The Game: The goal of the game is simple: race through a twisty maze and beat your opponent to the exit. Some game variations adds randomly moving “robbers” to the maze, in some cases as prey and in other cases as hunters to be avoided. (Atari, 1980)
Memories: A fairly recent transplant from Fairchild, programmer Rick Maurer’s first game for the Atari VCS was pretty familiar to anyone who had been playing games on the Fairchild Channel F: it was essentially a port of the Channel F’s Maze game on the Atari console. Like its forebear, Maze Craze is a marvelously compact piece of coding, packed into a mere 2K. Like so many early titles for the 2600, it’s a lot of fun with the right crowd.
The variations here completely change the game, mainly by changing the number and/or behavior of the “robbers.” One flag-capture-style variation forces you to touch each “robber” before you can clear the screen – even successfully reaching the other end of the maze won’t score a win unless you’ve caught every robber at least once. Other variations give the robbers marginally more aggressive behavior: they can stop “cops” in their tracks by touching them, and in one variation the affected “cop” can only start moving again very slowly, as if regaining strength. More than many VCS cartridges claiming to have dozens of different games on board, Maze Craze‘s variations do offer significantly different games.
Rick Maurer would stick around long enough to program one more game for the Atari VCS, and it too was a surprisingly tight bundle of code, though these days it’s considerably more well-known than Maze Craze. In fact, it was a game-changer (in the very literal sense) for Atari, boosting the VCS into the mainstream by giving the system its first “killer app.” And oddly enough, Maurer began work on the program before Atari had secured the license – in the days before everyone (especially Atari itself) was on the copyright infringement lawsuit rampage, it was a safe bet that Atari could change the name of the game so it didn’t require an expensive license. As it happened, Atari did license the title, and the VCS edition of Space Invaders changed everything.