1D Pac-Man is the best game I’ve played in 2024 (so far)

Photo of author
Written By Sedoso Feb

nothing to do with the choice.”>
Enlarge / I didn’t write this story just to share that high score in the corner, but I won’t say it had nothing to do with the choice.
ABA Games

When looking back at the short history of video game design, the ’90s and ’00s transition from primarily 2D games to primarily 3D games is rightly seen as one of the biggest revolutions in the industry. But my discovery this week of the one-dimensional, Pac-Man-inspired Paku Paku makes me wish that the game industry had some sort of pre-history where clever 1D games like this were the norm. It also makes me wish I had been quicker to discover more of the work of extremely prolific and clever game designer Kenta Cho, who made the game.

In Paku Paku, Pac-Man‘s 2D maze of 240 dots has been replaced with 16 dots arranged in a single line. Your six-pixel tall dot-muncher (the graphics are 2D, even as the gameplay uses only one dimension) is forced to forever travel either left or right along this line, trying to eat all the dots while avoiding a single red ghost (who moves just a bit faster than the player). To do this, the player can use a single power pellet (which makes the ghost edible for a short while) or the screen-wrapping tunnels on either side of the line (which the ghost can’t use).

Paku Paku.”>A brief gameplay snippet from <em>Paku Paku</em>.” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/paku-300×150.gif” width=”300″ height=”150″ srcset=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/paku.gif 2x”><figcaption class=
Enlarge / A brief gameplay snippet from Paku Paku.
ABA Games

It might sound simple, but playing effectively means carefully managing the ghost’s relative position to the player by quickly judging when you’ll have enough space and time to make it to a side tunnel or power pellet. This gets exponentially harder as the game speeds up with each new set of replacement dots, increasing the score multiplier as it does. Each game ends after a matter of minutes (or seconds) with that familiar “I know I can do better next time” feeling that marks truly compulsive game design (and has pushed me to a high score of over 10,000 points over a few hours of play).

Though Paku Paku was originally released last year, the game has been making the rounds among some major link aggregators recently, a perfect filler for the usual post-holiday drought of major game releases in early January. Hacker News users are even hard at work coding basic AI that you can paste into a browser’s command window for easy high scores.

The zen design of small games

Paku Paku is far from the first game to reduce gameplay to a single dimension (though the graphics use two dimensions, which might make the game “1.5D”?). Games like Wolfenstein 1D (which is Archived but currently unplayable due to the death of Flash) and installations like Line Wobbler use color as a sort of second dimension, representing different in-game characters and objects with dots of many hues. And dozens of 1D games have been tagged on indie gaming hub Itch.io, ranging from the silly (1D Flappy Bird) to the surprisingly effective (Colordash 1D) to the overcomplicated (1D Minecraft).

Paku Paku stands out from this limited crowd largely thanks to tight single-button controls and perfectly tuned risk-versus-reward gameplay that encourages that compulsive loop. Perhaps that’s because its creator has had a ridiculous amount of experience crafting this kind of simple game.

Paku Paku comes from ABA Games, developer Cho’s label. It was made using Cho’s open source Crisp Game Lib engine, which is focused on enabling quick development of minimalist, JavaScript-based pixel-art browser games. Super Hexagon designer Terry Kavanagh talked up the engine in early 2021, calling out cool features like the ability to define character sprites with an array of numbers and automatically create background music with a simple “isPlayingBgm” flag.

Just six of the hundreds of games Kenta Cho has released in recent years.
Enlarge / Just six of the hundreds of games Kenta Cho has released in recent years.
ABA Games

When Kavanagh wrote his appreciation years ago, Cho had only made 30 Crisp Game Lib games. But in a recent extended essay on the “Joys of Small Game Development,” Cho talks about creating 350 different titles using the same basic framework, including 139 that he created in 2021 alone. Using the library, Cho writes he can whip up a full game in “about 2 hours, or within around 10 hours if met with challenges.” Most of these can be played in the browser over on the ABA Games site, something I’ve been spending a lot of time doing since discovering it through Paku Paku.

Reflector is another deceptively compelling title in the Crisp Game Lib library.”><em>Reflector</em> is another deceptively compelling title in the Crisp Game Lib library.” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/reflector-300×150.gif” width=”300″ height=”150″ srcset=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/reflector.gif 2x”><figcaption class=
Enlarge / Reflector is another deceptively compelling title in the Crisp Game Lib library.
ABA Games

Not every one of this vast array of Crisp Game Lib games is a winner, of course—some end up on the wrong side of the delicate difficulty curve or have controls that end up just a tad too touchy. But I’ve still stumbled on quite a few gems that capture the same instant compulsive appeal as Paku Paku, including lightning-avoidance sim Thunder, the Rez-like T Laser, UFO self-defense game Reflector, charming multi-jumping auto-runner In Tow, and one-dimensional Galaga-alike Charge Beam.

Cho writes in his recent essay that he finds inspiration for his seemingly endless game ideas from classic games and “interesting behaviors from natural phenomena or geometry.” Focusing on simple ideas also allows for quick brainstorming, which is pretty important if you’re going to make nearly 140 games in a single year. “In the case of small games, if a concept doesn’t work well, it can simply be discarded,” he writes.

Many game development tutorials urge new coders to start with small games as a sort of training before tackling their first massive project. But Cho writes about small games as an end in and of themselves, saying he believes “small games possess a unique charm exclusive to them.” Cho cites John Thyer’s manifesto on designing effective small games, which includes good development advice like “a game’s quality is independent of its scale” and “It’s easier for a game to succeed if it makes smaller promises.”

After a year that was packed with some of the best lengthy gaming epics ever created, it’s nice to sit back and appreciate a small game whose instant appeal is apparent within seconds. Here’s hoping the spread of Paku Paku encourages more developers to experiment with smaller titles not just as training exercises, but as important works on their own.

Source

Leave a Comment

egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr egr