Madness and the Minotaur (1981)   8 comments

King Minos, one of the sons of Zeus and also the King of Crete, has erected a huge labyrinthine castle with the intention of using it as a prison. In the past, anyone confined to the Labyrinth could never escape and was either killed or went mad while trying to escape.

From Mobygames.

Spectral Associates was founded in Tacoma, Washington by Tom Rosenbaum after his brother, Roger, got him interested in the TRS-80 Color Computer. Madness and the Minotaur was one of their first products. According to John Gabbard, an early employee:

Tom loved to play adventure games but was disappointed in the computer adventure games that were out there because they had no re-play ability. Once you solved them, playing again was exactly the same. Tom also liked board games like Civilization, and decided that a computer game with the randomness and unpredictability of games like this would be something he would enjoy playing over and over.

As you might induce from the description, this is another in the genre I’m calling adventure-roguelike (see also: Mines, Lugi, Kaves of Karkhan) where randomness is applied to the adventure game format in order to change, rooms, objects, or both. It’s also one of the most infamous examples, both for being one of most well-known games in Color Computer circles, but also being ludicrously hard. There is a walkthrough which the author admits “I certainly can’t imagine figuring out all the secrets without having seen the code” but I’ll be trying my best without looking at code; we’ll see how far I get?

Rumor has it that there are treasures hidden in the vicinity of the Labyrinth. Are these treasures worth risking life or sanity? If your answer to this question is negative or you are plagued with skepticism, it is suggested that you re-evaluate your priorities and establish some healthy materialism.

King Minos has taken many precautions to prevent you from escaping from the maze with his treasures. Word has it that one of the obstacles encountered inside the maze will be the Minotaur, a man with the head of a bull, who has an insatiable taste for human flesh. King Minos feeds fourteen fresh Athenians to the Minotaur a year. The Minotaur would like nothing better than a fifteenth for dessert.

At least on my first run, not very far. Here is my entire first attempt, not even checking the manual (except for the premise, listed above: grab the treasures, and presumably, fight the minotaur).

WELCOME TO THE LABYRINTH!!
BEWARE OF THE MINOTAUR AND GOOD LUCK.

YOU ARE IN A NARROW HALL WAY WITH A TABLE AND CHAIR. A DOORWAY TO THE SOUTH WINDS INTO A CHAMBER. THERE IS A NARROW PASSAGE WAY TO THE WEST. A SUNKEN TRAIL LEADS EAST. A SMALL OPENING WINDS OUT OF SIGHT TO THE NORTH. THERE IS A HOLE IN THE CEILING.

U

YOU ARE NEAR A GREAT FOREST. A STAIR WAY LEADS DOWN. A MAGIC SPELL HAS PUSHED YOU BACK OUT OF THIS ROOM.

E

YOU ARE IN A PASSAGE WAY WITH A GREAT PAINTING ON THE NORTH WALL. A TWISTING TRAIL LEADS WEST. THERE IS A NARROW PASSAGE WAY TO THE EAST. A MYSTERIOUS FOG BEGINS RISING FROM THE FLOOR!

IT’S POISONOUS!!
THE POISON FOG HAS KILLED YOU!
YOU PUT UP A GOOD FIGHT, BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME.
YOU HAVE SCORED 0 POINTS OUT OF A TOTAL OF 240 POINTS.
PHYS COND = 251

Dead in two moves, good start! Technically, two and a half, because I believe the last part involved a real-time element — if I had typed fast enough to run away I think I would have evaded the poison?

The map is consistent, with four floors, each laid out in an 8 by 8 pattern. From the manual I gather objects are laid out at random. (My second try at starting the game has an identical first room except there’s also a lamp.) There are multiple spell words but they have to be learned before they can be used and they aren’t mapped to their effects consistently.

The spells are named: VETAR, CROM, MITRA, AKHIROM, OKKAN, ISHTAR, BELROG, and NERGAL. The spells will provide you with the following strengths and magical abilities:

* Open blocked passages.
* Restore a lamp to you.
* Cure a scorpion bite.
* Find treasures.
* Kill the monsters.
* Dispel fog.
* Guarantee that a jump is successful.
* Protect you from evil spirits.

The manual also mention there’s an Oracle wandering around that you can talk to

To converse with the Oracle, you can [ASK ORACLE].

which allegedly helps with working out the effects of the various spells, but I also remember reading that sometimes the Oracle can lie.

The manual also mentions a Sprite which moves objects around at random; I’m gathering it is meant to make things harder but maybe it is also meant to help solve situations where an object is stuck? I get the feeling it may be possible to simply have an “impossible spawn” (akin to The 6 Keys of Tangrin) so may be best not to assume that every playthrough is winnable.

Speaking of 6 Keys, this also features continuously draining energy. (“If your physical condition is deteriorating, you may need to rest or have a snack. You’ll feel better after some rejuvenation. You can also build your physical strength by walking through an enchanted aura.”)

I’ve also heard that, uniquely among the adventure-roguelikes I’ve seen so far, this game randomizes the puzzles. I’m honestly not quite sure what that means, as I don’t want to spoil things yet.

Everything combined together means that of all the games on the 1981 list (with the exception of Hezarin which I took down early) this one has terrified me the most from afar. I’ve finally arrived.

Posted July 5, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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8 responses to “Madness and the Minotaur (1981)

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  1. The randomization is very interesting, especially randomizing the puzzles.

    One of the earliest examples I know of puzzles being randomized was in Rabert Clardy’s excellent Wilderness Campaign and it’s successor, Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure. In these games, the locations of hazards we randomized and often multiple solutions existed for the same puzzle. Fit example, a lockpick or a crowbar might get you past a locked door.

    • Kaves of Karkhan had multiple solutions where you might not have brought a particular person along, but the people at the start are entirely chosen by the player.

  2. At first I read that as “poison frog.”

  3. This game is sure more impressive to an adult, fully disassembled and commented, than it was to a kid, baffled and frustrated. I’ll never forget it, but I can’t say that the memories are good ones.

  4. I don’t immediately recognize VETAR, AKHIROM, and OKKAN, but MITRA, ISHTAR, NERGAL, and CROM at least are all names of gods. I wonder if BELROG is inspired by our old Legendarium friend the Balrog.

    • All of these except Vetar and Belrog appear to be names in the Conanverse.

      • Given “Belrog” sounds like “Balrog” it might be that “Vetar” is meant to be a tweaked version of “Eru Ilúvatar”, the “Creator” deity of Middle-Earth.

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