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PacVim is a game that teaches you vim commands. You must move pacman (the green cursor) to highlight each word on the gameboard while avoiding the ghosts (in red).

my image

Building and running

Vim is a great tool to write and edit code, but many people, including me, struggled with the steep learning curve. I did not find a fun, free way to learn about the vim commands in-depth, and thus, PacVim was born. Inspired by the the classic, PacMan, PacVim is a game that'll give anyone plenty of practice with the vim commands while being a ton of fun to play.

Download and build the game with:

Mac OS X

brew install pacvim

Linux (and Mac OS X alternative)

  1. Download and install Curses (graphics library)
    -> For Ubuntu (in terminal): sudo apt-get install libncurses5-dev

    -> OR This tutorial may help (have not confirmed)

    -> OR build from source: Curses source files

    -> Mac OS X should come with Curses installed, so skip this step.

2. git clone
3. cd PacVim
4. [sudo] make install

To play, run (from anywhere):

$ pacvim [LEVEL_NUMER] [MODE]

You may specify the starting level and mode (n and h for normal/hard). Default mode is hard:

$ pacvim 8 n

To Uninstall, navigate to the folder where you cloned this repo, and type make uninstall
Note: this game may not install/compile properly without gcc version 4.8.X or higher

How To Play

The objective of PacVim is very similar to PacMan. You must run over all the characters on the screen while avoiding the ghosts (red G). PacVim has two special obstacles:

  1. You cannot move into the walls (yellow color). You must use vim motions to jump over them.

  2. If you step on a tilde character (cyan ~), you lose!

You are given three lives. You gain a life each time you beat level 0, 3, 6, 9, etc. There are 10 levels, 0 through 9. After beating the 9th level, the game is reset to the 0th level, but the ghosts move faster.

Winning conditions: Use vim commands to move the cursor over the letters and highlight them. After all letters are highlighted, you win and proceed to the next level.

Losing conditions: If you touch a ghost (indicated by a red G) or a tilde character, you lose a life. If you have less than 0 lives, you lose the entire game.

List of Implemented Commands

key what it does
q quit the game
h move left
j move down
k move up
l move right
w move forward to next word beginning
W move forward to next WORD beginning
e move forward to next word ending
E move forward to next WORD ending
b move backward to next word beginning
B move backward to next WORD beginning
$ move to the end of the line
0 move to the beginning of the line
gg/1G move to the beginning of the first line
numberG move to the beginning of the line given by number
G move to the beginning of the last line
^ move to the first word at the current line
& 1337 cheatz (beat current level)

Create Your Own Map!

The maps for PacVim are loaded from text files from the /usr/local/share/pacvim-maps folder. After installing, you may, instead, use the maps folder (where you installed the game) by calling make MAPDIR=maps.

The name of each text file must be in a format such as: map#.txt, where # represents a number like 0, 1, 9, 14, etc. The numbers must be consecutive (can't have map0.txt, map1.txt, and then map3.txt). MAKE SURE YOU CHANGE THE NUM_OF_LEVELS IN GLOBALS.CPP OR ELSE YOUR NEW MAPS WON'T LOAD. It should be equal to the highest map number.

In the map text file, the walls are denoted by ampersands #, and the tildes come just from the tilde key. Maps must be bounded and closed, so the player is trapped within 4 walls. Make sure walls block the top and left of the terminal (or else the player goes offscreen). Any shape, height, and width, within these constraints, should work

Creating Ghosts and Players
At the bottom of each map text file, parameters about the Ghost(s) and Players are specified

/# X Y ... EG: /0.5 1 1
The forward slash denotes that this information describes a Ghost (instead of player).
The # denotes the time, in seconds, it takes for the Ghost to move. (#=0.5 means 2 moves/sec)
X and Y denote the starting x- and y-position of the Ghost

pX Y ... EG: p15 7 The 'p' denotes that this information describes a Player (instead of Ghost).
The X and Y denote the starting x- and y-position of the Player.
This is optional, the player spawns in the middle of the map otherwise
This should be the last line of the file

Code Overview


Contains the avatar class, which contains information about the player, such as his/her x position, y position, etc. It also contains methods that allow the player to move and correspond to the keystrokes. For example, the avatar class contains the method called parseWordForward(bool) which implements the functionality for the "w" (or "W" if true) vim command.


Contains the Ghost1 class, derived from the avatar class. It is just like the avatar class, but it requires an extra paremeter upon initialization, called sleepTime, a double value that determines how quickly a ghost moves. It refers to the time, in seconds, the ghost must wait to move. A sleepTime of 0.5 means the ghost moves 2 times a second. sleepTime = 0.33 is 3 moves per second, etc.
The Ghost1 class also contains a method called spawnGhost which creates the ghost at the location based on its initialization parameters. The ghost will appear when READY (global bool) is true (this means the player is ready), and it will call ghost.think() one second afterwards.
think is a recursive method that simply moves the ghost. It uses a basic greedy algorithm based on the distance of the ghost's potential moves (up, down, right, left) and the player.

Each ghost contains its own thread. A global mutex, called mtx, is used (in think) to ensure that resources are shared properly.

helperFns.cpp Contains methods that allow easy changes of the screen. A few of them:

  • chtype charAt(int x, int y) returns the chtype at the (x,y) location
  • bool writeAt(int x, int y, chtype letter) writes the 'letter' at location (x,y). Returns false if location is invalid.
  • void printAtBottom(string msg) writes a message one line below the last line


This contains the main() method among many other important ones

main - contains a loop that breaks when LIVES < 0. In the loop, the proper map name is determined and loaded. Data is reset (such as as the pointers, the ghost AI, etc). The level is incremented.
init(const char) - called by main. Calls drawScreen(str map), creates and spawns player and ghosts threads. Then calls playGame. After playGame ends, all the ghost threads are deleted, and then we go back to the main method.
map) - called by init. Reads from text file given by parameter. Loads everything onto the screen with the proper color and gets information from the ghost and player so that they spawn in the proper place in init.
playGame(time_t, avatar player) - called by init. This contains two loops, one that consumes everything in the input buffer (which is then deleted), the second loop allows the player to continuously input keystrokes. When a keystroke is input, onKeystroke is called

To-dos / Bugs

  • More testing on `#G` and `G` commands
  • G can go out of bounds on Map 8 with the boxes. #G (between boxes)
  • G won't move to proper line, it can hit the last wall rather than the last word (map2)
  • Refactor code, more comments


PacVim is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

PacVim is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU Lesser General Public License for more details.

You should have received a copy of the GNU Lesser General Public License along with this program. If not, see