I Knew He Wasn’t A Real Doctor

By Alec Meer on August 20th, 2008 at 4:59 pm.

Hello.

During a bout of iPhone willy-waving down the pub recently, someone observed that there are two things that always get released for any piece of hardware that’s hacked to run homebrew code, and everyone duly installs them. Then doesn’t do anything with them except show them off to people in the pub. The first is Quake. It used to be Doom, but in the 3D age the big Q seems to have become the de facto way of demonstrating that a given piece of hardware has something decent under the hood. Touchscreen controls mean iPhone Quake isn’t hugely playable, but it does look amazing.

The second, and the source of my point, is SCUMMvm, the esteemed emulator for the old LucasArts adventure games. I suspect everyone who installs SCUMMvm, whether it’s for their PC, their PDA, their PSP or whatever, has a favourite game they install alongside it. For many it’s Day of the Tentacle, and God knows there’s a legion of Monkey Island die-hards, but for me it’s always Sam & Max Hit The Road. Except I never play it. I only watch the intro.

With the exception of the WoW login screen, I’m fairly sure this is the videogame scene I’ve watched more times than any other. How many times? I suspect I’m approaching triple figures. Complete playthroughs of the game itself number perhaps five or six (partial ones are probably around a dozen or so). I’m a total geek for this introduction, fully able to quote it in its entirely. The trouble is I no longer know if it’s funny. I’ve succumbed to Pavlovian call and response – if someone mentions a line from the intro, I laugh. But it’s entirely based on recognition, not necessarily humour. So, my quest for today is to re-establish whether or not this is funny:

(I’m just talking about the first couple of minutes, until the theme tune kicks in.)

Is it? In a quietly obsessive-compulsive mood, I’ve watched it ten times this morning, trying to fight through the nostalgia and appreciate it for what it is. It’s a bit like asking a cat why they enjoy rending flesh. They just plum don’t know any different.

Of course, I’m making it not funny simply by over-analysing it. Still, the conclusion I’ve come to is that yes, it is funny. Not as funny as my brain’s been telling me it is for the last fifteen years, but definitely funny. But not really because of its jokes. “You’ll fry like a pork sausage” is not an especially funny thing to say in and of itself, but it is when said in a funny voice that raises into an inexplicable falsetto on ‘pork.’ I think I shall make a point of doing that whenever mentioning specific meat types. The same’s true throughout – there aren’t many jokes in there (and the stilted animation harms a few that are), but the vocal performances lift every line into comedic splendour.

It seems like truly memortable voice acting in games is a rare thing these days, and we’re stuck with Gruff Hero Guy, Sassy Hero Girl and Sibilant Villain. I’ve been playing Space Siege lately, and I swear to God I recognised the lead character’s Gruff Hero Guy tones. He sounded the same as the lead character in Mass Effect, who sounded like the lead character in Crysis, who sounded like the lead character in… I’m quite sure they are different actors, but man I’m bored of that voice. Whatever happened to distinctive voice-acting? It seems to have been another casualty of the ongoing obsession with hyper-buff/hyper-sexy game character stereotypes, but surely it doesn’t have to be restricted to comedy games. TF2 is the obvious exception, a game whose voices contribute enormously to its appeal and character, and not solely for comic effect. Valve are pretty good at it generally in fact – the Half-Life series musters a good half-dozen memorable voices. More excellent voice-acting, please, the games industry.

The comedy here also hinges on the fact that the mad scientist is the only guy in the scene who appears to give a monkey’s about what’s going on. He’s trying really hard to be a supervillain, bless ‘im, but everyone else is entirely unflustered – including the damsel in distress. That’s why Sam’s desert-dry “Hello” is so funny. No outlandish neologisms or word-mashes, just a world-weary sigh in the face of absolute insanity. I think that’s what I love about Hit The Road the most. Come for Max’s psychotic non-sequiturs, stay for Sam’s resigned shrug even in the face of Armageddon.

Ah, catharsis. Fun-robbing, over-analytic catharsis, but catharsis nonetheless.

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54 Comments »

  1. Buemba says:

    Yup, still as funny as when I first played it. Although I’m enjoying the Telltale S&M games there’s something about the humor in the old Lucasarts game that they still haven’t been able to duplicate.

    Though the best line in that intro is the one that comes just after the credits:
    “Max, where should I put this so it doesn’t hurt anyone we know or care about?
    Out the window Sam, there’s nothing but strangers out there.”

  2. phuzz says:

    For me the must install SCUMM game is Beneath a Steal Sky, which is slightly more ‘grown up’ than the usual fair, but every time I hear that intro sequence it brings back memories of installing it to the harddrive in (or rather hanging out the side of) my Amiga, wich took about an hour of swapping the 15 single density floppy disks.
    I can also remember the walkthru for monkey island from years of reading every page of Amiga game mags.

  3. MacBeth says:

    Hmm… something seemed unfamiliar here. Then I remembered… I had the floppy disc version of the game, which meant no voices. *sigh*

    Day Of The Tentacle was on CD though, as I recall… so I remember it slightly more fondly…

  4. Schadenfreude says:

    Heh, I’m was quite literally copying Monkey Island 3 onto an SD card to play on my Wii when you posted this. I actually do intend to play all the way through however.

  5. The Hammer says:

    I think my favourite voiceover guy in videogames is probably Sean Pertwee, who narrated Medieval Total War. Honestly, he sounded a lot more rock solid than the two guys who came after him.

    I like the guy who voiced Medivh, too, in Warcraft 3.

    And yeah. ScummVM is always on my PC, and on my brother’s. And Monkey Island is the one it always comes with. :P

    EDIT: actually, thinking about it, RTSs is where the voice acting really counts, considering you’re clicking on them so many damn times. I’d be a Blizzard fanboy and say Warcraft 3 does it best, but holy hells, few things make me laugh more than the DOW unit quotes. “AFTER A THOUSAND BATTLES, ONE ONLY SEES DEATH!” is such a grizzly quote and said with such anger… and the game is full of that! Lovely.

  6. Not-A-Bot says:

    “I hope there was no-one on that bus”
    “No-one we know, at least”

    Sam and Max is my favourite out of the Scumm games, it’s just so incredibly absurd and out of the ordinary. The newer Telltale games just don’t have the same charm as the original.

  7. Nat says:

    Haha.

    I thought I was the only one who would just watch the intro and then exit. I used to always do that when I needed a quick laugh.

    I felt weird. Playing through it? It’s like a speed run now.

    “Gratuitous acts of violence are my forte.”

  8. Beastman says:

    Having just watched the intro for the first time ever (somehow I missed the game entirely), I’ll say the only time I even so much as chuckled was at the line “not if you don’t mind me clawing at the dash and shrieking like a cheerleader.”

    Whether that makes me wrong for not liking it better or you wrong for liking it so much, who knows? I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

  9. Razerious says:

    I love that intro too

    Oh, and…

    Old Sam & Max voices > New Sam & Max voices

  10. sigma83 says:

    Trivia note: the voice of Sam is Bill Farmer, voice of Goofy

  11. cyrenic says:

    “More excellent voice-acting, please, the games industry.”

    If all else fails you can just get Steve Blum to voice every NPC in your game *cough*Doom3*cough*.

    Hadn’t seen that intro in a long time. Ah, nostalgia.

  12. Dr Snofeld says:

    My favourite part has always been how Sam & Max just leave without untying the damsel and she doesn’t seem bothered by it.

  13. Dr.Gash says:

    When I was a kid I didn’t get the jokes. Now I’m an adult I don’t find the jokes funny. But the charm of the whole thing wins out – the wonky animation, the voice actors and the offbeat puzzling.

    Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is my Scumm game of choice, though. I’m playing it now. Wits path, just reached Knossos.

  14. sbs says:

    I always get Monkey Island 2 for ScummVM, and then I ALWAYS play it to the point you have to get a piece of Largos bone for the Voodoo doll, and then you dig up his ancestors grave, and when you did that, Guybrush lifts it up over his head in triumph, standing on the hill top of the cemetary, and quite dramatically, lightning strikes. And his pants drop.
    This had me in tears when I first played the game, and always manages to crack me up. For me, it’s one of the finest and funniest moments in gaming, and it says alot about what kind of a hero Guybrush is.

  15. Arsewisely says:

    I find the voiceless text funnier myself.

  16. Masked Dave says:

    Verdict: Funny.

    And that’s from someone with no memory of seeing it before (although I probably did).

  17. trioptimum says:

    This game had such an effect on me that, to this day, I pull off in my car in the manner depicted at the end of that video.*

    * may not be true. though if you bought me an actual DeSoto Adventurer and painted it up I’d be willing to try.**

    ** no I wouldn’t.

  18. Tom says:

    Oh it’s funny, come on!
    “Shall I confront, subdue and pummel the suspected perpetrator?”
    “Can’t think of a reason not to!”
    LOL! Awesome.
    Indie FOA was the first game I ever played on a PC, so it has a special place in my heart.

  19. Weylund says:

    I’d always avoided ScummVM… I thoroughly enjoyed Sam & Max and Day of the Tentacle (“I feel like I could… TAKE ON THE WORLD!”) but didn’t want to get trapped again in that tarpit of hilarity. Now that I’m playing the original X-COM again, the whole “avoiding nostalgic entrapment” argument doesn’t hold much water.

    As for the intro, I’ve loved it every time I’ve watched it.

  20. trioptimum says:

    Also, though the lack of storage space for animation frames did take its toll on that game, there’s no denying the sheer beauty of Max practically jumping out of the screen to attack that guy at 1:30.

  21. Alan Au says:

    There’s supposedly a patch floating around that updates the graphics for the CD version, but of course my CD is nowhere to be found.

  22. Benjamin Barker says:

    The cartoon visuals can make you forget it’s really rather subtle humor. There’s no overt gags here, it’s all droll absurdity in the lines and delivery. Sam & Max in any form is rarely tears-rolling-down-cheeks funny, but that’s a strength too– it’s why it doesn’t seem unreasonable to watch it ten times. You’re not being beat over the head with anything, and I think there’s another flourish to find and appreciate each time.

    The voices are indeed brilliant. Sam is a hardboiled film-noir detective (he reminds me at once of Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson) just barely in the realm of parody. The New Yoik accents are perfect– Sam reminds me of stooge Curly, and the damsel is terrific: “I knew you weren’t a real doctor!” Of course I’m not nostalgia-free here; I enjoyed the comic when I was a kid, though I didn’t play this game until 5 or so years ago. Thanks for spotlighting!

  23. The Apologist says:

    No question – definitely funny. Ah, Sam and Max. My first real PC game, and I got stuck after an hour and never went back…

  24. Mr Pink says:

    It’s funny. no doubt about it. Although I prefer the scene with the bomb back at the office, as others have mentioned.

    I have installed ScummVM on my phone, DS and Wii. My game of choice is DOTT, but I’ve only ever really started it on the DS, and even then I haven’t got very far. I guess it’s more the fact that I CAN do it which pleases me.

  25. Ben says:

    I have always found the S&M intro to be quite funny, but not as much as the various in-game scenes that populate the game. And the simple reason is: timing. Watching that video makes it perfectly clear that the lines follow faster upon each other and transition from joke to joke more quickly during the gameplay scenes than during the cut-scenes. Why, I don’t know, but the pauses for screens or sound-files to load or transition help wound the funny just a little bit in the pre-credits sequence. Still marvelous, but a little like a high school production of Noel Coward.

  26. Irish Al says:

    Tentacle is the funniest for my money. The gerbil. The punchable clown doll. It makes me feel smarter … more aggressive.

  27. Cunningbeef says:

    It’s a bit Jewish for my taste.

  28. Esha says:

    I played Sam & Max a while ago again thanks to ScummVM. ScummVM is something that’s been ported to almost every device capable of 2D though, and I happened to play Sam & Max on my DS, whch also had touch-screen capabilities. It ran amazingly well considering that this is the DS we’re talking about here.

    As for my favourite of the LucasArts adventure games, I had two. One was the obvious; Monkey Island 2: Lechuck’s Revenge, but the other I haven’t seen mentioned once yet. For shame, so called adventuring fans! Where’s the love for Full Throttle? Ben was one of the most endearing adventure game characters they had.

    Of course, adventure gaming isn’t limited to LucasArts and I’d love to see the engines of some other games ported to different machines. I have two in mind in particular, really. The Longest Journey and A Moment of Silence. Both had amazingly prolific stories. The sad part is that next to no one remembers the latter, I’ll mention that to most “hard core” adventure gaming fans and all I’ll get is a blank stare accompanied by “Huh?”. /sigh

  29. IcyBee says:

    Sam ‘n’ Max humour is an aquired taste. I’m definitely in the DotT / Monkey Island camp.

    The best bit of SnM is the Mount Rushmore bit. First time I got there I was literally RotFLMAO.
    Takes quite some effort to get there though (about 75% through the game, I think).

  30. ZeroByte says:

    Sam & Max is a favourite of my 9 year old sister, just today she had a friend over and she dragged her friend to the computer to play Sam & Max.

    I am strangely proud of that. She’s also playing the Monkey Island games by herself and she did DOTT mostly without a walkthrough (while I on the other hand cheated like a bastard).

  31. malkav11 says:

    I’m pretty sure no one remembers Moment of Silence because no one *played* Moment of Silence. The Longest Journey and Syberia marked really the last adventure games that were touted much at all until the new Sam and Max games came out, and since so many of the intervening adventures have been terrible Myst-alike shovelware or tedious, buggy messes of some other variety (or Nancy Drew games), I think the mass eye has moved on. I myself have only really heard the name and one or two adventure fans raving about it.

    The Sam and Max intro is great, yes. And almost as far as I’ve gotten in that particular game.

  32. Ozzie says:

    A Moment of Silence? Was this the game who got 14% in a review?
    Nah, just kidding. ;)
    I remember the Adventure Gamers thread where this particular rating was discussed to death.

    But honestly, it would be cool to see TLJ on other platforms, like Linux, Mac and the consoles, but despite this it’s still playable on any modern machine, if you have the DVD version at least.
    Funcom releases patches when needed and they even added support for Vista!

    Personally, I would like to see support for Discworld Noir and the old Sierra games, especially LSL7, KQ6, FPFP (figure that out ;)) and GK1!
    But, well, support for those titles will come if any programmer is interested in adding it.

    Oh, what’s my favorite ScummVM game? Without a doubt, Indy 4. Nowadays I only play it up to Atlantis and stop there. It’s always a joy to experience the different branching paths and alternative solutions! Not to forget that the gameplay is very varied with all the action sequences.
    Most adventures feel so stiff and lifeless. Indy 4 is very different in this regard and for this reason my favorite LucasArts adventure.

    Regarding the Sam & Max intro: I initially didn’t know what’s so funny about it. It grew on me, though. Definitely funny, after watching it 15 times! ;)

  33. Kato says:

    Wow, I thought I was the only one that installed ScummVM and copied Sam and Max over every single time I install an OS/hack a console.

    Seriously. First thing I did on my hacked PSP was Sam and Max, first thing I did on my DS flashcart was Sam and Max, first thing I did on my Wii was Sam and Max, first thing I did on Ubuntu was Sam and Max (and that was sans sounds), and first thing I did on my Vista reformat was, of course, Sam and Max.

    Of course, I only play until I get in the car, maybe talk to the flambe guy, then I get bored because I’ve played the game at least 8 times. :P

    Sam and Max for life :D

  34. NegativeZero says:

    I liked pretty much all the SCUMM games, but for me my favourite was always The Dig. Sadly, most platforms that get homebrew ScummVM ports aren’t capable of playing The Dig due I think to the fact it used FMV a lot.

    I think the soundtrack from that game is what I remember the most.

  35. litle poppa says:

    DOTT/Monkey Islands 2 were my favourites.

    DOTT had smarter puzzles. Everything was much more intertwined.

    Monkey Islands 2 (and 1) just had a fantastic atmosphere… it was low-res, gritty and actually kinda spooky. The jokes were subtle and balanced the game out.

    Sam and Max… yeah I thought it was pretty good but the game really did hinge on the jokes, and they wore thin eventually.

  36. Noc says:

    Speaking of voices, when I started playing Sacrifice I could swear that the voice of Eldred was the same guy who did the Nameless One.

    Then I looked it up and discovered that it was someone else. But it turns out that it was the Diablo narrator (as well as Pepin, Lazarus, Mephisto, and Horazon) Aldaris from Starcraft, Gul’Dan (and Varmithras) from WCIII, and Zeus in God of War. His name’s Paul Eiding, and you can find the rest of his credits here, which include a whole bunch of other games I haven’t played and a couple of cartoons and movies which I’ve seen but can’t remember who he voiced.

    This, for reference, is the “Gravely voice of a dark man with a mysterious past.”

    And even knowing that he’s not the Nameless One, (Michael T. Weiss), I can’t stop myself from saying “I FEEL STRONGER” whenever Eldred levels up.

    Also, Morte is Rob Paulsen, who is Pinky from Pinky and the Brain.

  37. Jodi says:

    Okay, floppy whiners, I think you’re incorrect. You should’ve bought that Soundblaster, because IIRC, Lucasarts games from DoTT onwards had voices in their intros (and only their intros) even for the floppy players. They even had fun little copy protection games that us CD-ROM-owning losers missed out on.

    Sierra never gave us that kind of joy, although the lip-syncing on King’s Quest 6 (CD version) was really rather good.

  38. Nicolo The Magnificent says:

    I agree with Phuzz, Beneath a steel sky is one of my favourite games.

  39. Smee says:

    “It looks like Galileo was wrong, Sam!”
    “I don’t think we were in a vacuum, Max.”

    @NegativeZero: I agree, The Dig soundtrack was fantastic. I remember playing that with a degree of quiet wonder. It was almost like a sci-fi fairy tale.

    Beneath a Steel Sky was a great adventure game (very well animated too), but it was horribly written.

    “Hello every person in the game, I’m Robert. Yes, there are police currently searching the city for an excaped criminal from the wasteland. Where am I from? The wasteland. Here are some terrible one-liners.”

  40. Mr. President says:

    I liked pretty much all the SCUMM games, but for me my favourite was always The Dig. Sadly, most platforms that get homebrew ScummVM ports aren’t capable of playing The Dig due I think to the fact it used FMV a lot.

    Seems to run smoothly on my 3-year-old crappy smartphone.. Which is awesome, because I didn’t get to play any Lucas Arts adventures except MI2 as a kid. Now I can’t wait to go on some boring business trip so I have an excuse to play one of these legendary titles.

  41. Joe says:

    Hm. I love Lucasarts (Monkey Island rant, blah blah) but I admit I never found this part of Sam and Max super funny. The game is awesome and I love the quips, but I don’t like this bit as much as some of the others. I guess it’s just a bit too fast-paced.

    In fact, the older I get, the more I find I actually prefer the more serious Lucas games. The Dig is massively underrated and Grim Fandango may yet replace Monkey Island in my heart of hearts.

    Still, my favourite ever Lucas scene? Hoagie surfing in the Chrono-o-John as it drops him into the past. Truely epic.

  42. James Lyon says:

    To me, Hit the Road was a game which was funny, yet never as hilarious as the gaming press keep reminding us. It was screwball, rather than ROTFL. I preferred Monkey Island and DOTT.

    That said, I haven’t played it through fully for about ten years so a reassessment’s long overdue.

    I’m also still apprehensive about playing the new Sam and Max games. I just know I won’t enjoy it as much when their voices are so different. Perhaps I should play it on silent.

    Similarly, it took a me while to come round to playing Curse of Monkey Island after having Guybrush’s voice imagined in my head all that time. Thankfully, they made a decent job of it, although he was a bit too smart-arse American than I would have liked.

  43. The Sombrero Kid says:

    i have scummvm permanantly installed along with

    Monkey Island 1 & 2
    Sam & Max Hit the Road
    Day of The Tentacle
    Indiana Jones and the fate of Atlantis
    Full Throttle
    The Dig

    and although it doesn’t use Scumm
    Grim Fandango – very important!

    there’s probably other good scumm games but these are the one’s i bought when they came out and played them and i’m really nostalgic about, i couldn’t play maniac mansion for example it’s ugly and i have not emotionally connection to it, so i’ve got no tinted glasses that fit that game

  44. gulag says:

    Dispite not liking anything else about it, I thought the voice-acting in ‘Prey’ was pretty good. The main character initial attitude wasn’t one of Generic Rage, but rather panic, terror and denial, which developed over time as he found more reasons to kick in alien heads. Which was refreshing.

  45. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @gulag
    i thought the voice acting in prey was the second worst thing about it, after the death mini game of course, i did like prey quite a bit though

  46. Floppylobster says:

    It’s hit and miss to me. I find Max’s voice and lines slightly forced, but his animation and the delayed editing help make it funnier (his big smile over a long pause creates anticipation of a laugh).

    The scientist is just great, stroking his death lever while Sam slowly walks in (using in-game animation). I find it funnier if I picture the guy who wrote it (and programmed it) having had a dating situation just like that at one time (and still being able to make fun of himself). Reminiscent of the Adam West Batman series as he gives the full title of ‘free lance police’ as he addresses them.

    I loved Day of the Tentacle but I only ever played the first few scenes of the Sam and Max. Just a little too clever for its own good for my liking. The humour reminds me of MST3k (which I’m not a fan of).

    “Friends?!” (that line is gold)

    @Gulag
    I also found the disaffected attitude in the voice acting of Tommy(?) refreshing. It was the thing that made me play it through. I was about to switch it off, anticipating another generic piece of crap, especially when the Grandfather started talking about spirituality. I started thinking “not again”, but as I did the main character butted in and said, “Save it Grandfather, you know I do go for that shit”. It really drew me at that moment. But then three or four levels later I grew sick of it and Tommy’s disaffected tone didn’t quite seem to suit anymore… The radio programmes were quite good though.

  47. Ian says:

    I’d neither seen this before or played a Sam and Max game.

    I rate it ‘A’ for Amusing.

    No game has ever made me laugh as much as when Guybrush first talks to Murray, though… and possibly a few other moments.

    Murray: You may call me ‘Murray’! I am a powerful demonic force! I am the harbinger of your doom! And the forces of darkness will applaud me as I stride through the Gates of Hell – carrying your head on a pike!
    Guybrush: “Stride”?
    Murray: All right then, roll! Roll through the Gates of Hell! Must you take the fun out of everything?

  48. The Sombrero Kid says:

    wtf something funny has happened with my posts :S

  49. Bobsy says:

    Oh man. Funny as DOTT and Sam & Max were, and brilliant as Monkey Island was…. It’s Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis that I remember the most fondly. It’s a shame that it’s the most commonly overlooked of the triumvirate, because it shared the wit and the brains (apart from the rather poor “fists” path) of the other two with a genuinely engaging adventure story that managed to nail the Indy atmosphere perfectly.

    “I’m selling these fine leather jackets” was never delivered so well.

  50. Martin says:

    Sorry, not feeling it.

    *shrug*