Pondering About Max's
Ed Hall checks out a quirky, somewhat different and brand new game from the USA
Just before the demise of ANTIC magazine. I noticed a couple of ads for a new game. They were small, black-and-white jobs from some hitherto unknown company inviting me to send them $22.95 Yawn.
But wait a minute ... there was something odd about these ads. There were no boxes filled with squinty text, and no crazed stew of idiotic fonts. Obviously this was not the work of some goofball high on DTP. By go, the conclusion was unmistakable. these ads had originality.
Thus began my aquaintance with one of the quirkiest pieces of software I have ever encountered. Even the names are loopy "Change In Heat" is the company, and "Pondering About Max's" is the game. Except it's not one game but three - plus a demo - all crowed onto a single disk. The games are entitled The Dream, P.A.M., and Bar Room Brawl. Can you guess what P.A.M. stands for?
FIGURING OUT MAX
The game comes in a small folder resembling a record album. The similarity is not coioncidental; inside you'll find a photo of a record, and musical credits to pop star Howard Jones, whose tunes are featured in the game. Open the folder and you'll discover a booklet of 'liner notes." They include instructions, and a mock article about a sporting contest which sets the game's premise. The prose is so inflated and satirical that you won't make much sense of it at first, but embedded in it are clues and references to the three games taht make up Pondering About Max's.
Now. just peeking out from behind the booklet is a tab. Give it a pull and out pops an envelope from a hidden pocket. Inside the envelope is a disk which is not your standard square of black plastic. It sports a custom jacket made of cardboard with graphics on one side and game credits on the other. The overused word "unique" comes to mind but for once it is entirely appropriate; there is no other disk for Atari computers like this one.
I was so intriqued by this elaborate packagining that i just had to write to the company. From them. I learned that the entire package was assembled by hand at a university typography lab, According to game designer Mark Peters, this infatuation with details arose from "desire to create a package that together with the game, would become a work of art with lasting appeal ..."
Consequently, no surface has been left untouched. The pull-tab, the envelope, the disk jacket, everything has been enlisted to reflect some aspect of the game. After a while it becomes clear that the package itself is part of the game.
BOOTING AN ART OBJECT
On side one we have The Dream and P.A.M., two similar platform games with excellent graphics. The screens are bright, attractive, and embellished with many humorous touches. You can get a peak at them by waiting until the demo routines kick in. Altogether, 12 are shown; there may be more.
On side two the graphics and gameplay are completely different, and we're back to quirky. Bar Room Brawl offers you a chance to be a Burt Reynolds clone. Tangle with "bearded stuntman" in a number of bars. Throw bottles, break chairs, smash TV sets, Whoopee!
In Finis, the most original part of Pondering About Max's, you'll choose a song on the jukebox and look for a dance partner. Wait a minute! Isn't that the gorgeous Barb Vidal waiting to congratulate the winner of these contests?
Yes. Pondering About Max's does have a story line of sorts and Finis, s short routine which employs an amusing cinematic technique, is an attempt to wrap things up.
I KNOW IT'S ART, BUT...
Despite my obvious liking for it. Pondering About Max's is not perfect. The gameplay is very tough - perhaps too tough especially in The Dream and P.A.M. The graphics are good but not state-of-the-art. The sparse sound effects and snippets of music are adequate, but not exceptional. On the other hand, there are many fine artistic and humorous touches you'll not find in other 8-bit games.
The real beauty of Pondering About Max's (argues Mark Peters) is "in the tiny details that can only be discovered after months of play - I mean this literally. From personal experience i have found that it's possible to come back to the game months later and find completely new ways of advancing, and uncover animated routines never seen before (or in my case routines I had forgotten having programmed.) The symbols and themes behind the trilogy also reveal themselves with time clues are woven into protagonists' dreams and the packaging itself. The lyrics to the Howard Jones songs chosen also she light ... "
Pondering About Max's doesn't come from a big company. It's the sort of offbeat product that could only come from a small operation, one that could take time to allow it's artistic vision to include not just the programs themselves, but also the packaging and the advertising. Yet it's not amateurish product; it's a professionally executed piece of software right down to the loading screens. It's the sort of game that could achieve a cult status.
The unexpected demand for Pondering About Max's has outstripped the production capacity of Change in Heat. They are now offering a plain vanilla version (unlabelled disk plus instruction booklet) for $12.95. They still have a limited number with the original packaging, priced at $22.95. A $10 refund will be sent to those who order the fancy version after they've run out. There are no additional charges for postage and handling, even for overseas orders.This is from
Page 6 Issue 56 pages 34-35
Edited by Champions_2002, Fri May 4, 2012 1:01 PM.