Sam and Max, two characters that have garnered a cult following in every facet of media they have appeared, celebrated their 25th anniversary last weekend. That's a pretty big deal for two characters who have danced on the line of fame and obscurity for well over a decade, and with Steam announcing that the entire Sam & Max collection would be slashed in celebration next weekend, I thought now would be a good time to take a look back at this loveable dog and psycho rabbity-thing's illustrious career.
A Sibling Rivalry
The idea of Sam & Max actually developed out of a sibling rivalry between Steve Purcell and his younger brother Dave, who would often leave his unfinished comics laying around the house for Steve to mess with. Steve would often pick up the half-finished stories and create parodies of the characters who appeared at the beginning, often mixing up their names and shooting at each other. Dave was working on concept that had a detective team comprised of a dog and a rabbit, and Steve picked this up and ran with it. Over the next few years he developed the characters into Sam & Max, and started publishing strips in a weekly newsletter called California College of Arts and Crafts.
Freelance Police, LucasArts, Hit The Road & Surfin' The Highway | 1987 - 1993
In 1987 Purcell released Sam & Max: Freelance Police, their debut comic book series, published by Fishwrap Productions. The first comic, Monkeys Violating The Heavenly Temple was Purcell's first full story, establishing many of the elements that stuck with the duo for the next two decades.
Over the next few years Sam & Max continued to show up in comics published by a laundry list of publishers until Steve joined video game studio LucasArts in 1998. While he was working on a number of game projects, Sam & Max appeared in LucasArt's quarterly newsletter, The Adventurer which garnered them much fame and adoration amongst the adventure game crowd of the early 90s.
In 1992 LucasArts offered Purcell the chance to bring his character to life with their very own video game. A year later Sam & Max Hit The Road was released with the new SCUMM engine which powered a number of classic adventure games from that era. Loosely based on the 1989 comic "On The Road." a story that had the Freelance Police travelling across the USA was born, garnering great reviews and a solid following amongst gamers.
In 1995 all the Sam & Max comics, including the strips which appeared in The Adventurer newsletter were gathered together and published in a huge collection known as Sam & Max: Surfin' The Highway. Numbers were limited and these days this collection is a rare collector's item. Since then Telltale games have re-published the collection with a few extra tidbits and art pieces.
Sam & Max on TV | 1997
The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police was an animated TV show created by Purcell and Canadian television studio Nelvana, which ran for 24 episodes in 1997. While aimed at children, the series often had hidden pieces of adult humour in the scenery and dialogue, and despite only last one season the series was seen as a success. While the violence and profanity were kept to a minimum, the series still harboured everything that fans loved about the dynamic duo. The series has since been released on DVD.
Plunge Through Space & Freelance Police | 2001 - 2005
Sam & Max Plunge Through Space began development in September 2001 as an Xbox exclusive. Developed by Infinite Machine, a small company consisting of a number of former LucasArts employees, the story was developed by Steve Purcell and Chuck Jordan, with a plan for the Freelance Police to travel through the galaxy to retrieve a stolen Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately the studio went bankrupt within a year and the game never saw the light of day.
At E3 in 2002, LucasArts announced that after nearly a decade since the release of Sam & Max Hit the Road, the studio was currently in production of a PC sequel titled Sam & Max: Freelance Police. Using a brand new 3D game engine, Freelance Police was shaping up nicely, with regular development updates post E3.
However in March 2004, LucasArts announced that the game had been cancelled due to "current market place realities and underlying economic considerations." This was taken badly by gaming media, Purcell and fans, who pulled together a 32,000 signature strong petition to release the game.
LucasArts' license with Purcell ended in 2005 which saw Sam & Max head over to Telltale Games. The studio was formed by former LucasArts employees, many of whom worked on the cancelled Freelance Police project.
Released in an episodic format, Sam & Max Save the World was comprised of six episodes which saw the loveable characters return to PCs for the first time in over a decade. The series was a success, and saw a later release on PS3, Xbox 360, iPad and the Nintendo Wii.
In 2007 a second season was developed by Telltale named Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space. The series catapulted the duo into newfound stardom, with gamers buying the series in droves.
Their last outing to date was in 2010 with the release of Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse, another series that saw the Freelance Police return to the humour stylings of 1992's Hit The Road. A release via Steam ensured even more fans than the previous episodes, with this being their best selling outing to date.
Sam & Max have had a lengthy history full of highs, lows, cancellations and stardom. What will happen next for the Freelance Police? With Purcell working for Pixar, one can only hope that an animated movie is in the works, but at the very least, at least another series from Telltale should be in order. Thanks for 25 years of amazing memories Sam & Max!
By Stephen Heller