Telltale Games - Summer of Sam & Max
The Latest: Sam & Max: Bright Side of the Moon Commentary Tracks

Sam & Max Season One is done, but we're not! Every week for the entire summer, the web guys and Sam & Max dev team will be joining forces to dish out morsel after morsel of top shelf Sam & Max content, from tell-all commentary tracks to a history retrospective to some awesome surprises you'll probably guess ahead of time on the forums. We'll be updating every Tuesday, so come back often! For now...

The years between the animated series' cancellation and the debut of Sam & Max Season One make up a period many Sam & Max fans would prefer not to remember. False starts and projects that never came to pass dashed the hopes of eager fans, used to the semi-regular freelance police fix they'd come to expect all through the 1990s. The biggest blows came in the form of two games.

The lesser known of these projects, entitled Sam & Max Plunge Through Space, was born at Infinite Machine, a small startup founded by ex-LucasArts employees. The story was one Steve had come up with soon after finishing Hit the Road, and Chuck Jordan (of Curse of Monkey Island and Abe Lincoln Must Die notoriety) was involved in the endeavor. Since Chuck now works full time at Telltale, it was fairly easy to walk across the room and ask him some questions about this never-released gem...
Above: Present day Steve Purcell, at home in his studio.
How were you involved in the Infinite Machine game?

Chuck: I was in charge of the pitch/design document. Steve came in with a complete story and concept art for the settings and characters. A team of us would meet weekly for brainstorming sessions over scenes and new characters and gameplay ideas, and then I'd go and turn those ideas into an excessively dry and long-winded Word doc.

Looking back on that game, what was your favorite thing about it?

Chuck: Realistically, I think I had more fun at the brainstorming sessions than anyone would've had with the actual game. I'd been a fan of Sam & Max since college, so getting to add something to that was a blast. One of my most prized possessions is a concept sketch Steve did of characters that came from those meetings: Span'qee, the tyrannical leader of a children's play area underneath an alien casino. It was a parody of an episode of "Star Trek" about a bunch of abandoned kids who could summon a "friendly angel" by pounding their fists and chanting a rhyme. In the game, the idea was that the kids had been waiting for their parents so long that they'd developed their own civilization, and Sam & Max would have to use the alien kids' telekinetic powers to open up areas of the casino underground.

This game was going to be action/adventure. Do you have any thoughts about how the playing experience would have been different from the story-driven Sam & Max games that have been made?

Chuck: It was a lot heavier on "adventure" than "action." It was intended to be more of a hybrid, giving you the story and characters of a point-and-click adventure, but with the pacing of a 3D platformer. You'd have controlled Sam directly, moving around environments about the size of a FPS level, solving item-based puzzles and getting into dialogue exchanges. Enemies would wander the level, so you could always go back and shoot and/or beat them up. (I remember that we spent a good bit of time trying to figure out how to do shooting without over-complicating the targeting interface, before we remembered that it's Sam & Max, and accuracy is kind of irrelevant.) We were hoping to have a platformer without shallow characters or annoying jumping puzzles, and an adventure game without the feeling that nothing happens when you get stuck. The best part of having a pitch go unpublished is that I can say that we solved every problem, and it would've worked perfectly, if only it had gotten made.

During one of the earliest brainstorming meetings, Steve just casually mentioned the idea of a "Freelance Police Academy," and that idea stuck with me as more of an action/adventure game. I've decided that no matter what it takes, I WILL see that game made before I die.

Is there anything else about the game you'd like to share?

Chuck: I'm still hoping some of the ideas can be repurposed into future Sam & Max games, so I don't want to spoil them all. But our idea for boss fights was solid gold. We wanted to give each area a mini-game climax, but without making it too platformer-like. Steve came up with the idea of thumb-wrestling duels, which turned out to be a perfect fit for the original Xbox controller. A big "Mortal Kombat"-style build-up with rotating cameras, a cheering crowd, and blasting a techno version of the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb." I still weep at the thought of it.

Stop shaking your thumb--err, fist--at the marketplace realities that caused Infinite Machine to close its doors before Sam & Max Plunge Through Space could be made, and take a deep, cleansing breath. It gets worse before it gets better.

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