14 May 2020

Lessons from Pac-Man

Shiz Aoki of BioRender sometimes gives this tip when discussing posters:

Imagine Pac-Man being able to travel between the sections of your poster without getting stuck.

Classic Ms. Pac-Man screen

This is good advice, but I want to run with it a little more. I think some people will read this and think that “blocking” is the problem. Poor Ms. Pac-Man has nowhere to go here.

Ms, Pac-Man screen altered so Ms. Pac-Man cannot run.

But there is more to this it than ensuring there is enough space.

Here is an example where Ms. Pac-Man has all the space she needs to get anywhere on the screen... but it is still a frustrating screen to view and would be impossible to play.

The problem here is not the amount of space, but the alignment of it. There is always “enough” space in the sense that Ms. Pac-Man and the ghosts can get around the screen, but the width of the maze is always changing and none of the edges of the walls line up any more.

If you look at mazes, the corridor width is often kept absolutely consistent.

Rectangular maze

This can be true regardless of the overall shape of the maze.

Circular maze
Or what the maze is made of.

Garden maze

Mazes like these (including Pac-Man) are fundamentally grid systems. It is not enough to just have “at least” a certain amount of space between elements. It should be the same amount of space whenever possible.

Garden maze from here.

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