The Let's Play Archive


by Nakar

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Original Thread: Only a Prodigy could solve this MadMaze! [2400 Baud OK]



Only a Prodigy could solve this MadMaze! [2400 Baud OK]

Table of Contents

Introduction: Weith Village & The Rules

Level One: Into The Maze
Level One: Sage Wisdom, Wicked Witches, & Internet Trolls Circa 1990
Level One: Where The Fantastic Beasts Find YOU
Level One: The Vilest Beast Is Man...ners
Level One: A Maze Of A Different Sort
Level One: Break Time? But We Only Just Started!
Level One: The Lady & The Lists
Level One: The Elf-King & The Black Knight
Level One: Beauty & A Beast
Level One: Baby's First Logic Puzzle
Level One: Gonzaga, Part 1
Level One: Gonzaga, Part 2
Level One: Castle Perilous, The Approach
Level One: Castle Perilous, Within
Level One: Castle Perilous, Valterre
Level One: Castle Perilous, King Carlon

Level Two: Recurrence
Level Two: The Ghosts of Al-Mugabi
Level Two: Meeting The Locals
Level Two: The Second Voyage, Part 1
Level Two: The Second Voyage, Part 2
Level Two: This Will End Well
Level Two: The Best Worst Possible Outcome
Level Two: Temple Of The Mad One
Level Two: The Wrong River
Level Two: Multiplayer Features
Level Two: A Plain Hint
Level Two: One Bazaar Encounter After Another
Level Two: Only One Right Answer
Level Two: The Burning River
Level Two: Separating The Sheep From The Goats
Level Two: Dated References
Level Two: Digestive Problems
Level Two: My Cousin Is A Blacksmith, In Fact
Level Two: Our Foe, The Whirlwind
Level Two: Our Pal, The Whirlwind
Level Two: Citadel of Osmet Khan, Outskirts
Level Two: Citadel of Osmet Khan, Within
Level Two: Citadel of Osmet Khan, Mighty Hassan
Level Two: Citadel of Osmet Khan, Three Trials
Level Two: Citadel of Osmet Khan, The Talisman

Level Three: Everything Old Is New Again
Level Three: A Different Sort Of Snake Charmer
Level Three: Trouble Brewing
Level Three: Out Of The Geyser And Into The Fire
Level Three: AirBnB
Level Three: The Frozen Lands
Level Three: My Dad, The Whale
Level Three: Bears, Stars, And One Rat-Bastard Dragon
Level Three: An Ice Wizard
Level Three: Old Friends Return (Bearing Puzzles)
Level Three: One Dumb Lizard, One Dumber Knight
Level Three: A Dapper Proposition
Level Three: Matilda's Final Task
Level Three: Bugs, Berries, And Other Wildlife
Level Three: It's Still Kinda Racist If They're Catmen
Level Three: A Wizard Knight Intervenes In A Battle Between Pterodactyl-Riding Insects And Airship-Piloting Lizardmen, And This Is Getting A Bit Long But I Really Couldn't Leave Any Of That Out
Level Three: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Herpetarium
Level Three: Sugar Cravings
Level Three: A Wizard (Of The Kitchen)
Level Three: How The Prime Mother Got Her Groove Back
Level Three: Our New Pal
Level Three: This Place Is Rigged To Blow
Level Three: Over The Edge, Into Madness

Level Four: Its Own Little World
Level Four: Catching Up
Level Four: Getting Our Paperwork In Order
Level Four: A Test Of General Reasoning
Level Four: The Final Stretch
Level Four: The Stuff Of Madness, Arrival
Level Four: The Stuff Of Madness, Colors
Level Four: The Stuff Of Madness, Unexpected Obstacles
Level Four: The Stuff Of Madness, Never Meet Your Heroes
Level Four: The Stuff Of Madness, A Sacrifice For Sanity

Post-Mortem: The Prodigious Question Of MadMaze

Just What Is MadMaze?

At the dawn of the 1990s, the online service Prodigy decided to branch out a bit. Prodigy had been trying to distinguish itself from other online services with its powerful (for the time) graphical user interface, which let them do something that others couldn't: Online gaming. Games were developed to use the Prodigy service itself as a user interface, providing users with games they didn't need to install to play and offering features like saves stored on Prodigy's servers. Most of these games were novelties. They didn't actually take advantage of the fact that they were "online" in the sense we understand today. With 2400 Baud modems considered high-end for the consumer market, there just wasn't enough bandwidth to offer features like multiplayer on Prodigy's service. These games were, in essence, proto-browser games, hamstrung by technical limitations and the service's UI.

But then there was MadMaze. The game saw many thousands of players, proving itself quite a hit among Prodigy's then-impressive roll of under a million users. Nostalgia still follows the game, but it seems to take the form of vague memories more than a clear recollection, as the Prodigy service no longer exists and the game has been thought to be lost. I'd like to change that for the old crowd, and to introduce to everyone else one of the weirdest footnotes in adventure and online gaming history.

MadMaze is a game in two parts. In one part, the player navigates a series of mazes, presented in a faux-3D format. Periodically, the player encounters a "Place of Power," which provides a text-based continuation of the storyline in a Choose Your Own Adventure (or Visual Novel, I suppose) format. Navigate the encounter or solve the puzzle presented and one can proceed. Do especially well and a clue might even be presented for later Places of Power. Fail and die miserably, requiring a reloaded save or starting all over. Starting all over was bad. MadMaze is not a short game.

MadMaze has all the same limitations that other early "online" games did. There's no multiplayer. The graphics are weak even by the standards of the era -- this game is the same age as the original Warcraft, but looks ten years older -- due to the limitations of the graphical protocol used by Prodigy at the time. There's only one feature that takes advantage of the fact that the player has an internet connection. Why would this game provoke nostalgia where similar games did not?

The biggest reason is that, for all its limitations, the game is remarkably well-written and well-made. Though simplistic in design the game is long and varied, with well over a hundred Places of Power filled with fiendish puzzles, quirky characters, gruesome deaths, late 80s memes, and wit. The story is a sort of generic fantasy journey, epic in scope, that grows on you (and itself) as you go. The art by Mark Zweigler, who regrettably passed away shortly after finishing, has a certain weird charm to it that helps it transcend the obvious limitations of the medium.

But perhaps more important, the game's concept and script come from the team of Eric Goldberg and Greg Costikyan. Goldberg and Costikyan had previously worked on a pleasant role-playing adventure about hapless clones and Friend Computer. Yes, Paranoia. Perhaps it has now become clear what kind of game this is. I did mention "gruesome deaths," didn't I? Costikyan (who has been critical of the game since) also worked on West End Games's Star Wars roleplaying game, and developed TOON for Steve Jackson Games with... Warren Spector. Everything I do seems to come back to Warren Spector, doesn't it?

MadMaze is a game that is nostalgic for me, and I'm not the only one. The game regrettably was discontinued by Prodigy in 1999, but survives as a Java-based browser game (nicknamed MadMaze-II) through the efforts of the late Russell Brown and Vintage Computing admin Benj Edwards, whose site hosts the only working build of the game that I know of, for a certain definition of "working". I also possess a copy of MadMaze-II, but Brown intentionally obscured everything to make it difficult to cheat and I'm not a Java wizard to have the slightest idea how he did it, so I have no idea how to make it operational and am using the data solely to grab the art and such. Thanks to Brown's work in saving the game, I'm able to present this bit of ancient PC gaming history in its entirety (minus a few quirks, which I'll explain as we get to them).

This will be a comprehensive screenshot LP. While a lot of text will simply be transcribed (as most of the game is text), we'll see all the graphics, all the Places of Power, every maze, every puzzle, and most idiotic demises. And there're a lot of all of those. Spoilers should be tagged if possible, but if I ask for information or clues that might've been forgotten by all means feel free to bring them up in devising a solution to a puzzle. The game can at times be quite obscure in offering hints one time many hours before they become relevant.

And here's the first two posts!

Introduction: Weith Village & The Rules
Learn how the game works, and why we're engaged in the act of mazing madly.

Level One: Into The Maze
How an idiot solves rudimentary mazes, and how this idiot already did that for you.

Join us next time when we solve an actual puzzle... if we're charitable in even calling it a puzzle. The game gives us a softball or two before hucking a fastball directly at our faces. Oh, and when I say "we're" solving a puzzle, I do mean that. You will be expected to show your work. For everything.
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