Productivity is overrated. Close the e-mail program, shove those piles of paper aside, there’s more important things to do: Sam & Max are back in a new game, their first appearance on computer screens since the late, lamented Sam & Max Hit The Road in 1993. Here’s the web site for Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock.

Young gamers have no knowledge of the adventure game genre – pointing and clicking and solving puzzles, frequently while laughing out loud. Computer gaming began with adventure games, starting with Colossal Cave, progressing through Activision’s Zork and other text adventures, through Sierra’s long line of games in the 80s, and culminating in the Monkey Island titles and many others from LucasArts. The market moved to action and strategy games, leaving nostalgic adventure gamers pining for the good old days. The final nail in the coffin came in 2004 when LucasArts briefly announced it was planning its own Sam & Max sequel – and then cancelled the game in progress after it concluded there wouldn’t be a sufficient market for it.

Sam & Max, Freelance Police, a big floppy dog with a fedora and a hyperkinetic smart-aleck rabbity thing, have a special place in the hearts of anyone who played the first game. After LucasArts gave up on the Sam & Max project, their creator, Steve Purcell, bought the rights back and worked directly on this new sequel. The result is brilliant. Here’s a sample review, one of many celebrating the high quality of the graphics, gameplay and jokes in the game.

The downloadable game released next week is the first episode of a six-episode series, with a new episode scheduled to be released each month before a CD is sold separately next year. Even more interesting, though, is the arrangement with Gametap, where the game can be played now. Gametap is a subscription service with hundreds of games that can be accessed for a monthly fee. Since its inception last year it has lowered its price, improved its software, and expanded its game portfolio; I’m pretty impressed by what I’ve seen so far. Sam & Max is its first original game (there’s a new Myst/Uru game in the pipeline), but Gametap has a huge assortment of older games, using emulators for many old platforms (Commodore, Atari, and the like), plus DOS and Windows games. It’s not all old stuff – titles as recent as Far Cry and Civilization III are included. Many of them might only hold you for an hour or two but the sheer volume of games available make that just fine.

A year’s subscription costs just under sixty dollars (although that promotional price is scheduled to go up after October 31). Monthly subscriptions top out at ten bucks a month or so. Once an account is set up, it can be shared with all the computers in the house and individual logins can be set up for each family member. It’s a subscription deal, just like subscribing to music streams from Rhapsody – if the account is cancelled, the games turn off. It seems like a fair deal to me.

The Gametap interface is highly polished and so far the technical aspects have been good – each game has run successfully and Gametap has managed all the files needed to support the games, with nothing installed outside the Gametap program folders to support oddball titles. It’s hard to get old games to play correctly on new computers so that’s a credit to the Gametap programmers.

If your heart goes pitter-pat at the thought of Zork I (or better yet, Zork Grand Inquisitor), or Space Quest, or Lego Racers – they’re available again. Better yet, forget nostalgia – Sam & Max are the most enjoyable thing to do with a computer since Internet porn. Go play!

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