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An ode to MadMaze: Prodigy’s greatest online game



Welcome to Dial Up, Mashable’s most excellent look at tech in the ‘90s. Fire up your modem, hit play on Winamp (with Matrix skin, of course), and experience a time when pagers and rollerblades were hella tight. 

It’s 4:15 p.m. on a weekday in the mid 1990s, and somewhere in a suburban living room, a troll just threw itself down a well. 

To have witnessed such a scene, an intrepid adventurer would have first made their way through a maze, angered a witch, ended up almost cooked alive before sweet talking said witch into revealing that the notorious neighborhood troll can’t refuse a dare, gracefully exited a boiling cauldron before being turned into dinner, found the troll, and convinced it that jumping down a nearby well was the best way to prove its mettle. 

Oh yeah, and of course the aforementioned adventurer would have needed to log onto the now-defunct online service Prodigy and started playing MadMaze. 

Before Facebook, before Google, and even before AOL Instant Messenger, Prodigy offered a portal to the then burgeoning digitally connected world. Much like AOL, Prodigy provided subscribers email, message boards, news, and other networked services. 

It also had MadMaze, an early maze game employing simple graphics and text prompts that ate up untold hours of people’s lives. It was a beautiful thing. 

Choices, choices.

Choices, choices.

Image: screenshot / MadMaze-II

According to Wireless Gaming Review, MadMaze was the first online game to reach 1 million players. It was created by Eric Goldberg, who perhaps unsurprisingly got his start making role-playing games in the 1970s and early 1980s. 

Unlike what we tend to think of as online games today, MadMaze didn’t require interaction with other players. Instead, it offered a solo quest.

Despite its simple appearance, MadMaze really did have elaborate lore and a lot of gameplay to offer — as shown by a detailed walkthrough of the game found on a Something Awful forum post from 2002. 

Watch out.

Watch out.

Image: screenshot / MadMaze-II

The game was a revelation, showing the internet could be a fun place, not just email and weather updates. It clearly struck a chord with early internet users, as evidenced both by its popularity at the time and the fact that it has been immortalized online by dedicated fans that still fondly tweet about the game to this day. 

And while MadMaze has long been offline, a playable copy of the game dubbed MadMaze-II is still up and running. 

“MadMaze-II was designed to emulate the look and feel of the original Prodigy Classic version,” explains the game’s loading screen to anyone worried they’re not getting a taste of the original.  

Which, hell yeah. 

So go ahead and sit back, grab a nearby pack of Gushers, and click your way into the MadMaze. You’re sure to love it — assuming you make it out of the ’90s gaming nostalgia trip alive. 

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