Action Max is a home console released by Worlds of Wonder in 1987 using VHS tapes and a light gun for gaming.
Action Max History
Produced by Worlds of Wonder, the Action Max is one of the most well-known VHS consoles. Worlds of Wonder was formed in 1979 by a group of former Atari employees. The company met already success manufacturing dolls and toys, like laser tag toys. When Nintendo wanted to bring Famicom to USA they turned to Worlds of Wonder for help, striking up a deal with the rapidly growing company acting as a distributor for the future video game giant. For Christmas 1985, Worlds of Wonder products were so in demand that the company was able to force retailers to take Nintendo Entertainment System consoles despite the lack of interest in the product following the video game crush, as the retailers couldn't risk being denied stock of the toys they actually wanted. This undoubtedly played a huge role in the successful US launch of Nintendo's console and helped give the Japanese giant the place in the market today.
Around the same time, Hasbro was working on a project with Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, which was actually a game system using VHS tapes to bring full motion video to gaming using a special kind of tape with multiple video sequences buffered by a console. So the player would only see one sequence at a time depending on the player choices in the game. This complicated system would eventually lead to games like Night Trap on the Sega Mega CD but never gone beyond the prototype for a VHS version. Worlds of Wonders knew that things needed to be kept simple choosing instead to use a single piece of video with no fancy and expensive extra technology. This would keep costs down while still providing live action graphics that, at least in theory, would seem decades ahead from competition.
Action Max Game play and launch
Action Max itself was pretty simple, featuring a relatively low Hitachi HD401010 processor, a built-in mono speaker and 2 Character / 7 segment LED score display and of course no cartridge media slot of any kind. In fact the system doesn't actually connect to the tape or player in anyway, instead it uses two light sensors to track what's going on the screen and score the player accordingly. One sensor in the light gun tells the console what the player is aiming at while the other sticks in the corner of the screen and is attached to the system by wire. During game play these two sensors compare the frequency of light pulses to determine what's happening. When is nothing to shoot at, the screen displays a dark circle. When there are targets it will instead display a white circle flashing frequently. Targets have a white circle each which is detected by the sensor in the controller. If the player shoots at an enemy target, the frequency will match that of the screen sensor and the system knows where the player point. Hits on friendly targets however won't match frequency, instead the system knows to deduct points. If the light gun sensor doesn't detect any light circle, then the shot is a miss.
Switches on the system allows two game modes including the self explanatory limited hour mode and reflex mode in which the player must score points quickly. A volume control dial controls simple generic sounds from the console such as the gunshot noise while a second dial adjusts the light gun sensor based on the player's distance on the screen. All game cassettes start with a few minutes of calibration screen, giving the player time to make this adjustments as required. In 1987, the Action Max launched in USA for just under a hundred dollars, a price which was certainly attractive to parents, while the game play adverts were impressive at first glance aiming to caught the attention of children. The launching box included stereo headphones and a copy of Sonic Fury. At launch three other games were available, with more advertise to follow. Each game cassette also came with previous of other games at the end and as a cool bonus, these previous were actually playable and can be considered an early use of free demos.
Action Max Features
At the top of the console the user can find the score LED screen, two dials -- one for controlling the volume of the console's speaker and one for controlling the player's distance from the screen -- and three switches -- two to select the game mode and the last simply to power on or off the console. On the front there is the headphone socket for the headphones that came with the console, a switch to turn off the internal speaker and the socket that connects the gun controller to the console. Underneath there is the battery bay. The system could be used also with four cell batteries -- there is a socket to connect the power adapter at the back also. At the back there are more sockets. One to "steal" the audio from the VCR, one for the TV light sensor and a switch for stereo or mono audio for the VCR.
One of the 80's Action Max Commercial can be found below: