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Video Game: Mad Maze

MadMaze was an online video game playable through the now-defunct Prodigy service. It was designed by Eric Goldberg and developed by Greg Costikyan in 1989, and was the first online game to draw over a million players. The game disappeared in 1999 with the death of the Prodigy service, but has since been rehosted by fans of the game, with permission from the service and the game's creator.

The player takes on the role of a boy hailing from the Village of Weith. Wellan, the Village Elder, explains to you that The Mad One, an insane deity born of primal chaos, has awakened, and is slowly reclaiming the world, transforming the land it controls into a sprawling and hazardous maze. Now, the MadMaze approaches Weith, and threatens to engulf the village. The boy is tasked by Wellan to travel to the center of the MadMaze and recruit the help of a wizard named Moraziel on the pretext that only with his help can the Mad One be defeated.

The Mad Maze is divided into three "levels" that themselves are divided into "sections".note  The gameplay is comprised of two elements - exploration, and interactive scenarios (A.K.A. Places of Power).

The maze itself is composed of straight, homogenous corridors and right-angle turns. Each section can be easily mapped out on a sheet of graph paper, and beyond the first level, this becomes necessary. You must navigate the sprawling labyrinth in a first-person perspective and locate Places of Power.

At Places of Power, you encounter people, animals, places and/or objects. PoPs are mostly text-based, in contrast to the graphical interface of the mazes. You are presented with a series of choices, usually in the context of a conversation. Correct choices will grant you access to the next section, and the best choices will reward you with some valuable information for future PoPs. However, bad choices will result in your untimely death. These text-based scenarios are the heart of the game; the mazes in between can mostly be considered Filler.

At any time outside of a PoP, you can save your game, though you only have one save file available. There is also a password system, but as it was dropped entirely from the second level onward, you can only use it to warp to two PoPs in the first level.

The game can be found here, but it requires Internet Explorer to play.

Discussion of the game can be found here.

This game provides examples of:

  • All Deserts Have Cacti: You run into a fair amount of PoPs with cacti in the second level, despite it taking place in the general area of the Middle East and Northern Africa.
  • All Trolls Are Different: In this game, they are huge, green, and stupid. You encounter one guarding a well very early on.
  • All Up To You
  • And I Must Scream: King Carlon's fate, before you free him.
  • Androcles' Lion: Subverted with The Lyon, of course. If you help him with the thorn in his paw when he asks, he'll attack you anyway.
  • Arc Words: The rallying cry of the Atarri - "The dawn shall wash the sands in red."
  • Attack Its Weak Point: The only way to defeat Ogrok.
  • Ax-Crazy: From Castle Perilous onward, nearly everybody and everything you meet comes with the option to kill it. If you so desire, you can hack-and-slash your way through the maze, though by failing to collect any information, it's unlikely you'll get very far.
  • Big Bad: The Mad One
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The Insectidae of the third level.
  • Big Good: Moraziel
    • To a MUCH greater extent, the goddess known as The Lady.
  • Bigger on the Inside: While the various forests you encounter in the first level can seem to exceed the dimensions set by the surrounding walls, it's nothing compared to the entire deserts you come across in the second level, or the futuristic cities in the third level.
  • But Thou Must: Upon completing the first level, King Carlon will grant you possession of the Sword Valterre. If you refuse out of humility, Carlon will give it to you anyway, while explaining how deserving you are of it.
  • Cool Horse
  • Cool Sword: Valterre.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The Insect Mother killed one of her husbands "by implanting eggs in his body, so that the hatching larvae would feed on his living flesh. That was a most amusing death."
  • Deal with the Devil: This turns out to be the real reason your village elder sent you on this quest in the first place.
  • Dialogue Tree
  • Dirty Coward: Moraziel.
  • Distressed Damsel: Persephone.
  • The Dragon: The Mad One's Archpriest.
  • Elemental Powers: For the third level, you gain the power to control the nine elements - fire, earth, air, water, lightning, cold, spirit, mind, and time.
  • Everybody Hates Mathematics: The final trial guarding the exit to the second level is the dreaded Al-Gibra.
  • Exposition Break: Usually provided by the local sage living in each level, though you'll need to talk to other NPCs to get a more complete picture.
  • Face-Heel Turn: The fate that awaits you in the bad ending.
  • Failure Knight: The hermit in the first level is indicated to be one.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Once you actually find Moraziel, he turns out to be next to no help whatsoever.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink
  • Featureless Protagonist: You are referred to as being young and male, but otherwise are never shown on-screen.
  • Flat World: In the third maze, you can find yourself standing at The Edge Of The World. It's not entirely certain if your world actually is flat, or if it's just the result of the MadMaze's blatant disregard for the laws of physics.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: In the library, you're told you need a library card before you can learn any information on Moraziel (and the information the library has on Moraziel will turn out to be essential for your survival) and that you can get one from an Obstructive Bureaucrat in another PoP. But once you meet the bureaucrat, thanks to a faulty Dialogue Tree, there's nothing you can do or say to get the correct library card. The librarian will quiz you on both the first and last name that's supposed to be on your card. It's only by trial and error cheating that you can learn that the name on your card is supposed to be Elias Throckmorton and get the information on Moraziel you need.
  • Game Level: The maze sections are, for the most part, arranged linearly, but there are a few instances where the maze splits into multiple routes. The first instance of a split occurs past the Endless Desert Sands in the second level, when you are given a choice between heading toward the Twisted Temple or the River of Flame.
  • Have a Nice Death: For those obsessive-compulsive enough, it becomes a Self-Imposed Challenge to find every possible way you can die.
  • I Know Your True Name: The Dragon of Ice reveals that any being who knows the true name of a dragon has power over it. The Dragon of Ice himself wishes to take advantage of this fact, but the only clues he has to go on are a paltry seven given to him by a wizard. Rather than figure out the clues himself, the Dragon forces you to decipher the clues for him. The Dragon is ultimately Hoist By His Own Petard when the clues allow you to deduce his real name.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Crone Matilda. Every time you encounter her, she tries to prepare you for dinner. Unfortunately, she always has some piece of information you need, so avoiding interaction with her isn't the best course.
  • Insect Gender Bender: Averted with the Insectidae. Males exist solely to become the queen's primary mating sources and, after 100 years of matrimony, be killed in some gruesome fashion for her amusement.
  • Jackass Genie: You come across a lamp that contains a spiteful genie. If you rub the lamp, he doesn't even bother with granting you wishes, and instead forces you to participate in a mandatory Pop Quiz testing your knowledge of minor characters in the story so far. If you guess wrong, you die.
  • Leap of Faith: Subverted with The Guru Mattu. If you jump when indicated, you will fall to your death.
  • The Load: Iggy the Wizard, whom you are imprisoned with at one point. He reveals an exit to you, but beyond that either provides no help in the puzzles to come, or suggests the wrong answers.
    • He usually does manage to give good advice most of the time he gives advice. It's just that most of the time, he doesn't offer a suggestion and he can Never Live It Down the one time he gives bad advice on which fruits to pick. If you consult Iggy in the final round of your final battle with the Archpriest he will inadvertantly give you the clue to winning.
  • Lost Forever: Technically averted. The game does not keep track of your inventory or information you come across as you move from Place Of Power to Place Of Power. To use an item, you have to prove you own it by describing some of its features. This means that you can get through any situation simply by saving beforehand and brute-forcing the solution if necessary.

    That said, if you are opposed to guessing answers or using walkthroughs, it is incredibly easy to permanently lose access to important information. PoPs can be repeated indefinitely (as explained in the Shall I Repeat That? entry), but once you pass through them to the maze beyond, the exit is immediately walled off behind you. With some exceptions, you won't be able to reach that PoP (or preceding PoPs) ever again.

    Thankfully, the third level, which is harder in many respects to the first two levels, is lenient in this regard, as most PoPs can be revisited.
  • Mad God: The Big Bad of the game, referred to as The Mad One, or He Whose Name Is Not Spoken.
  • The Maze: It's called MadMaze for a reason.
    • Mobile Maze: "A wall is closing in behind you!" This happens whenever you leave a Place Of Power, besides the way you came in.
  • Multiple Endings: In the final Place of Power, there are two options that both explicitly end with "The End". In the good ending, you defeat the Archpriest and you and your 2 companions are rewarded by The Lady. In the bad ending, you live but are forced to become the Mad One's minion, spending the rest of your life committing atrocities, with the knowledge that your home village is spared being your only consolation.
  • Nintendo Hard:
    • The first level is of easy-medium difficulty.
    • The second level considerably trickier, as it's easy to miss important passwords or information. If you're not consulting a walkthrough, and you miss anything, you're out of luck. The mazes are also nearly twice the size of the first level's.
    • In the third level, the sections are about 1.6 times the size of the second level, and the PoPs feature logic puzzles of a level of such complexity that you'll require the kind of chart you find in a puzzle magazine (e.g. this). Fortunately, before you pass through the Lair of the Insect Mother, you can return to any section in the level, thanks to the transportation service offered by the Floating City.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: All are able to speak, and are fond of posing complex riddles.
  • The Password Is Always Swordfish: You can open the magically locked door in the tower of Castle Perilous just by saying "Open Sesame".
  • Petting Zoo People: The third level is home to various sapient races, including dinosaurs, jungle cats, and giant bugs.
  • Point of No Return: The third level, which stops dividing the maze into discrete sections, has two of the Cruel variety.
    • Once you enter the Insect Mother's lair, you'll be trapped in a small sub-section, with the only exit being the Pyramid of the Insectidae. If you haven't yet gathered all the information to pass the traps, and save here... well, prepare to die. A lot.
    • Another occurs when you enter the final section of the maze.
  • Pop Quiz
    • One is provided by a Jackass Genie.
    • At a chasm with a rickety bridge, a booming voice gives you a minor quiz, subverting the trope along the way:
      • What your quest is.
      • What your name is (anything besides a blank form will do).
      • What the finest wine in the world is - this is information you do not encounter earlier on, and an incorrect answer will result in death. However, if you get it right, you learn what the finest wine is in the process.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Gonzaga the Black Knight is actually a pretty okay guy. He just happens to be serving Timozel the Usurper.
  • Schmuck Bait: Some of the choices you can make are decidedly unheroic and/or foolish.
    • Dare the troll guarding the well to arm-wrestle you.
    • Stride right on up to the front gate of Castle Perilous and announce how you'll topple the evil regime single-handedly. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?!
    • Climb to the highest peak of the Taralen Mountains, and leap to your death.
    • Swim through the River of Flame. Or better yet, drink from the River of Flame.
    It is not a pretty death. At last, you stop twitching.
    • Tell the booming voice at the chasm that your quest is to find a nice ranch-style colonial near good schools.
    • Go to the Plain of Ferit, and summon a roc.
    Are you SURE?
    — Yes
    — No
    • Press a VOLCANO GOD for information and, when he angrily tells you to leave, push your luck.
    • Provoke the wrath of the Wizard Wicksmear, and you'll be given the choice to either "flee", or "stay and die." Unfortunately, picking the latter does not reward you with a funny message... or any message at all, really. It just ends the game.
      • Something similar happens in Level 2 if you refuse to help Crone Matilda. You're given the choice to either "reconsider" or "die". Same result too.
      • Happens one more time at the start of the final PoP, in the Seat of Madness where you're given the choice to either "Use Talisman" or "Wait". If you choose Wait you'll get a subtle hint that waiting isn't such a good idea, then another option of "Use Talisman" or "Wait". If you Wait again you'll get a less subtle hint that waiting's the wrong decision, followed by the chocie, "Use Talisman" or "Die".
  • Schrödinger's Gun: The game does not track your inventory, so you can use items that you never collected, so long as you know the magic words associated with it and can describe its distinguishing features.
  • Second-Person Narration
  • Secret Ingredient: Before Portal introduced us to rhubarb cake with extra rhubarb, MadMaze gave us chocolate cake with grated radish.
  • Shall I Repeat That?: Exaggerated. Most PoPs can be repeated indefinitely by exiting the way you came and going back in. Also, within a given PoP, you can repeat actions that should not be repeatable, such as killing stuff.
    • A rather sadistic example of this occurs after the shaman sends you off to the series of mazes leading to the River of Flame. When you finally return to the shaman, you are given the choice to Go North, or Go East (Towards Temple). If you accidentally select the former option, you must run the series of mazes to the River of Flame all over again.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Friendly Achmed's Caravan of Fabulous Goods at Low, Low Prices. In a subversion, the only item you need to progress (or rather, the password necessary to activate it) is legitimate.
  • Talking Animal: The Questing Beast, the Sabertooth Tiger, the Lyon, several Dragons, among others.
  • Talk to Everyone: If you want to complete the game without a guide, you must seek out every NPC hiding in the maze, solve every problem, and accept every quest.
  • Terms of Endangerment: The Crone Matilda is awfully fond of these.
  • Unwinnable by Design: Of the Tough to Nasty variety. There are a few choices you can make which will leave you in situations where all you can do is choose how to die. After which, you'll have to load up your last save, and hope it wasn't too far back.
    • If you enter Ogrok's pit in Castle Perilous before you get the Sword Valterre, you'll be left only with the choice to die bravely or die screaming.
    • If you demand that the lyon tell you the necessary words to pass through the ruins of Al-Mugabi, he'll give them to you, but you won't survive long enough to use them.
    • If you see a lake in a desert, and decide to head towards it to restore your water supply, you will be doomed to die of heat stroke.
    • If you encounter the Vizier Aboud in the Garden of Earthly Delights, your fate as a troll slave is sealed.
    • In the Canyon Maze, if you climb down a cliff and remove your armor to lessen your weight, you'll have to choose between falling to your death and being eaten.
    • If you summon a roc on the plain of Ferit, take the Shmuck Bait that yes, you're sure you want to summon it, and wait for it to fully appear, then it won't matter whether you stand your ground or flee. Either way, you're roc food.
    • Encountering the Vizier Aboud in Osmet Kahn's palace is a partial example. You'll be given the option to fight or surrender. But if you surrender, you'll find your sword Valterre won't let you surrender, and you'll be forced to fight Aboud, whom you simply can't beat. Most of the time, however, Aboud will just banish you to the start of the PoP. But if you meet Aboud after fighting Hassan (and not just a sparring match, but an earnest "actively-trying-to-kill-each-other" fight), then this is played fully straight. If Hassan's still alive, Aboud helps him kill you. If you managed to kill Hassan and run into Aboud, he'll simply kill you himself.
    • If you try to attack the Dream Serpent with your sword while your eyes are closed, or try to flee with your eyes closed, your fate of death by snake bite is sealed.
    • If you sneak past the guard of the city Caeseransauris by using the talisman to disguise yourself as a lizardman and then try to meet the city's council of wizards using the same disguise, it won't work. The wizards will see right through your disguise and think you're an enemy spy. The game will then give you some options, but none of them matter. At that point, you're dead no matter what you do.
    • In the Seat of Madness, if you enter the Yellow area, you'll start feeling sick and be given a set of options, including Onward! If you choose Onward! you'll get sicker and get the same set of options, only this time they all have the same result: you die of plague.
    • In the final PoP, if you give the message to the Archpriest, your only options are to either get instantly killed by him or suffer the bad ending.
  • Unwinnable by Mistake: If you decide to play the game honestly and abstain from guessing or looking up the answers elsewhere, a single missed password will leave you unable to progress.
    • The most egregious example of this is when the maze forks into two paths past a desert. One path leads to the Twisted Temple, while the other leads to the River of Flame. If you choose to go to the Twisted Temple, you'll find a password-protected door to the next maze. A shaman living nearby will offer to give you the password in exchange for traveling to the River of Flame and bringing back some firewater. Taking him up on his offer takes you to the start of the series of mazes that will eventually let you reach the River of Flame. He also gives you a password to warp you back to his yurt once you've done so.

      Now, here's the thing: at the desert, if you choose to go to the River of Flame, you'll be taken to exactly the same place as if you'd taken up the shaman's offer. Except, if you haven't visited the shaman yet (and if this is your first time through, you haven't), then you have no idea that you're supposed to collect some firewater or return to his yurt with it. Even if you manage to collect some firewater, no one except for the Shaman himself gives you the necessary password to return to him. And there are no exits from the maze where you find the River of Flame, so you will be trapped unless you guess the password.

      So basically, save yourself the trouble, and take the Northeast path to the Temple every time. Otherwise, you'll take the longer path (the Temple path has 5 mazes, compared to the River's 6), and be forced to miss an entire section of the game.
    • See also the Game-Breaking Bug above.
  • The Very Definitely Final Dungeon: You'll know you're there when you reach the first section of maze that isn't outdoors.
  • Videogame Cruelty Potential
    • Once you have the Sword Valterre, you can try to kill most anyone you meet, even after they help you.
    • A particularly nasty opportunity comes up when you encounter a wizard with knowledge about a magic lamp. After he divulges the password to the lamp, you can thank him by setting his beard on fire and laughing at him. (Although it doesn't end too well for you.)
  • Violation of Common Sense: When you reach the Edge of the World for the second time, you can climb the cliffs to reach the next section. If you jump off, you get there much quicker. This despite the fact that the first time you find the Edge of the World, jumping off will result in you falling for eternity, and eventually dying of dehydration.
  • Weird Moon: The final sections of the maze.
  • What the Hell, Player?:
    • If you reach the River of Flame and, before collecting some firewater, chant the spell to transport yourself back to the shaman, prepare to get an earful.
    • When you encounter a large green dragon blocking your path, he'll force you to play a game with him. If you stall for time, eventually the dragon will lose his temper and tell you to just "shut up and play."
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: This is the pet peeve of the blacksmith in the first level.
  • Yet Another Stupid Death
    • In retrospect, trying to kill the tall, scary elf with a dagger so you can steal his magic sword probably wasn't a good idea.
    • Yeah! Let's charge right into the throne room and kill Timozel! Oh wait, his right-hand man just cast an instant-death spell on you. Never mind.
    • Argue with a green dragon that was about to eat you moments ago that the help he gave you for your quest wasn't very helpful.
      • Especially stupid because if you've done everything right up to this point, you should already know that the info he gave is actually helpful.
    • Forget to avert your gaze before interacting with the Dream Serpent.


The Lurking HorrorInteractive FictionA Mind Forever Voyaging
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alternative title(s): Mad Maze
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