December 20, 2006
Telltale Games/ Gametap
The Telltale Games and LucasArts connection is real. Many of the people working at Telltale Games also worked at LucasArts before LucasArts switched to an almost all shooter game philosophy. LucasArts used to be a Mecca for the people who worked on adventure games and for those people who loved to play adventure games.
While the graphic animated adventure genre was probably invented by Roberta Williams at Sierra, LucasArts innovation in the area revolutionized the game play and changed the way people looked at adventure games. There were few game companies who even tried graphic animated adventure games to the extent that Sierra and LucasArts did. Microprose, Trilobyte and Westwood tried a few of the games with mixed success at the end of the graphic animated adventure game era in the United States.
Graphic animated adventures continue to be profitable and popular in Europe and other parts of the world while most of the people in the United States don’t seem to appreciate the genre. A small devoted following which comprise the readers of Just Adventure and some others still follow the graphic animated adventure. Telltale Games is one of the few companies in the United States still making graphic animated adventures.
Perhaps it is the LucasArts and Telltale Game connection that has resulted in quality of the new Sam & Max serialized game. Many of the people working on the game have a background in working on similar games at LucasArts. It does not hurt to have shared experiences. Steve Purcell, the creator of Sam & Max, may have found the perfect partners for this project.
The plot sickens as we find Sam & Max with a new case to free the hostages of a daytime talk show whose host is an omage to Oprah Winfrey. Sam & Max meet up with the Soda Poppers once again as they have to break into daytime television to solve their case. Since everyone in daytime television have been kidnapped and held hostage by the Oprah look and sound alike right in her audience, this is Sam & Max’s opportunity to break into the television game, and they take advantage of it, literally.
The setting remains slightly dilapidated post war southern California with trash blowing in the breeze. The background drawings are high quality for an animated feature, and not quite up to Walt Disney or HayaoMiazaki levels. The simple graphics with bright primary colors works well with the story.
You never fully resolve the super human abilities of the WARP TV station director who directs all the shows but the Oprah-like talk show. Conflicts that remain unresolved in serial episodes might be resolved in future episodes, but somehow I feel that the director may not be coming back. The licensed psychotherapist Sybil and the inconvenience store owner Bosco are regulars in the monthly series and have some new twists added to their characters. Sybil is now an ex-tattoo artist, ex-psychic reader, ex licensed psychotherapist and has now taken up celebrity tabloid publisher as a career. Bosco is masquerading as an English lord to throw off the vestiges of imagined or real paranoia.
Three dimensional graphics and animation are smooth and well conceived and drawn. Animation principles appear to have been adhered to in the character development stages of those characters that Sam & Max encounter in this episode. Character animation concept art, as pioneered by Walt Disney, has many poses of the character drawn and instructions for how the character should move, expressions, and other details so that the characters are consistent. Sam & Maxexploits these techniques to keep the quality of the character animation and art at a high level.
Due to scheduling problems, the voice actor for Sam in episode one was unavailable to record for episode two, so a bran new voice actor had to be found. After recording the episode twice the right voice was found but it is noticeably different from the episode one voice actor spoiling the continuity from one episode to the next. The crew experimented with recording voices for multiple episodes at the same time only to realize that such recording was difficult when future episodes were not fully worked out at the time of recording. Common sense prevailed. All episodes are now recorded individually as part of the normal development process.
Sound effects, music, voice acting and ambient sound are all high quality and work seamlessly with the “choreographed” animation sequences. Matching dialogue with the mouth animation is one of the most time consuming things in animation and the artists have done an admirable job in this area. The sound also can be controlled individually for voice, effects and music allowing those with hearing impairment to adjust the controls to their preferences. I especially have trouble hearing dialogue so I greatly appreciate the sub titles and the separate volume controls so that I can adjust the sound to optimize comprehension.
The options, accessed through the escape key, give four save games per page including an auto save function that saves after some plot advancing progress is made. The options provide the three individual sound volumes, subtitles, conversation balloons, and warp drive which I have yet to figure out. Saves can be made at any time. I was pleased to find out that the game did not use console like incremental saves.
The price of almost $9 per episode for about 2 hours of game play puts Sam & Maxthe episodic gaming as one of the most expensive adventure games ever made in the per hour category. Only Michael Crichton’s Timeline which was about $40 for two hours of play time was more expensive for the play time purchased. The $35 for 6 two hour episodes is barely better for the 12 hours of game play purchased. You have to compare the price to games like the Broken Sword games which have about 40 hours of play for 40 to 50 dollars.
Situation: Comedy is a very good second episode in the new episodic adventure gaming genre. While the two hour play time is very pricey, the quality is good. We hope people patronize the games or that the developers and publishers reduce the price to more reasonable levels so that the games can continue and everyone can afford to be a part of the fun.
Final Grade: A-