Sam & Max Hit the Road is a graphic adventure video game developed and published by LucasArts during their adventure games era. The game was originally released for DOS in 1993 and for Mac OS in 1995. A 2002 re-release included compatibility with Windows.
The game is based on the comic characters of Sam and Max the "Freelance Police", an anthropomorphic dog and "hyperkinetic rabbity thing", created by Steve Purcell who also contributed towards the development of the game. In the game, the duo take the case of a missing bigfoot from a nearby circus, traveling to many Americana tourist sites to solve the mystery. It is the ninth game to use the SCUMM adventure game engine. It is now regarded as a classic point-and-click adventure game, although it sold poorly when it was initially released.
Sam & Max Hit the Road is a 2D adventure game where the player controls the actions of Sam from a third-person perspective. The player uses Sam to explore the pre-rendered cartoon environments of the game and solve a series of puzzles using a simple point-and-click interface. The game's puzzles have logical solutions, although a number of them have far-fetched solutions due to the game's cartoon setting. Players can set the game's cursor in a particular mode to designate how Sam interacts with the environment: Sam can walk around an area, talk to other characters, look at objects, pick them up or otherwise try to use them. The cursor's graphic changes when it is hovered over an in-game entity that Sam can interact with. When talking to another character, the player is given a choice of subject areas to discuss, depicted in a conversation tree as icons at the base of the screen. In addition to specific topics involving the game's plot, Sam can inject unconnected exclamations, questions and non sequiturs into a conversation.
The game incorporates an inventory system for items that Sam picks up during the course of the game. Items can be used on other entities in the game world, or can often be combined with other inventory items to provide a new object necessary for solving a puzzle. Although Max's character will walk around the game's areas by his own will, Sam can also use Max at various points by using an inventory icon of Max's head on game objects—usually on characters where the solution to a problem involves violence. Sam and Max travel to different locations in the game using their black and white 1960 DeSoto Adventurer, which when clicked on in-game will present a map of the United States with all the available locations the pair can travel to shown. As the game progresses, the amount of locations on the map increases.
In addition to the main game, Sam & Max Hit the Road includes several minigames. Some of these, such as a carnival game based on Whac-A-Mole but involving live rats, must be completed in order to receive new items and further the game's plot, while others, such as a car-themed version of Battleship, are entirely optional as to whether the player uses them. As with the majority of LucasArts adventure games, Sam & Max Hit the Road is designed so that the player characters cannot die or reach a complete dead-end.
Sam and Max, the Freelance Police, are two comic book characters created by Steve Purcell, who act as private detectives and vigilantes. Sam & Max Hit the Road follows the pair on a case that takes them from their office in New York City across the United States. The game starts in a similar way to many of the comic stories, with Sam and Max receiving a telephone call from an unseen and unheard Commissioner, who tells them to go to a nearby carnival. At the carnival, they are told by the owners that their star attraction, a frozen bigfoot called Bruno, has been set free and fled taking their second attraction, Trixie the Giraffe-Necked Girl. Sam and Max set off to find Bruno and bring him back. As the duo investigate the carnival, they learn that Bruno and Trixie are in love and that Trixie freed Bruno. The Freelance Police leave the carnival to pursue leads at various tourist traps throughout the country, such as The World's Largest Ball of Twine, a vortex controlled by giant subterranean magnets and bungee jumping facilities at Mount Rushmore.
The pair learn that two other bigfoots used as tourist attractions in other parts of the country have been freed by Bruno, and that Bruno has been captured by British country western singer Conroy Bumpus, a cruel animal abuser who wishes to use Bruno in his performances. Sam and Max travel to Bumpus' home and rescue Bruno and Trixie, but Bruno then departs with Trixie to join a bigfoot gathering at an inn in Nevada. Following them, Sam and Max are forced to disguise themselves as a bigfoot to enter the party. Eventually the party is gatecrashed by Conroy Bumpus and his henchman Lee Harvey, who hope to capture the bigfoots. However, Sam manages to fool Bumpus and Harvey into donning their bigfoot disguise, and Max locks them in the inn's kitchen freezer.
The bigfoot chief, in recognition of the pair's actions, makes the Freelance Police members of the bigfoot tribe and tells them of a spell that will make the world safe for bigfoots again, preventing their capture by humans. However, the chief requires help deciphering the spell's four ingredients, and asks for Sam and Max's help. Eventually, they discover that the ingredients are a vegetable resembling John Muir, hair restoration tonic, the tooth of a dinosaur and a vortex contained within a snow globe. Combined with a live bigfoot sacrifice—which Max substitutes for frozen bigfoot-clad Conroy Bumpus—the ingredients cause for large trees to spring into existance, destroying towns and cities and covering the bulk of the west United States in forest land. Content that their work is done, Sam and Max take Conroy Bumpus' frozen form to the carnival. Believing that Bruno has been returned to them, the owners give a large reward of skee ball tickets to the Freelance Police, who then spend the end credits shooting targets at a carnival stall with real firearms.
Sam & Max Hit the Road was developed by a small team at LucasArts, many of whom had previous experience working on other LucasArts adventure games. The game was designed by Sean Clark, Michael Stemmle, Sam & Max creator Steve Purcell and his future wife Collette Michaud, all of whom had worked on Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Sam and Max first appeared as video game characters as internal testing material for SCUMM engine programmers recently employed by LucasArts; Steve Purcell created animated versions of the characters and an office backdrop for the programmers to practice on. Soon after, Sam & Max comic strips by Steve Purcell were published in LucasArts' quarterly newsletter. After a positive reaction from fans to the strips and out of a wish to use new characters and settings after the success of the Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion franchises, LucasArts offered in 1992 to create a video game out of the characters.
The game was based on the 1989 Sam & Max comic On The Road, which featured the two on a journey across the United States. Several of the game's tourist traps were based on real locations experienced by the developers; Steve Purcell recollects a childhood visit to a "Frog Rock"—one of the locations featured in the game—and remembered thinking "That's it? It doesn't even look like a frog!
Sam & Max was one of the first games to include a full speech soundtrack and music, which for Steve Purcell was a "dream opportunity" to hear his creations speak. Steve Purcell describes casting Bill Farmer in the role of Sam as his audition tape "was very dry; he wasn’t trying too hard to sell the lines". Actor Nick Jameson was cast to voice Max. The game's jazz score was composed by Lucasart's Clint Bajakian, Michael Land and Peter McConnell, and was incorporated into the game using Land and McConnell's iMUSE engine, which allowed for audio to be synchronized with the visuals. High quality versions of four of the game's tracks were included on the CD version of the game. Sam & Max Hit the Road was released simultaneously on floppy disk and CD-ROM; only the CD version of the game contained full in-game speech and music. Fans of the game have since recreated the game's MIDI soundtrack in higher quality MP3 format.
As the Sam & Max comics had a more adult tone, Steve Purcell expected LucasArts to cut back "the edgier material" from the game. However, he expressed that he was pleased with how LucasArts allowed him to stay close to his original vision for the game. The game's various minigames were included to allow players to take a break from solving the main game's puzzles and play something "short and silly". Sam & Max Hit the Road also signified a major change in development for games on the SCUMM engine. Built upon version 6 of the engine, the user interface was entirely rehauled from the version introduced in Maniac Mansion and built upon in subsequent games. Instead of selecting a verb function from a list at the bottom of the screen and clicking on an in-game entity, Sam & Max Hit the Road compressed all verb functions into the mouse cursor, which players could cycle through using the right-mouse button. The inventory was also moved off the main screen to a sub-screen accessible by a small icon on the screen. According to Steve Purcell, this cleared space on the screen to "expand on the excellent backgrounds and also made interaction much quicker and less laborious than LucasArts' previous adventure games" The conversation trees were also affected by this; Michael Stemmle proposed removing the text-based selection menu in favor of icons representing topics of discussion as "nothing would kill a joke worse than reading it before you hear it". Several of these innovations were retained for future LucasArts adventure games.
The first attempts at a sequel took place in September 2001 with Sam & Max Plunge Through Space. The game was to be an Xbox exclusive title, developed by Infinity Machine, a small company consisting of a number of former LucasArts employees. The story of the game was developed by series creator Steve Purcell and fellow designer Chuck Jordan and involved the Freelance Police travelling the galaxy to find a stolen Statue of Liberty. However, Infinity Machine went bankrupt within a year, and the project was abandoned.
At E3 2002, nearly a decade after the release of Sam & Max Hit the Road, LucasArts announced the production of a PC sequel, entitled Sam & Max: Freelance Police. Freelance Police, like Hit the Road, was to be a point-and-click graphic adventure game, utilising a new 3D game engine. Development of Freelance Police was led by Michael Stemmle, one of the original designers of Sam and Max Hit the Road. Steve Purcell contributed to the project by writing the story and producing concept art. The original voice actors for Sam and Max, Bill Farmer and Nick Jameson, were also set to reprise their roles. In March 2004, however, quite far into the game's development, Sam & Max: Freelance Police was abruptly cancelled by LucasArts, citing "current market place realities and underlying economic considerations" in a short press release. The fan reaction to the cancellation was strong; a petition of 32,000 signatures stating the disappointment of fans was later presented to LucasArts.
After LucasArts' license with Steve Purcell expired in 2005, the Sam & Max franchise moved to Telltale Games, a company of former LucasArts employees who had worked on a number of LucasArts adventure games, including on the development of Freelance Police. Under Telltale Games, a new episodic series of Sam & Max video games was announced. Like both Sam & Max Hit the Road and Freelance Police, Sam & Max Season One was in a point-and-click graphic adventure game format. The first season ran for six episodes, each with a self-contained storyline but with an overall story arc running through the series. The first episode was released on GameTap in October 2006, with episodes following regularly until April 2007. A second season began in November 2007 and ended in April 2008, while a third season is confirmed for 2009.
Sam & Max Hit the Road received a favourable reception from the gaming industry's press, holding a rating of 83% on the review aggregator site Game Rankings. A number of reviewers praised the game's cartoon-style graphics and atmosphere, with Adventure Gamers citing them as "appropriately cheesy" and "colorful", while Adventure Classic Gamers described the characters as "beautifully sketched". Reviewers also praised the attention paid to the game's story and dialogue; Edge noted that "with most adventure games, its hard to feel anything for the character(s) you control", but stated that Sam & Max Hit the Road broke this mould be being "genuninely funny" and players would be "experimenting more than... normally just to see what the madcap pair will get up to next."
The game's jazz soundtrack was warmly received by reviewers, with the reviewer for Adventure Classic Gamers stating that it was "well scored and a pleasure to listen to", while GamersHell noted that music was "top quality". Other audio work was also well received, with praise being given to the quality of the voice acting.