Jawbreaker (video game)

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Developer(s) John Harris
Publisher(s) On-line Systems, Tigervision (Atari 2600 port)
Designer(s) John Harris
Platform(s) Computers:
Atari 800, Apple II, Commodore 64, PC
Atari 2600
Release date(s) 1981
Genre(s) Maze chase
Mode(s) 1 player

Jawbreaker is a video game programmed by John Harris and released in 1981 for the Atari 400/800 by On-line Systems.[1]

Originally intended to be a fairly straight Pac-Man clone, Jawbreaker emerged as a relatively inventive version with unique gameplay. It was widely lauded by reviewers, and became a major seller for Sierra Online. The story of its creation forms a portion of Steven Levy's book, Hackers.


Jawbreaker is essentially a Pac-Man clone, in that a small yellow set of jaws is moved around the map to pick up small dots while avoiding the "jawbreakers" which roll around the map. If the jaws bite the jawbreaker, they will be destroyed and the player will lose a life. It was released for the Atari 8-bit.

Advertisements claimed that "Kids Protest Maze Games", allegedly complaining about "tedious and outdated computer maze games". Jawbreaker, the company promised, differed by having the entire screen move, "even the walls".[2]


John Harris also developed and released ports of the game for the Atari 2600 under Tigervision (1982), and the Apple II (1981) under On-Line Systems. A game by the same name for the Commodore 64 was released in 1983, but coded by Doug Whittaker and Chuck Bueche and bore little resemblance to the original version.[3] An IBM PC version was also available.[2]


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").[4]:77

In 1983 Softline readers named Jawbreaker second on its Top Thirty list of Atari 8-bit programs by popularity, behind only Star Raiders.[5] 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.[6]


In 1981 Atari, which licensed the home rights to Pac-Man, unsuccessfully sought an injunction against the sale of Jawbreaker and Gobbler, another On-Line computer game, which Atari claimed unduly resembled Pac-Man. On-Line's Ken 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".[7]

A sequel entitled Jawbreaker II was released in 1983 on the Atari 400/800, Apple II, and Texas Instruments TI99/4A. These ports were not coded by John Harris, and were instead contracted to Dan Drew.[1][8]


  1. ^ a b "Halcyon Days, Interviews with classic computer and video game programmers: John Harris". Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  2. ^ a b "The End of the Maze Craze". Electronic Games (advertisement). June 1983. p. 17. Retrieved 6 January 2015. 
  3. ^ "Lemon64.Com Jawbreaker Review". Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ "The Most Popular Atari Program Ever". Softline. March 1983. p. 44. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  6. ^ Autry, Greg W. (Jul–Aug 1983). "Jawbreaker". Softline. p. 26. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  7. ^ Tommervik, Allan (January 1982). "The Great Arcade/Computer Controversy / Part 1: The Publishers and the Pirates". Softline. p. 18. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  8. ^ "TI-99 4/A Videogame House - Jawbreaker II". Retrieved 2007-07-12. 

External links[edit]

  • Jawbreaker Scans of the Atari 2600 version's box, cartridge, manual and various screenshots.