Aztec (video game)

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The title screen from Aztec.
Developer(s) Paul Stephenson[1]
Publisher(s) Datamost
Platform(s) Apple II (original)
Atari 8-bit family, Commodore 64[1]
Release date(s) 1982[1]
Genre(s) Action-adventure
Mode(s) Single player

Aztec is a 1982 computer game, created by Paul Stephenson and published by Datamost. It was originally developed for the Apple II and later ported to the Atari 8-bit family and the Commodore 64.


Aztec is a platform adventure game in which the player enters and explores the recently discovered "Tomb of Quetzalcoatl" in search of a jade idol.

The tomb's many levels are filled with traps, dangerous animals, Aztec guards and other hazards. Equipped with a machete, a pistol and sticks of dynamite, the player must recover the jade idol and escape the tomb. The player encounters snakes on occasion as well as a giant man eating plant if he keeps going to lower levels.


A screenshot from the Apple II version of Aztec.

Aztec generates a random dungeon for each new game, enhancing replay value.[2] Before beginning play, the game prompts the player to select a difficulty level from one to eight. Increasing the game's difficulty boosts the number and aggressiveness of the enemies the player will face, but also increases the reward they'll gain from retrieving the idol. The shorter the time to obtain the idol, the higher the reward, in dollars; higher difficulty levels begin the countdown higher. If too much time elapses, it's possible to get a message about the idol being damaged and not worth much anymore.

Each level in the tomb is shown from the side, with three floors and steps often connecting the levels and floors, with piles of bones and debris scattered along the floor. Searching these piles, or occasional boxes or chests, may discover and yield useful items such as a pistol or ammunition, a machette, dynamite, health potions, remains of the Prof. Von Forster, or the idol. At lower levels, more dangerous foes can be found, some of which may capture the player, confiscate items and lead it into a pit. Enemies can also cause the player to fall down to the next level when on the bottom floor. Some rooms contain pits with various traps, such as moving walls, ceilings or flooding water.

Once the idol has been found, the player must make it back up all the way, and escape outside with it. If the player dies, the game allows them to resume from the last level they were in. It also allows them to resume a game from a previous session. Every new game features a different set of eight random-generated levels (of eight screens with three floors each).

The dynamite sticks may either be used as a weapon or to blow up walls and floors (it's also possible to inadvertently break part of a staircase which is critical to climb back out, or to blow up the player).

Game Mechanics[edit]

Interesting artefacts of the game design allow the player to place and lit a dynamite stick in a room and then switch to another room, for it to be located around the same location, to one's advantage or demise. Another one is that chests or enemies located at appropriate locations on the top floor may be climbed on to go up one level. It's also possible to use dynamite to blow the left wall of the introduction screen, and to reach the bottom level (level eight) immediately via this entry (this does not fill the inventory of useful items, however).

Monster movement[edit]

Monsters typically move in four different ways:

  • They stalk the player, and will pass through any solid walls to reach the player.
  • They move continuously in one direction until an obstruction is reached and they reverse direction. These monsters will not pass through walls.
  • They move randomly in either direction, varying how often they change direction and which direction is preferred. These monsters will pass through walls and sometimes will also move through open air where there is no floor.
  • They stay in one position, but are still animated.

The game has an unusual monster movement system, in that any parts of the world that are unseen are treated as if they have no walls or gaps in the floor. Collision detection only applies to the 1/8th of the world visible on screen. Consequently, monsters that move continuously will keep moving in one direction off-screen, until they reach the area where the player is now, and then check collision against the walls or open passageways around the player.

If the player enters a new screen, and a monster is midair across a large open gap, the game engine will push the monster backwards until it is standing on a platform or at the edge of the screen.

A player-seeking monster normally cannot cross open gaps in the floor, and is pushed back when it tries to move forward. An unusual mechanic of this occurs when this type of monster is at the edge of a platform, and the player moves to be below the monster. When the monster reverses direction, it is treated as if it is in midair even though it was on a platform, and with each forward step it is instead pushed backwards until it is on a different platform or pushed off the screen.

Monster sizes and combat[edit]

Monsters generally are in two classes, tall and short. Tall monsters can be shot, while short ones are stabbed down with the machete. Large snakes, large spiders, and the head of the monster plant can also be lunged with the machete, but lunging doesn't work for most other large creatures.

Although there are a variety of different monsters in different sizes, the game mixes up this tall and short concept for many creatures, so that there may be a small spider that can be lunged or shot, and a large spider that must be stabbed down. It is not possible to know in advance which attack to use, and picking the wrong attack often leads to instant injury or death.

Avoiding attack[edit]

Avoiding attack is possible with short creatures by crawling. Short monsters will attack if the player is standing. However tall monsters attack regardless of whether the player is crawling or standing.

Climbing is a second method to avoid attack. The player can climb stairs to get out of the way of an advancing creature. If there are random objects on the screen, the player can often climb up and stand on these so the monster cannot reach them.

Falling is a third method to avoid attack. If a stalking monster is blocking the way, it is possible to climb up above it on random debris, and then jump so the player falls down and passes through the monster unharmed.

Collision detection in Aztec is erratic, and can be exploited to avoid attack by monsters. Jumping rapidly and continuously often allows the player to quickly pass by smaller deadly creatures in their path. Continuous rapid jumping does not work for larger creatures, and if it is ill-timed it can lead to instant death, such as beginning a jump next to a large spider.

The edges of the screen can also likewise be used to avoid attack. If a large dangerous advancing monster is a few steps behind and the player crosses into the next screen, the player can often reverse direction, and jump backwards directly through the monster when it is very close to the screen edge, and run away.

Player collision detection[edit]

Aztec exhibits some extremely strange behavior regarding the player and their interaction with objects in the game world. These behaviors can often be exploited to rescue the player from traps or from what appears to be certain death. As a guide to this discussion, all objects in the world are generally representative of an 40x24 grid. Each of the three levels is 7 blocks tall, plus 3 steps down to the next lower level.


The player is not harmed by falling short distances, and can fall up to two floors without injury. However, falling does temporarily render the player unconscious, indicated by flickering stars over the player's head. Falling from the top floor of a level to the bottom generally kills the player.

All the while the player is unconscious, monsters continue to move around them. The player can be repeatedly attacked by tall animals while unconscious, rapidly killing the player. In the case of the Aztec warriors, a player that is unconscious can be captured by the warriors, and is stripped of all weapons and bullets.

The game exhibits a weird mechanic when the player wakes after falling. The player's feet and body briefly displayed several blocks above the floor before the player wakes up in a crawling position on the ground. In rare circumstances, the player's body will remain in the elevated position above the floor after waking up, and large monsters like tigers can pass below without touching the player.

When the player passes down from one screen to the next while falling, the player will also be moved one block to the right. In this manner, while falling down a very deep dynamited hole spanning many screens, the player gradually moves sideways one block for each screen, and may land on a floor next to the hole at some point.

In certain situations the player can fall faster than normal, though the specific cause for this is not known.

At the lowest screen, it is not possible to fall through the bottom floor. Any sort of event or bug that causes the player to fall through the floor will instead relocate the player a few blocks above the bottom floor, and moved 1 block to the right. In this case, the player will land on the bottom floor and be knocked unconscious as usual. Dynamite used to blow a hole in the lowest floor shows a gap that is sealed instantly.

In rare situations when falling and striking the lowest floor, the player becomes trapped in an unusual very high speed cycling falling motion of falling through the floor, moving sideways one block, falling through the floor again, moving sideways, etc. The player will very rapidly proceed from one screen to the next sideways, ignoring monsters or walls in the way. When this event is triggered, the only way out is to reboot the computer.

Climbing mechanics[edit]

Aztec has a strange game mechanic where the player can walk on or climb anything that is directly visible as being 8 pixels tall on the screen, including not only normal game world objects, but also the text at the bottom left corner below the maze floors, and the lizard head in the bottom right corner. This does not work on anything 7 pixels tall or smaller, so only certain objects can be climbed or walked on in this manner.

When the player is in the act of trying to climb (the C key), for each step forward the player will also visibly attempt to climb up one block. If no climbable object is in front of them, they immediately fall back down one block and continue walking, and will try to climb again at the next step forward.

It is also possible to climb on the back of the small snake.

Climbing screens without stairways[edit]

This climbing motion leads to a strange way to ascend floors when the main stairway is damaged. The player normally moves up from one screen to the next by using stairways, and normally ascends by climbing up three steps. The game then loads the floor above and the player continues climbing the stairway.

However the stairways between screens can be damaged by dynamite, apparently blocking the player from ascending up and out of the maze.

When the stairway is damaged, it is instead possible to ascend to the floor above by climbing random piles of garbage or open boxes. These objects are two blocks tall, and there are no objects 3 blocks tall. But the player can ascend anyway, because while standing on an object two blocks tall, the climbing motion of briefly moving up one block, moves the player up in midair onto nothing. The game engine immediately detects this as a valid ascend motion and loads the screen above, before the player falls back down one block because there was nothing to climb.

If the player is correctly positioned while doing this, towards the left or right edge of the screen, the player will appear from the floor below, and will be able to climb up the text on the left or the monster head on the right, and will pass directly through the solid lower floor overhead. In this manner it is possible to escape from a dungeon with all the main ascending stairways blown up.

Walking on water[edit]

In water traps the player can rescue themselves from drowning by climbing up onto the water when it has reached 8 or more pixels tall. The water stops rising until the player crouches, at which point it rises another 8 pixels and the player can climb up again.

However this is not a complete water escape, as the water stops rising when it is two blocks below the floor above, so the player can not climb out. But if the player has some dynamite, they can place and re-place the lit dynamite on the water, until the tall flame animation is displayed, and climb that up onto the floor above.


When the player crouches, they need an object that is two or more blocks wide to avoid falling. If the player crawls off the edge of a floor or a pile of garbage, they will also fall.

The unusual part of this, is that if the player falls from a crouching position that is one block above the floor, they will pass through the floor and fall down to the next lower floor. This unusual behavior can be exploited to escape an approaching monster; it can be quickly triggered by climbing a single step of a stairway and crouching. Because the step is not 2 or more blocks wide, the player immediately falls from the crouching position and passes through the floor.

Crawling falls from a height of two or more blocks above a floor are handled correctly and the player does not pass through the floor.

For each screen of 3 floors, the player can only properly crawl from one screen to the next on the upper two floors. If the player crawls to the next room on the bottom floor, they will instead fall through the floor and down to the next screen below.

Crawling down off the floors onto the text below the floors is handled differently from walking. Crawling down 1 block from a blasted floor hole onto the text causes the player to immediately descend to the next level below.

Crawling and falling up[edit]

A bizarre game mechanic allows the player to use crawling to ascend from the bottom floor of a screen to the top floor of the same screen, even if stairways are damaged or there is no stairway. This does not work for the deepest dungeon screen, where the bottom floor cannot be damaged, or in pit rooms with no upper or middle floor.

The player uses dynamite to blast a hole in the floor over the text, walks down one block onto the text, and crouches. Crouching while already standing on the text does not trigger a screen change. From this position, if the player crawls and falls off the text, they will bizarrely fall off the bottom of the screen and appear at the top, causing the screen above to load. The player now appears on the screen above too low and the engine immediately reloads the screen where the player was previously, and they fall onto the upper or middle floor.

Lunging across large open gaps[edit]

Holding down the lunge key will allow the player to lunge repeatedly very quickly and move across the screen. The game engine's floor detection ceases to function correctly while doing this, allowing the player to lunge repeatedly across large empty open gaps in the floor, and potentially travelling from one screen to the next over an open pit. Any tall snakes or spiders in the way will be struck and killed by this rapid-fire lunging.

Sometimes when this motion ceases, the player falls to the floor below, but the player may also remain standing on the floor where they stopped lunging.


Softline in 1983 called Aztec "no ordinary arcade or adventure game", stating that "the controls, game design, and animation are good examples of the state of the art in Apple arcades".[3] Electronic Games called the game's user interface "remarkably clean and logical", stating that because of the random dungeons "excitement remains keen through game after game".[2] Video magazine described the game as "a 'must buy' for Apple-ites", praising its variety, challenge, and its "straightforward system that uses single keystrokes" to communicate orders.[4]:28,29 Aztec would go on to receive a Certificate of Merit in the category of "Best Computer Adventure" at the 5th annual Arkie Awards.[5]:28


  1. ^ a b c Aztec at MobyGames
  2. ^ a b "The Players Guide to Fantasy Games". Electronic Games. June 1983. p. 47. Retrieved 6 January 2015. 
  3. ^ Shore, Howard A. (January 1983). "Aztec". Softline. p. 45. Retrieved 27 July 2014. 
  4. ^ Kunkel, Bill; Katz, Arnie (April 1983). "Arcade Alley: Zaxxon, Turbo, and Two for Apple II". Video. Reese Communications. 7 (1): 26, 28–29. ISSN 0147-8907. 
  5. ^ Kunkel, Bill; Katz, Arnie (February 1984). "Arcade Alley: The 1984 Arcade Awards, Part II". Video. Reese Communications. 7 (11): 28–29. ISSN 0147-8907. 

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