What is the first thing you think of when someone mentions the Sinclair ZX81? Blocky black and white graphics? No sound? Flat keyboard? Or perhaps, if you’re from the PlayStation generation, what on Earth is that?
All the above are common and understandable responses, but if I said “The herald of the 3D videogames” you might think I was crazy. How could such a lowly powered piece of silicon and plastic be a forerunner in 3D gaming? Well, in a way, it was, when you consider the landmark game 3D Monster Maze.
3D Monster Maze was really a very simple game. You were placed in a randomly generated maze and had to find the exit before being eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. What was unique for this game at the time was that your (admittedly blocky) view of the maze was from a first person perspective, as though you were actually standing in the maze. You saw the corridors of the maze stretching away in front of you, and with no birds eye view to show your position, that made the game far more difficult.
The real star of the show was the T-Rex however. Considering how low resolution the graphics were, the images of the dinosaur were actually surprisingly good, especially when you were looking straight at him and he was just a couple of steps away from eating you. When he did eat you, the screen was filled with a close up of some very sharp looking teeth and a message telling you that you had lost!
Seeing Mr. Rex appear in front of you was one of the most panic inducing moments I’ve experienced to this day. In fact the only other examples I can think of that come close are the first time you see the wolves jump through the window in the first Resident Evil game, and the encounter with a similar dinosaur foe in the original Tomb Raider!
Adding to the tension were the simple text messages that appeared on screen whenever Rex got close to you. “Footsteps approaching“, “Rex has seen you” and the somewhat pantomimey “Run! He is behind you” got you fumbling at the keys to get away from the dinosaur before you’ve even clapped eyes on him!