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Video Game / Maze War

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Maze War is the Ur-Example of the First-Person Shooter, written by Steve Colley and Howard Palmer on Imlac PDS-1 minicomputers at NASA's Ames Research Center in 1973. It is a Faux First Person 3D, network-based Player Versus Player, realtime FPS. Each player controls a Faceless Eye, wandering around the maze shooting the other players or computer-controlled robots. They also have an overhead view of the maze, showing their location, but not the other players. Players and robots alike could Take Cover! and peek around corners without getting shot. Players scored points for kills. If they were shot, they were deducted some points and transported to a random location in the maze.

Responsible for a lot of wasted time at Ames, where engineers were supposed to be designing the Space Shuttle. Ames alumnus Greg Thompson took it to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1974, where the robots and a maze editor were added. Later ported to the Xerox Alto workstation, Apple Macintosh, NeXT, and Palm Pilot.

Maze War provides examples of:

  • Faceless Eye: In later editions, The player controls a single disembodied eye moving about the maze. Obviously you can't tell when playing alone, but when you see other players, they're represented by the floating eye.
  • Faux First Person 3D: The game use lines against a blank background to simulate 3D images of walls, corridors, and turns to make the player think they're looking at a maze from a wanderers perspective. This is all done without a single polygon more than a decade before Super Mario Bros. came out.
  • First-Person Shooter: Your one functionality besides moving was the ability to shoot enemies, whether they be other players or NPC robots. Like later entries in the genre, the game uses Hitscan, awards and deducts points according to your kills and deaths, and even has a primitive system for taking cover.
  • Hitscan: While there is a graphic for the bullet you fire, the game registers a hit if your target is in the direction you're facing automatically. The bullet has no hitbox and is just there for show.
  • Instant 180-Degree Turn: Players can turn either 90 or 180 degrees at a time.
  • Kill Screen: Caused many headaches at Ames and MIT, where gamers would leave crashed computers behind for the folks working on Serious Business to deal with.
  • Level Editor: The guys at MIT added an editor where players could create their own mazes to play in. May be the Ur-Example.
  • Mercy Invincibility: You get a couple of seconds after being gunned down where you can't be shot again, presumably to keep an experienced player from totally overwhelming someone not as familiar with the layout.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: There's nothing like a story here. Why are you a floating eyeball holding a gun in a maze? You exist to help engineers pass the time, that's all.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: All it takes is a single bullet to kill you. You won't see regenerating health known from Halo or Call of Duty or even health bars you'd see in Doom and its many imitators.
  • Player Versus Player: Originally just this. The robots added a Player vs. environment element.
  • Roaming Enemy: The robots aren't stationary, they actually wander the maze and hunt you down. They function the same as a human player and have the same abilities (shooting and ducking behind cover, mainly).
  • Scoring Points: The more times you shoot your opponent(s), the more points you get. If you get hit yourself, you lose points.
  • Take Cover!: Probably the Ur-Example. Decades before Gears of War and every other shooter on the Xbox 360, this game allowed players to peek out of corners to see what's coming after you. Unlike later games using this trope, you can't shoot even blindly while in cover.
  • Vector Game: One of the first games to use vector graphics to simulate a three-dimensional layout.