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I've played many arcade games, and I've noticed that whenever I get to the high score table, it has space names of up to three characters:

Sabre Wulf High Score Table

Why is this limitation in place? Is there a technical reason for this, or is it just an arbitrary standard?

EDIT: This is not a "Why did they do that?" question, it's a "Were they FORCED to do that?" question.

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closed as off topic by badp May 16 '13 at 17:54

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I am pretty sure this was for initials. –  oscilatingcretin May 12 '13 at 22:54
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why is this question downvoted? Is noone else interested in such "seems_to_be_to_trivial_because_it_is_as_it_is"-questions? I am a very interested person, and i am trying to figure out, WHY things are AS they are, so please leave a comment after downvoting. –  Ekonion May 12 '13 at 23:32
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How is this question answerable from anyone but the game developers? From the FAQ (What kind of questions should I not ask here?) "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page." –  Daenyth May 12 '13 at 23:52
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This sounds more like a, "Why did the devs design it that way?" kind of question. –  Frank May 13 '13 at 3:59
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Even if this was a "were they forced to do it that way?" question, We do not deal with game development issues either :) As for "seems to be to trivial because it is as it is" questions, the reason we don't allow these is because A. they're actually usually very much not trivial and B. they fall in areas like (again) game development or game design that are outside our field of expertise and the topic of this site. I'm afraid that if you agree this is the nature of your question, I'll have to close it. –  badp May 16 '13 at 17:45
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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I do not think that the limitation was due to hardware, although I do not know which game was the first to feature high-scores with three letters. Sea Wolf (1976) seems to be the first game to feature high-scores, but not to save its initials.

The modern concept of high-score was introduced by Space Invaders Part II, which finally allowed players to save a name with their high-score, before this the concept of high-score was used to give extra playing time after you reach a certain score.

I emailed Taito support, the creators of Space Invaders Part II, about a limitation at this time and here is their reply:

Thank you for your inquiry.

The game supported name entry of up to 10 capital letters for high scores, not three.

Incidentally, in its factory state, the initial high score was set to 5000 points, with the high score name as “TAITO.”

We hope this answers your question.

--*---*---*---*---*-*

株式会社タイトー

Global Support Team

--*---*---*---*---*-*

So we can safely assume that Space Invaders Part II was not the game to introduce three characters in the high scores and if there was a limitation in three characters being saved it was after Space Invaders Part II although this seems more unlikely.

Wikipedia credits also Star Fire from Exidy to have allowed people to enter their initials, I could not find someone to contact who worked at the now closed down Exidy at this time to ask the question.

Also, contrarily to what some people think here, the scores were not always stored permanently and kept when the machine was reboot, see this upgrade for DK to remember the top 5 scores.

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I'm saying you are talking nonsense, perhaps from unfamiliarity with computer architecture. I'm not sure how to say that more gently. Yes, of course sprites go through RAM; everything goes through RAM. But the game's graphics are stored elsewhere first, and "being able to display graphics" tells us nothing about how much re-writable storage a machine had, or how much RAM the game design can spare for high score names. –  SevenSidedDie May 14 '13 at 15:28
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Ironically, now that I think about it, having graphics may actually show the opposite—the early history of graphical games was all about the crazy programming tricks they needed to invent just to fit the frame into RAM, and how often game logic code needed to be eliminated because they needed that memory to make the graphics work. So a few more bytes for >3 letter may have been asking too much, for all I know. Either way, your reasoning is that "they had lots of RAM, so of course they could spare a few bytes", but that just doesn't work. There are way more factors involved than that. –  SevenSidedDie May 14 '13 at 16:13
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@BlueTrin: A game like Pac-Man had 4KB of RAM in total: 2KB for the actual game and 2KB dedicated for the graphics. The graphics RAM just contained references to ROM data containing the individual pixels, and then the (often dedicated) graphics hardware output one pixel at a time - you never stored a fully rendered frame in memory. Spending another 40-80 bytes on longer names (2-4% of all available RAM!), in addition to the 80+ bytes you're already using for the 3-character highscores is therefore not an easy task. –  Michael Madsen May 15 '13 at 11:09
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@BlueTrin: That depends on several other things: if they didn't, then they would need code to pack and unpack the names, and that means less ROM for the actual game code. Even in the best case (3 bytes for a 6-digit score, 5 bits per character), going from 3 to 8 characters will almost double the size of a single entry. –  Michael Madsen May 15 '13 at 11:50
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Furthermore, once you've designed a 3-character system to keep the memory footprint low, it takes quite a bit of effort to then extend it to 8 characters if you finish the rest of the game and determine you have enough free RAM - you have to recode the highscore entry, redesign the highscore display, etc., etc. Since you were working on a very low level, you wouldn't do that unless you had to. –  Michael Madsen May 15 '13 at 11:53
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When Bally Midway bought Puckman, they changed the game's name from Puck Man to Pac-Man in an effort to avoid vandalism from people changing the letter 'P' into an 'F' to form a common expletive. http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2010/05/pac-man-30-years/

Part of the decision to limit high scores to three characters would come from a similar fear about players typing in rude words that would be seen in public places.

Space Invaders Part II is credited with being one of the first games to allow a name to be entered after achieving a high score. As you can see in the owner instructions (page 7 in the second part of this pdf) they had space for ten characters. So it wasn't a matter of memory space that this later standardised on three letters.

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Do you have a source for this or is it simply speculation on your part? –  Colin May 14 '13 at 7:21
    
Added more background, also investigating more anecdotal evidence for this. –  Graeme Hunter May 14 '13 at 8:53
    
@Graeme Hunter: Please look at this page, it has the history of high-scores en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Score_(game) with a few references. I emailed Taito support to ask them if there was a reason they limited to three chars the high-scores, but from what you say, it was not limited to three chars. –  BlueTrin May 14 '13 at 16:03
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