If you say the name Pac-Man, almost everyone will know what you're talking about. A game franchise that raked in $2.5 billion by the end of the 1990s and a pop culture icon that is practically immortal. With Pac-Man being so well known and beloved, it is extensively interesting to see what makes such a "simple game" tick. To do that we’ll need to investigate the ontology of this classic game. So, what is an ontology? An ontology is a set of concepts and categories, as well as their properties and relations, in a subject area or domain. In short it is everything that makes up the game, such as objects, behaviors, rule, and processes arranged in a hierarchy. Examining this hierarchy of information gives us an insight into the true heart of a game. For example, Pac-Man’s core is a simple simulated rule-based world that’s addictive to play in and this essential appeal can be lost if we only look at the surface.
Now what is Occam’s Razor? Occam’s Razor is the idea in science that entities are not to be multiplied without necessity. Applying this to games, we don’t need to add mechanics because “People will love this” or “This would be cool!” When developing a game, we must maintain a focus and stick within a scope to avoid waste of time and money. If we analyze ontologies, we can discover what is a necessary addition to the game. An example of an unnecessary addition from the Pac-Man series being Super Pac-Man’s flying, cages, keys, and slot machine. On the other end of the spectrum Ms. Pac-Man added randomized levels which raised coin drop on the machine ten-fold! Then somewhere in the middle is Pac-Man Jr. with its weird conglomeration of an arcade cabinet and pinball machine, which is fun but fragile.
In conclusion the Pac-Man series is a prime example of how examining the game ontologically could increase our understanding and appreciation of a classic retro game while also saving time, money, and effort for modern day indie developers. Taking the tools I’ll talk about and applying them to our own games will help us find what truly makes our game unique!