Jawbreaker (video game)

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Publisher(s) On-line Systems
Tigervision (Atari 2600)
Programmer(s) John Harris
Platform(s) Atari 8-bit (original)
Apple II, C64, IBM PC, Atari 2600
Release 1981
Genre(s) Maze chase
Mode(s) 1 player

Jawbreaker is a Pac-Man clone programmed by John Harris and released in 1981 for the Atari 8-bit family by On-Line Systems. It was widely lauded by reviewers, and became a major seller. The story of both its creation and Harris's Atari 8-bit implementation of Frogger form a portion of Steven Levy's 1984 book, Hackers.[1]

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".[2]

John Harris also programmed the Apple II port (1981) as well as a version for the Atari 2600 released by Tigervision in 1982. Because of technical limitations, Atari 2600 Jawbreaker is not a Pac-Man clone and is different than the Atari 8-bit game.[1] A rough sketch of the 2600 game was used as the basis for new computer versions from programmers other than Harris.[1] The new game was, confusingly, sold as both Jawbreaker and Jawbreaker II and was not as successful as original.


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").[3]:77

In 1983 Softline readers named Jawbreaker second on its Top Thirty list of Atari 8-bit programs by popularity, behind only Star Raiders.[4] 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.[5]


  1. ^ a b c "Halcyon Days, Interviews with classic computer and video game programmers: John Harris". Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  2. ^ Tommervik, Allan (January 1982). "The Great Arcade/Computer Controversy / Part 1: The Publishers and the Pirates". Softline. p. 18. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ "The Most Popular Atari Program Ever". Softline. March 1983. p. 44. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  5. ^ Autry, Greg W. (Jul–Aug 1983). "Jawbreaker". Softline. p. 26. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 

External links[edit]

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