird 2D side-scroller world that contained nothing of rest of the Pac-Man genre. Pac-Attack (1993) turned Pac-Man into a Tetris style game. Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures (or “Hello, Pac-Man!” In Japan, 1994) brought Pac-Man into a side-scroller, but, the player didn’t control Pac-Man, but instead influenced the environment around him. Pac-Man World (1999) throw Pac-Man into a 3D platform game setting. Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness (2000), Pac-Man Word 2 (2002), and Pac-Man World 3 (2005) all saw Pac-Man in 3D platform games, something completely outside the original DNA of Pac-Man’s arcade release in 1980.
Now, one might notice that for doing an article on Jumpman (and Jumpman, Junior) that I’ve spent a whole lot of time talking about Pac-Man instead. I wanted to show examples when the DNA of a game continues to express it’s self, when the DNA begins to weaken, and when the whole thing just falls apart with injections of DNA from other sources.
Honestly, if you thought that was a lot to say about Pac-Man, that was nothing bit a brief overview. I could probably write an entire book on the lineage of Pac-Man, and what’s happened with it’s DNA, and the variations within the franchise (or, even within the ports of various versions of Pac-Man). I may, in the future, do a couple of articles on it (though, I know the next set of Deconstruction a Classic articles I have in mind after Jumpman). This just serves as a sort of primer for the concept of game DNA (another thing I could write a whole book on, and probably will someday), and what happened with one of the longest running game franchises in the history of video games.
And, really, we haven’t dug into the DNA of Pac-Man anyway. So far, I’ve described the type of game it was at it’s original core, and some of the gameplay elements. I have a Video Game DNA project I’ve been messing with, but, it may be a couple of years before I’ve completely put it together – the concept is massive. Right now, it’s about like describing Brad Pitt as a Caucasian – it describes very little of the genetic variation that describes the differentiation between myself and Brad Pitt.
With that, we can look at Jumpman’s DNA and lineage. Jumpman is only a little younger than Pac-Man, having been released in 1983. And when it comes to Jumpman’s DNA, I’m going to be digging into it in a very fine-grained manner. But, that’s a post for tomorrow…
Now, WHY am I going to spend so much time on Jumpman’s DNA? Because of the Jumpman Forever Kickstarter we’ve got going on. Simply put, we don’t want a game named Jumpman, modeled after Randy Glover’s original work on Jumpman & Jumpman, Jr. We want a game that very, very closely sticks with the original Jumpman DNA at it’s core – an intelligent, problem solving 2D platform game that has deep action elements – that also allows up to extend the game’s DNA without disturbing the exiting core elements. The only way to really get what we want is to study the original extremely closely – and why not share what we find?
If you like the article, please tell others about the Jumpman Forever Kickstarter, or, consider contributing – we’ve got some pretty dang cool rewards for helping us reach our goals!