Dan Connors, Dave Grossman

Telltale Games

Posted by Erik-André Vik Mamen, Philip Jong.
First posted on 01 September 2007. Last updated on 01 March 2013.
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Dan Connors, Dave Grossman
Dave Grossman delightfully hams it up, much like Max (it is coffee that he is drinking, really)!
Dan Connors, Dave Grossman
Dan Connors takes on a more serious stare, much like Sam.

All images are courtesy of Telltale Games © 2007.

After a long hiatus, the dynamic duo of shamus canine and hyperkinetic rabbity thing is finally back in a brand new adventure.

Based on the surreal cult comic created by Steve Purcell, the release of Sam & Max: Season One by Telltale Games has been long awaited and is welcomed by adventure game fans far and wide. This is especially true for those fans who were sadly disappointed when LucasArts (developer of the original Sam & Max Hit the Road) decided to cancel its follow-up project, Sam & Max Freelance Police. Indeed, it is with some irony that Telltale Games is founded by a group of former LucasArts employees who have previously worked on the canceled sequel. Rather than releasing a full standalone game from the start, Telltale Games has decided to release the new Sam & Max: Season One as a series of 6 smaller episodic games that are downloadable online (via GameTap or Steam or directly from Telltale Store), followed by a CD compilation of the entire season for retail sale. The retail version will be published by The Adventure Company in North America and JoWood in Europe, and it is currently scheduled for release in August this year. So far, Telltale Games' marketing experiment has proven to be a success, and the Sam & Max episodic games have garnered acclaims from both fans and critics.

We are extremely privileged to have an opportunity to interview Telltale Games about the new Sam & Max series. In this interview, Dan Connors (Chief Executive Officer, Director, Co-Founder) and Dave Grossman (Design Director, Lead Designer) of Telltale Games each takes turn to speak about the history of Sam & Max, the challenges of creating episodic games, the evolution from retail to online game distribution, and what holds in the future for the celebrated series.

How did Telltale Games acquire the license for Sam & Max? Do you know if LucasArts had been in communication with Telltale Games in relation to a license transfer during the production of Sam & Max: Season One?

Dan Connors: The rights to Sam & Max have always been Steve's. As far as I know, Steve's arrangement with LucasArts was that if they didn't make a Sam & Max game within a certain period of time, the rights to make a Sam & Max game would revert back to him. When that happened, Steve came to talk to us at Telltale.

Why has Telltale Games decided to make the release of Sam & Max episodic? Do you consider Sam & Max: Season One to be 6 games or 1 game in 6 parts? With the entire first season now available, will it be possible to play all 6 episodes from beginning to end as a single uninterrupted game?

Dave Grossman: Telltale is quite focused on episodic games, which have been a core part of our strategy from the beginning. And Sam & Max is a world which is particularly well suited to the format -- the stories, as established by the comic books and TV series, are small, personal, and fast-paced, so it seems right to have the games also feel that way. The comics and TV shows also do not "cliffhang" into each other, and Season One is designed to reflect that as well. The stories are related, but each episode is a game unto itself where the story wraps up and can be enjoyed without having seen any of the others (although episode 6, the season finale, will make a bit more sense if you've played the previous games). This, and the fact that some time passes between the stories, is why the games will continue to be launched individually instead of pasted end-to-end in one big game, even though they will be distributed on a disc together. Rather like having a DVD of a season of your favorite TV show.

There is a debate whether adventure games are better suited to be in 2D ( 2.5D) or in 3D. What do you take into consideration when choosing the graphic engine for Sam & Max: Season One?

Dave Grossman: The idea that either 2D or 3D is somehow "better" for adventure games seems a bit silly to me. I don't think there's anything essential about the style of gameplay that suggests one over the other. However, I will say that the reason Telltale does everything in 3D is that it makes it possible for us to manage the enormous quantity of character animation and camera work that we put into our games. It's not about what type of game it is, it's about our cinematic approach.

How has Telltale Games chosen to handle the distribution of Sam & Max? What are the advantages and disadvantages of online distribution compared to retail store distribution for a smaller independent game developer? Has the company considered other online distribution models?

Dan Connors: We are now on Steam and see it as a way to reach more people who may not even have heard of us. That's the beauty of digital distribution—every time you launch on a new site, you have exposure to a whole new audience. Every time we join a new channel, it's like the original launch day all over again. This kind of diversity would be a lot harder at retail.

Before Sam & Max, Telltale Games has also created episodic games for BONE, based on the comic of the same name from author Jeff Smith. What lessons (both good and bad) have you learned from the making of BONE that have benefited the making of Sam & Max?

Dave Grossman: I think mostly it has been about improving the production methods. While building the Bone games we refined our tools and developed efficient strategies for doing colossal amounts of animation and camera work, all of which has made Sam & Max possible. And we just keep on refining, so the next thing can be even better.

How different is the production schedule for episodic games such as Sam & Max and complete games such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation?

Dave Grossman: CSI may not be such a good example, since it is divided up into a series of cases. These get produced somewhat sequentially, with some overlap, much like episodes of Sam & Max. The initial design and scriptwriting phase does happen much more at the beginning than it does for Sam & Max, and this is more like a traditional large-scale game approach. Also, since the cases are not released individually but all at once at the end, this allows more time to fine-tune the ones that are finished first -- provided anyone has the time to do it.

In Sam & Max: Season One, what changes (with examples) were made in subsequent episodes of the game that were in response to fan feedbacks to earlier episodes? When the first episode was released, how much work had already been completed for the entire season?

Dave Grossman: It's hard to remember precisely, but by the time the first episode was out to the general public, we were probably designing episode 4, writing 3, and building 2. Something like that. This is why changes like adjusting small details of the art or giving characters more gestures show up earlier in the season than things that require dialog (writing all new tag lines for the incidental objects in the recurring environments, for example) or design changes (how we deliver hints, how we structure the stories, things like that).

A critique of the episodic format in Sam & Max is that many of the game locations are recycled and that each episode starts the same way (with Sam and Max waiting for an assignment in their office). How will future episodes deal with the repetitive elements in the series that may grow increasingly tiresome with each episode?

Dave Grossman: The longer a series runs, the better off we are on that point, though that may sound somewhat counterintuitive. Our opportunities were limited in the first season in terms of environments we could afford to build, but as we continue to make games, we gradually build up a much larger library of places in Sam and Max's world that we can go to, so we have greater leeway to use what's appropriate for the story and can change it up a lot more often. Like a film company with a warehouse full of sets. Also, we put some time in the budget for reworking locations we've seen before – we did that increasingly throughout the second half of Season One, changing some of the art and also writing whole new sets of tag lines for Sam and Max to comment on things. A familiar place doesn't seem to be so much of a problem as long as there are new things to do and look at when you get there (we also like to try to put new puzzles in from time to time). New context, basically. And I feel similarly about the characters, of which there are more and more all the time, and who can be much more interesting if they've got their own story arcs and do a little traveling around the world.

How do you gauge the commercial success of Sam & Max: Season One so far? What discussion (and with whom) has been held on the future of Sam & Max after Episode 6?

Dan Connors: We are very happy with the sales. It's been interesting to watch the commercial response because we weren't quite sure what to expect, sales-wise, when we started. We've found that the release of each new episode raises the interest in the previous episodes and in the full season, which is obviously a good thing. As far as the future of Sam & Max, chances are good that we'll be doing Season 2.

Some critics believe that graphic adventure games are ideal for playing on the consoles. How much do you believe that console gaming will create resurgence of the interest in adventure games among today's gamers? What is the plan, if any, on porting Sam & Max from the PC to the console platforms, such as Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, or Nintendo Wii?

Dave Grossman: I do think that consoles are a perfectly good platform for adventure games, especially in light of some of the recent hardware designs and the inclusion of download capabilities. The existence of a console downloadable space I see as particularly promising for adventure games since it will open up the market to smaller players, though the only thing that is really going to create a resurgence of interest is good game design. As far as our own plans go, the looming curse of the monkey's paw will not allow me to say what specifically we may or may not be working on, but ultimately we'd like to have titles on all of the platforms you mentioned, and maybe a few others besides.

Thank you very much for this interview. We look forward to hearing more news on the future of Sam & Max!

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