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PACAPONG’s chaotic arcade game mash-up reflects our remix culture

Part of me wishes that Dick Poelen had gone further. His Mini Ludum Dare #68 game jam entry PACAPONG comprises four classic arcade games: Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Pong, and Donkey Kong. But why stop there? The disruptive child in me begs for more and more to be added. I want this mash-up to be taken to the extreme, until the processor can’t keep up, layer-upon-layer of retro gaming until a gorilla’s knee is no more discernible than a Power Pellet.

of the same thinking that fuels the tumultuous side of remixing 

Perhaps that’s a symptom of my upbringing amid the enthusiastic remix culture we currently live in. We’re prone to take images, video, and sounds, caring not for their original owners or plagiarism law, and hacking it altogether into a bricolage. Einstein famously said that “energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” It seems the same logic is applicable to a lot of art technique these days, too. Some criticize the apparent lack of originality on show in remixes, but it’s in rearranging and transforming previous works that we create new media; thrashing the overwhelming volume of information available to us into a terse, frenzied facsimile of itself. How else do you explain the prominence of YouTube Poop, memes, and datamoshing?

PACAPONG is one of the more sensible examples—there are visible signs of consideration here, playability, a plausible competition between two players. It’s of the same thinking, but it doesn’t quite belong to the more tumultuous side of remixing, which cares more for creative destruction than anything else. No, this is more like the videogame version of Mark Ronson; the acceptable face of remixing. There’s a proper game to be played here: the idea being to fill your score bar at the top before your opponent can. You do this by using the paddle from Pong to shoot Pac-Man through the maze that sprawls out at all angles between you and your opponent. Inside are pellets that Pac-Man eats, adding to your score, as well as Ghosts that will put a stop to your effort upon contact.

Also inside the maze you’ll see mini versions of the aliens from Space Invaders. If Pac-Man chomps one of these down your opponent will see a couple of larger aliens raining down on their position. Colliding with the uninvited pixel-creature will see their score bar deplete rapidly. To avoid this, they can dodge it to the left or right, with the other options being to shoot them with the bullets the paddle fires, or using Pac-Man to chomp through them.

Where does Donkey Kong come into this? Oh, that stiff-limbed ape turns up nearer the end of a match, gratuitously throwing barrels in every direction, as he does. He’s there only to confuse the visuals, overthrowing the relative order of the game, beating his chest with a feral lack of manners. 

In fact, Donkey Kong’s unexpected arrival almost slips PACAPONG into that deliberately noisy, disruptive type of remix that I find myself desiring. He just needs a few other villains from the golden age of the arcade to join him in his interference, perhaps Coily the snake from Q*bert and the robots from Robotron: 2084. Or perhaps that’s moving too close to Wreck-It Ralph‘s premise. But then, who cares? That’s a remix of mainstream videogame culture anyway—what does a remix of a remix hurt?

You can download PACAPONG for free on its Ludum Dare page and itch.io.