Pac-in-Time

One look at this, and you know it could never be as good as the original Pac-Man.

When I read the cursory lines that scroll at the start of one of these strange platforming relics of the SNES past, I can’t help but wonder about them.  In the words of my father, who is oft dismayed at the writing he must confront every day in every medium, “Who writes this shit?”

I have made a brief attempt to find out, but I couldn’t find any specific information, and I’m sure it would be some Japanese fellow whose name is utterly unfamiliar to me, since it’s a Namco game.

I’ve worked writing jobs, and what you see written for these games is throwaway stuff that was slapped on at the end to finalize the product they were shipping out.  At this point, games were games; they were a way to entertain children, a system of mechanics and objectives and rewards to engage someone and entertain them on a superficial level.  Mostly, they still are.  But we gamers have come to expect a higher base level in our superficial entertainment, high enough that writers get hired and editing is performed and people have some interest in narrative, in plot, in characterization, in dialogue, maybe even prose.

A game like Pac-in-Time shows you the raw product of necessity, an obligatory gesture towards story rather than any real effort at writing one.  How else would you get the following lines superimposed on a “cutscene”?

Mountains:

In the mountains, Pac-Man is lost.

Powerful.

Of course, I am neglecting the ever-serious problem of translation, which was crippling even in the era of the Playstation, and remains serious now.  I doubt the original writer was particularly dedicated, though, and the minimal translation services afforded to a simple platformer exploiting a heavy-hitting franchise wouldn’t do it any favours.

Have things really changed, though?  Games are written out of industrial necessity, not out of whatever it is that drives people to write (dare I mention the word “art” here?).  They’re just written more efficiently, because the game industry has gotten much larger, and they can afford to pay more and better writers.  Maybe it’s the Marxist in me, but as long as the writing in games exists due to that kind of imperative, we’re just going to get shinier, more expensive versions of Pac-in-Time.

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