The History of the Sam & Max Case File
When Sam & Max Season One launched in 2006, downloadable games were a new phenomenon and episodic games were even newer. The idea of buying a season pass for a game that might never be finished was a turn-off for a lot of people who were otherwise very excited to play a new Sam & Max game. So Telltale sweetened the deal by promising a free game DVD to season pass customers for only the price of shipping.
When it came time to produce those DVDs in the summer of 2007, we decided to add other merchandise to the Telltale store so people could get more for the shipping price they were already paying. Telltale’s Sam & Max offerings included posters, tee shirts, hats, and a Season One soundtrack.
By far, the most labor-intensive product was the Season One Case File—but it was a labor of love.
Do you have any… nostalgic yet reasonably priced feelies?
Because we were old-school adventure game fans, we wanted Telltale’s physical Sam & Max release to have a big box with feelies inside, to be proudly displayed on a shelf next to Hit the Road and other LucasArts classics. But because the DVD was a freebie, we couldn’t get extravagant with the packaging. Instead we came up with the idea of a case file—a packet of Season One souvenirs small and flat enough to fit inside the DVD case.
We sold these for $5, cheap enough for an impulse buy. Coincidentally, each case file cost almost $5 to produce—and that was before assembly. Much to management’s dismay, no money was made on the Season One Case File.
I remember that case file. Particularly gruesome.
The Season One Case File was a 4.75” by 6.5” brown kraft envelope reminiscent of an office folder (or so we hoped). The outside was hand-stamped with a Freelance Police Case File rubber stamp that we had custom made at a local print shop. This had a blank line for the date, which was stamped separately in red ink using the type of date stamp that’s used in libraries (or used to be, anyway).
The date on the Season One Case File is May 11, 2007, one day after the final episode launched on Telltale’s website. (Max spent a day hitting people over the head before he returned to the office to file his paperwork.)
Inside the envelope were six souvenirs, one for each Season One episode:
- Hypno-glasses prototype
- Front page of the Alien Love Triangle Times
- Mafia-Free Playland and Casino fridge magnet
- One Rabbit, One Law campaign button
- BoscoTech biological weapon
- Greetings from the Moon postcard
Each item had to be flat, inexpensive to produce, and easy to source. We couldn’t afford a lot of customization, so we had to stick to promotional type items that were easy to buy in bulk. If we remember correctly, the hypno-glasses were the most expensive item—paper 3D glasses with green swirls silkscreened on the cellophane lenses. The biological weapon was a cocktail napkin with custom printing, like people normally buy for weddings or bar/bat mitzvahs. The Max pins, we bought in a much larger quantity, to bring the per-item cost down, and used as giveaways at ComicCon, PAX, and other trade shows.
I don’t suppose you have any candid photos of little green men feeling frisky, do you?
The newspaper was the most fun item to produce. At the time we made these, Season Two was in the planning stages and we were able to slip in a couple of easter eggs. Zazzle and Fib, penned by environment artist Kim Lyons, made their first syndicated appearance. The personal ads were inspired by actual personals in the local newspaper.
We called the newsroom of that local paper to find out who did their printing, and then went to that shop and pitched them on the Alien Love Triangle Times. We dealt with two old guys who couldn’t stop laughing—clearly no one had ever walked in and asked them to help with a video game before.
To create the front page of Sybil’s gossip rag, we designed a 9.5” by 17” page with two copies that met up in the middle. We then ripped these in half so each front page had a unique, authentic torn edge.
Hey, there’s a whole case-file-making factory back here!
The Season One Case File was produced in a limited quantity of about 2,000. Several employees pitched in to rubber stamp envelopes, fold hypno-glasses, rip newspapers, punch out die-cut magnets, and put everything together, mostly on nights and weekends. One night we ordered pizza and watched The Wizard while we worked together in an assembly line.
When the Season One Case File sold out in January 2008, there was no chance of producing more. As Max says after Superball and his ensemble can-can out of the Oval Office: “Let’s not do that again!”
(We did, in fact, do it again for Season Two, but that’s a story for another time!)
When we started discussing a retail edition of Sam & Max Save the World with Limited Run Games, the case file immediately came to mind. An updated recreation will be one of the goodies inside the Nintendo Switch and PC Collector’s Edition boxes, along with a Highway Surfing mini print and postcards of the six episodes as comic book covers.
Limited Run will use the original production files to recreate the case file with a few new details—but if they’re smarter than we were, they won’t require each one to be stamped twice by hand! And considering that a love of the old school big boxes sparked the idea for the case file in the first place, it’s only fitting that this new version will live inside a big, beautiful box with Steve Purcell’s art on the cover.