Entombed

Name:
Entombed
Company: U.S. Games
Model #:
VC2007
Programmers:
Western Technologies

Maze Algorithm: Duncan Muirhead & Paul Allen Newell (Programmers)
Entombed: Steve Sidley (Programmer), & Tom Sloper (Designer)
Year: 1982
Released?
Yes
Notes:
Originally called Maze Chase then Zoomie Zombie

 

One of the more overlooked titles in the Atari 2600 library, Entombed is an interesting little maze game with a simple concept: Don't get trapped (entombed if you will) in the scrolling maze.  With its muted graphics and simplistic gameplay, Entombed didn't make much of a splash upon its release in late 1982 and was quickly forgotten (being one of U.S. Games last releases didn't help).  This is a shame because as simple an Entombed looks, it can really be a lot of fun.

 

Entombed started out life as an experiment by Duncan Muirhead and Paul Allen Newell to develop a random maze generating algorithm for the 2600.  One day after work they decided to see if they could create a endless maze generating algorithm that always had a exit.  Over a few beers they came up with an elegant yet deviously complex algorithm that most accomplished their goal.  The code also allowed for changing the difficultly of the maze on the fly and an asymmetrical maze, but sometimes created mazes that were unsolvable or too simple.  Happy with their new algorithm Paul showed the code to his management who wanted to turn it into a game.  The problem with this was that the code took up most of the free processing time of the 2600 and there really wasn't much room for adding actual gameplay elements.  Still, management insisted that it be turned it into a game one way or another.  Paul continued to tinker with his maze game but was pulled off to do higher priority projects such as Towering Inferno and Scramble for the Vectrex.  Paul planned on eventually finishing the Maze game, but left Western Technologies before this could happen.

 The original maze algorithm (note the asymmetrical maze)

After Paul left, he continued to work with Western Technologies as a contractor.  After finishing up Towering Inferno (in which he used some of Maze code for room and layouts and flame placement), he was directed by WT management to create a stripped down version of his Maze game (only keeping the maze generating algorithm) to turn over to programmer Steve Sidley.  Steve was then tasked with turning what he described as "A basic maze generating routine having been partially written by a stoner... when he was drunk and whacked out of his brain" (a bit of an exaggeration) into a workable game.  Steve took the simplified maze generating algorithm (called MINOTR7 at this point) and set out to make it into an actual game.


So what did Steve add to make Entombed into a proper game?  The first thing Steve added was an enemy (in the form of zombies) that the player would occasionally encounter in the maze.  There are two different types of zombies in Entombed: Blue and Orange.  Blue zombies can only move through open passages like the player can, but orange zombies can move through walls.  Steve also added the 'Make-Break'.   Make-Breaks are tools that allow to player to either make a wall (to block blue zombies) or break a wall (when you're trapped in a dead end).  The player starts with one Make-Break but can pick up more in the maze.  The idea for the Make-Break actually dates back to Paul's unreleased Maze game, but in that version the player always had the power instead of having a limited number of uses.  If the player is touched by a zombie or scrolls off the top of the screen they will lose a life.  In the one player mode the player scores one point for each section of maze they traverse through (there are five sections in each maze), but in the simultaneous two player variation there is no scoring and each player simply tries to outlast the other.  Steve also updated the player graphic and added some fixes to the maze generation algorithm which were designed to prevent repeating patterns.

 

While Entombed may have been forgotten for the last few decades, the game was recently thrust back into the spotlight when two university researchers (John Aycock and Tara Copplestone) decided to take a closer look at the maze generating algorithm and write a research paper based on their findings.  This sparked a bit of renewed interest in the game and in researching old game algorithms in general including the New Yorker Radio Hour doing a podcast on Entombed.  While it may not be the most original game on the 2600 (Steve was somewhat hamstrung with what he could do with the existing code), Entombed is definitely worth a play or two.  The two player variation the potential to be a fun retro themed party game.


A quick note on the confusing names and dates of the prototypes listed below.  Paul's original unreleased maze game was known by various names during development (Maze, Amaze, Minotaur, etc.) but the file names were always called MAZx where x was the version suffix  (starting with MAZ1 and culminating with MAZV).  These files were given more descriptive names when they were archived in 2003.  Maze02jun8 corresponds to MAZV, which the final version of the game that was created during Paul's original time at Western Technologies.  Later when Paul was tasked with stripping down his game to serve as a base for Steve Sidley to develop Entombed he started naming the files after Minotaur.  Starting with MINOTR (which corresponds to MAZV/Maze02jun82) he then applied some timing fixes that Dave Hampton had added to his Towering Inferno code and created MINOTR1 which corresponds to the Maze22jun82 prototype.  The MINOTR7 prototype was the final version in the Minotaur series which was the version that was given to Steve.   Zmbi28oct82 is the last known WIP version of Entombed.

For more information on Maze and the development of Entombed, please check out Still Entombed After All These Years: The continuing twists and turns of a maze game by Paul Allen Newell, John Aycock, and Katie M. Biittner.  They have done extensive research on the subject and many of the findings on this page were pulled directly from their amazing article.


Polaroid of the original maze generating algorithm in action.  The 'Forbidden' meant that Paul was not supposed to work on it until Towering Inferno was finished.


Version Cart Text Description
6/2/82 Maze02jun82 / MAZV / MINOTR
Original Maze game with 42 variations
6/22/82 Maze22jun82 / MINOTR1
Timing update to Maze02jun82
8/20/82 MINOTR7 Stripped down maze generation demo based on MINOTR2
10/28/82  Zmbi28oct82
Almost complete

 

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