Madness and the Minotaur - A Mystery Solved

One of the true pleasures of this weblog is to see gaming mysteries, occasionally, solved. Today, I’m happy to announce one of the oldest mysteries on this site – in this space dating back to 2004 – has been resolved. This is the answer to the question “Who, exactly, wrote the classic TRS-80 game Madness and the Minotaur?”

The game, as I’ve detailed elsewhere, has mystified and fascinated many of us old gamers. There’s no author credit on the game – it’s just credited to the company, “Spectral Associates”, who typically did give author credits. This matters (to me, at least) because Madness was such an innovative text adventure, particularly in its use of incorporating straightforward RPG elements, randomized item placement and even semi-randomized solutions to puzzles, which I’m reasonably sure was an innovation in 1981.

I speculated in an earlier post that perhaps the author was one of Spectral’s founders, Thomas Rosenbaum (whom I incorrectly referred to as “Rosenberg” in that article, mea culpa). Today I’m pleased to announce that that is indeed the case.

This information comes to me from one of Spectral’s early associates, John Gabbard. John writes:

Madness and the Minotaur was written by the founder of Spectral Associates, Tom Rosenbaum. It was one of the very first products for Spectral. I think at the time they also had the game of life, a compiler and a debugger. The compiler and debugger were written by Tom’s brother Roger and were used in-house, but offered as products as well. Roger was very excited about the Color computer, which got Tom interested as well and Madness and the Minotaur was his first project. Tom loved to play adventure games but was disappointed in the computer adventure games that were out there because they had no re-play ability. Once you solved them, playing again was exactly the same. Tom also liked board games like Civilization, and decided that a computer game with the randomness and unpredictability of games like this would be something he would enjoy playing over and over.

I met Tom as Spectral Associates was just forming, right around 1981. I had just re-enlisted in the army and used part of my bonus to purchase a color computer. I ran across Tom while in the local Radio Shack Computer center looking for games. We started talking and Tom saw how excited I was about the Coco and offered to teach me how to write games in assembly language. The first program I wrote for Spectral was Keys of the Wizard. I use the term “wrote” very loosely, because the underlying code was from Madness and the Minotaur and most of the “writing” I did was in the form of map changes, dictionary changes and room descriptions changes. There were a few code changes and additions that changed the way battling creatures worked, and that gave a few of the creatures the ability to “catch your scent” and follow you, but it was mostly Madness code.

The most immediate outcome of reading this email is the thought: Gosh, now I have to find Keys of the Wizard and play that too.

Thanks to John for resolving this long standing mystery.