In most basic terms, a puzzle involving a set of rooms that is usually more difficult to navigate because of some shared complexity in their design.
Early mazes tended to feature similar or identical room descriptions and non-reciprocal passages: going west from room 1 led you to room 2, but the way back to room 1 from room 2 was south, and so on. Subsequent variations include rooms that have to be traversed in a particular order, rooms in which the normal compass directions are non-functional, and so on.
There are three basic types of maze, dating from the earliest of text adventures:
(1) Those with non-identical room descriptions, in which it has to be recognized by the player that the description is unique to the room, and which will be repeated at the "verbose" description setting.
(2) Those with identical room descriptions, which are discernable by dropping an object from inventory in a room, and hoping that a non-player character does not steal it as you move about trying to map the connections on a piece of paper.
(3) Mazes whose room connections change while you are trying to solve the maze, perhaps as a result of something you did before entering the maze, or something you did while in the maze, or by a built-in random reconnection subroutine.
The first two types of mazes appear in Advent (Colossal Cave).
Early mazes such as those listed above often featured non-reciprocating room connections. In these mazes, rooms are connected by crooked passages. If, for instance, the player travels south into a new room, he probably will not be able to return to the previous room by travelling north. Mazes whose passages are non-reciprocating are usually frustrating because they make it difficult for the player to backtrack or create a map.
Today, the use of such puzzles is frowned upon because of their dull, repetitive nature. Unless the game designer makes a maze easy or interesting in some way, many players will not have the patience to solve it. Many players and theorists are strongly opposed to the use of maze puzzles, considering the device tedious and overused.
Certain twists on the traditional maze can still make them acceptable in IF:
- The way out of the maze is not discovered by mapping (cf. Photopia).
- The PC is extracted after a time limit.
- The maze is difficult to get lost in because of a map, guide, copious hints, etc. and does not require much backtracking.
- The maze is implicit only; movement from place to place does not actually require tedious entry of n. n. e. n. w. s. commands.
- Where Mazes Came From - an article by Stephen Granade.
- Mazes in the IF Gems review quotes collection (also available from the IF Archive).
- The Maze at TV Tropes Wiki.