Thursday, 27 December 2018

Missed Classic 64: Labyrinth (1980) - Introduction

by Will Moczarski

A belated ho ho ho to you all! It‘s time to resume my Med Systems Software marathon that already brought us the goodness that was Deathmaze 5000. We‘re still in territory uncharted by Moby Games (their Med Systems list starts with The Institute which is two adventure games away) and still in the early days of the company. According to the copyright stamp on a manual I found online, Labyrinth seems to have come out in 1980 as the second game of the so-called Continuum Series. Like its predecessor it was written by Frank Corr, jr. and William F. Denman, jr. Labyrinth uses almost the same graphics as Deathmaze 5000 and the premise is very similar, too. We‘ll see if this is just more of the same or if Labyrinth is a genuinely different game.

One thing I‘d neglected to mention in my post about Deathmaze 5000 is the improbable popularity of the Continuum games in TRS-nostalgic circles. They even got namechecked in Mark J.P. Wolf‘s seminal video game history The Video Game Explosion, stressing their importance as predecessors of 3-D games such as first-person shooters (I‘ll get back to that when talking about Phantom Slayer in another post which is the company‘s sort-of proto-FPS). I hadn‘t had any knowledge of this before doing the research for Labyrinth so I was in for quite a surprise. Some users in the comments section of the website seem to be crazy about Deathmaze 5000, as is reflected in some of these quotes: ″Awesome! I looooved that game on the Apple″, ″Absolutely loved them [the Continuum games]!″, ″I loved this game.″ and so on. Most of the other commenters admit that they got stuck in the calculator room or at the very end, confirming my impression that those puzzles were really unfair. Labyrinth doesn‘t seem to be quite as popular, not having provoked one single comment. I have refrained from reading the main article as it may contain spoilers but looking at (or rather for) the comments section I inadvertently read the final paragraph: ″In my opinion, Labyrinth is an excellent follow-up to Deathmaze 5000. It is a more challenging adventure, with more logical puzzles, and one of the best examples of a TRS-80 adventure game.″ More challenging? Really? I‘m sure I‘ll be in for a bumpy ride now…

No, not that Labyrinth, although it‘s definitely
another missed classic (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

The premise of the two games is as similar as their graphics. Labyrinth was also marketed as a ″full scale 3-D adventure″ and the rules are roughly the same – you need to find torches and food every once in a while and the parser has not changed either. Once again, there are objects in boxes found throughout the labyrinth and according to the in-game manual ″pits are not always deadly″ so they appear to serve as links between the different levels of the labyrinth just like they did in the deathmaze. Jack Goblin, the author of a 2013 article about the 3-D maze adventures by Med Systems over at Wikinut, describes Labyrinth as ″both more classical and more unorthodox. You were in the Minotaur’s famous maze and had to kill it before it killed you. However, time, space, and dimensions didn’t always follow conventional rules and you had to stay on your toes, figuratively speaking, to figure out where you were at any given time.″

So what‘s new, exactly? Well, for starters: ″There is a fog and a magic darkness in certain areas of the maze.″ Oh right, that‘s probably what Jack Goblin is referring to, and I just know that is going to be a major pain! Also, the goal is sort of reversed. Instead of escaping from the deathmaze, I have to enter the multi-level labyrinth and find a minotaur in order to kill it. Minotaur, huh. Deathmaze 5000 made a point of not telling me the name of the monster and then expecting me to guess it at the last second of the game – it was Grendel and I‘d never have come up with that if I hadn‘t stumble across the game‘s supposed connection to Beowulf during my prior research. At least Labyrinth doesn‘t seem to play guess-the-monster with me, and a minotaur actually belongs in a Labyrinth, too. According to ancient Minoan mythology, the famous labyrinth of Knossos on the Isle of Crete was designed by Daedalus and his son Icarus (the one who‘d fly a tad too close to the sun later). The money man behind the building was King Minos, explaining the monster‘s name, Minotauros – or Minos‘s bull. The Minotaur was located at the center of the labyrinth and there is a whole heroic tale about a young man named Theseus who eventually did away with the beast – a deed that became a staple of ancient Greek art and was retold and referenced in several different ways by lots of ancient writers of Greece and the Roman Empire (Catull, Ovid, Plutarch to name just a few).

So that‘s the context of Labyrinth, apparently: Another mythical opponent, another hide-and-seek game in the vain of Hunt the Wumpus. And Labyrinth appears to be a little bigger than Deathmaze 5000, sporting 550 locations. I assume that this means there will be five levels made up of 11 by 10 locations, maybe, instead of the 10 by 10 levels of the deathmaze. I will have to challenge the warning contained in the manual: ″Be patient. You will not solve Labyrinth during the first week. Or the first month. Make maps. And above all, BE CAREFUL!″ You better watch me solve it in under a month...hopefully.

Yes, THAT Labyrinth. Cover page of the manual I found online.
(What‘s not online these days? Correct answer: nothing.)

Entering the Labyrinth

Modern (Awkward) Theseus Diary #1: Who wants to slay a minotaur? I‘m not sure what I‘ve signed up for this time but it seems that it‘s fairly straightforward: enter the maze, kill the bad guy. What has the minotaur ever done, you ask? Well, it guards the labyrinth, for starters. And...yeah, you‘re right but it‘s the rules of the game! What game? The labyrinth game. Everybody knows that...right?

Ah, feels like home. Sort of. To the masochist.

When I enter the titular labyrinth, a familiar feeling sweeps over me. The game looks exactly like Deathmaze 5000, they don‘t seem to have altered anything at all concerning the interface (easiest PISSED rating ever!). I decide to start mapping right away and explore as much as possible before tackling any puzzles I may come across, least they‘d be hindering my progress to the other levels. It‘s already after a few steps that I discover that Labyrinth is indeed more challenging in a multitude of ways. Firstly, the fog: If you take a wrong turn, you have to start over because ″the fog is too thick to see″. There appears to be no way out of the fog (or through it, for that matter) and there is no way of knowing where there may be fog. A corridor that looks perfectly normal suddenly turns into a grey nightmare of being stuck – maybe I will find an item to deal with this later but so far this is a major obstacle. Secondly, there are pits that drop me in a closed-off environment I cannot get back from. I find a sword in one of them but without a way out it‘s of no use to me. Maybe this is the final location and I have to lure the minotaur there at some point? However, places like this one pose another challenge as they also make me start over at the beginning, effectively dead-ending me. Thirdly, and most annoyingly by far, after a while my map doesn‘t make sense anymore. At first I think that this is due to me being unfocussed as the twisty little passages all start to look alike after a while but as my second and third attempt to map a section southeast of my starting position are also doomed to fail, I realize – and verify it by way of item-dropping – that I‘m in for some Wizardry-style goodness: there are teleporters in the labyrinth, sending me off to who-knows-where without any word of warning. Had I not played Deathmaze 5000 previously, I would probably not make the assumption that the second labyrinth will be built in a similar way, but having completed the previous game (and Rat‘s Revenge, for what it‘s worth) I can come up with a hypothesis about the extent of each level (I try 11 by 10) and that seems to indicate that the first teleporter is located in one of the corners, southeast from where I start the game looking north. Other things I discover include a trap of moving walls that kill me right away, Star Wars style – just like in Deathmaze 5000. I stumble across a book with the word PTOOII in it. Saying it out loud takes me to the aforementioned closed-off area with the sword, xyzzy style. Another encounter that feels like an Adventure reference is an ″ugly little man″ who utters his displeasure with me by attacking me right away. So far it seems that there won‘t be too many new stories to tell about the labyrinth after having blogged through Deathmaze 5000, thus I assume that my playing time will greatly surpass the number of posts compared to the average factor established by other games. In other words: This will most likely be a two-post affair although I‘ve already spent 1.5 hours getting nowhere fast. At least I‘m not stuck in any way and will just keep on mapping for now, but the labyrinth is a huge and unforgiving place – king Minos would be so proud.

THIS is my opponent? You serious?
(Screenshot from Wikipedia)

Session time: 1.5 hours
Total time: 1.5 hours


  1. Oh man. 40. This game was fantastic one of my first.

  2. Wow, it’s really nice to have someone back up the good reputation these games had back in the days! I hope you‘ll enjoy the playthrough, Brad!

  3. Assuming it's better than it's predecessor, I'll go with 20.

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