Sam:The kind of dream where you wake up screaming with a gun in your hand, your pillow torn to shreds, and the upstairs neighbors calling 9-1-1.
Max:That's right! The best kind!
An episodic sociopathic lagomorph and a canine gumshoe with a passion for polysyllabic pejoratives who call themselves "The Freelance Police" are here to keep the peace. Violently, if possible. It's all in a day's work to face a bunch of former 70's child stars, a maniacal mafia mole peddling hypnotic enslavement, and the paranoid stylings of the guy who runs the corner store. Journey everywhere from the moon to the White House in search of your next case and an errant bowling ball.
Sam and Max is a throwback to a simpler time, when LucasArts and Sierra pretty much owned my soul outright and just jostled back and forth between themselves over the specific percentages with each adventure they released. Telltale has taken up the banner and not only given gamers a great new set of installments in this quirky saga, but they've taken us where no other company has taken us before: an episodic game project that delivers on time and keeps rolling along.
But how does it play!?
If you're in this for sexy pixels, you better pack up and head home. The over-the-top cartoony style doesn't push your hardware in any way. But the code is clean and it runs like a top even on some fairly crappy hardware (i.e. every computer in my house).
This isn't a twitchy sort of game. Sam and Max started off as a third person point-and-click adventure and it's stuck with that. It's not a difficult game, especially if you cut your teeth on such classics as Monkey Island. There are very few moving parts. No real need for HUD or interface. The autosave system is so well laid out I got to the second episode before I even found the main menu docked along the top of the screen. Up until then I was busy clicking Sam around and I just didn't need it.
What it has lost in complexity it has gained in charm and accessibility. There's something there for everyone. It's a T-rated game, but the dialog is far deeper than the rating suggests. Sam's habit of stringing out alliterative exclamations is just the beginning. They use words like "subsume" and "homogenous amalgam" all through the dialog. It's all about the smart alec, and in spades. Sam Spade and a garden spade, and just about every other kind of spade imaginable.
The witty interplay between the characters is what sells the whole thing. Solid voice performances and scripts that get better every time keep it fresh. You'd think they'd play out all the jokes pretty quickly but each episode brings out something new from everyone down to the fish in the water cooler. You think you've got them pegged, but then in the next episode Bosco goes Bolshevik or something and all bets are off.
There isn't an online component, but it's perfect for sharing with family and friends. My gang appreciates a well-played sight gag, a sly reference, and a good deadpan joke, all of which this game delivers. When I boot an episode, everyone in the whole house gravitates towards my desk and I get a bunch of backseat players telling me to click this or that and snarfing tea down my back during the ensuing giggle-fit.
The first season is complete and available in this DVD collection with lots of extras. The poster is cool, and the various videos were fun and added a lot of good information for those who missed Sam and Max their first go-round 15 years ago. The blooper reel is particularly funny.
But the best feature is yet to come. You don't have long to wait for the next installment. The first episode of Season 2 -- Episode 201: Ice Station Santa -- is going to hit Gametap for subscribers on November 8th, or you can get it from Telltale games directly on November 9th.
Sam and Max: Create a Scene Panel
At Penny Arcade Expo, Dave Grossman, the Design Director for Telltale Games episodic hit brought in a panel of his staff to not only give us some cool information about the game and it's upcoming second season, but to allow us all to see their process of game-making first hand!
The convention brochure had this panel incorrectly labeled as "Making an Episode" but someone pointed out to the organizers that the scale of that was a little out of whack. It takes about a month to make a Sam and Max episode, and each includes about 2,500 lines of spoken dialog. While we all really like each other, that wasn't in the schedule.
So we just made a scene. Get it?
Dave gave us some overview information, and introduced his compatriots. Jon Sgro (Technical Director), Brendan Q. Ferguson (Designer), and Marco Brezzo (Technical Artist) would be combining forces to take us from a simple script in Word Pad to a working scene running in the game engine.
Dave walked up and down the crowd, priming it by asking for specific items to be shouted out. With much hillarity, we craft our dialog.
Sam: Hiya Sybil!
Max: What's your story lady?
Sybil: I'm an orthopedic surgeon, baby!
Sam: Holy heavenly horse radish in a Houston whorehouse!
Max: Who cares, I'm running for re-election!
Sam: More importantly we need a pastrami on rye to save the world!
Sybil: Why do you think I have a pastrami on rye sandwich?
Max: Orthopedic surgeons always have pastrami on rye sandwiches!
Sam: They use them for lubrication!
Max: It's science, Sybil.
Sybil: The problem with science is you can't prove it. Also I need condiments.
Sam: To Bosco's little buddy!
Not exactly Shakespeare, but what ya gonna do?
Next, three people were chosen from the audience to record the voices. They only took one take, and they did a pretty good job. As is characteristic of the series, some of that dialog is a mouthful. Try to get through that fourth line above and you'll see what I mean.
While they crunched through their tools up front, they treated us to a blooper reel from Season One and the cinematic trailer from the upcoming Season Two. Then they took some questions from the crowd.
And right on time, one of the technical guys gave us the high sign that it was ready. We watched them maneuver Sam through the game world over to Sybil's desk and they were off. Take a click here and the final product of our endeavors can be viewed.