On The Level

Sam & Max Hit The Road

Sam & Max Hit The Road: “Mystery Vortex”

A roadside attraction finds truth in the impossible.

By Joe Keiser • June 18, 2012

In the “Pleasantly Understated Credits Sequence” that begins the 1993 point-and-click adventure game Sam & Max Hit The Road, a collage of strange black-and-white images are presented: Sam and Max getting hit by a train, Sam and Max aiming a gigantic floppy pistol, Sam and Max beating up a clown. In the center of this madness is an empty highway rolling ever forward toward the horizon. This one simple animation grounds the whole scene; it is a madcap adventure of cartoon violence, yet it has a firm (albeit outlandish) basis in the real world.

This remains true, or true enough, even as the world opens up and it becomes clear that Sam and Max occupy a strange plane of existence. This is, after all, a game where anthropomorphic animal detectives are on a mission to track down missing Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) and the giraffe-necked girls that love them. Sam & Max Hit The Road is primarily remembered for its characters and its adorably violent sense of humor. But its spaces are equally important to its legacy. You can’t go on a surrealist road trip with a talking dog and a homicidal rabbity thing unless you have a surreal road.

To that end, the game takes a journey through the world of American roadside attractions. These highway-borne amusements—built around concepts like “The World’s Largest That Thing” or “Hall of Amazing Bits What My Pa Found in the Field”—are sometimes perceived as empty shells where shysters ply their trade. That’s not quite right, though. They come from a place of naïve exceptionalism—the idea that because an object confounds everyone in a two-mile radius, it must be some incredible gift to share with the world. (Today, this would be known as The Tumblr Effect.)

Sam & Max Hit The Road

These places are incredible gifts. Even the ones that are just shabby curios, surrounded by a wall of pomp and hot air, are singular experiences of anticipation and desire, providing disappointment worthy of a diner conversation five miles later. Of course, some of them are truly amazing, too. Hit The Road understands this, and it approaches the roadside attraction with the wide-eyed wonder of a child who does not know where the showmanship cedes to reality and honestly couldn’t care less.

This is most vivid in Hit The Road’s Mystery Vortex, an amalgamation of the Mystery Spots and Ripley’s Odditoriums that dot the American countryside. Odditoriums are exactly what they sound like—branded “museums” of objects with cultural cachet but little academic or artistic value, like shrunken heads and the Derringer that didn’t kill Abraham Lincoln. Mystery Spots are wooden houses where compasses bug out and balls appear to roll uphill. In Hit The Road, these Midwestern staples are combined into a place where chairs float and sometimes you walk on the ceiling. Also, since the plot must move forward somehow, there’s a recently unfrozen Bigfoot here, as well as the eponymous Vortex itself.

The most famous real-world Mystery Spot, in Santa Cruz, has for decades peddled the idea that cones of buried alien metal might well be responsible for the strange phenomena experienced there. Max hypothesizes a similar explanation for the Mystery Vortex, only to be disheartened when he finds he is 100-percent correct.

Sam & Max Hit The Road

In reality, the Mystery Spot and places like it are powered by cunning tricks of perspective, turning everything on an incline and blocking out points of reference so you can’t tell which way is up. All the illusions are easily explained, but does knowing the secret shatter the illusion or deepen the wonder? In Hit The Road the answer is always, ultimately, the latter. So for the Mystery Vortex, the discovery that the whole thing is powered by enormous subterranean magnets leads to your controlling the place with those magnets. You turn them on and off to navigate a puzzle inspired by another real-life perspective-based illusion, the Ames room, which makes people appear to get larger and smaller as they move around.

So all of the action here is based on reality, albeit the deceptive reality of the roadside impresario. Even the trappings are correct to the inspiration. There’s the obligatory Dali melting clock. There’s a plasma lamp—those are still impressive, right? The greatest oracle of the modern age, the Magic 8 Ball, is bolted haphazardly to the ceiling. There’s even a jaded gift shop attendant, the kind who undermines the experience by reminding you that for her, this is just another day.

It’s this attention to authentic detail that gives the spaces in Hit The Road their power. The Mystery Vortex, despite being a whimsical cartoon construct where the laws of physics are defied, is more notable for how fantastical it isn’t—how few of its details were invented by the game’s writers. If you happen to visit some of the weird roadside attractions referenced in Sam & Max Hit the Road after playing the game, it contorts the mind, like you’re living a cartoon. Suddenly Sam & Max feels more real, and accordingly, life feels more surreal.

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897 Responses to “Sam & Max Hit The Road: “Mystery Vortex””

  1. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    I really wish I had played these games as a kid. I always hear people talk about these classic adventure games super fondly, and I love the humor in them, but I have trouble getting into the genre today. Not to mention the fact that I have no idea where to get the games/how to set them up and all that. I understand that ScummVM is a thing, but that’s about it. This article really makes me feel like I’m missing out though. 

    Also, I laughed at that dig at Tumblr. ICEBURN!

    • Girard says:

      SCUMMVM is super user-friendly – if you’ve ever used a basic NES/SNES emulator, the interface is pretty much the same. And apparently Sam & Max is for sale between 10 and 20 bucks on Amazon, and is totally worth it.

      The SCUMM games are pretty forgiving, in terms of this genre, since you can’t due or get stuck, but the puzzles can be obtuse. I remember beating this when I was 12 back in the days before GameFAQs, so I wager it wouldn’t be too alienating or obtuse for you. Also: It might be the funniest game ever made*.

      *Caveat: This is one of the things that MADE my sense of humor, so my estimation of its humor tends to be hyperbolic.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        I’m going to give it a shot sometime. I don’t know why I thought it would be harder to set up. I’m actually pretty handy with computers/tech stuff. More like Dumbstoevsky, amirite?

      • Toparaman says:

        Same here.  I was lucky enough to be given Hit the Road as a present for my 7th or 8th birthday.  The parents of the kid that gave it to me probably thought that it was a children’s game. 

        You have to read the comics if you’re a fan of the game.  The “Surfin’ the Highway” collection was a rarity for many years, but it got reprinted around 2008 by Telltale Games.  It’s 20 bucks at their online store (it’s being sold for rip-off prices on Amazon).

    • Slapping ScummVM on your phone and playing Sam & Max or whatever on the bus or over lunch is trivial these days. (Well, trivial if you have Android. I think you still have to hack iOS up with some nerd-fu to make it take the install, because Steve Jobs hates you from beyond the grave.)

      • The_Misanthrope says:

        Thank you, @facebook-773411158:disqus !  I was not aware that ScummVM worked with Android; I’m gonna see if I can get it running on my Kindle Fire ASAP!

        If someone should tell me I can do the same thing with DOSBox or D-Fend Reloaded, I might just die of over-excitement right this moment!

        • Girard says:

          It’s crazy the stuff they’ve ported ScummVM to. I remember my jaw dropping circa 2005-6 when I saw video of someone playing Monkey Island on a then-new Nintendo DS.

        • George_Liquor says:

          Sam & Max and Day Of The Tentacle work great in DOSBox. The best way to play them is to make an ISO of the original CD, then mount the ISO in DOSBox as the CD-ROM drive.

          • The_Misanthrope says:

            I’ve tried something with several games with varying success, though the one I can NEVER seem to get to work is Discworld Noir (got it off Home Of The Underdogs), which is probably the one I most WANT to play.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        Unfortunately I don’t have a smartphone. I DO however, have a modded Wii, and a DS with a flashcart. Apparently it’s been ported to both. I’ll probably just try to run it on my computer though. 

        • Toparaman says:

           Make sure that you activate the AdvMAME2x graphics filter in the ScummVM options if you’re going to play on a reasonably sized screen.  It smooths out the pixels without significant loss of detail.  There are other graphics filters you can try as well, but they tend to over-smooth to the point of detail loss.

    • longly333 says:

       More recently the introduction of http://www.nikeukairmax.co.uk Panasonic’s AVCCAM series of the popular AG-HMC40 mobile combines Full HD AVCHD recording high-resolution 10.6-megapixel still image, so you can enjoy two professional camera to take a package convenient.

  2. George_Liquor says:

    “You’re looking hale and hearty, little buddy.”

    “I’m a coffee achiever, Sam.”

    God, I love this game!

    • Girard says:

       What’s the good word, little buddy?

    • MisterLou says:

      “I really respect Flint’s business acumen.”
      “Please, Sam, don’t use the word ‘acumen’ again.”

      • Pgoodso says:

        Sam: “So, where do you buy your clothes?”
        Burl: “Oh, these aren’t clothes.”
        Shep: “Our skin is naturally green and vinyl-like!”
        Max: “GOOD LORD! He’s buck naked!
        Sam: “So are you, little buddy.”
        Max: “Yeah, but I’m cute and marketable.”

    • lokimotive says:

      This, very well, may be the most quotable game ever, though a large part of that is the absolutely tremendous voice acting.
      “Mind if I drive?”
      “Not if you don’t mind me clawing at the dash and shrieking like a cheerleader.”

      “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 tourists out there.”
      “I hope there was nobody on that bus.”
      “Nobody we know at least.”

      “According to these orders, something bizarre is happening at the carnival.”
      “I thought that was the whole point.”
      “Maybe we should check it out when we’ve got nothing better to do… Like anytime.”

      “Stop him Sam, he’s going to tell us a story!”

      “Holy cripes on toast!”

      • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

         Sam and Max, in and of themselves, are great quote materials. Next time you want to make a room full of strangers to look at you with a gaze that suggests they’re unsure of your mental stability, try substituting a surprised reaction with one of Sam’s nonsensical exclamations.

        “Great grinning head of John the Baptist in a pork pie hat stuffed down a rhinestone bowling bag!”

        “Holy jumping mother o’ god in a side-car with chocolate jimmies and a lobster bib!”

        Actually, just go here: http://samandmax.net/wiki/Holy
        And have a ball.

        • Girard says:

          “Holy jumping mother o’ god in a side-car with chocolate jimmies and a lobster bib!”
          was my go-to exclamation in high school.

          Also, for some reason, “Holy cripes on toast! You’re the single ugliest person I’ve ever seen!” Was so funny to my best middle school friend and I that the first time we encountered that line in a joint playthrough we had to pause because we were literally on the floor laughing.

          Again, I think what really makes this game so singular is its tone. The way words are used, the details included in the imagery, the weird, but real settings. There’s something about it that makes it feel so much different from other zany cartoon adventure games.

    • “Percent sign ampersand dollar sign!”
      “What on earth are you doing?”
      “Swearing in longhand.”

      Also, I used “I’m a coffee achiever” just this morning, as a co-worker gave me her usual unenthusiastic greeting. 

      Sam & Max’s dialogue has a way of sticking with you after many many years, if you’re of a certain mindset.  “I’m thinking of a number between one and ten, and I don’t know why” makes for a good go-to non-sequitur in my life even now, when one is necessary.  Which is more often than the average dog, rabbit, or co-worker might guess.

  3. Girard says:

    Oh, heavens. Between this feature here, and the one on UHF last week at the AV Club, these sites are really working their way down the list of things middle-school Girard thought were pretty much the greatest in the universe. (An additional feature on the Hitchhiker’s Guide would pretty much perfectly triangulate my sense of humor at age 12…)

    I probably wouldn’t say Sam & Max was the best graphic adventure, or even the best SCUMM game, but it might be the one I’ve enjoyed the most. Something about the tone of the humor (which was similar in the comics, but has been slightly ‘off’ in the recent Telltale games), the expansive array of locales spanning the country, and the ‘roadside America’ conceit all work really well.

    The game evokes the feeling a cross-country car trip, even down to the Snuckey’s (Stuckey’s IRL) rest stops that aren’t real destinations, but still an indelible part of the experience – and where you can get stupid travel games that are utterly pointless and yet produce more genuine time-wasting fun than they have any right to.

    It’s also just really fucking funny. Nothing really, especially at the time, could match its humor tonally. It was so strange, and violent, and anarchic, but not in a self-consciously ‘edgy’ way at all. Maybe not a super ambitious game design-wise, or a life-changing conceptual work of art, but as a pretty much perfect exemplar of its genre, and as a container for a singular and strange sense of video game humor, it’ll definitely always rank pretty highly for me, and I’d definitely consider it a must-play.

    Sorry, I’m gushing. I’m normally not so susceptible to nostalgia. This probably means I should get some sleep.

    • George_Liquor says:

      Gush away man. Sam & Max is one of the best adventure games ever made! It has alcoholic pigeons, fer chrissake!

    • GhaleonQ says:

      Not to be negative about such a positive game and essay, but if there’s 1 thing that Telltale and Nelvana(?) missed in the video game and animated series versions of the comic, it’s this. With few exceptions, LucasArts spent fewer hours developing its locales than other developers. This was the exception. The warm shorthand of the destinations was the altruistic counterpoint to the duo’s nihilism. I’m all about that twine.

      Also, cripes, did games (ESPECIALLY PC games) need more original locations at this time. I can’t really think of tourism-themed non-sports games other than My Summer Vacation, Firework Thrower Kantor’s 53 Stations Of The Tokaido, and The Farthest Reaches Of Makyo.

      That’s why I’d actually rank it near the top; it does things that other games don’t do and haven’t done since.  “You’re transported to a mysterious place where you, an austere cipher, must learn about the place and maybe….yourself.”  “It’s like this thing you know, but a WACKY parody.”  That’s 65 percent of graphic adventure games.  The Neverhood had very few puzzles when you think about it, but, you know, who cares?  Do we have too many clay animation graphic adventures with 20-page long religious cosmogonies, nonsense soundtracks, and platformer sequels?

      • Girard says:

         I wonder if the reason the locales have so much character is Purcell’s involvement in the game, versus his fairly ‘hands off’ involvement with the cartoon and Telltale games. The Sam & Max comics are PACKED with grimy,strange, and funny details, and the painterly locales in the LucasArts game have a similar busyness and patina of grime that are less likely to be included in a budget 3D game or a cheaply-made TV cartoon when there isn’t a dedicated maniac art directing.

        • GhaleonQ says:

          That’s true, although I’ve noticed that 3-d games tend to have less detail (certainly less CLICKABLE detail) than 2-d games of similar scope.  You’d think it would be the opposite due to lower costs.  While I understand that a Grim Fandango needs sparse environments, there’s nothing stopping The Feeble Files or Grey Matter from doing that.

          Detail MADE the gas stations in Hit The Road and New Orleans in Sins Of The Fathers, and that’s before you clicked and got descriptions.  Maybe Syberia II doesn’t need it, but Jane Jensen’s next could.

        • Juan_Carlo says:

          I really dislike 3D adventure games.  It’s telling that most made today are either 2D or 2D pre-rendered backgrounds with 3D characters.  

          Telltale is the only adventure game company that insists on full 3D, which might be part of the reason why I’ve never really liked their games.

        • Girard says:

           @GhaleonQ:disqus : I think where 3-D saves on cost/time is mostly in the character animation. Rather than drawing every frame, you just move a puppet around that tweens itself, etc. (I’m not sure why I feel I need to clarify this with an animation nerd such as yourself…).

          Creating an environment, on the other hand, seems like it would be more economical time and money-wise in 2-D (my background is more in 2-D artwork, so maybe those media just seem more straightforward and easy to me, due to familiarity).

          To populate a 2-D desk with knick-knacks, you just need to draw a bunch of knick-knacks, from only one perspective, and only to the degree of detail necessary for the final resolution the static image will be visible at in-game. Objects behind other objects don’t even need to be fully created. A single illustrator could knock it out pretty quickly. Populating a similar desk in 3-D would require modelling and texturing each individual object in the round, positioning them in 3-D space in a way that makes sense, etc. I could imagine modelling each individual object taking an amount of time/effort comparable to simple drawing the entire desk.

          Again, I’m WAY more familiar with drawing/painting than with modeling, so my estimation could be totally off-base. But that was solution that occurred to me when I found myself wondering why the world of the Telltale S&M games felt so smooth and anemic compared to that of the comics and Lucasarts game.

        •  You mentioned the 1st Gabriel Knight. I am going to lie down and nerd one off.

        • blue vodka lemonade says:

           @GhaleonQ:disqus I was so disappointed with Gray Matter that it took me about a week to come to terms with how much I didn’t like it. The art direction, voice-acting, and generally sparse interaction reminded me of nothing so much as the hidden-object games produced in bulk by Big Fish Games and sold to my mother for $7/game.

          Sins of the Fathers, for me, is the absolute high-water mark for location detail. I visited New Orleans for the first time on a family vacation this past winter, and insisted on dragging my poor parents to the Napoleon House bar, to the park, to the cemetery, and then I regaled them with the details I knew about those places. It was great.

        • Toparaman says:

           Speaking of which, how fucking cool would it be if Steve Purcell helmed a Sam and Max show on Adult Swim?  Adult Swim is the perfect home for the duo.

          I’m going to suggest the idea on Purcell’s Sam and Max blog right now!

        • Girard says:

           @Toparaman:disqus : That would be kind of awesome. For a minute I was thinking of Adult Swim as all barely animated shows like it initially was, but I forgot that there’s stuff like Venture Bros. that is fully animated, and could do well by Sam & Max’s kind of cartoony style.

        • Toparaman says:

           Don’t forget Boondocks and Metalocalypse.  Great animation in both shows.

      • Destroy Him My Robots says:

        I think you’re on to something. Where Gilbert drew from a common fantasy for Monkey Island, Purcell went for a common experience. It’s definitely informed by an urban sensibility and made for an urban audience (it’s about leaving the big city and the strangeness that lies beyond, after all), but even when it’s mocking, its romantic outlook celebrates the idiosyncracies of this sort of fringe Americana like a sports movie champions the ramshackle underdog team. I still enjoy them, but you’re right that Telltale tends to substitute pop for folk and lost that sentiment.

        • GhaleonQ says:

          And it can be really successful.  I realized that I forgot Pocket Monsters/Pokemon, which similarly captures that collecting/exploring/bug fighting/leaving home experience of that age and made Game Freak a mint.  Even The Sims/Sim- mundaneness was successful.

          I think companies are leaving money on the table when all of their titles have 0 relation to the real world.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      This was one of the first games I remember playing with full voice acting, and it really made the experience whole.  Conroy Bumpus’ insane song wouldn’t be the same without vocals:

      Happy to be King of the Creatures!
      I’m proud to be the Lord of the Odd!
      I love collecting things with grotesque features!
      It makes me feel like some Chaldean God.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         I do remember people scrambling to possess the “Talky version” over the smaller (in filesize) standard edition and buying a sound-card specifically for this game.
        I was one of those to enjoy the talky version on my parents’ PC, even though I was under the strict supervision of my mum, who wouldn’t let me play anything with gore. (I had my brother’s old, tricked out Amiga 500 (with 50MB hard-drive!!!) at the time, playing altogether older crap though.)
        I did however have one for Day of the Tentacle, the only retro adventure game I’d rate as high as S&M when it comes to whacky fun.
        Not to slag off Monkey Island, but while it was adorable, it was never this fun to me. Mind you, I still think Monkey Island 3 is the highpoint of the franchise and most people disagree with me for that.
        I totally get the nostalgia… This game stands at the very beginning of my gaming memories.

        • blue vodka lemonade says:

           I never liked the first Monkey Island and never tried the others. Maybe I got to it at the wrong time/gender in my life (everybody gets a sex change at 12, right? that’s not just my family?) but as a 15-or-so girl it just didn’t work. Wasn’t funny, wasn’t clever, wasn’t fun.

          Though I don’t like Day of the Tentacle either, so maybe I’m just a humorless dipshit.

        • Girard says:

           @green_gin_rickey:disqus : Did you like Sam & Max, out of curiosity? Maybe the ‘house style’ of LucasArts, particularly their humor, didn’t click with you. Your professed love of Gabriel Knight above maybe indicates more of an affinity with Sierra + drama, which is basically on the opposite pole of the classic adventure game universe from  LucasArts + comedy (in the just-made-up Cartesian coordinate system in my brain…).

          Though of course it’s not impossible to like both those kinds of games and everything in-between! Gabriel Knight seems to be the most likely candidate for “The One Sierra Game I’ll Like,” though I haven’t been able to get into it despite a couple of tries. I think I need the non-talky version. I love hammy Tim Curry as much as the next guy, but it feels a little like it’s undermining a story that is trying hard to take itself seriously.

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          AHA!  I thought there were two original versions, but couldn’t remember for sure.  I bought the small version, played it all the way through, and later bought the CD-ROM version with voices.

      • Girard says:

         A friend of mine brought the CD of the game on a school trip in 5th or 6th grade, well before I had a computer that could plat CD-ROM games, and we listened to that track a bunch of times (the CD had music tracks stored on it in CD-audio format, though I don’t think those were actually used in the game – this also meant we had to skip quickly past track 1, the game itself, which our mid-90s CD player would try to play as music and produce a horrible cacophony).

        Anyway, that vague remembrance of the song and the cover of the CD case were part of what prompted me to impulse-buy the LucasArts Archives set (Sam & Max, Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, plus demos of some Star Wars games and a Star Wars screensaver thing), which is probably my most formative, and most-played, video game purchase. The best however-many bucks I ever spent on video games.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

       I do enjoy Sam and Max as characters (which, from my name, should be pretty obvious) but particularly I’ve always enjoyed what I sometimes refer to as “moral comedic sociopathy.”

      Sam and Max are pretty damn violent, but it’s never really anything we can really frown upon because with few exceptions, everyone they pick on, beat up, or otherwise humiliate is a crook, a jerk, or something similar.

      This is something they had in common with the Animaniacs, who were also really funny, so I don’t think it’s coincidence.

      • Girard says:

         One advantage they had over Animaniacs was that they (ostensibly) weren’t for children, so their violence could be quite visceral and brutal, which was kind of refreshing and weirdly honest in the way it avoided sanitized cartoon violence. If I’m going to root for a violent sociopath, he might as well have live ammunition rather than an inflatable mallet or something.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

           Even when they WERE for kids (I.E. the cartoon) they still went quite a bit further, still resorting to live firearms frequently (though only on clearly inhuman targets, such as cockroaches and inanimate objects).

          They even lampshaded their toning down. “Who knew we could have this much fun and still be suitable for kids?”

  4. Asinus says:

    “I don’t possess the psychotic strength needed to ring the bell.”

    I still say “Bee fritters?”

  5. Chryso42 says:

     Sam and Max bored deep, deep into my psyche as a toe-headed lad, in large part because of Purcell’s obvious enthusiasm for kitschy throwbacks like Mystery Spots and The World’s Largest Ball of Twine. Sadly, not many remain; even venerable remote-outpost franchise Stucky’s has more or less vanished, replaced by sterile, bloodless “travel centers” that are little more than minimalls with gas-pumps.
    Excuse me while I shed a single tear for the loss of nut-logs and 50 foot tall fiberglass reptiles.

    • Girard says:

       I was SO EXCITED when, during a road trip (to DC, I think?) I saw a sign advertising a Stuckey’s rest stop (this was back in high school, still in the 90s). I think my mom was utterly puzzled by my demands that we stop there, my asking her to get a photo of me in front of it, and my (ultimately successful!!) scouring the aisles for pecan candy.

      • blue vodka lemonade says:

         I did the same thing with my parents, except with the entire French Quarter. They were mildly amused, at least at first.

    • Asinus says:

      Have you watched the documentary on Netflix on roadside attractions? I can’t remember the name off the top of my head, but it does have something to do with roadside attractions.  Ah: http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/A_Program_About_Unusual_Buildings_Other_Roadside_Stuff/70002244?trkid=2361637

      It’s a little fluffy but fun.

      Anyway, about S&M… wait… I had the game on CD for a while, and then lost it, and then found it again, and now I’m not sure where it is. I never played through the whole thing, but so many of the quotes here are bringing back a lot of laughs (e.g. “No one we know, anyway.”). It had fun music, too. I tried to track it down to play on my DOS machine. I guess I need to try harder.

      • Chryso42 says:

        The doc sounds familiar, I’ll have to poke around and make sure though. As for dusting off the game, I have a mixed assortment of newses.
        The good news is thanks to DOSbox and SCUMMVM you can finally send that poor, ancient beast to its final rest.
        The bad news is because its bloody Lucasarts they’d rather sit around with their thumb up their ass not letting a valuable IP make money for them, in case it distracts from shitting out yet another pointless Star Wars game.
        (The morally justifiable news is the entire catalog is readily available through any number of… indepent outlets.
        Or EBay. EBay’s good.)

        • Asinus says:

          I have DOSBox but I prefer to have a real thing, and it gives me something to do with slightly older hardware. Also, I have some games that are compatible with certain hardware that I either don’t want to try to put in my main machine or simply can’t.

          My DOS/Win9x/NT4 machine is a P3 350 (yeah, not ultra modern, but it’s not a 486)
          VooDoo Graphics (some games only work on VooDoo Graphics like the 3Dfx version of Mech Warrior 2)
          SB AWE32 (the full length expandable card) with a Roland SCC-15 (I think, it’s a SC-55MK II on a daughter board).
          Yamaha SW60xg
          A real Roland MT-32

          Then I have an older Thrustmaster HOTAS setup that, I think, wouldn’t play nicely with my newer hardware. Fun to play Tie Fighter with a throttle & stick… everything in that sentence sounds like innuendo.

          I take my DOSing and Win9Xing seriously.

          I tried to get this all working with my Athlon XP board, but it seems like the nForce chipset doesn’t appreciate some of that hardware.

        • Girard says:

          You can buy (apparently) new, boxed copies of Sam & Max on Amazon for 20 bucks. Despite apparentley being a newish (re-)release (with a weird “LucasArts Classics” box design), they’re still listed as ‘DOS CD-ROM,’ so you’d still need ScummVM, or if you’re a maniac like Asinus, you could play it on your ancient computer.

        • Girard says:

          @The_Asinus:disqus : Is that old hardware holding up okay, or do you have to replace dead components with used ones off of Ebay fairly often?

          It seems like older hardware was more resilient. The new graphics card I bought all of 3 years ago crapped itself out almost immediately after the warranty. And I bought that when I was already planning on giving that computer – a then only 5-6-year-old P4 from circa 2004 – some major surgery for a fried power supply and motherboard. Meanwhile, our ancient low-density PC compatible DOS box that is as old as I am (dated to 1983) still boots fine, as do a couple of Win9x computers in the basement of my mom’s house. I guess planned obsolescence wasn’t as hardcore then as it is now.

        • Asinus says:

          @bakana42:disqus  I think that the only thing I’ve had to replace is a motherboard when my Tyan Tsunami died (which was weird for a Tyan). Everything else is original that I bought when it was current. Even though the AWE32 has problems (problems soundblasters always had, e.g. cruddy MPU-401 compatibility, noise), it’s hard to ditch a card I paid over $300 for even if it was a long ass time ago. The VooDoo Graphics card is also a sentimental favorite.

          Oh, I did pick up the MT-32 a couple years ago, so I didn’t have that one when it was relevant. Really interesting module though. In the right hands it did some musical magic:


          I know what you’re saying about newer hardware dying faster. I think part of it is the stress of heat, the tiny traces needed as motherboards etc get increasing numbers of layers. I’ve had more stuff die in the last couple of years during it’s assumed-normal life span than probably the entire time before that. And, yeah, old ATs, XTs, and PCs were built like tanks (almost literally). There probably wasn’t a good sense of how quickly hardware could become obsolete, and if people were paying 8000 or more for a computer, they expected those bitches to last. I had a friend whose dad was still primarily using an XT until I had my first PII because it just worked. And he didn’t get rid of it because it failed, either. Shit, I have an old VGA, EGA, CGA combo card that I pulled from an XT (or something) when I wanted to cannibalize the case. It was sitting in a bucket under my sink for years for some reason. The damn thing still worked when I popped it in an ISA slot just for the fun of it.

          Why make shit that lasts if the whole point is to sell the hardest of the core new video cards every 6 months?

          Oh, and all of my Amigas work, too. Those things are almost magic in their eternal upgrade paths. 68000 up to PowerPC chips? That’s fucking insane. That’d be like popping a Pentium or Pentium II into a godamned 8086.

        • George_Liquor says:

          Hooray old-as-shit computers! My folks bought a used IBM XT when I was in 5th or 6th grade. It came pre-loaded with a treasure trove of old Sierra adventure games like Leisure Suit Larry, my introduction to blocky, low-res adult entertainment. My dad refused to upgrade too, and used that crusty old XT well into my high school years. At one point, I swapped the 8088 motherboard with a 386 to give that old heap a little performance boost. I don’t think he ever noticed.

          The computers I have now are all fairly modern, except for an Amiga 2500 that’s boxed up in my garage. I wish I had the room to set that old sucker up again.

  6. It’s kind of melancholy playing that game now. The internet sort of killed places like that. Not by making them go out of business, but like, now they don’t feel remote anymore because nowhere within spitting distance of a highway feels remote anymore. It’s the same as how you couldn’t make the X-Files today, it feels like the world is a lot less strange and a lot less esoteric.

    On the other hand, Disney’s got a new cartoon out that seems to be about a third this, a third psychonauts, and a third stuff that would make really great gifs. So that’s nice.

    • George_Liquor says:

      My friend, do not lament Stuckey’s passing; rejoice in it’s memory! For you lived in a time where such wonders existed, and were deftly parodied in a video game starring a dog shamus and a psychotic rabbity-thing!

      • Sadly I never went to Stuckey’s. I’m a canuck, so it was all gawking at factory farm hatcheries on the way to dinosaur museums and drinking Japanese soda pop that was maple syrup flavored.

        • blue vodka lemonade says:

           Wikipedia says Dead Man’s Flats has 121 residents as of the 2011 census. It’s on the rise!

    • Girard says:

       Speaking of Disney, Steve Purcell, the creator of Sam & Max is one of the co-directors of the new Pixar film coming out. This knowledge has piqued my interest.

    • That new cartoon, Gravity Falls, has a lot of potential. Kristin Schaal is great as the sister, although I think John Ritter is miscast – he sounds older than he looks. It’s kinda dark without being scary (it premiered at 10pm, which was really odd), yet maintains a sense of fun to itself. The Psychonauts comparison is apt; it kinda also has an Angry Beavers vibe.

      As for the Sam & Max cartoon, it holds up fairly well; it’s basically a Ren & Stimpy cartoon as if filtered through an Animaniacs cartoon.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      I’m glad that people will soon fight over which is best for children, Gravity Falls or Phineas And Ferb, as they do over which is best for them, Regular Show or Adventure Time.

      I actually love how it captured a specific thing before it went away.  Space Quest VI: The Spinal Frontier had a Windows 95 and information superhighway bit that makes me smile and think of Rocko’s Modern Life and youth soccer.

      • I think Gravity Falls (thanks, blanked on the name) is sort of pitched at a slightly older audience than ‘kids’. I mean it’s aimed primarily at kids, but it  wears its young adult appeal on its sleeve what with the big emphasis on gifs.  Like how the credits play over a looped version of something that would make an awesome gif.

        Not to mention the fact that it was marketed with ciphers and all that spergy stuff.

    • Girard says:

       Yeah, when I was a tween/teen, I’d play this game, or listen to “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” by Weird Al, or read “American Gods,” and they all filled me with this desire to go on an expansive adventure to see all of these weird, mysterious places. Now that I’m old enough and relatively free enough to do so, I don’t know if many of those places still hold the same allure, since I’ve read about them exhaustively on the interwebs.

      I’d still like to see the Minnesota twine ball and the House on the Rock in person someday, though.

      • blue vodka lemonade says:

         House on the Rock has an additional creepy, gotta-get-out-of-here vibe which may or may not be desirable. Like, once in a while you get the distinct sense that not only are you being watched, but whatever is watching you wants your liver.

        • Girard says:

          You may think you are discouraging me.

          You are, in fact, doing the opposite.

        • blue vodka lemonade says:

           @bakana42:disqus May or may not be desirable, like I said.

          If you do make it up there, it’s also great fun to play compare-and-contrast with Taliesin. And fun to make your sister think she’s locked in the fetuses-in-jars bathroom, if you have one.

  7. Penis Van Lesbian says:

    As a Brit, I never quite got into S&MHtR – partly because the whole road-side attraction thing was, from a Brit POV, fairly meaningless, but I also got worn down by the relentlessness of the Max. I’m trying to solve puzzles, god dammit, will you calm the fuck down?

    Monkey Island and DotT were more the kind of thing an Englishman likes with his cup of tea and a nice cucumber sandwich.

    • I’d be interested to hear what you think of MOnkey Island then, considering the second one ended with an in-joke about the ultimate roadside attraction. Didn’t that render it moot for you?

      • Girard says:

         Also Monkey Island 2 (the LucasArts adventure that I
        might rank higher than this) had an Amero-centric
        pun-puzzle based on a “monkey wrench,” that threw those Europeans and their “spanners” into a royal tizzy.

      • Penis Van Lesbian says:

        Wasn’t it just a fairground? We’ve got those…

        •  Nope. It’s Disneyland. That’s why the treasure of Big Whoop is an “E-Ticket”. See in days of yore you used to get a ticket book when you went into Disneyland with different, alphabetized tickets. The idea was that they would limit the load on more popular attractions by issuing fewer of the tickets that corresponded to them. So you’d be lousy with A-Tickets which could get you into, say, It’s a small world, or America sings, but you’d only have a few E-tickets, which could get you into the haunted mansion, or space mountain.

        • Girard says:

           To be honest, I didn’t know jack about Disneyland when I first played that game (and still barely know anything about the place), and don’t know if that knowledge would have made the ending any less baffling (and intriguing).

    • GhaleonQ says:

      I’ve heard similar things from Americans who played the Simon The Sorcerer series before the internet, and you can’t REALLY understand Beneath A Steel Sky until you know about 2000 A.D.

      • Penis Van Lesbian says:

        Steel Sky – my son and I really got into SCUMM a few years ago, but SS was about the only classic point and click we didn’t get far with. And that’s despite being a big 2000AD/Gibbons fan. I think humour and point and click is a much more natural pairing than grim sf dystopias.

        PS He’s just trying the demo ipad monkey island 1 and it looks pretty good. Unusable retro-graphics mode is a gesture-away option, as well as glorious ipad 3 HD.

        PPS Simon was his gateway drug – I picked one up at a car boot sale and he was hooked within a day…

        • Girard says:

          Ugggggh. There’s nothing glorious about the ‘upgraded’ HD graphics in the remade Monkey Island game. What a horrible mess that remake was!

        • blue vodka lemonade says:

           Simon is free on GOG.com, as is Beneath a Steel Sky. It’s a nice site for those sorts of things.

  8. The internal landscape of my psyche looks an awful lot like Sam & Max Hit the  Road. The good parts do, anyway. It brought on a lifelong obsession with sad, faded roadside attractions; Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders affixed a fascination with the people who believe in the Face on Mars and Pyramid Power.. LucasArts has a lot of splainin to do to my shrink.

    • stakkalee says:

      Zak McKracken made me a lifelong fan of the Weekly World News; I was so sad when they stopped printing the dead tree version.  Zak McKracken is why I still love reading about the most crazy conspiracy theories like the   Philadelphia Experiment and David Ickes’ reptilian imposters.

  9. “Where should I put this bomb so that it doesn’t hurt anyone we know or care about?”

    “Throw it out the window, Sam; there’s no one but strangers out there.”

  10. Brian Stewart says:

    To me it was all about the pecan log at Snuckey’s. As someone allergic to nuts, I still recall the terrifying sight and smell of those unholy monstrosities at the real life Stuckey’s. Mourn those that were gifted Satan’s log.

  11. The_Misanthrope says:

    In the spirit of this article, I would like to say that there are at least two real-life houses that I would like to explore with unfettered access:  The Winchester Mansion and Britannia Manor (likely the most current).  Naturally, that’ll never happen because the former is likely a velvet-rope-cordoned, tour-driven attraction and the latter is occupied by a living person who will likely assume that I’m a burglar, thus making it easier for him to justify the act of threatening/shooting me with a crossbow.

    • blue vodka lemonade says:

       Someone really did break into Britannia not that long ago; Garriot fired an Uzi as a “warning” while he waited for the police.

  12. JokersNuts says:

    I LOVE these games.  Sam and Max, Full Throttle, Monkey Island, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and the crown jewel Day of the Tenticle!  Great article! 

    • Asinus says:

      When I bought some Lucasarts game, it came with a Sam and Max comic with Sam as the guy from Full Throttle. His arms were big and ripped like the Full Throttle guy’s (I’m sure he has a name, but I never played that game); Max asks where he got arms like that, and Sam says that they’re rubber and he got them through mail order… something like that. Anyway, I can’t see the cover art of Full Throttle without feeling like it’s somehow wrong without Sam helming the bike.

      • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

         I have a copy of Sam and Max: Surfin’ the Highway in front of me, so let me that jerk who has to get the quote perfectly:

        Sam: Posing as terrifying, hairy bikers will allow us an unhindered look at bikerdom’s mangy underbelly, Max.

        Max: Ooh. It’s like a dream come true. Sam, have you been working out?

        Sam: Well, I take care of myself. I eat eight, get plenty of rest–And I bought these big rubber arms down at the joke shop.

        • Girard says:

           Ahem, Mister Perfect:

          Sam: Well, I take care of myself. I eat right, get plenty of rest–And I bought these big rubber arms down at the joke shop.

          Just bustin’ your chops. Also, the phrase “joke shop” is hilarious.

          Out of curiosity, do you have the nice new reissue of Surfing the Highway that Telltale released? I have an ancient paperback copy from the mid-90s that only collects the Adventurer comics up until mid-’95 (the last comic is a talk show one featuring animals that I assume refers to “Mortimer And The Riddles Of The Medallion”). Does the new edition have the later Adventurer comics (like this one of Outlaws), or the ones from Fox Kids magazine (like this)? If it’s a more complete collection, I might pick it up.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

           Yes, I have the nice, thick, hardcover variety that Telltale sold. I also got a poster signed by Steve Purcell.

          But the hardcover does come with both that Outlaw strip (which is actually the above poster I mentioned) and the Fox comics. Though the latter is in black and white.

        • Asinus says:

          Wow! Nice! I haven’t seen that in… yikes… a lot of years.

  13. Baramos x says:

    I think this game’s humor will hold up better in the future. One weakness of the modern Sam and Max games is a lot of the humor is based on pop-culture references that will make it seem dated–the most obvious example I can think of is Sam and Max discovering the hatch from LOST under the ocean, and Sam going, “I really wonder what’s behind this hatch–but I’m not going to waste half of my life waiting to find out.” Not a lot of people are going to get that reference in 15 years. Of course, a lot o the other humor is fairly timeless, too, but this game just seems 100% innate humor as opposed to references–so it will hold up better over time.

    • Girard says:

       Not having ever seen Lost, that joke was COMPLETELY lost on me when I played the game. Conversely, in the old game, even when I didn’t ‘get’ what they were talking about (famed naturalist John Muir, for instance), the tone, delivery, and humor were all so strange, that the joke was still funny.

      • GhaleonQ says:

        I will never forget my 4th grade Wisconsin history teacher for letting me answer a test question with the John Muir song.  I mean, it’s not WRONG!

  14. Baramos x says:

    I always loved this franchise. The comics were funny, this game was funny, the cartoon was funny, now the modern games are funny–nothing has fallen flat for me with this series.

  15. Mike Stemmle says:

    Holy weeping housewives on a, a, a… drat.

    Y’know, I used to be able to pull Sam-isms out of my keister with the ease and gusto of a greased upped midget proctologist.  Now it’s all I can do to come up with pathetic low-fruit proctology jokes.  Danged fortysomething brain.  Anyhoo, where was I?

    Ah yes – this charming and unexpected essay about a game I worked on nearly two decades ago. 

    I have nothing particularly incisive to add to Joe’s Deep Thoughts About Hit the Road – like the best analysis, it provides insight into a work that even the creators of said work might not have noticed at the time.  Instead, I’ll throw in a few of bits of Trivia:

    – I never visited most of the “real” roadside attractions “homaged” in HtR until well after HtR shipped. I was severely disappointed by most of the Mystery Spots I visited, but the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is actually WAY cooler than the World of Fish.

    – The AI in “Carbomb” (I can’t believe we had a mini-game called “Carbomb”) is insanely sophisticated. 

    – There was going to be a Pac-Man style mini-game in a bowl of alphabet soup, but it got scrapped. 

    – The voice of Sam is also the official voice of Goofy.  Now that I (finally) have kids, I can’t watch Mickey’s Clubhouse without expecting to hear Goofy say “You crack me up, little buddy.”

    – The voice of Max was in Foghat.

    Anyway, thanks for the kind words.  It’s nice to be remembered.

    • Girard says:

      What a great surprise it is to have a genuine celeb pop up in the comments!

      I’ve got nothing really profound to say, but thanks for sharing that insider information with us, and thanks for being so instrumental in something that made middle school an extremely strange and funny time for my dorky friends and I (rather than the hell on earth middle school typically is for nerds – and everyone, really).

      Thanks for making something so clearly full of care and attention and detail and humor and a thoroughly unique tone and voice that hasn’t really been matched since (and which has clearly shaped the minds and humor of a lot of young folks – try not to let that thought give you the creeping horrors).

      And thanks for continuing to contribute to the world of narrative-centered games when the medium on the whole seems to be eschewing thoughtfulness in favor of visceral (typically testosterone-laden) impact.

    • Toparaman says:

      Loved Carbomb. 

      Sam is Goofy, huh?  Well I’ll be damned.

  16. longly333 says:

    I agree that they did a very good job http://www.nikeukairmax1.co.uk with this. Just because they didn’t let the details out until now doesn’t mean they didn’t have this solved way back. The people who really needed to know the progress were kept in the loop, and the rest of us wait until they are ready to release details.

  17. I played the hell out of this and Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle and the Indiana Jones games when I was little. I recently did a cross-country trip, and hit 3 or 4 of the places that Sam and Max went, just because they went there. This game has shaped my life, and I’m glad it is as important to other people as it is to me.