Jawbreaker (video game)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Jawbreaker cover.png
Publisher(s)On-line Systems
Tigervision (2600)
Programmer(s)Atari 8-bit, 2600
John Harris
Apple II
Olaf Lubeck[1]
Platform(s)Atari 8-bit, Apple II, Atari 2600, Commodore 64
Release1981: Atari 8-bit, Apple
1982: 2600
1983: C64

Jawbreaker is a Pac-Man clone programmed by John Harris for the Atari 8-bit family and published by On-Line Systems. Released in 1981[2] before an official version of Pac-Man was available, it was widely lauded by reviewers, and became a major seller. The story of its creation and Harris's Atari 8-bit implementation of Frogger form a portion of Steven Levy's 1984 book, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution.[3]

Jawbreaker was ported to the Apple II in 1981 and Harris's different take on the game for the Atari 2600 was released the following year. Legal issues resulted in the 2600 port being the template for subsequent versions—for the Commodore 64 and TI-99/4A—and sold confusingly as both Jawbreaker and Jawbreaker II.

Failed licensing and litigation[edit]

Atari 2600 gameplay

In 1982, the initial Atari 800 version of Jawbreaker was so faithful to Pac-Man that the game (carelessly leaked by Harris himself) was assumed to be from Atari, Inc. (licensee for Pac-Man's home rights) itself. When one of these early copies found its way to Atari, they reached out to On-Line's Ken Williams. Attempts at a deal fell apart due to culture clashes between Atari and On-Line, particularly Williams and Harris. Williams instructed Harris to alter the artwork for the game to have a dental theme.[4]

Atari unsuccessfully sought an injunction against the sale of Jawbreaker and Gobbler, another On-Line computer game, which Atari claimed unduly resembled Pac-Man, and cited early leaked copies.[4] Williams denied Atari's claim but was uncertain of the outcome, stating "If this opens the door to other programmers ripping off my software, what happened here was a bad thing".[5]


Because of technical limitations, Atari 2600 Jawbreaker is not a Pac-Man clone and is different than the Atari 8-bit game.[3][6] A rough sketch of the 2600 game was used as the basis for new computer versions from programmers other than Harris.[3] The new game was, confusingly, sold as both Jawbreaker and Jawbreaker II and was not as successful as the original.


John Anderson reviewed the game for Computer Gaming World, and stated that "As for the graphics and sound, when I first saw the program, I could not bring myself to believe the game was not written by Atari. It is not only truly addictive, but also "paced"—that is, you get tougher, the enemy gets tougher, Four stars to this one."[7]

Jawbreaker was well received by critics and it was given the award for "Best Computer Action Game" in 1982 at the 3rd annual Arkie Awards. Arkie Award judges described the game as "a must for 'Pac Man' fans lucky enough to own an Atari 400 or 800 computer," and specifically praised the game's music (a chiptune version of "The Candy Man").[8]: 77 

In 1983, Softline readers named Jawbreaker second on its Top Thirty list of Atari 8-bit programs by popularity, behind only Star Raiders.[9] The magazine called the game "a very clean, fast-action game with little sophistication", citing its "clean, fast, and cheerful" graphics and consistent gameplay across platforms, including the Atari 2600.[10] David H. Ahl of Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games said of Jawbreaker and Snack Attack, "for PacMan fans, either is recommended".[11]


  1. ^ Hague, James. "The Giant List of Classic Game Programmers".
  2. ^ "Jawbreaker". Atari Mania.
  3. ^ a b c "Halcyon Days, Interviews with classic computer and video game programmers: John Harris". Retrieved 2007-07-12.
  4. ^ a b Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, Steven Levy
  5. ^ Tommervik, Allan (January 1982). "The Great Arcade/Computer Controversy / Part 1: The Publishers and the Pirates". Softline. p. 18. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  6. ^ Goodman, Danny (Spring 1983). "Home Video Games: Video Games Update". Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games. p. 32.
  7. ^ Anderson, John (January–February 1982). "Atari Arcade". Computer Gaming World. Vol. 1, no. 2. p. 22.
  8. ^ Kunkel, Bill; Laney Jr., Frank (January 1982). "Arcade Alley: The Third Annual Arcade Awards". Video. Reese Communications. 5 (10): 28, 76–77. ISSN 0147-8907.
  9. ^ "The Most Popular Atari Program Ever". Softline. March 1983. p. 44. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  10. ^ Autry, Greg W. (Jul–Aug 1983). "Jawbreaker". Softline. p. 26. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  11. ^ Ahl, David H.; Brill, Andrew; Lubar, David; Coffey, Michael; Archibald, Dale (Spring 1983). "Apple Computer Games". Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games. Vol. 1, no. 1. p. 86.

External links[edit]