Max’s Adventure (1981)   5 comments

The March 1981 issue of the Oregon Atari Computer Enthusiasts newsletter includes a review by Brian Dunn, age 11, of a game he calls Adventure by a mysterious “Max of Cle Ulum”. (In reality, the game has no name given, so I’m going with CASA’s title of Max’s Adventure.) As Dunn then explains:

According to folklore, this talented individual wrote this disc-based program, and gave it to a computer store in Seattle, saying only they were to give it to anyone they like.

In the next issue, the author himself, Max Manowski, writes in.

Source. The bit on the right is interesting, we’ll get to that.

We haven’t seen this kind of moment captured before; there’s certainly been random freeware, but not the exact circumstances the game was given away. In this case, Max writes “I have been made an offer to sell this program” and indeed, it later gets published by Atari through their Atari Program Exchange as Wizard’s Revenge. We’ll be getting to that one separately (and give a little history of the APX program I’ve learned in the process) but for now let’s just focus on this offering meant to be given by a store in Seattle to “anyone they like”.

The plot, as straightforwardly explained above, is that you made a wizard angry and now you have to escape.

The game seems ordinary from outward appearances, but as Max Manowski explains in an interview, he had read an article about a node-based system for writing adventures and based his on the idea. (He probably means GROW.) In other words, nearly every action is pegged to a particular location. This has obvious weaknesses; the game doesn’t understand many commands, and when it does, it’s a bit of a surprise. There’s also inconsistent handling. For example, GO SOUTH in many of the rooms with no exit south just triggers a “I don’t understand the command message”, although in some places (presumably where the author didn’t get worn out yet) there’s custom messages:

The confusion even extends to getting items:

The action that works here is LIGHT TORCH. This lets you see a variant version of the room with a passage to the north that’s too narrow to go through.

I figured, perhaps, this was a game of pure wandering, but got stuck by a passage blocked by water (with a chirping bird hanging out nearby) and a locked door.

The map up to where I originally got stuck.

I found out after some investigation that I was supposed to SEARCH in various rooms. It didn’t really matter which rooms; you’d have a random shot at getting various objects, and sometimes a wandering monster. Often you get a blank response, which is why I didn’t originally understand what was going on.

This isn’t even unlucky; the chance at finding something is something like 1 in 10.

Having discovered PUNCH works in fights against random monsters, I managed to get to a SWORD, but I was never able to use it.

I discovered later — from reading Max’s own hints — that USE SWORD works. SWING and STAB and various other words do nothing.

I eventually found both a worm and a wandering monster at the same time. Fortunately, I survived punching the monster, and took the worm over to feed the bird, who carried me over the water.

“After a while the passage turns to the left” is kind of impressive — it’s signaling that while you start walking east, the passage turns to the north, so that to go back you need to go south. (You can see this on the map I pasted earlier.) I can’t think of any games pre-1980 that did this. I think it’s part of the “every command is custom” aspect that led the author to doing this.

It turns out either a worm or a key works; the game tries hard to provide alternate routes to going places. Past the water/locked door is a shiny room where LOOK causes the room to shift and the player to get teleported to another area. I just kind of wandered until reaching the exit and finishing the game; there’s no further puzzles past this point, but there’s a lot of instant deaths.

A death sequence from earlier in the game.

I guess if you’re not going to have much in the way of puzzles, and do want a little “challenge”, instant death traps are the way to go.

Part of Garry Francis’s map, including the exit. From the CASA Solution Archive. Green has a higher chance of finding treasure with SEARCH, red has a higher chance of finding a monster, but there isn’t any way of working that out in game.

There wouldn’t be much more to say about the game …

Here’s the ending screen for the satisfaction of it, though.

… except the fairly unique feature that you can rewrite the game from within the game.

This is part of the node-based thing — remember in GROW how I came across a loose node that needed a room description? There’s nothing that sloppy here, but the commands for adding rooms were left in the software. From the ACE article:

The adventure by Max has a built in Editor with it’s own pseudo-language that allows the user to create or modify the adventure. To access the editor, the user types a “\” followed by a command such as: NEW, LIST, PRINT, CHANGE, or EXTEND. With these five commands, the user can write his own!

WHERE TO? \NEW?

NEW FILE NAME? TEST
NODE DESCRIPTION? YOU ARE IN A CAVE

WORDS OR PHRASES? OUT LEAVE RUN

ACTIONS? GVALLEY: (G=GOTO)

WORDS OR PHRASES? LOOK SEARCH

ACTIONS? W200 (W=WAIT) RLAMP (R=REQUIRE) YOU FOUND A KEY

I’ll return to write about Wizard’s Revenge (the APX version of the game) next time.

Posted May 16, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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5 responses to “Max’s Adventure (1981)

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  1. Jason I love the background sleuthing on this and the setup. Nice find. I tend to skim past the maps as I want to play it too and try to avoid spoilers but I always enjoy your exposition and the way that you write and think.

  2. Nice story, or better speaking, history. Node-based adventures seem to be interesting at first, but as you have already pointed out, the answers from the game when something is not understood (very often) are going to confuse the player since it highly depends of the patience of the author giving commands and answers to them.

    Also, I guess there is not even a parser, I mean, no separation from, say, attack and monster. This empowers the exact word syndrome to unknown levels!!

  3. Pingback: Wizard’s Revenge (1981) | Renga in Blue

  4. See also Imagen and The Return Of Felinar:

    https://stardot.org.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?p=264627#p264627

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