‘Mazogs’ starts our reviews of games for the Sinclair ZX81. This was one of the best and most critically acclaimed for the system, so this will be fairly brief. I remember excitedly picking this up on a Saturday in Redditch Shopping Centre, Autumn 1982.. ..anticipation was high as my mate had been going on about how good it was.
Written by Don Priestly and released by Bug-Byte in 1982, ‘Mazogs’ is a maze based action adventure video game. The 59 x 45 maze is randomly generated and you look down on a 5 x 4 part of it whilst playing. The maze scrolls around your character, who although appearing to move, never leaves the same part of the screen; simply animating within the same frame.
Your quest is to find the gold hidden in the maze and then the exit. The gold is placed at least two hundred moves from the start position. However, to complicate matters further the maze is patrolled by monsters called ‘Mazogs’; who will chase and attack you, on sight.
The maze is generated prior to game play and sometimes, if the computer considers the maze is not challenging enough, it will automatically be re-drawn. This is based on a time limit and a minimal amount of passages being generated; if either of these parameters proves problematic, the algorithm restarts.. .. all of which seemed rather incredible back in 1982!
Also trapped in the maze are prisoners. They are occasionally found in cells within walls of the maze. They will help the player by ‘highlighting’ the path to the gold.. ..for a short period of time. Your previous path taken through the maze is also shown throughout the game, until you lose a life.
The titular ‘Mazogs’ can only be killed efficiently with a sword. Several swords can be found in the maze, but they can only be used once. An additional gameplay twist is that a sword cannot be carried at the same time as the gold. These factors lead to tactical gameplay where you are best avoiding groups of ‘Mazogs’, but killing as many as possible before collecting the gold.. ..the maze then being easier to escape from.
The main game screen shows a fraction of the maze, but a ‘view mode’ expands the view to show a 16 x 16 detail of the maze, centered around the players present position within it. Whilst this mode is useful for scouting purposes, the player cannot move whilst viewing it, but can still be attacked by ‘Mazogs’.
Moving through the maze and fighting ‘Mazogs’ decreases the player’s energy, which can be replenished by finding food.
Don Priestly was a freelance coder associated with software house Bug-Byte. He produced two classic ZX81 games for them; ‘Dictator’ and ‘Mazogs’. ‘Dictator’ was the first of the ‘banana republic’ trading simulations, but ‘Mazogs’ was by far the most popular of the two. Indeed, it was one of the most popular ZX81 games in general, creating a real stir in June 1982.
Later in November 1986 Don Preistly was interviewed by Crash magazine (issue 34) and offered the following explanation – “I was trying to get away from all those games which revolved around a dollar sign being chased by an asterisk. Mazogs featured large mobile sprites in a solid maze, all constructed using Sinclair’s sugar cube graphics. It was my first game which got itself a full page advert”.
Don later adapted ‘Mazogs’ for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and the MSX, changing the name of the game to ‘Maziacs’. Published by dk’Tronics in 1983.. ..it was obviously in colour this time and at a higher-resolution. ‘Maziacs’ was also one of the first games to support the Currah MicroSpeech peripheral on the ZX Spectrum.
For me ‘Maziacs’, whilst playing almost identically to ‘Mazogs’, loses some of the charm (although I like the sound effects, particularly when fighting the ‘Maziacs’).. ..I don’t know why but ‘Mazogs’ is a bit of a rarity in that it actually seems more suited to the primitive graphics of Sinclair’s earlier machine than ‘Maziacs’ was on the more advanced hardware. ‘Maziacs’ also runs faster than ‘Mazogs’, but this is not a good thing.. ..there always seemed a bit more ‘dread’ and tension playing on the ZX81.
An OK Commodore 64 port of ‘Maziacs’ was written by Andy French, but to the games detriment, this ran even faster (but much smoother) than the ZX Spectrum version; the graphics remained the same. In 1987 Dietrich Raisin developed a version for the Atari ST in Omikron BASIC and released it as Public Domain software. The gameplay of this port was identical to the original version, but the graphics are newly designed.
Oh yeah.. ..get this one, just as good now as it was in 1982!