Pattern Play Secrets

by Staff

So you want to beat the machine, or at least rack up a score that will leave the next player shaking his head in disbelief…don’t we all? But whether there’s some secret way to achieve that goal…well, that’s another barrel of pickles, isn’t it?

As long as there have been games, there have been systems for beating them. Along with buried treasure and the Brooklyn Bridge, systems that can’t miss must be eyed with suspicion.

Recently the concept of playing a “pattern” has made the rounds of the arcades. The idea is that there’s some solution, some ultimate, mystical combination that lets the player beat the machine.

All systems or patterns have a reasonable chance of being partially successful if they are the result of experience with the game involved and logical observation of the options available to the player. But none of these kind of systems is going to shut the computer down in defeat.

The problem with all patterns is that the player only has limited contact with the computer through one or two controllers—joystick and a fire button. So the odds are not exactly in the player’s favor, sort of like taking on the entire Space Invaders fleet with a baseball bat. Good luck.

The home personal computers like the VIC-20, Atari 400, and Radio Shack TRS-80 play games that you might eventually be able to conquer—because you as well as the game program have a computer keyboard.

This doesn’t stop players from dreaming about patterns that will ensure they play more and spend less, playing for hours on one quarter once they get their pattern down.

In a sense, the pattern is part of the maze of Pac-Man and other maze games. We are psychologically being led along the corridors of the maze as we relate to Pac-Man, and being thinking humans, we begin to believe we see a way out of the maze, a pattern that could be followed. We play the game again and again, certain moves roll into each other, the bits and pieces of the pattern occur at one time or another—if we can retain them and add them together as we play we find the beginnings of a pattern.

One trap related directly to patterns is that player eye/hand co-ordination affects the pattern’s success. If the player reaches a certain point sooner or later than he should, the timing—and therefore the pattern—will be thrown off.

This means a good pattern for one player wouldn’t work with another player. This simple fact is somehow twisted into the romantic notion that not only are there patterns out there that are 100%, people are playing them, and winning with them.

The human brain against the computer brain. Computer fear? More like our human attempt to include the computer in the family. The game computer may always ultimately beat us, but by thinking it has a quirk, a series of small human-like failings, we warm to the computer, dream about what pattern we’ll use, and hope to win someday.

Because the concept of patterns and “winning” are more human than computer brains, there are a bevy of new books that let you in on all the arcade secrets. Some reproduce patterns that may be just right for you.

Among the titles you might want to take home from your bookshop, check Scoring BIG at Pac-Man from Warner Books for five quarters, or How To Win at Pac-Man from Pocket Books for nine quarters, or Mastering Pac-Man from NAL/ Signet for just under two bits. More expensive video game texts are also in print. For $5.95 there’s The Winners’ Book of Video Games (Warner Books) or The Complete Guide To Conquering Video Games (MacMillan).

Since we wouldn’t be publishing this magazine if we didn’t think there is something to be said, we applaud the publishing efforts to date, although some of the volumes are less exploitational than others. And if you check at Radio Shack or your local computer store, you’ll discover there’s a wall-full of literature for those of you who are really serious about computer programs, language, and technology.

Computer games can be seen as an addiction, and anyone who’s put in a tough day at the arcades knows a little of what a mouse feels like in a maze. But if we are addicted as players, it isn’t to the machine or game so much as our unconquerable belief that we can beat the machine at its own game.

This is where the fantasy and reality of pattern play comes in. In a sense, whenever we play a new machine and learn the game for the first time, we are learning a play pattern. Without that basic pattern we don’t last more than 30 seconds before the machine lights up with. “The End” in big letters. So in a sense, it is necessary to understand the basic pattern of the game before attempting to play, or get a super score.

But that this pattern extends to the entire game cycle is open to question. The game computer does things at random, perhaps not an infinite number of random situations but random enough. And even if such random options were identified and planned for, the human eye/hand element is constantly a factor which is not to be considered particularly reliable in building an anti-program pattern.

We certainly aren’t going to go out on a limb and say there are no ghost, alien invaders, or perfect play patterns, but we’re willing to bet that the perfect pattern is probably inscribed on a gold tablet and hidden away in a cave on some other planet.

Maze Strategy

Some useful pointers to make maze games more relaxing and fun, and to get your score over a million…

  • Understand the nature of the maze before you begin play. Discover where it begins and ends, check for dead ends or corners where you can get trapped, note position of any bonus areas.
  • Always remember that the safest patch between two maze points may not be a straight line.
  • Begin plan. Note all pitfalls and dangers that are encountered while running the maze. If you are eliminated by the enemy, try to think back to the maze path from the start of play until the point of annihilation, and figure out just how much of the maze was safe.
  • Focus on the whole game board. Don’t get caught staring myopically at only one point on the board, you never know what may be creeping up behind you. You must keep the enemy and any dangers in site at all times.
  • Make all reactions quickly. Slowing down when the enemy is in pursuit is a dangerous moment in a maze game.
  • Try not to tense up. Often your body will get very tense as you concentrate on the game. This will eventually lead to jittery player control action and mistakes.
  • One way to keep relaxed is to keep your hands on the controllers very lightly. Whenever you feel yourself gripping the controller too strongly, ease up on the grip, and ease up on your body tensions as well.
  • Ignore any distractions around you. If someone is talking too loudly or otherwise bothering you, don’t pay any attention, and don’t even try to tell them to stop, just concentrate on your play and maybe they’ll go away.
  • Don’t get suckered by the machine into thinking that just because it started easy it’s going to stay easy. High scores come from understanding the shifting patterns of the game program as the game continues.
  • When you’re first playing a new game, try to spend as much time on it as you can. Playing a new game only once or twice won’t really teach you the subtleties of play.
  • Beware of high score excitement. You’ve made it through the maze, gotten the cherries, and you feel like you’re really flying. In the midst of all the excitement you’re suddenly zapped by the enemy and the game ends. What happened? Simple, you let your guard down during the moment when you hit a high score.
  • While you shouldn’t discuss strategy with other players during play, there’s nothing wrong with talking play between games. Some players want to keep their strategies to themselves, but others are willing to discuss their views of the finer points of play.
  • Don’t play one machine to death. Play can be very addictive, and if you hang onto one machine long enough you’ll begin to get stale. Even if you’re devoted to one game, give it an occasional rest and play something else. You’ll come back to your favorite game with renewed energy.
  • Don’t get aggravated with program tricks. Occasionally you’ll run into little moves in the game program that are at best cheap tricks and at worst blatant intervention in the overall rules of the game. Just take it philosophically, even though it may completely throw your play.
  • Get a half hour of fresh air once every three days.

Home Computer Skill levels

Match Player To Game

There are eight skill levels of Pac-Man play on the Atari Pac-Man cart. Most of the time number 8 is the one to play and try to score off of, but from time to time I’ll run through the other levels, and even though some of them are easier, I’ll get snagged up as likely as not.

If you’re playing a particular game for the first time, like Pac-Man, you should start at the first skill level to get a feel for the game and what the rules are about. But don’t linger on that level for more than a couple of games—select other levels and try them, too. You’ll find that some game levels appeal to you more than others.

It seems that any particular game, programmed in any particular way, is still a challenge, no matter how its difficulty of play has been judged.

This is due, no doubt, to the fact that a computer is controlling the play—so there are going to be all sorts of moves happening, whether you’ve selected game 1, 3, 6, 8, or any in between.

Various programs of the same game are one of the things that make the home game cart exciting in its own right. With a game cart the player has play options—think of them as skill levels if you want. But these program variations are more than levels, they’re like entertaining changes of pace from the basic game as you may have played it in the arcade, and they require new applications of the basic game logic.

The wise player takes nothing for granted when playing game variations on the home game cart. In the Pac-Man cart there are games where Pac seems to float slowly through the maze, and games where he races so fast he seems to bounce off the maze walls and corners. You might think the slow moving Pac is easier to control, but the funny thing is there are moments in that particular game program when Pac’s actions are deceiving and the player is warned to stay alert for danger to Pac.

No matter how you ‘rate’ yourself as a player, video game carts like Pac-Man will provide you with a comfortable level of play action and the promise of shifts in that action as you range over games from 1 to 8.

Game Plans

How I Zero In So I Don’t Zero Out

When a new game hits the arcades, there’s always curiosity about how I’ll react to it. And, how it’ll react to me.

There are certain games that, while I like to play them, I just don’t get any satisfaction out of. The game and I don’t seem to interlock, and not only is it a waste of quarters, but it shakes my faith in my overall combat ability.

There are ways to deal with a particularly down game. The easiest is to ignore it. But then the game beats you without a contest. I prefer to accept that I have trouble with the game, then try to figure the reason.

If it turns out that I’m just not interested in the basic game event (and there are always new games that are inherently boring), then I feel my poor performance is based on lack of interest.

But when I like the game, I feel the challenge, and know that there are no excuses for not coming out on top. After all, I don’t let my friends get away with that kind of guff. I never believed a guy yet when he kicked the machine in disgust because it beat the hell out of him. So there’s only one reason a game beats me, and that’s if it’s better than I am, and I sure don’t believe that.

So I keep playing, and as I play I zero in on the program. I work on the rules of the game. Because whoever set down those rules was out to annihilate me. The code I’ve got to break is that person’s logic (or the lack of it sometimes) who wrote the program that challenges me. That’s right, I take it personally.

If I play not to win but to reconnoiter the strong and weak points, I play with understanding and I begin to gain control of the machine. In a way, I’ve dumped the program from the machine to myself. Once I’ve got that program, I start playing like I know what I’m doing, which is the only way to play. Suddenly the game is fun, and time dissolves.

Don’t ever let a machine keep you at a distance. Even if you have to sneak in the middle of the night and play until they throw you out, get close to the tough machines. Hands on, ride the images; the harder you ride it, the sooner the odds are in your favor.

There are other approaches. I’ve seen players try to rely on one particular move they develop in response to a tough game. But that leads to indifferent success. They may have a hot game or two. But they don’t have any consistency when it comes to knocking the game over every time. As I’ve said, to do that, you’ve got to know a whole lot more about what you’re up against.

It’s difficult not to always play to win, but on a hard screen game, if you don’t do a little sparring with the program, you won’t honestly understand it. Sure the machine believes in luck, but the guy who wrote the program stacked the deck. Your job is to locate the aces, because when you do, the advantage is all yours.

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