The Game: As a round white creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, and apparently somehow tied to the Internal Revenue Service, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score. Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and, after spending some noncorporeal time floating around and contemplating taxation without representation, return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (H.A.L. Labs, 1981)
Memories: Alas, the folly of H.A.L. Labs and Taxman. Clearly a copy of Pac-Man – with only the names changed – this game was crippled by keyboard controls that were counterintuitive even back then. The sad thing is, given the graphics and sound limitations of the Apple II, the rest of the game was stellar, a near-perfect port of Pac-Man. As was often the case in the days before Silicon Valley went look-and-feel-lawsuit-happy, H.A.L. Labs “borrowed” the Pac-Man concept without even attempting to do so above-board. Perhaps it wasn’t surprising from an outfit that “borrowed” its company name from the fictional company that created the HAL-9000 computer in 2001: a space odyssey, but whoever coded Taxman at least deserves some kudos for a decent game.
Apparently Atari liked Taxman too. Atari had locked down the license for Pac-Man on all home computer systems and consoles, and was already in the process of suing Magnavox over K.C. Munchkin, Sierra over the original computer version of Jawbreaker, and so on. H.A.L. Labs didn’t escape Atari’s legal sweep, and wasn’t able to come out on top in court. As part of its settlement with Atari, H.A.L. surrendered the original code to Taxman to Atari. Curiously enough, when Atari’s Atarisoft imprint released an official Pac-Man for the Apple II not long afterward, the game that came out looked exactly like Taxman. Because it was Taxman – Atari simply changed the title screens and a few other details, and got a great port of Pac-Man for a very limited investment of coding time.
H.A.L. Labs, however, gave themselves a bonus life and returned after the settlement with a new game of its own; Taxman 2 retained the Pac-Man-inspired play mechanics, but set the game in different mazes.