Preview: Sam & Max Hit The Road

By John Walker on April 1st, 2010 at 10:00 am.

Without the SCUMM verb interface, the entire game looks like cutscenes.

The question everyone’s asking: can LucasArts possibly have two adventure hits on their hands this year? With Day Of The Tentacle due in only two months, Sam & Max Hit The Road is set to appear as soon as November. There are questions to ask. Is the development team spreading itself too thin with multiple titles? Will they be able to match the same standards without Ron Gilbert or Tim Schafer directly working on the game? And what has happened to the SCUMM interface? It’s with these thoughts in mind that we sat down to a hands on with an early build of what LucasArts believe to be the next big step forward for the genre. Read on for our exclusive hands on, and some never before seen screenshots.

It’s funny. That’s the most important thing to let you know. Damned funny. Talking with co-producer/directors Mike Stemmle and Sean Clark is like sitting down with a double act. Clark is tall and thin, Stemmle shorter, larger, hairier. Their shared office shows an invisible diagonal line down the middle where Clark’s orderly neatness ends, and Stemmle’s exploded toy shop begins. It’s halfway between these two opposite extremes that their comedy is born. Then combine this with the outlandish humour of Sam & Max creator, Steve Purcell, long-time LucasArts employee and cartoonist. He contributes not just his characters, but also has worked on the script, design, and art for the game.

Sam and Max, for the uninitiated, are freelance police. Sam is a large Labrador-like dog, Max a short, insane rabbit-thing. Both are anthropomorphised, walking on hind legs, and most importantly, talking. Or more frequently, quipping. The pair investigate peculiar crimes using their own unique brand of sadism and sarcasm, violence and vulgarity. In this game we’re told they are to be investigating the disappearance of Big Foot, and along the way encountering giraffe women, giant balls of string, and country music.

The first thing you notice as you sit down to play is the size of the screen. Despite the game having been in some form of development since 1989, four years on it looks unlike anything else LucasArts has produced. While still being built with the SCUMM engine, it’s unrecognisable. Gone are the verbs from the bottom third of the screen, replaced instead with a rotating interface as your mouse cursor. Right clicking changes the icon with which you interact, letting you choose between (fewer) options, an eye for looking, a mouth for talking/tasting, a strange hand squeezing a green object for use, and so on. Which means that the main view now occupies the entire screen. It’s a glorious site, LucasArts’ trademark beautiful cartoon graphics filling the entire monitor. It’s also far less fiddly to play. Hammering the right mouse button is an awful lot simpler than building a sentence from verbs, and for there’s even keyboard shortcuts for skipping directly to the option you want. This puts the inventory into a small box bottom left of the screen that when clicked on opens up an inventory screen that overlays the main image. Select from this and then you can click the objects as an icon directly in the game. It’s sleek, and most of all, it works.

But before any of that, we were treated to the game’s opening titles. If you choose the CD-ROM version of the game – and we strongly suggest that this is the year to finally add a CD drive to your PC (just a single-speed drive will do to get this working, but now they’re available it’s well worth getting a double-speed if you can fork out that much – load times are improved considerably) – then every line of dialogue is voiced by actors, and wonderfully so. Sam’s dry drawl is a perfect match for Max’s manic jabbering, and the interplay between the two is hilarious. “Mind if I drive?” squawks Max. “Not if you don’t mind me clawing at the dash and shrieking like a cheerleader,” comes the laconic reply from the dog. The beginning of the game apparently has absolutely no bearing on anything else that happens throughout – it features the duo rescuing a woman from the clutches of a mad scientist, who might also be an exploding robot. This segues into the opening credits, commented on by the characters immediately after, where we rejoin them in their offices.

We were able to play this opening area and the street outside, and the first few areas of the carnival which may not sound like much, but occupied us for a quite remarkable amount of time as we plundered it for every hidden gag, silly comment, and possible item to add to our inventory. Just in these couple of scenes were plenty of puzzles, but more than anything, so many jokes. Every object conceals at least one comment, possibly more, and very often some banter between the two characters. The dartboard, for instance, is referred to as “vertical silverware storage.”

We were then shown some sections of the carnival, the next area of the game you visit, and home to the beginnings of the story proper. Here we learn that the carnival’s star attraction, Bruno – a frozen big foot – has defrosted and escaped, taking with him Trixie the Giraffe-Necked Girl. It’s up to Sam and Max to retrieve them. Again every character we spoke to was hilarious, and the conversations between the two leads constantly funny.

This is different from any previous LucasArts game, and not just because of the revamped SCUMM engine, which was reprogrammed by the polymath pair leading the development of the game. Stemmle and Clark (along with Purcell) have appropriately created a double-act of a game. Unlike so many recent LA adventures, you only control one character, Sam, with Max used almost like an inventory item. He follows you about, gets in your way, and makes inane (and often worryingly demented) remarks, but often the solution to a problem is to ‘use’ Max on something in the world, inevitably leading to something funny and/or gross. But it’s their interactions that made us laugh so much as we played. The animations are also beautiful, so many unique moments for particular scenes. For instance, simply to answer the phone the pair brawl the length of the office, kicking and punching one another, using animations we’re told won’t appear anywhere else in the game. Just for one gag.

Any fears that efforts were diluted by creating Day of the Tentacle and Sam & Max at the same time should be put to rest. From what we’ve seen of DOTT, it’s going to be just stunning. From our brief time with Sam & Max, it could be taking the adventure game to the next level. And poking it in the eye.

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72 Comments »

  1. Tang says:

    Great preview, really can’t wait for this game to be released!

  2. DanPryce says:

    Will I have to be connected to the internet at all times to play Sam & Max? I mean, it’s not a big issue because I have super fast 56k, but it’s a chore connecting and the dial tone scares my gran.

  3. Ian says:

    My PC’ll never run that. :(

  4. the affront says:

    Wish this was real and I could experience it for the first time again..
    Damn you, RPS!

    • Vandelay says:

      I don’t understand. They haven’t cancelled Sam & Max have they?

  5. Lambchops says:

    A dog? A rabbity thing? It’ll never catch on!

  6. Richard says:

    I don’t like it. As an old-school adventurer, these fancy VGA graphics just look like style over substance. And what happened to the good old parser? More dumbed down adventure bullshit for the sheeple. What happened to the Lucasarts that made great games like Night Shift and Zak McKracken?

    Fail.

  7. Melanie says:

    WOW! This looks fantastic! The graphics really are superb.

    Is it true that there is a 3D mode?

    • Ozzie says:

      No, but I heard that you’ll be able to play the game in stylish black & white! Just like an old noir crime movie, with a dog and a psychotic rabbity-thing as the lead characters, obviously. That’s something, right?

      Good preview, but I think it lack some comment on how the controls are dumbed down to Sierra level and that they just encourage trial & error. Otherwise, good. :)

  8. Michael says:

    Read my lips: I. CAN’T. PICK. THAT. UP.

    Oh, I give up

    *sobs*

  9. Rich says:

    Even though they’ve said this is going to be ported to Mac OS, there’s no way it’ll run on my Mac Plus.

  10. Radiant says:

    I heard that I have to enter a sentence from the manual before I can get this to play??
    FUCKING DRM!!!!11

    Also there’s this new site called gamefaqs that you can use to solve all the puzzles with.
    We don’t need to buy magazines for walkthroughs anymore.
    DOWN WITH MAGAZINE MONOPOLYS!

    • Rinox says:

      Love the effort, but you forgot to make the necessary rage-induced spelling mistakes! :-(

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      GameFAQs? Never heard of it! (hint: it won’t appear for another two years).

      I get my hints from UHS, the Universal Hint System — which now runs in Windows as well as DOS.

    • Britpunk says:

      You could always ask the Gamesmaster. You might even Dave Perry. That dude is wicked!

    • Britpunk says:

      even meet*

  11. Rinox says:

    A rabbit and a dog?! Dumbed down for the kids, clearly.

  12. Tom says:

    Will there be achievements and DLC? If not then game sux0rz

  13. lonerock says:

    Did anyone else read the first few sentences and think John was talking about these games as Special Editions coming to Steam? April fools + working late = Getting ones hopes up for no reason.

  14. Schmung says:

    Will this run on my 386? I might finally have to shell out for that soundblaster card..

    • zak canard says:

      Can anyone tell me if this will play nice with the Windows Chicago beta, or do I have to play in DOS mode?

  15. Jakkar says:

    Mark my words, this is a passing fashion. You’ll never seen animation in a serious adventure, and voice acting is for the unimaginative. Interactive cartoon!

  16. Risingson says:

    You summed up very accurately what the magazines said back then. What people were afraid of – heh! – about Sam & Max is that Lucasarts games were getting closer to Sierra games. That was a kind of blasphemy.

    About the game, a very unique one, with some design problems (some puzzles are absurd and don’t have any kind of clue), but with lots of personality, awesome animation, fantastic and catchy music, and very good blend of tradicional pictures and CGIs. Some subtle gags, like the surreal northamerican attractions (pop culture self-referenced) and the gas clerk that looked the same everyhere you went (not to mention the wonderful downbeat ending) are still remembered with a grin.

  17. Heliocentric says:

    Does anyone know what copy protection is used. I’m boycotting any game with code wheels.

  18. nhex says:

    Fantastic.

  19. Richard J says:

    Man, I remember reading the preview for this in PC Gamer.

    Didn’t the CD ROM version come out about six months after the floppy release?

  20. Christian says:

    I bet at least the CD-Rom version doesn’t have any copy protection. After all, a full CD-Rom (650 mb!!! Crazy how big those things have become) can’t be copied at all!

  21. negativedge says:

    glad I finally purchased a monitor able to display all those colors.

    really though, I’m getting a little sick of all this talky. where are all the games about shooting people?

  22. stahlwerk says:

    Does it require a double speed CD-ROM drive, or will my horrendously overpriced, cartridge based, single speed drive suffice?

    I bought it just so I will be able to play Rebel Assalut, which I heard is going to be just like taking part in Star Wars Episode IV (what’s up with that naming, anyway?), the movie, only “interactive”. It has many videos, which will be full of motion. I wonder if all games of the future will be like that.

    Also: what will happen if I insert the CD in my dad’s hifi stereo? Will I be able to hear the sounds of the game?

    • TheSombreroKid says:

      the same thing as putting a spectrum tape into a tape deck obviously!

    • stahlwerk says:

      (@TheSombreroKid tell that to my 11 year old self and his stupid curiosity regarding the Wing Commander + Secret Missions CD-ROM. One of the earliest adrenaline rushes I can recall, fumbling for that remote control while 16 bit Satan is wrecking the speakers. Hey, I wanted to listen to the game’s music, okay?)

    • Britpunk says:

      IIRC you can skip past track one (the game data). Tracks 2 onwards are the music track

    • Teachable Moment says:

      Star Wars – I know, right? If they ever make Episodes I, II and II they’ll ROCK!

  23. skeej says:

    Wow… This game looks awesome! Can’t wait to play this!!!

  24. Navagon says:

    Did you know they’re getting rid of most of the interface? It’s just going to be this box thing. A BOX THING! Yet another example of games being dumbed down to be ‘accessible’ to the drooling masses. It should be clear to everyone that only big buttons with Talk, Push and Use written on them can be considered intellectually stimulating.

    • Risingson says:

      It’s funny because not so many games had a verb interface then. Westwood and Revolution actually adapted a simplified interface before, and only Core, with the EVIL Curse of Enchantia (and another called Universe) did add more verbs, that just annoyed a lot.

      But years and years later there were the ones that deffended the WRITTEN interface as something that improved interactivity.

  25. hart says:

    You made me play through DOTT the other day. And now you’ve made me start this again!

    I’m not sure if I should be pleased that I have reason to play this masterpiece again, or angry that I really do remember all the puzzles this time.

  26. Tom says:

    Voxels are the future, screw this.

  27. Spacewalk says:

    These screenshots have much better clarity than screenshots that show up in your competitors. What type of paper are you guys printing these on anyway?

  28. Ravenger says:

    I want to know which form of DRM it’s going to use. Is it LensLok, words in the manual or something even more restrictive like a colour code chart?

    Boycott game manual DRM!

    • HermitUK says:

      Damn right. If one more game asks me when a Pirate was hanged in Tortuga before I can play the game I bought, it’s boycotting time.

  29. Tom says:

    I have analysed the screenshots and established they are taken at a higher resolution then the game itself will actually run:@ notice the smooth edges and the large amounts of anti-aliasing and x32 antistropic filtering. Definite render jobs.

    One day games will look this good but lets be realistic.

  30. Sulkdodds says:

    Man, I’m excited about this. Nothing like a new Lucasarts adventure to cheer us all up from life under the Tories.

    • Grunt says:

      I’d hold on to this comment…you may get a chance to use it again in a few months!

    • Britpunk says:

      oh god not again. i’d gladly take scrotum face for another 5 years over the davedroid

  31. Tom says:

    I’ve seen the game running on high end and these screens are clearly higher resolution render jobs. Note the anti-aliased super-smooth edges and the ridiculously high antistropic filtering on the textures.

    One day games will look this good but we have to be realistic people. DO NOT BE DECEIVED!

  32. Tom says:

    *high end machines. Do excuse me.

  33. Gav says:

    The articles doesn’t mention the negatives, like its a bitch to run on Windows 95, and to get it to run with full voice acting in DOS 6.2 requires a bootdisk with memmaker activated to run, even if you have a whopping 4 mb of RAM. I mean 614 K of coventional memory for a few voices that is just crazy!!!

    • TheSombreroKid says:

      relax lucas arts have always been really good at providing boot disk utilities with thier games, i’m sure they won’t let us down.

  34. TheSombreroKid says:

    i’m boycotting this because of the intrusive drm that it comes with, i’m going to go to the barra’s and hope it’s on one of thier crack compilation cd’s and hope that it’s one of the one’s on the cd that work instead.

  35. Clovis says:

    I’m continuing to boycott pictures in Adventure Games. And this adds sound too? Pff, pretty soon gamers won’t even know how to read. Games’ll just be flashing pictures and loud noises.

  36. mbp says:

    I note with some unease that the standard floppy disk version of the game will not include the voice pack. You have to buy it separately as a Digital Carryhomefromtheshop Load.

    I call a boycott. If we let them get away with this then other game distributors will start trying to gouge their customers like this.

    • mbp says:

      and by the way … yes I do still have my original floppy disk version of Sam’n Max and even after all of these years I am still pissed off about the voice thing.

  37. Jahkaivah says:

    YOU TOLD US YOU DID NOT TAKE PART IN THE DAY OF LIES.

    BUT THAT WAS THE GREATEST LIE OF THEM ALL.

    *Tears shirt apart and shouts are the heavens*

  38. Ginger Yellow says:

    These CD-ROM games are just a fad. If they don’t put games on 8 floppies, they wouldn’t need to have such enormous game boxes, and then how would they fit the 300 page manual in?

  39. DRMHAETR says:

    What the fuck is with the DRM?

  40. Wulf says:

    The colours, the colours!

    See folks? This is SUPER VGA. Not like that shitty VGA we used to put up with, or EGA, or (Gods forbid) CGA. It wasn’t that long ago that EGA was considered enhanced graphics! How time flies! By 2010 we’ll all be using our holotubes to play games in full 3D, totally immersive, all around us! We’ll have a ‘smell card’ occupying one of our Hyper-PCI slots! It’s going to be great!

    • drewski says:

      Hyper-PCI? Hah, what nonsense. ISA is here to stay.

    • Wulf says:

      Nah! PCI is the future, man! They’re never going to change from it! It’s very adaptable!

      It’ll be PCI, then Super-PCI, then Hyper-PCI, then I don’t know what! But it’ll still be PCI! It’ll always be PCI! PCI is the way of the future! PCI and 8-track tapes.

  41. drewski says:

    So not even! You don’t know what you’re talking about! LALALALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU

  42. geldonyetich says:

    A dog wearing clothes and a homicidal inclined rabbity thing? That’s going against the natural order of things. I tell you, if this game is released, the world will totally end.

  43. Solario says:

    Spoileralert, Jesus, guys. The game’s not even out till November, and you’re already ruining the entire story for the rest of us.

  44. Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

    Splendid, can’t wait to play it already!*

    *)I’ve really felt that way, oddly enough, by the time I reached the middle of the article…wow, just wow…I’ve almost felt getting younger, with longer hair, thick glasses and wondering what the installation size would be like…ffs, I wasn’t even a PC gamer back then! :D

  45. Tom says:

    OMG this is going to be so f*cking sweet!!!!

  46. scum says:

    Looks like you got disconnected before you could finish that last sentence. Fail what?

  47. Jayt says:

    Mmm I thought this was a re-release thingo at first, sadface!

  48. Scandalon says:

    Dood, my cousin and I got a 4X cd-rom drive for $99!

    Also, my cousin was talking to his super-smart friend, who was thinking about all these SCUMM games are basically the same “engine”, right? and postulating writing one program that could run all of them! His friend is pretty smart, but that sounded kinda far-fetched. Maybe someday in the future, like 2010 it will be possible, but by then nobody will want to play these, what with direct neural stimulation and the like.

  49. Penguin Zero says:

    I’m disgruntled. This game looks great, and sounds incredibly funny — but once again they’re going MS-DOS only. Honestly, people, System 7 is a brilliant OS, and Macs are slowly but surely gaining ground. Put it side by side with Windows — even their supposed ‘next generation’ Chicago demos — and it’s like night and day. And yet nobody can see it…

  50. edit says:

    Pity LEC later went on to sink their own battleship.