Max and the Magic Marker

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Press Play for PC, Mac, PS3, Wii, DS, iOS, and WP7, originally released in 2010.
Max and the Magic Marker started off as a Flash demo, illustrating the core concepts and game mechanics. The small Copenhagen-based dev house, Press Play, used the prototype to secure 114,000 Euros worth of grants from New Danish Screen and Nordic Game Program, which they used to support development of a full-fledged game. In 2009, with a 6-level demo in (virtual) hand, they began shopping the game around to publishers… but no one would bite. Finally, pursuing the route of many other indie developers, they opted to self-publish, and 2010 saw the release of the game on WiiWare and as a PC download. The game was subsequently released on Mac and Windows Phone 7 platforms. It was also ported to the iPhone in 2011, courtesy of EA Mobile, and eventually released to retail as a full-blown packaged Wii and DS release later in the same year. In the Fall of 2011, it was re-released on the Playstation 3 via PSN in full 1080p with Playstation Move support.

Max and the Magic Marker is a game about Max and – as you might have guessed – his magic marker. Max is just a regular kid until one day he receives an orange marker in the mail, with no explanation. Not one to question the origins of the marker, he decides to start drawing a picture of a monster. To his surprise, it springs to life and runs off the side of the page and into another of Max’s drawings, and starts messing things up. To stop the monster, Max draws a picture of himself on the same sheet, and is suddenly transported into the 2D realm.

Max and the Magic Marker is a physics-based, drawing-based, puzzle-platformer. Now, don’t be put off too much by all of those commas and hyphens... Just because there’s some genre-bending going on here doesn’t mean that the game is overly complex. Quite the opposite is true, in fact.

If you take the marker out of the equation for a moment and look at Max on his own, you’ll see that he is a plucky yet barely-capable platform hero. He is a bit slow, has a small jump, and can push boxes and grab ledges. While Max is certainly a determined lad, he doesn’t have the ability to do too much on his own. His real power comes from the use of his magic marker.

Anything that you draw on the screen is instantly manifested with full collision and physics in the game world. Need help crossing a pit? Draw a bridge. Want to crush an enemy? Draw a stone over its head and watch it fall down. Can’t reach a platform? Build a set of stairs.

But these are just most basic of tools. Every world is filled with environmental challenges that require you to consider the weight and physics of the lines that you draw. Anything you draw will instantly become affected by gravity once it enters the game world. So, if you build a set of stairs and don’t anchor one end to a solid object, it will fall over. Draw a circle on a hill, and it will start to roll down. Draw a see-saw and drop a rock on the opposite end, and Max will be propelled into the air.

Each level also has a number of semi-hidden items that can only be collected by using your line-drawing power in a creative fashion. For instance, you may need to draw a semicircle around Max near a helium balloon dispenser. The balloons will fill up the inside of the shape and it will start to float upward toward a shiny collectable. You only have a certain amount of ink, but you can erase previous lines to restore some of your supply, and Max can also pick up ink blobs in the environment to fill it.

On the Wii, you control max with the nunchuck, using the stick to move, the Z button to jump, and the C button to interact with objects. The remote is used to aim the marker (visible on the screen while you play), and you use A to draw and B to erase. From there, you are limited only by your imagination, ink supply, and Sir Isaac Newton. Level solutions are not set in stone, and each level can be completed in a variety of ways.

You have the option of drawing live in the game world, while everything is moving, or you can enter a pause mode where you are free to draw at your leisure (by holding A and B). During this time, all of the graphics are changed to look like a little kid (namely Max) had drawn them, to emphasize the fact that you are inside the world of the drawing. There is a childlike scribble counterpart for every graphic in the game.

There are a total of 15 levels spanning 3 worlds: a suburban world, a pirate world, and a robot world. There are a certain number of collectables in each area, and some special harder-to-acquire ones. Completing various objectives yields unlockables and rewards, including a speed run mode and a special “gift” from the developers.

The game worlds are wrought with environmental obstacles and enemies that are bent on thwarting your attempts to find the Max-drawn monster and destroy it. However, with infinite lives and frequent checkpoints, most players should be able to at least complete the game, with more skilled players being able to achieve 100% completion. All-in-all, the title offers about 4 hours of gameplay.

There were about 8 people working for Press Play at the time of Max and the Magic Marker’s release. Their previous experience includes quite a bit of web development and some Flash games, which they use as a testing ground for trying out game concepts and mechanics.

Concurrent with their development of Max and the Magic Marker, they are prototyping a game currently known as “Hard Plastic”, and another called “Octoracer”. Hard Plastic is a casual shooter designed for 4P simultaneous play, and Octoracer is, oddly, a multiplayer game featuring octopusses (a.k.a. octopi) that move about and eat astronauts.

The Flash demo for Max and the Magic Marker is available via the Press Play website, and can be run using the Unity plug-in. It is fairly representative of the final product.