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The Resignation

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The Conspiracy

Day 3 Whether the residents of the island are all resigned to their fate or just lack any awareness of it, I can't tell.  Their existence seems to drone on unnaturally, too practiced to be unseemly but too mechanical to be free.  Every once in a while, I sense a hesitation from one of the islanders, as if they are looking for something, but the moment I look at them directly, the sensation immediately dissipates.  It must be my imagination -- a reflection of my desire for empathy.
Having given up on getting relief from my interactions with the islanders, I wander into the local theater hoping at least for a diversion.  Inside, a screen is propped up against the wall, with flickering images being projected on its face.  

From the back of the theater, a deep, monotone voice, probably pre-recorded, recites nursery rhymes in unison with the images.  If this is intended to be a form of entertainment, it is lost on me.  At times, it seems as if I can see myself in the images, though th…

Current Mission

Even going back to my childhood, my interests have always been diverse and wandering, so you can expect my writings to behave likewise.  For the short version of this blog's mission, I'll refer you to its title.  For the long version, read on.

If you were around for the earliest days of Raising the Brow, you may have noticed that there used to be a mission statement tagged at the top.  That was where I spelled out my initial goal, which was to approach early video games as art and review them like one would a painting or an album.  However, the more I've posted, the more I've found myself wanting to branch out into other subjects as well.  All of my work on this blog continues to focus on early video games and I continue to view them as works of art, but I don't feel ready to pigeon-hole it... not yet, anyway.

Among my recent writing experiments, my favorite is something I'm going to call "playthrough fiction".  It's like fan fiction, in that I c…

What I Learned from 200 Games of Pac-Man, Part 2: Personal Progress

In the first installment of my Pac-Man 200-game playthrough, I described some of the strategies I had developed.  Here, I want to look at how my scores changed with time, as well as how my experiments with the controls affected the outcomes.

Controls My early plays revolved around battling the joystick emulation.  Using an XBOX-style controller, I tried controlling Pac-Man with both the standard finger joystick and the D-pad, but found myself frequently getting moved in directions I didn't intend.  Here are the results from those games:

I was able to play competently enough, breaking 20,000 points about a third of the time, but too large a fraction of my deaths were coming from controller issues, so I decided to switch things up a bit.  I suspected there was an issue with the diagonal commands, so I tried setting up the A-B-X-Y buttons to issue directional commands, like so: Unfortunately, this didn't go so well either.

I barely achieved a new high score at around game 65, bu…

What I Learned from 200 Games of Pac-Man, Part 1: Strategy

Few video games are more popular, or more iconic, than the original Pac-Man.  Its arcade version broke records, its AI is practically a YouTube meme, and it introduced one of the most recognizable video game characters in the world.  A deep dive analysis of the game would be redundant with many of the other great resources that are already out there (see the end of the article for some links).  Instead, I decided the best thing to do with this game was to play it -- a lot -- and just talk about what the experience was like.
Background My previous experiences with Pac-Man were fairly limited.  I owned the infamous Atari 2600 port of the game as a child, but seldom played it.  I may have played the arcade version once or twice in a dentist's office and was familiar enough with it to recognize the approximate layout of the maze, but certainly didn't possess any skill.  It always seemed like a game of quick reaction, more for the body than the mind.  What's more, it didn'…

Joystick Mapping in MAME

You would think that setting up a control scheme for a game like Pac-Man would be really simple; after all, you only need to move in four different directions - Up, Down, Left, Right.  The problem, it turns out, is that the controls are a little too simple.  Most modern joysticks and D-pads are designed to take eight directions, so when you use, say, a standard XBOX-style controller to play Pac-Man, it's easy to accidentally command a diagonal motion that the game doesn't understand.  The results of such a command can be... disastrous.

Fortunately, if you're playing in MAME, there are things you can do to make an 8-way joystick friendlier to 4-way commanding.
Generating a configuration file In what follows, I'm going to assume that you already have a controller plugged in and configured to work in your OS.  Open MAME and select the game you want to configure it for:

Select "Configure Machine" in the bottom menu, and then "Save Machine Configuration"…

You Beat Your High Score, But Are You Getting Better?

High scores are the pride and joy of many a video game enthusiast.  After all, who doesn't want to be the best at something, if only in your own particular clique?

But how can you be sure that you really are the best, or even better than you were when you started playing?  Even in pure games of chance, your high score will gradually improve the longer you play, simply because you've played more games and had more opportunities to luck into a high score.  It would be nice to know if there is any simple way to distinguish random improvements in your high score from improvements in skill, so as a starting point, let's look at a pure game of chance.
The Coin Game Imagine a very simple game where the goal is to flip a coin so that it comes up heads as many times in a row as possible.  Your score is the number of times you were able to flip heads before first getting a tails, so a score of zero means that it came up tails on your first flip, a score of one means that you flippe…