SamandMax_office.jpg

[NOTE: GameSetWatch asked AlistairW of the excellent Little Mathletics weblog to come on board as a co-editor and conduct a number of interviews with diverse personalities exclusively for GSW - from dojin authors to game industry figures. The second in his regular series talks to the folks at Telltale Games about Sam, Max, and more.]

In 1987, Steve Purcell published the first Sam & Max comic, Monkeys Violating the Heavenly Temple. The story of a six foot anthropomorphic dog named Sam and his "hyperkinetic rabbity thing" friend Max, they hit the spotlight in 1993 in the LucasArts game Sam & Max Hit The Road, then went on to Fox Kids' The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police in 1997. LucasArts announced Freelance Police, a sequel to Hit The Road, in 2002, but the title was cancelled in March 2004.

Shortly after that, in June, Telltale Games was founded by a number of those who had worked on Freelance Police, including proucer Dan Connors, who became Telltale's CEO. After four games in the past two years - Telltale Texas Hold'em, CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder and the episodic Bone licenced games Out from Boneville and The Great Cow Race - Telltale annouced a new Sam & Max game for Q3 this year, the trailer for which debuted at E3, and can currently be seen on their web site.

As well as getting a chance to discuss the game with Dan Connors, we also passed a few questions the way of senior designer Dave Grossman, another ex-LucasArts employee, whose design credits include Day of the Tentacle.

What's the history of Telltale?

Dan Connors: Telltale was founded in June 2004 by Kevin Bruner, Troy Molander, and myself. We all met at LucasArts where we worked together for years. We left LucasArts in order to start a company building games based on great stories and specializing in dramatic content. Since that time we have funded the company, launched four products. We will be launching the first season of Sam & Max games on GameTap this fall.

Did the working relationship between Steve Purcell and Telltale begin at LucasArts?

Dan Connors: I met Steve originally when we were working on Sam & Max Hit the Road, but we worked much more closely on Freelance Police.

Why have you gone with GameTap for the distribution of the game?

Dan Connors: Because GameTap has a very similar vision to Telltale’s as far as what the future of gaming can be. Turner has been very successful in creating networks and they are putting a lot of resources into ensuring GameTap is a success. From a content standpoint, they've been great to work with because they trust us to create a great product.

Why are you using an episodic method of release for your games?

Dan Connors: For one thing, we're building a company, not a product. When you build a company you need to think about emerging opportunities. There have been many examples of developers not being able to make it because they didn’t control their own destinies. In order to be great Telltale needs to innovate. Being a leader in episodic game production and distribution creates more opportunities for us.

Does this make it easier to listen to feedback from fans and critics?

Dan Connors: Definitely. We consider ourselves an online company, and having a community is very important to us. Having a tight feedback loop with them is critical.

Why are the episodes shorter than those for the Bone games?

Dan Connors: Because they will be coming out on a much tighter schedule.

Does it feel like there's a lot of pressure to get this right?

Dan Connors: If we want to succeed, we have to live up to the expectations of our fans. The pressure is a good thing because it forces us to prove ourselves. That will end up bringing out the best in everyone. I'm more concerned about narrow expectations of what Telltale "should be" or games we "should make." Telltale needs to take chances and try new things to thrive.

What can people expect from the games, interface-wise?

Dave Grossman: Interface-wise, expect a wise interface – guffaw, guffaw, oh, I couldn’t resist, though I’m sure we’re all wishing I did. The games use an intuitive and fairly minimal point-and-click style interface, with an inventory and a few other whistles to support things like driving Sam and Max’s extremely cool car, shooting, and other mayhem. Cranium required, but for the most part you can leave your reflexes at the door.

How heavily is Steve Purcell involved in the project?

Dave Grossman: As these things go, pretty heavily. We email quite a bit about the story and the art, and Steve makes time to come in for some of the story and design meetings, which is extraordinary as I know how busy he is with other projects. He doesn’t just rubber-stamp things; he comes with a lot of concrete ideas of his own. It may not seem like much as I describe it, but so far I’d say he’s been more involved than the creators of any of the other licenses I’ve ever worked on.

On a similar subject, who is writing the storyline?

Dave Grossman: Brendan Ferguson [co-designer on the game and yet another ex-LucasArts employee] and I are doing that, but Steve does have a lot of input. And we’re glad to have it, because Steve’s peculiar sense of humor is the foundation on which Sam & Max is built. (I’ve discovered that trying to channel Steve while writing is really, really fun.)

Who is the game aimed at? Judging from various comments from fans, there seems to be some concern that the game will be aimed at too general an audience to satisfy "hardcore" fans.

Dave Grossman: We do want to be able to attract a mainstream audience, but we don’t want to disappoint loyal Sam & Max fans, either, so the games aim somewhere in the middle (now I know how politicians feel). They won’t have quite the baffling tangle of brain-squeezing challenges that the old, large-scale graphic adventures did – they are simply too small to be that complicated – but they’ll be trickier and stranger than, for example, The Great Cow Race.