Articles

The problem with Sam & Max 22 Aug, 2008, 19:52 / 53 comments

When do you stop making something that people enjoy? When they’ve had enough, when you've run out of inspiration, or simply when your creation is finished?

I don't know how you are, but whenever I go around to somebody's house for tea, a part of me is always panicking because I don’t know how long to stay for. Sometimes it seems that the line between staying too long, and not staying long enough, is too thin for conception. The problem applies all across the board: to television, to theatre, and to electronic entertainment.

The following article was formulated in seven hours worth of cold, dirty bath water.

Comments

  • mish87 on 26 Aug, 2008, 17:45…
    With all the new people onboard to revive the series to its full potential, what's with this pessimism? It won't get stale anytime soon. I hope we get a Sam & Max movie.
  • Gabez on 26 Aug, 2008, 18:47…
    It's not pessimism, and I don't think it will get stale. Whether it gets stale or not is almost inconsequential: either way, my anxiety of not being able to understand the future will crush my fragile mind.
  • Simon on 25 Aug, 2008, 15:38…
    From reading these comments, maybe I should try season two out. Season One was a bit painful and I felt my affection for Sam & Max (who I am immensely fond of, collecting the comics and playing Hit The Road exhaustively over the years) dwindling with each episode. I just felt that, despite the talent and Purcell's involvement, somehow those games didn't quite 'get' Sam & Max. They didn't nail as much of it as things that had gone before.

    Telltale must have upped the ante immeasurably for there to be so much goodwill here?
  • Udvarnoky on 25 Aug, 2008, 19:59…
    Well, it depends on what you felt were Season 1's problems.

    I think Season 2 is a significant improvement over Season 1 all around but in terms of how the characters are represented, I think Season 2 better captured the randomness and irreverence of the comics. I thought the humor in Season 1 was good, but was a bit too "clever" for Sam & Max I think. If overall though you despised Season 1 I can't imagine you liking this a ridiculous degree more. It's basically the same thing, but better.
  • 8 of 12 on 24 Aug, 2008, 09:28…
    Gabez sounds like he needs a hug!
  • Gabez on 24 Aug, 2008, 14:19…
    I dunno... I think that would make me more anxious! I mean, when should the hug end, and who decides when that should be?
  • 8 of 12 on 25 Aug, 2008, 09:26…
    Hahaha. You crack me up, little buddy! :)
  • The Tingler on 23 Aug, 2008, 19:55…
    Done a number of comments before I realised that I haven't said what a great article that was. Well done! Certainly proved a nice basis for an argument, which is what the best articles do!
  • hierohero on 23 Aug, 2008, 08:09…
    I'd actually wait for the quality to decline before even contemplating such thoughts. Sam & Max is going from strength to strength. With Mike Stemmle onboard for season 3 I couldn't be more excited about future episodes.
  • Gabez on 23 Aug, 2008, 11:40…
    It's not necessarily a question of quality thought -- I've no doubt that future seasons of Sam and Max will be very good, but that doesn't mean that they should go on for infinity. "Too much of a good thing" and all that -- even if the quality remains excellent, the sheer size of the whole thing will no doubt kill creativity and charm. And will this happen in 2010 or in 2100? When will the last piece of Sam & Max related content be made -- and how will we know that it will be the last?
  • The Tingler on 23 Aug, 2008, 10:11…
    That's what I'm most excited about in Season Three!

    I'm just hoping that Telltale are using this long gap between seasons to focus on how to make Season 3 as brilliant and fresh as possible.
  • NatsFan on 22 Aug, 2008, 22:58…
    Steve Purcell is the comic and game industries' Fountain of Youth. I have yet to see a Sam & Max comic or game that wasn't fresh and creative.
  • Gabez on 23 Aug, 2008, 11:42…
    This is true -- as I said in the article, it's part of the nature of Sam & Max (and Purcell) to reinvent itself and stay fresh and original. But there must be a limit even for Sam and Max. Where that limit is, though, who can say?
  • Ascovel on 22 Aug, 2008, 20:49…
    Very interesting article. And quite a surprising one to see on a "We're all about Star Wars" site.

    Personally, my worries about the future focus on if there will be an Insecticide sequel. Well, I still haven't played Part II, so maybe I'll have enough after it, but probably not. And I want a bigger budget version - with car chases, airplane chases, and acid trip levels.
  • Jake on 23 Aug, 2008, 08:26…
    "We're all about Star Wars?"
  • Ascovel on 23 Aug, 2008, 09:27…
    Well, I've seen a lot of this kind of self doubt around here lately.

    Even while commenting on this article everyone immediately started comparing Sam&Max license to Star Wars. Not what a sane Sam&Max fan would focus on, wouldn't you say?
  • Kroms on 24 Aug, 2008, 16:29…
    Star Wars and Sam and Max aren't as different as people think. You're not TOTALLY insane when comparing the two.
  • Gabez on 23 Aug, 2008, 11:43…
    We're primarily LucasArts fans -- that, at least is our background. Star Wars and LucasArts go together like bread and butter, so it's not surprising that it's part of the Mix'n'mojo foundation. "We're probably all about Star Wars" etc. is a joke -- but as a web-site, we do have some interest in the series.
  • Ascovel on 23 Aug, 2008, 12:21…
    Yeah, I know. I was just making fun of it.

    Actually, I'm a big Star Wars fan myself (but mostly interested only in stuff in which George Lucas is heavily involved)
  • The Tingler on 24 Aug, 2008, 09:46…
    That's funny, I think it's better when he has very little to do with it!
  • Ascovel on 24 Aug, 2008, 11:21…
    You mean you think the Expanded Universe is the best part of Star Wars?! :/

    Well, I do realise that I'm quite unique in liking GL. The guy is greatly underrated.
  • The Tingler on 24 Aug, 2008, 14:02…
    George Lucas... underrated?!
  • Udvarnoky on 22 Aug, 2008, 20:57…
    I don't think you have to worry about the Insecticide license being over-developed. :~
  • Ascovel on 22 Aug, 2008, 21:15…
    Yes, that's true. However, the opposite extreme can be even worse than over-developing the license.
  • MarioColbert on 22 Aug, 2008, 20:27…
    Really a curious sentiment, this one, and I have to say that in part I have to agree with the notion of "outstaying one's welcome." What surprises me the most is just how "ahead of its time" this article is, as Season 2 marked what I can only consider the beginning, as the last two episodes have nailed the episodic formula, fixed whatever issues with timing the series had, and delivered product that is, in all honesty TELLTALE - I KNOW YOU READ THIS NONSENSE, bad-ass.

    I'm willing to say that the developers always seem to know more than their fans, just as Tim Schafer's enigmatic "Brütal Legend is fine" has been thrown out if only due to pressure. In that regard, Telltale probably knows infinitely more than we do, with all their odd hints and unofficial statements regarding XBOX Live Arcade and the general attitude that all your episodic bases are belong to... you know where I'm going with this.

    To anyone who is even more anxious about this sort of thing as Gabez himself, there's a great xkcd quote that I do not feel like looking up. All it says is that patience and "time will tell" are good concepts to relax to.

    And if we are talking about Telltale - the most prolific out of the ex-LA bunch, I'll go on record as saying that they will need to do something awful (very awful) to make me cease supporting them. I pay those guys out of sheer principle, as they're the only ones who seem to be doing anything sort of "different" with this whole "puzzle adventures" genre -and- prove to others that it can be profitable. I can't think of anyone else who proved that quality sells, as everything I associate with quality (ahem FALLOUT) is being RUINED right now (ahem FALLOUT 3 ahem) by developers who seem to wish to dumb down everything, starting from the gameplay and ending with the story. Telltale - shine on, you crazy crazy diamond.
  • Gabez on 22 Aug, 2008, 20:34…
    I agree with you about Telltale. As Udarvonoky said, they're a small company that makes games for cult audiences, and as you said, they take quality seriously. Thus, the problem is more an artistic one than an economical one: they're more like to stop when they feel like they've taken things as far as they can, than stop for economical reasons (though that might also cause them to stop, it won't be part of their intention). Arguably LucasArts have gone the other way and would continue making any series as long as there's profit in it -- but that's a harsh judgement.

    I'm sure Telltale do know more than I do, but that doesn't help my anxiety. It's like there is a plan, someone does know how long something will go on for, but they won't tell me because they want to keep me quietly panicking. But that's as irrational as any other part of my fear!
  • Udvarnoky on 22 Aug, 2008, 20:54…
    Your observation that a company will make something as long as it's profitable is not "harsh," it's a fact.

    LEC is kind of shortsighted though. They want profit, but only big, immediate profit. How else do you explain their adversity to episodic, digital distribution (the original idea for Freelance Police) or the factthat they don't sell their old games anymore, which could in the long term give them a tidy sum? LEC doesn't want gradual, longtime profits from their products - they something that will either hit or bomb right out the gate, because they have no vision.

    Consider what might have happened if LEC has released Freelance Police. If it had made money, it probably would have been modest, and LEC would likely have just moved on from Sam & Max. Telltale understands the potential shelf life of a good story game - look at people like us who are still obsessed with Monkey Island. They recognize that Sam & Max is the kind of property you can keep selling forever. Let's say Freelance Police (six episodes) would have sold identically to Season 1 (also six episodes). LEC probably would have considered it barely successful, but because of the way Telltale built their engine, designed their release/distribution philosophy, and set their budget, Sam & Max is (with the right perspective) a golden goose for them. You think Culture Shock sold a billion units for Telltale on day one? Hell no, it's not that kind of game. But I bet it keeps selling, however gradually. What Telltale's doing is building a library of small, high quality games that they'll always be able to sell to people, because they're centered around humor and characters and story, things that will outlived their tech aspects. In a year, they sold, what, 500,000 copies of 11 episodes, right? Imagine what could happen with an indefinite amount of seasons, and a few years?

    But the thing is, Telltale isn't approaching Sam & Max as a Star Wars license...because it isn't. They're not doing it because they're greedy, because Sam & Max doesn't lend itself to that kind of mentality. If Telltale didn't care about the characters, they wouldn't have forced themselves to find a way to make selling Sam & Max games work. And the way to make it work was unconventional distribution.
  • Ascovel on 22 Aug, 2008, 21:39…
    Udvarnoky wrote:

    "LEC is kind of shortsighted though. They want profit, but only big, immediate profit. How else do you explain their adversity to episodic, digital distribution (the original idea for Freelance Police) or the factthat they don't sell their old games anymore, which could in the long term give them a tidy sum? LEC doesn't want gradual, longtime profits from their products - they something that will either hit or bomb right out the gate, because they have no vision."

    In my opinion all big game companies think this way. Some projects just aren't big enough for them, even if they were to make lots of money in the long run. It's called EGO (not to be confused with LEGO).
  • The Tingler on 23 Aug, 2008, 10:08…
    I think game companies can go either way. Some are ONLY interested in long-term benefits, like creating new franchises for them to squeeze to death, and some like LucasArts have absolutely no concept of 'long-term'. The best lie somewhere in the middle, although I can't name any at the moment. Perhaps Telltale?
  • Ascovel on 23 Aug, 2008, 12:45…
    I was more thinking about companies usually not wanting to do "small", regardless if it is benefitial in the long-term or not. For example, for the LucasArts decision-makers Sam&Max seemed too small, too differnt from the then blockbuster games to release the sequel. They couldn't bare the thought they will be connected to something so small and quirky.

    What I find interesting is that the company behind Art of Murder (which I heard you know from personal experience) seems to have rather recently made a fortune by just selling in retail lots of very cheap, simply made games. Also, despite the generally poor to avarage reviews of Art of Murder they seem to have made quite a bit money with it and established an audience. They're currently turning it into a franchise.
  • The Tingler on 23 Aug, 2008, 19:52…
    The Art of Murder games - and City Interactive (the company you're talking about) - are probably the best argument I've seen for letting the adventure game die. They make them cheaply, sell them cheaply, and cheap morons buy them.
  • Ascovel on 23 Aug, 2008, 20:41…
    Erm.. So are you against the idea of pulp fiction because it's dangerous to the high braw titles then?

    Anyway, as far as I know Art of Murder is City Interactive's first adventure game, so it's a bit harsh generalising from that.

    Telltale games also look like they're cheaply made, the sound quality of the dialogues is atrocious and most episodes reuse assets from previous ones. However, I wouldn't say they're sold cheaply or that cheap morons buy them.
  • The Tingler on 23 Aug, 2008, 22:56…
    Trust me - I've had to review many City Interactive games. They don't get any better.

    Fair enough on the adventure game comment though, if it is indeed their first. I try to forget them as quickly as possible.

    The difference between Art of Murder and Sam & Max is that Telltale actually know what they're doing.
  • Ascovel on 23 Aug, 2008, 23:45…
    OK, I understand your stance. The other games by City-Interactive (haven't played any myself) must have made you really allergic to the company.

    The team that made Art of Murder isn't some random gang of soulless robots though. They're quite an established group of adventure games creators. Only, before AoM they have been making Myst-like games and not third person titles with inventory based puzzles. I think they'll improve with time.
  • The Tingler on 24 Aug, 2008, 09:48…
    I doubt it. We'll see.
  • Ascovel on 24 Aug, 2008, 11:35…
    Don't tell me you'll be forced to review them as well?
  • The Tingler on 24 Aug, 2008, 14:02…
    Probably!
  • Ascovel on 25 Aug, 2008, 19:30…
    Tough job.
  • Udvarnoky on 22 Aug, 2008, 20:16…
    Fantastic article Gabez.

    Here's the thing about Sam & Max: like anything else, Telltale's going to keep making it until people stop buying it, plain and simple. The question is, is the point where people stop buying it the same point when the games stop being of good quality? And quality aside, is there a danger of there being too much of Sam & Max? Well, obviously, but there's a danger of there being too much anything. If they can make three seasons of Sam & Max before they run out of ideas, I'll be happy, because that would have been way more than I ever expected to see of that dog and rabbit. If they can make fifty before things get stale, I'll be happy with that too. I think what separates Sam & Max from, say, Star Wars, is that it's not really a license that anyone could ever fathom, at least at the moment, of saturating the market.

    The thing about Telltale is they've found a way to make Sam & Max successful, but it doesn't change the fact that its audience is still kinda modest (relatively). Telltale can get away with making money off of such an audience due to their business model. Yeah, they're making Sam & Max episodes to make money, but it's not comparable to a HUGE license like SW, which was always a huge movie, whereas Sam & Max was always a cult thing...Telltale has simply figured out a way to make that cult thing profitable, because the budget and release strategy for the game reflects the size of the consumer base. Even if Telltale kept making Sam & Max games forever and kept making money off of them, I still don't ever see the characters reaching like, Harry Potter status or something. Sam & Max has a pretty consistent audience. Sure, you'll be able to attract new people to it, but it is what it is, and I don't see that ever changing dramatically.

    I guess my bottom line is: don't worry about crossing that bridge until you get there. We've had two fantastic seasons of Sam & Max (Season 2 sits very comfortable with LEC's best adventure games in my opinion), and there's no reason to expect Season 3 to be any different. True, we're suddenly getting a whole lot of Sam & Max after a lengthy period of their being dormant, but until you see the quality of the license being compromised, there's no problem to be concerned about.
  • Kroms on 22 Aug, 2008, 21:23…
    There's another difference between Sam and Max and Star Wars: Sam and Max has managed to open-up such a huge universe for itself the potential is very, very huge for it to go on for years and years and not getting boring at all. Star Wars made the mistake of having a handful of characters losing to evil, finding a new hope against said evil and ending said evil - that closed-up the universe.

    Sam and Max on the other hand has opened-up such a huge universe for itself that you could write hundreds of adventures and it wouldn't get stale. I've written a couple for practice and I shudder just thinking about the possibilities (one episode was about the Toy Mafia ordering a hit on the duo because they stole something they don't know about; the other was about a battalion of rats led by Two-Teeth taking over the city)*. Season Two was nothing like Season One, and I bet Season Three will be even better.

    You're worrying too much Gabez. Bring on S3 Telltale!

    *(Note: For some reason, Mojo makes me write like a 3 year old most of the time. I swear I'm better but for some reason I blunder at Mojo - I'm actually proud of my two scripts, for once.)
  • The Tingler on 23 Aug, 2008, 10:02…
    Being the token Star Wars fan here I'd better reply to this - SW has an infinite number of books continuing the universe, and I'd argue that the recent 'Legacy of the Force' series are better than the films (especially the prequels). There are stories set thousands of years before and after the films. Hardled "closed-off".

    And why the hell are we comparing Star Wars and Sam & Max?!
  • Glo_kidd on 23 Aug, 2008, 18:15…
    seconded in regard to the legacy of the force books :) its a shame that more people dont check them (and others) out, some of the best characters in the Star Wars universe never had anything to do with the films
  • Kroms on 23 Aug, 2008, 16:50…
    I think of the books as more like "finanicially exploiting" the universe, but whatever floats your boat. But I digress: to most of the world Star Wars is a series of films - not books. The films are the main dish, and the films are pretty limited. Sam and Max isn't (and besides, what's the main dish?).

    Because they're comparable :P
  • The Tingler on 23 Aug, 2008, 19:54…
    And the Sam & Max TV show, T-shirts, mugs, sketchbooks, prints, DVDs and indeed games aren't financially exploiting the comic franchise?
  • Kroms on 24 Aug, 2008, 07:24…
    I'd argue they're merchandise, which is a good way of cashing-in; but you gotta admit the Star Wars books/comics are pushing it too far. People just want more Star Wars and they've been milked. At least everything Sam and Max has been high quality so far!
  • The Tingler on 24 Aug, 2008, 09:55…
    This is a stupid argument really as you hate Star Wars in all its forms! Let me assure you that a lot of the books have been really high quality. The books and comics are totally fine.

    THIS however is pushing it too far.
  • Kroms on 24 Aug, 2008, 13:47…
    I like episodes IV-VI! And I haven't seen the rest, although I wasn't too fond of what little I saw of Phantom Menace.
  • The Tingler on 24 Aug, 2008, 14:04…
    I do hate the prequels too.
  • Ascovel on 24 Aug, 2008, 12:11…
    The parts of EU that I've seen were all awfully derivative of the movies, particularly the biggest, flashiest stuff in them. The Skywalkers and Jedis were milked to the bone. :( I wait for the live-action series for something more creative in the same universe.
  • Gabez on 22 Aug, 2008, 20:25…
    Yeah, I'm sure that Sam and Max is in safe hands, and that it won't be pushed too far and become stale -- but there's always the possibility that that *could* happen, and it fuels my irrational fear of the future.

    50 seasons is an astronomical figure that feeds my fear in a different way -- can you imagine 50 seasons to chose from? Yet that's where we're headed. I just read an Arthur C. Clarke novel set in the year 4,500, by which point humanity has produced so much art that it can't all be saved for memory (and political reasons) -- and all that's left is too much for anyone to go through anyway. That amount of creativity is a little terrifying. Where will it all go?
  • Kroms on 22 Aug, 2008, 21:27…
    Which Arthur C. Clarke novel?

    (And he was too optimistic about art - or humans - surviving that long, bless his dead heart.)
  • Gabez on 22 Aug, 2008, 21:28…
    Well despite it being set in the year 4,500, earth did explode in the year 4,300 (or something like that). But then humans do continue on the colonies. The book is "Songs of Distant Earth."
  • Remi O on 23 Aug, 2008, 01:44…
    Also a great Mike Oldfield album!