Max Headroom (Sinclair User Magazine, April 1986)

This is a reprint of a Max Headroom video game preview for the Sinclair 48k as seen in Sinclair User Magazine, April 1986, pgs 12-13).

By: Clare Edgeley

Searching offices for a piece of code

H-H-HI THERE, my n-n-name is M-m-max and I’m almost here — well my head is — for the first Max Headroom show. Or is it a game? I’m not too sure right now.

And here it is. Max Headroom in person, well almost, on tape from Quicksilva. And like that well-loved computerized whateverised image on TV, the game is as complicated and crazy as the man itself.

The plot is based on the feature film and follows the adventures of Edison Carter as he tries to regain the missing piece of his memory. The last thing he remembers before he crashed is a sign saying ‘Max Headroom’. Just think. If Carter had crashed on a country lane we might be playing Zed Bends.

Anyway, with icon control and much brain power, you play the part of a computer program which helps Theora Jones control Carter in his search for the Max persona and the missing piece of his memory. Get it? No, well, neither did I for a while. You can’t have goodies without some baddies and Bryce, the mastermind behind Max, and a snotty-nosed computer whizz kid is determined to halt Carter; you have to override his instructions and help Carter. As well as Bryce, two thugs inappropriately named Brueghel and Mahler stalk you on floors 200 to 208 of the Bigtime TV skyscraper. Their aim: to turn you into a stiff.

The 200th floor of the Bigtime skyscraper is Carter’s first destination. Somewhere on floors 200 to 208 are eight pieces of hexadecimal code in four series of two. When these have been found, they will allow entry to the Presidential suite on floor 210. There Carter will find the last piece of code which will let him onto floor 209 where the computer lab and the Max persona is based. At this point he’ll be halfway to regaining his memory and you’ll be more than halfway to losing your sanity.

Going up to Executive Level

Now for the first brain teaser. To reach the Executive level — floors 200-208, you have to take control of the lift from Bryce — and that means playing the Seven Segment Display game on the lift’s LCD floor panel. Bryce will try to stop you entering ‘E’ on the display and will attempt to divert you to any other floor. You must enter and keep the letter there for about ten seconds until the countdown reaches zero.

Imagine a digital 8. Now imagine a wire leading from each of the seven segments to a pulse bank beneath it. You must trace each wire to its segment and and only send pulses to those segments which, when lit, outline the letter ‘E’. Each time you use the lift you must play this game. Sometimes it’s a number you must keep or maybe a ‘P’ for Presidential suite. Whatever, it’s almost impossible on the first attempt and you’ll have to sit down and learn the combination.

Now that Edison’s managed to gain access to a floor he must search each of the 15 to 20 offices for a piece of code. But first you must play the Resistor game to open the office doors. As soon as you enter a floor and access the floor icon, the game begins. The screen changes to a picture of eight lightbulbs. You must be ready as the game starts immediately. Four bulbs light up in a random sequence and repeat if in reverse on your set of four lightbulbs. Believe me, it happens so fast you’ll probably miss the first one or two in the sequence. In fact, I made a pretty poor substitute for a computer program.

The Resistor Game

Now Carter can search the offices and also use them as a place of refuge to avoid the unwelcome attentions of Brueghel and Mahler. The detail in each office is incredible, each room is equipped with desks, chairs, flowers or may be a case of golf clubs on wheels — these finishing touches help to add an aspect of realism to rooms with doors but no walls. Quicksilva has chosen to use a similar method to that of Ultimate’s portrayal of rooms in Nightshade. There are lines on the floor denoting the boundaries of each room. It works very well in this case.

The graphics are fast though somewhat limited. Sticklike figures represent Carter and the pursuing thugs through if you scrutinise them carefully you can tell them apart. Carter always carries a camera under one arm, the others carry guns. Actually it’s easier to use the move icon and pick out Carter that way. However, the detail and speed of movement more than compensate for the lack of color and basic matchstick characters.

Once you’ve found a piece of code, move to the next floor and search that. There are two lift shafts to the building and each must be used alternately, so you’ll have to race across the room to operate the opposite lift when you want to move up a floor. If you are fast, you will probably lose Brueghel and Mahler for a while though they are persistent and will eventually catch up.

When you’re using the lift you see a picture of the skyscraper with the lift moving upwards. The lift changes to opposite sides of the skyscraper depending on which you are using. A nice finishing touch. Also, if you can be bothered to count them, you will find that when you press ‘E’ for floor 2000 — if you were able to slow the program — you would find that number of floors.

Max digitised — on the Commode, unfortunately.

Once the codes have been found, visit the Presidential suite for the final piece of code and make you way to floor 209 where you’ll regain your memory. Now the escape. To get out, you’ll have to make your way back to ground level. Or was it insanity?

Your ultimate goal is the Max Reward screen where you’ll come face to face with the man itself. Matt Frewer, the voice behind the mask has recorded a short m-m-molonlogue to welcome you and that has been digitised and added to the h-h-head.

There are a few icons to access during the game which are fast and easy to use. Those may be changed slightly in the finished version. The Rest icon is a particularly good idea. You have only one life and a percentage rating giving your health status — confident in the eighties, wounded in the forties and very dodgy when you reach the twenties. Now is he time to access Rest and be repaired. This icon acts as a pause button should you want to escape for a month or three.

Complex or downright impossible? With only six real-time hours to crack Max, it’ll be a race in code breaking. A winner perhaps? We’ll wait till we receive the final version.