Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Maze Master (1983, Commodore 64): a case of unimaginative artwork.

Maze Master is an archetypical dungeon crawling CRPG published for the Commodore 64 in the 1983 by HesWare. Aside from its historical relevancy, Maze Master is also known for being the Bards' Tale predecessor since its creator Michael Cranford produced the first chapter of the successful Bard's Tale Saga in 1986. 

Anyway, one of aspects that grabbed my attention is more related about its own aesthetics rather than the game itself. Even if the overall visual aspect of the artwork adopted by HesWare has some interesting elements, Maze Master is the classic example of a fantasy CRPG artwork developed by a company without a proper RPG/CRPG background. 

Maze Master, Front Box Cover
The cover itself has some archetypical fantasy elements which are mainly condensed in the full colour illustration representing, in a dungeon environment, a giant snake in the attempt to attack a warrior and wizard. Moving away from the illustration, the two elements that deprive the artwork from being more fantasy oriented, are the fonts (1) used on the heading and product descriptor and rainbow gradient used on the top part. However, looking at other Hesware releases, it's easy to note that for consistency reasons, they usually applied the same template to all their production and so they did with this one.

From a visual point of view, anyway, what is really inappropriate is the clinical layout which doesn't show any connection whatsoever with the game genre and concept. 

Maze Master, Cover Manual
A linear grid with a green background, although it's typographically clean and balanced, looks like more a utility software manual than an actual CRPG. 

Maze Master, Manual, p 5

Maze Master, Manual, p 7
The two pages above are just part of the manual which actually doesn't contain any illustration, any additional tint or symbol. Only text, black on white. 

Compared to other productions published in the early eighties, Maze Master looks visually much more professional than products like the Aardvark's Dungeons of Death and Dungeons of Magdarr. But because I really believe that the visual aspect of a CRPG represents a big part of the game impact and honestly Maze Master really lacks of what I call "imaginative visual impact", which is first experience you have with a CRPG. Maze Master is exactly in a visual limbo, between top class Epyx & Origin products and the primitive and fascinating underground productions. 

In the end, MM is a quite interesting and advanced game that probably never got that popular due to the strong Epyx and Origin presence on the markets. A game like that, with such a weak artwork, lack of visual inspiration and a so limited distribution (produced only for C64 actually) had probably to struggle to get a bit of attention from its potential target.

(1)  Arial rounded and Helvetica. 

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