I was initially going to review this game, but upon reflection there seemed to be very little point. The fact that you should get this game goes without saying. In fact, this game is a universally accepted classic. Is the game play good? Yes. Does it have replay value? Oodles – but this game is more than the sum of these typical attributes.. ..this game is something else, it arguably started an entire genre of video gaming.
Most would consider that ‘Resident Evil‘ created ‘survival horror‘ gaming, but it was way before the release of Capcom‘s seminal game that we were running from monsters.. ..’3D Monster Maze‘ was almost certainly when horror and gaming were first combined.
Moreover, it was one of the very first games to take place in three dimensions on any computer system. Now a common feature of contemporary games (there has even been somewhat of a 2D comeback in recent years, e.g. ‘Canabalt‘ and ‘Terraria‘), this was an amazing break through in the early ’80s.
I remember clearly the first time I ever played ‘3D Monster Maze‘.. ..how many old games can you say that about?
My anticipation was high as friends had already told me how good it was.. ..as I patiently waited for the fuzzy loading lines to end, I was hoping that it would live up to its reputation.. ..I needn’t have worried.. ..I had never seen anything like it before. It was different, it was, dare I say.. ..’professional‘.
‘3D Monster Maze‘ was initially released by ‘J K Greye‘ software for the Sinclair ZX81, with 16K ram expansion in 1982. It had been programmed in the previous year by Malcom Evans. Evans had been experimenting with 3D effects on Sinclair’s machine and Greye suggested making it into a game, including a monster.
It was later released, again in 1982, by Evans’s own start-up ‘New Generation Software‘, which become well known for 3D games (none of which ever eclipsed the splendour of ‘3D Monster Maze‘).
The game takes place in a randomly generated 16 x 18 cell maze (although when playing the game it seems much bigger), where a Tyrannosaurus Rex ‘lies in wait‘ for you (I mean come on.. ..3D and a T. Rex!.. ..what more could a young gamer want in the early 80’s?).
Once you start moving the hunt is on.. ..the closer you get to the monster, the more active he becomes.. ..until ‘you hear footsteps approaching‘ and ‘he has seen you‘. When you see the words ‘run he is beside/behind you‘, you almost jump out of your skin!.. ..all of this on a Sinclair ZX81! You can outrun the monster, but panic and the infamous lack of response from the keyboard usually meant you were ‘a gonner‘!
As shown below, there are only 10 frames of animation for the approaching dinosaur. A really neat aspect of the animation is that Malcome Evans made the dinosaur move at half of the speed of the player, which means there is essentially an extra frame of movement.. ..this results in the approaching dinosaur appearing much smoother than if at the same animation rate as the players movements.
If the dinosaur comes out of a side tunnel to appear in front of you, there is no side-on animation and he just suddenly appears in his full glory facing you head on.
You can also, of course come across the exit to the maze, which if in the player’s line of sight appears as a swirling pattern of random characters. A simple idea and again very effective.
The in game messages really add to the tension and suspense of the game, they are displayed according to a number of simple rules:
– appears at the start of the game before you move. It also appears whenever Rex is stuck and cannot move towards the player.
– indicates that Rex is more than 9 steps away from the player
– is shown when Rex is less than 7 steps away from the player
– is shown when Rex is less than 3 steps away from the player.
– appears when Rex has a direct line of sight to the player, regardless of how far away he is.
Whilst the dinosaur is visible on screen, the game never shows any messages.
Points depend upon how many steps you had taken. If you are captured by the dinosaur, you can either appeal your sentence to ‘roam the maze forever‘, or continue the last maze. If you appeal, a randomize statement either sends you back to the same maze or it resets the computer, you have a 50:50 chance of either of these scenarios.
What was so technically incredible about this game is that it used the standard Sinclair ZX81 graphics set. Evan’s used the graphical characters with panache so that the resolution appeared roughly to be double that of most games of the time. He also used the dithering characters to give a third grey colour, which was used for the walls of the maze.
The 3D engine was written in Z80 assembler, augmented by several lines of BASIC for less intensive tasks. As such the game speed can be controlled by altering the ‘loop delay’ at line 370 in the BASIC code.
Finally, since writing this retrospective, I have come across SoftTango’s informative ‘3D Monster Maze Dissected‘ analysis of the underlying code used to programme ‘3D Monster Maze’. It reveals the secrets behind the 3D rendering engine and logic used in the game. I recommend you take a look.. ..its fascinating stuff.
I loved this game the first time I played it, and I still do.. ..it changed the industry. Games were generally more professional and ‘polished’ after this, it ‘pushed’ 3D and introduced us to ‘survival horror’.. ..not many games have done so much, so early, on such humble hardware. A total and utter masterpiece!
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