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Article #24 (74 is last):
From: aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Michael Current)
Subject: Pondering About Max's / game / commercial
Posted-By: xx004 (aa700 - Michael Current)
Reply-To: aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Michael Current)
Edited-By: xx004 (aa700 - Michael Current)
Date: Sat Feb  8 00:41:52 1992

Reprinted from Atari Explorer, January 1992
Copyright 1992, Atari Corp.  Reprinted by permission.

Pondering About Max's

An 8-bit Adventure that's Hip-to-the-Minute!

by Elwood J.C. Kureth

     Pondering About Max's (P.A.M.) surely ranks among the most enigmatic
software titles of all time, right up there with such cryptic names as Gorf,
Zork, Q-Bert, and even the classic Pac-Man.  At least with titles such as
Centipede, Missle Command, and Asteroids, you had an inkling as to what
elements were involved in the game.  Without further investigation, these
straightforward (But hardly creative) names either quickly aroused or killed
your interest, depending on your tastes.
     But P.A.M.?  Think about it.  Pondering About Max's...what? 
Intelligence?  Violent temper?  Who is doing the pondering?  And just who--or
what--is Max?  Questions, questions.
     As it turns out, "Max's" refers to the Max Man competition--"a simulated
barroom brawl, complete with flying bottles, smashed chairs and stuntman
fighters," held each year at Jackson's Beach.  The pondering is performed by
Clarence Bean, who once visited the competition and came away with a
less-than-favorable (to put it mildly) impression of the event.  Clarence
puctuates his distaste by throwing four-bit insults at the contestants, calling
them "thick-skulled," "anencephalic mutants," and dismissing the Max Man itself
as a Neanderthal spectacle.
     Of course, having listened to Clarence's diatribe, you're then expected to
pay for the privilege of entering it, yourself--for the Max Man has been coded
into Pondering About Max's, in its "hellish entirety."  Go figure.

     Actually, P.A.M. is the title of one of four stand-alone program segments:
The Dream, P.A.M., Barroom Brawl, and Finis (Demo).
     As described in documentation, a Max Man contestant has The Dream in which
he "...chases after an animated version of the Max Man mascot, while, in turn,
other cartoon-type characters chase after him...over enormous structures that
look like illustrations from his mechanical-engineering textbook."  It sounds
like an arcade game segment, and it is.  P.A.M., the second section, is sort of
a continuation of "The Dream" sequence--the object of both The Dream and P.A.M.
being to reach Max, the bartender, as quickly as possible.  The Dream has seven
different play screens; P.A.M., five.
     Barroom Brawl is completely different.  In this scenario, you are placed
in a 3-D barroom setting where you must fight numerous unrelenting brawlers who
take turns trying to knock you on you rear end.  At your disposal throughout
the bar are bottles and chairs to supplement your fists.  In addition to
defeating your challengers you must "card" patrons entering the bar, to
determine if they are of legal drinking age.
     Finis (Demo) is a non-interactive musical/graphic conclusion to the Max
Man contest.

Evaluating P.A.M.
     There are four basic areas (in my opinion) that software designers should
pay close attention to when striving for the "perfect" game: Originality,
graphics, sound, and challenge.  A game doesn't need to score high marks in all
four categories to be considered good, solid entertainment, but to really make
an impact and achieve the level of "superb" or "outstanding," it must make a
strong showing in each.
     I've assigned a value--0 (poor) through 8 (outstanding)--to each category
to indicate how well P.A.M. performs.  An overall rating and summary follow the
detailed analysis.

     As soon as a screen appears from either The Dream or P.A.M., you'll
probably say to yourself, "I've seen this before."  And you'll be right.  Both
seem to be inspired by, and--to a great degree--"aped" (pun intended) from
Donkey Kong and Miner 2049er, two early '80's classics.  All the basics of
those forerunners are present: climbing ladders, jumping between platforms as
you make yor way to the top of the screen, and dodging creates and objects that
are hazardous to your player's life.
     Throughout the playing screens are "switches" you must turn on (in the
proper sequence) to allow you to realize yor objective--touch Max.  These
switches do things such as cause trap doors to open, creatures to pop out of
boxes, and giant soda cans to momentarily appear as platforms for jumping.
     Barroom Brawl is standard "knock-'em-down" fare employed in many games
today.  The need to break away from the ongoing fight to card newly-arrived
patrons is, however, a nice touch.
     Finis (Demo) is a short, clever bit that is more innovative than the first
three.  It features several bars from the Howard Jones song "No One is to
Blame" as a scene plays out in the upper left corner of a black screen bearing
an artsy, static graphic.

GRAPHICS Rating: 4
     Although the overall graphics package is good, there is room for
improvement.  The characters and player in Barroom Brawl are coarse-looking and
could stand a touch more resolution.  The same is true for the creatures in The
Dream and P.A.M., though in these sections, the player's figure is
     I was disappointed with the uneven use of color, throughout.  In some
cases, screens in The Dream and P.A.M. are vivid; more often than not, they're
bland.  The barroom is bright, though it could use more contrasting colors. 
The 8-bit Atari is famous for its color potential: witness Boulder Dash,
Bristle, and to a lesser extent, Miner 2049er.  Unfortunately, P.A.M. doesn't
tax the color registers as much as it should.
     The animation is fairly smooth and responsive, which can be a difficult
task for an 8-bit machine, especially when manipulating moving objects composed
of large blocks of pixels.  Player animation in The Dream and PAM is very good,
with realistic movement of arms and legs as the player runs, jumps, and toggles
switches.  If you stop moving for too long, your character folds his arms,
drums his fingers, and taps his foot impatiently (reminiscent of the character
in Boulder Dash).
     Player movement in Barroom Brawl in also well done; however, when the
player is moving fast (double speed) toward something, it looks like he's
moon-walking forward--his leg motion doesn't match his speed.  Punching,
dodging, and foot movement, while squared off with a brawler, are executed with
     By the way, Max looks like an onion, with big eyes, feet, and an
elephant's trunk on top of his head/body.  He hops around, scratches himself
with his foot, and throws billiard balls across the screen with his trunk. 
Just thought you'd like to know.

SOUND Rating: 2
     I liked the adaptation of "No One is to Blame" during Finis (Demo). 
Outside of that, I don't recall any exceptional use of sound effects to enhance
the playing of P.A.M.  The opening strains of well-known themes (Twilight Zone;
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star; 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc.) pop up now and then,
mostly at the beginning and end of each turn.  But not much exciting happens
in-between, although I must admit I didn't complete all the levels of The Dream
and P.A.M., so it'spossible I missed something.

     I've divided the challenge category into two areas because each
sub-challenge merits its own review.  An insert provided with the game disk
warns "the game is designed to take months to master..."  And believe me, it

PHYSICAL Rating: 5
     The player in The Dream and P.A.M. must avoid the usual assortment of
creatures, objects, etc.  Max, as mentioned earlier, throws billiard balls
around (a "bartender" used to do the same in the ral Max Man contest until it
was deemed too dangerous) as you make your way toward him.  Quick reactions and
a steady hand are a must in some cases, especially when simultaneously dodging
billiard balls and steam, jumping between platforms, and avoiding creatures
bearing down on you.
     Brawling in Barroom Brawl requires a keen eye when trying to judge what
your opponent is going to throw in the way of punches.  Actions such as
throwing bottles in the air and catching them, intercepting drinks meant for
brawlers, and disengaging from a fight to check IDs, require nimble stick and
button action and a good deal of practice.

MENTAL Rating: 6
     The Dream and P.A.M. definitely require you to think things out.  This is
where the "months to master" statement applies, and the frustration mounts. 
You just don't jump and dodge through the screens--you must exercise the ol'
gray muscle and plan ahead.  Mental stimulation is PAM's saving grace. 
Toggling switches in the proper sequence--after figuring out what happens when
one is "flipped"--is essential in reaching Max.
     Heck, you'll lose plenty of lives just determining how certain structures
and devices will aid or hinder your cause.  Which brings me to a small source
of frustration for many players (including yours truly).  Like many games of
this nature, once you lose all your lives, you're forced to start at screen
number one and work back up to the screen that did you in.  If you've completed
screen number five and get killed in screen number six: BAM!  It's all the way
back to the bottom to begin again.  You've already proven you're adept at the
lower levels--so why get sent back to the cellar?  I'd like to see an option
allowing you to continue on the screen that aced you.  That would take some of
the frustration out of trying to make that next breakthrough and ending up back
at square one.

OVERALL Rating: 4
     How much you enjoy P.A.M. will depend to some degree on your gaming
background.  If you cut your teeth on some of the older games I've mentioned in
this review, you might be disappointed by P.A.M.'s lack of novelty and routine
graphics and sound.  But old timers who don't mind treading familiar ground and
take pleasure in a good challenge will find P.A.M. satisfying.  And newcomers
to the 8-bit arena will probably enjoy P.A.M. immensely.  It's a surreal,
well-executed program that deserves attention.

Note: Due to the unexpected demand for the game--and a lengthy production and
packaging process--Change in Heat is offering a no-frills official bootleg
version for $12.95.  The original slip-cased version will be available for
$22.95 while supplies last.

SYSTEM: Atari 8-bit w/64K RAM, joystick, disk drive.
SUMMARY: Primo, multi-part arcade/adventure game, will keep you guessing!
Change in Heat Development
12 Bellavista
Iowa City, IA 52245
(415) 325-3127 (No orders)
PRICE: $22.95             
 Michael Current, Cleveland Free-Net 8-bit Atari SIGOp   -->>  go atari8  <<--
   The Cleveland Free-Net Atari SIG is the Central Atari Information Network
      Internet: / UUCP: ...!umn-cs!ccnfld!currentm
     BITNET:{interbit} / Cleveland Free-Net: aa700

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