I was reading a message board discussion about Telltale’s Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse, and there were a couple of people understandably confused about the big dump of back-story that’s given towards the end of the last episode. Specifically, Stinky’s story. I started to respond there, but figured I might as well put it here so that people could get to it if interested.
It’s fairly interesting as an example of how episodic development differs from regular game development — it was supposed to be kind of a long-running gag that was constantly simmering in the background, but it kept getting pushed out of the way as each episode’s own story got more involved and each episode’s writer & designer told their own story. It was further complicated by the fact that it was supposed to work two ways: if you’d played all of season 2, then it was a huge retcon to explain/undo a lot of the ridiculous stuff in that season that we intentionally never paid off on. If you hadn’t, then it was just a ridiculously convoluted non-sequitur meant to poke fun at anyone expecting Sam & Max to make sense. I’m still not sure what exactly is the best post-mortem lesson there for anybody to take advantage of, other than the obvious “keep it simple.”
So here’s the story in detail, at least how it was intended (I could be off on some details that some of the other writers may have filled in or changed along the way).
Huge spoilers for seasons 2 and 3 of Sam & Max follow, so you should probably only read if you finished those seasons and are feeling confused and/or curious.
The story starts around 1901, and assumes that both mermaids and giant cockroaches are pretty much immortal. In turn-of-the-century New York’s burgeoning freakshow industry, Girl Stinky & Sal had a vaudeville magic act called “The Mermaid and the Cockroach.” Stinky coerced Sal, Body Heat-style, into becoming grifters, running long cons on people in the city. At some point, Grandpa Stinky opened a diner, and Stinky became fixated on it. Why? Who knows? Maybe it was the nautical connection.
Stinky and Sal tried various low-level cons to trick Grandpa Stinky out of his diner, but nothing worked. Most of her schemes tried the angle of convincing Grandpa that she was related to him somehow, then bumping him off and inheriting the diner. But he didn’t have any family to speak of, so he never believed her. All he cared about were his demonic recipes, specifically the legendary Cake of the Damned.
Meanwhile, the immigrant mole people had been digging a vast network of tunnels underneath the city. Some of them came too close to the sealed-off apartment under Sam & Max’s building, and they came under the psychic thrall of Charlie Ho-Tep. They were compelled to create a hidden network of tunnels connecting everything on the street with the enormous cloning chambers.
Stinky & Sal used those tunnels and their own history as vaudeville magicians to trick Grandpa Stinky. They waited until he was just about to perfect his Cake of the Damned recipe, then staged an illusion to make him think he’d just created Girl Stinky. Right as he was about to complete the spell, they used trap doors and some flash powder to make Girl Stinky appear on the counter. (The flash powder left a red stain that Girl Stinky could never scrub away). It was easy to fool Grandpa Stinky, so he believed Girl Stinky was his “daughter” and made arrangements that she’d get the diner if he ever died.
At that point, all Girl Stinky and Sal had to do was kill off Grandpa, but he proved impossible to kill. Eventually (sometime during season 1) she sent him on a worldwide vacation to get rid of him, so that she could scheme and plot without his interfering. But he ended up dying on that trip in a mountaineering accident, as a result of Sam & Max’s messing with the time stream.
That would’ve been the end of her problems, if not for Flint Paper. He’d been snooping around the neighborhood to get to the bottom of a “decades-old mystery.” It was actually the mystery of Bosco wrecking Momma Bosco’s store (episode 204, but in the 1970s), but Girl Stinky assumed he was digging into her scam and Grandpa Stinky’s death. When Sam & Max started poking around, too, she realized that one of them was eventually going to find out about the demon cake recipe. She knew she was going to have to be able to recreate the scam. And this time, it wasn’t going to be as easy as tricking Grandpa Stinky, but had to be good enough to fool Flint Paper (and Sam & Max) as well.
She got some of the mole people construction workers to re-dig the tunnels that had been sealed up so long ago. To cover up the noise of all the digging underneath the diner, she staged rigged trivia games, knowing that there’d be lots of angry yelling (episode 201). The construction was digging up a lot of excess granite and basalt, so she got rid of it by selling it in sandwiches (202). She sent Sal off to steal some audio/video equipment from WARP studios, so he wasn’t able to help when the diner was attacked by zombies (203). When Momma Bosco’s apartment blew up (204), Stinky stole the power core Momma Bosco had been working on, and used it to operate the A/V equipment. When Grandpa Stinky came back from Hell (205), she knew she had to cover up the whole thing, so she sent Sal away from the kitchen and only communicated with him by his secret name “Mr. S.”
Finally, by the time Sam & Max found out about the Cake of the Damned, Stinky and Sal were ready. They used a closed-circuit TV camera and projector, some photos, and the secret tunnels, to make it look like Stinky was turning into a cake, and then back into herself. The spell had been recreated, so no one would question the Cake-of-the-Damned story.
While working in the tunnels, though, Sal & Stinky came too close to the sealed apartment under Sam & Max’s building. Like the mole people before them, they came under Charlie Ho-Tep’s psychic thrall and were compelled to operate the cloning chambers. (Other mole men could just sense the presence of the Devil’s Toybox, and began worshipping it through the wall). When the Maim-Tron attacked the street (201) and threw Sybil’s building, it dug up the future-vision glasses (a remnant from the Devil’s Toybox first crashing on Earth) and dropped them into the alley next to Sam & Max’s building. Now exposed, the glasses got the attention of the alien brain on board General Skun-ka’pe’s spaceship, who guided the ship to Earth to pick them up. When Skun-ka’pe’s spaceship landed and crushed Sybil’s building, it shook loose part of the wall of the sealed apartment, and the Devil’s Toybox spilled out into the molemen cultists’ chamber. Charlie Ho-Tep was finally free to set his plan into motion.
And by the end of the season, Sal has gotten tired of years of con-artistry and decided to go legit. When he gets eaten by Giant Max, Stinky is saved by General Skun-ka’pe (who’s still got a crush on her). She decides to use him to get rid of Grandpa Stinky once and for all. She knows that they’ve never been able to kill Grandpa Stinky on purpose, and also that Flint Paper can kill anyone, but he’d never knowingly kill Grandpa Stinky. She convinces Skun-ka’pe to switch the brains of one of his minions with Grandpa Stinky. Then, use the cloning chamber to make thousands of minions, so that even if Flint Paper figured out what they’d done, he wouldn’t be able to tell which one had Grandpa Stinky’s brain.