Part 1: Introduction: Weith Village & The RulesIntroduction: Weith Village & The Rules
All of your life, you have lived in the village of Weith. It is a bucolic place, peopled by men and women of good cheer. The land is bounteous and the local wine excellent. The people are even-tempered and kind to their children.
The art in MadMaze, though "bad" by objective standards, is particularly interesting due to the technical limitations imposed upon the team. You couldn't just send image files through Prodigy back then; they'd be too huge anyway, and the Prodigy system was not set up to actually display graphics. Odd, since it was known for having a robust GUI. So how does this work?
Prodigy used a system called NAPLPS, developed for video texting and teletext purposes. The simplest explanation is that it's MIDI for graphics: It's not so much a graphical format as a set of instructions that tells the Prodigy service what to draw on the screen and where. If you ever used Logo, you have some idea of what artist Mark Zweigler could and couldn't do. For the most part the system allows only short lines, occasional circles, fills, dithering, and cross-hatching. And it has to send every one of those instructions, one at a time. You can see how much work went into just this one picture when viewed in that light.
An intriguing consequence of the way NAPLPS sends data is that it arrives in little chunks, meaning that on the original Prodigy interface you'd actually be able to see the picture draw itself over the course of a few seconds, filling in the details along the way. It was a fascinating and wonderful little thing that is, regrettably, lost forever: MadMaze-II uses static images of the final product, and there's no way I know of to replicate the old effect. Just remember how the art style works, and I think you'll be more impressed with some of the imagery in this game than you might think you'd be.
One day, as the planting season comes to an end, Wellan, the Village Elder, summons you for an audience. You know him to be responsible, kindly, and thoughtful: he rules the village not by force, but because others defer to his wisdom.
Fun fact: That is not a typo for "perilous." "Parlous" is a word meaning dangerous and uncertain. This game has a Jack Vance sort of appreciation for strange and archaic language, and yes it will factor into puzzles. And that may not be the last we namedrop Jack Vance in this LP, either.
"He Whose Name -- but that's a story told to frighten children!" you exclaim.
A brief note, here: Though the game refers to the player-character in the second person, he has somewhat of a personality of his own and will say or do things he hasn't actually been instructed to do. Even so, he's basically a cipher; we'll never see what he looks like or learn his name (more or less). I think it's implied the player is male, but honestly it makes no difference so you can pretty much assume anything you like about them.
Wellan sighs, and fixes his gaze on you. "The monsters who slaughter our cattle are no children's story, nor the blood that oozes from the village wall, nor the sudden encroachment of the MadMaze on our lands. And, my rash young friend, you will come to fear the Mad One, whose name you must never speak. Your parents, alas, spoke truly. He Whose Name Is Not Spoken is an immortal. Yet he is unlike the others who made our world: for he is born not of the fires of creation, but of primal chaos. Like others of his kind, he has many avatars: he is Trickster, master of good and evil; and also Chaos, bringer of death and destruction. He is hated and feared. Those who worship him do so to propitiate him, not out of love."
"Know, then, that where the MadMaze now stands once flourished a mighty kingdom. The Mad One sundered it with the stuff of Chaos, and planted the evil seed which grew into the MadMaze. The Maze is an imperfect reflection of the Mad One's fevered consciousness. Inside impenetrable walls of mist are eldritch lands, inhabited by minions of Chaos, fantastic creatures, and those few strong in magic. The Maze is a realm of shifting shapes and madness. Nothing can be taken for granted there; the laws of nature do not always hold. It is an intrustion of the primal Chaos into our own ordered world."
The hairs on the nape of your neck stand on end. (Good Lord! Wellan's terrified!) Wellan's terror is far more frightening than even the thought of your worst childhood nightmares come true.
Fortunately, all of that's in the MadMaze, and we're safely outside of-
"Pay attention to me!" Wellan snaps. You jerk to attention, and see the fire in his eyes. This is the Wellan you know.
"I beg your pardon, sir," you reply, "I was thinking... is there anything I can do to help?"
Pay mind to some of this backstory. It'll be quite a while before some of this is mentioned again, but it does in fact prove necessary for a few things.
"I have had my eyes on you for many years," says the Elder. "You are quick-witted, trustworthy, strong, and, I trust, brave. If there is anyone suited to be a Runner, I know not who it may be. Time grows short! We need you to carry a message to the Wizard Moraziel, who lives in the very heart of the Maze, where he holds the Mad One at bay with his own fell powers. Will you do the deed? Will you brave the Madmaze to save everything you hold dear?"
You reply, "It is my duty."
...it's happening, but maybe we don't have to be so confident about it!
One might think a dagger, an envelope, and some camping supplies leaves one slightly underprepared to delve into an eldritch maze spawned from the mind of an insane god. But of course not.
You're entirely unprepared. Hopefully Wellan was right about that "quick-witted" part.
Before we begin in earnest, the title screen provides a few options. Diving into the maze outright is entirely possible, but doing so will actually skip over the introduction to the game (which has already been shown) that explains who you are and what you're doing. Reading the rules is also handy for figuring out how to play, although things are intuitive enough.
As this page helpfully explains, most of the maze gameplay takes place in a pseudo-3D perspective. Select "AHEAD" and you'll move in the direction you were already going. The next page provides an absolutely critical tip for movement: the perspective of the maze is not fixed to a cardinal direction. If you're facing north and turn "RIGHT," you'll now be facing east. A simple t-junction can appear three different ways, depending on which direction you're approaching from. This makes it very easy to get lost without a map and a good memory for which direction you're facing.
And no, there isn't any sort of automap. The good news is, I've already mapped everything, so I'll spare you the intricate details of each individual maze other than a basic overview.
Places of Power are the interactive and story segments of the game, and are where all the puzzles and perils lie. You're actually completely safe from everything but boredom in the MadMaze itself. Places of Power basically take up a square of the maze grid, and there's no real warning that you've found one; travel in the direction of the PoP, and it will be sprung upon you unceremoniously. More on how PoPs operate and how they can be navigated once we get to one.
The rules also helpfully point out that the color of each maze changes as you pass through the Places of Power. This is not entirely accurate; each maze is a grid, usually (but not always) perfectly square. Every part of the maze has the same color walls and the same sky. Some PoPs are merely in the middle of a single maze and deposit you in a similar-looking area, while others will send you to a new maze with new coloration entirely. There's only a handful of colors, but they repeat frequently, so the colors are mostly a good indicator of roughly where you are in case you get lost.
The game includes a password system of sorts, in addition to a single save file. The password, known as "The Cipher," can be accessed from the title screen. You basically select lines of a poem and, if it's a valid combination, are taken to the area that taught you that particular spell. Screw up and the game dumps you into the introduction story instead. The Cipher is less useful than the save file for various reasons, all of which I'll get into later. In general it's just better to save either at the start of a maze or right in front of a Place of Power; that way you can orient yourself from a fixed location if you need to reload, or get right back into a PoP if you die.
The game is divided into three "levels." The levels are distinguished not by length, but by narrative and thematic constraints. In fact, the first "level" of the maze has less maze territory and half the PoPs of the second, which itself has about half the PoPs of the third (and much, much smaller mazes). The complexity of the mazes, and the game on the whole, increases dramatically with each level. It may appear easy at first, but don't underestimate it!
But before we can reach these more complex levels, we must actually tackle the first. A callow peasant youth, sent into the very domain of Chaos itself on a seemingly impossible quest... what could possibly go wrong?
To be blunt, approximately everything. The game isn't called GentleMaze.