Back-story

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.

See? Simple.

Published by

Chuck Jordan

Writer, Programmer, and Designer of Videogames and Videogame Like Entertainment Products

19 thoughts on “Back-story”

  1. I don’t know what to say, except that I was happy to see a retcon on the whole “Girl Stinky from the cake” affair, which had always sounded pretty forced to me (even for a Sam & Max game). I mean that. I didn’t complain because I thought it was such a minor issue with season 2’s great writing, that I soon forgot it.
    However, “keep it simple” should be regarded as the greatest creative advise ever.

    BTW: The Devil’s Playhouse finale is one of the best ending in the history of adventure gaming.

  2. Great summary! I enjoyed having the holes in my understanding filled.

    Just one issue: “They were compelled to create a hidden network of tunnels connecting everything on the street with the enormous cloning chambers.”

    So when about were the cloning chambers built? I thought that Momma Bosco only had them ordered fairly close to start of season 3, maybe just before 301? If not, then Charlie Ho-Tep has been bent of a revenge for a long, long time… (Also, I assume the money he used to pay Momma Bosco belonged to Stinky/Sal?)

  3. Glad you liked it, Diduz.

    So when about were the cloning chambers built? I thought that Momma Bosco only had them ordered fairly close to start of season 3, maybe just before 301? If not, then Charlie Ho-Tep has been bent of a revenge for a long, long time…

    He’d been wanting revenge for 100 years, ever since you released him from the toybox. He had the molemen dig the cloning chamber and tunnels connecting to it, and then hired Momma Bosco after she’d become a ghost.

    (Also, I assume the money he used to pay Momma Bosco belonged to Stinky/Sal?)

    Economic stimulus package.

  4. It kind of saddens me to know that to get to complete the storyline in our heads, everyone that has played Season 3 has to read this blog post. I’m sorry that most of these details weren’t even given out in the actual game. For example, I thought the whole Mermaid & Cockroach poster was just a throwaway inside reference, thus I didn’t even think it had a plot significance.

    I may be expecting the extreme, since it may be really hard to gather the voice actors, animators and such, but I would really love to see this issue being explained as a final product, most preferably a machinima. It’s a way to do the justice for this convoluted and well-written, well-planned story.

  5. It kind of saddens me to know that to get to complete the storyline in our heads, everyone that has played Season 3 has to read this blog post. […]
    I may be expecting the extreme, since it may be really hard to gather the voice actors, animators and such, but I would really love to see this issue being explained as a final product, most preferably a machinima. It’s a way to do the justice for this convoluted and well-written, well-planned story.

    See, I disagree. To get the complete storyline of season 3, you just have to play season 3. Everything listed here is just silly and overly convoluted, to make fun of the idea that a Sam & Max story makes sense. It is the epitome of non-essential material.

    It’s listed here only for people who are curious, or for the people who’ve been complaining that it wasn’t given enough time in the games themselves. But it was never supposed to be given more time; it was always intended as a big silly information dump. The only thing that I would’ve done differently is go back and put more hints throughout the other episodes, not genuine explanations. The joke was always supposed to be that there’s this meticulously-plotted scheme that keeps getting hinted at, and the final reveal would just show how silly it was.

    I wouldn’t want to see a machinima of the Stinky story any more than I’d want to see the secret origin of Commander Blip or their old octopus pal Ratzo. Sam & Max is built on non-sequiturs, which is why I think they actually work better as loosely-connected episodes than long, overarching storylines.

    I guess it’s neat that some people got caught up in the story, but not to the point where they complain that the Stinky story was rushed or that there was no pay-off. I think the first obligation of Sam & Max games is to be true to the comics, and in the comics, there are no pay-offs. By the same token, I guess it’s nice that people thought the ending was genuinely sad, but it wasn’t supposed to be.

  6. Great Summary! Filled the holes I had in the series! Thought I still have a few questions:

    -Who thought of the cliffhanger for the end of 304? It really got me excited!

    -Who thought of the Title of the season? At first it didn’t really make sense but as the season came to a closed and as I (Sam) was talking to The Narrator, it made sense. (Even though I never heard of that saying: “The idle hands are the devil’s playthings.”)

    -This is not a question I just have to say that I sheaded a tear during the ending credits during Episode 305 when Sam walk down the street. Bravo!

    -Are Skunkape, Girl Stinky, Real Max, and The Narrator dead? After Skunkape ship exploded when the narrator used Max’s physic power’s to teleport him away. (Or was the exsplosion somehow staged by Girl Stinky/ Sal.)

    -If there’s a Season 4 Will Max still have his physic powers or somehow be able to use them?

    – (Ties in with the question above) Since past max came back in the Time-Traveling elevator and he said that past Sam was turned into a giant monster and had to be destroyed. Does this mean in Past Max’s reality (or wherever he came form.) that Sam had the physic powers, or did he turn into a giant monster in some other way?

    – If The Narrator is Max’s Superego was in Max’s head since 201. Then why did he wait two seasons to strike at max?

    I’ve seen two diffrent endings for Season 3, why is that? One where Max and Sam go back into the elevator, and another where they walking down the street in the sunset.

    -Will there be a Season 4?

    Well that’s all the questions I have about the series as of right now. I’ll be sure to have more so don’t you worry.

  7. Okay, your solution sucks because I like mine way better. Girl Stinky is actually the Crown Princess of the Merpeople of Atlantis. She’s been trying to gain control of Stinky’s Diner because it sits atop the Gates of Beyond, a mystical series of rivers that lead to Hell, the Elysian Fields and Big Rock Candy Mountain. Atlantis, meanwhile, has the Great Garbage Kids Patch sitting on top it, not to mention enough mercury to fill 20 million CFLs, so the Atlanteans are looking to move, hence their interest in the Gates of Beyond. Girl Stinky, whose real name is Princess Surströmming, has been paying the Mole People to dig a tunnel from the mystic waters to the Hudson so that her people might make the Great Migration (the Mole People were paid in Ootoro; turns out they’re into sashimi in a BIG way), and was chosen to lead this dangerous mission because she’s half-Human, meaning that as long as she stays out of the water she has legs instead of fins (now you know why Stinky named her after himself).

    The rest of your story is fine, but mine leaves Season 3 open to introduce Princess Stringaming as the main villainess AND her Nemesis, Buster John, the Hobo King of Big Rock Candy Mountain. So I guess your version doesn’t technically suck, as long as it’s sandwiched inbetween the different parts of my version, and you somehow bring Sal back to life.

  8. @NintendoBoy: I don’t work for Telltale anymore, so any questions about what happens next aren’t for me to answer. As for who came up with various ideas, those were by the design team at Telltale plus Steve Purcell. And the reason that there are two endings for the last episode is because Jake (the director) and I had two different ideas for the very end that both made sense, so he went ahead and implemented both.

    @Tilan: Maybe Stinky had a big breakfast.

  9. Wait, I’m confused. I thought the mole people were immuned to the effects of the Toys of Power as well as the Devil’s Toybox. So how is it possible for some of them to fall under Charlie’s control? Can you explain that, Chuck?

  10. Yeah, I have my own convoluted theory (or two) about the Girl Stinky/Grandpa Stinky/Sal debacle. One of which involves both Sal and Stinky being tar golems created from another undiscovered Toy of Power, and giving the Narrator a larger role in the story overall. Another involves Grandpa Stinky being Neptune, the God of the Sea, and Girl Stinky being a sort of surrogate granddaughter, but still made from fish, coffee, tar, and a rib.

  11. I thought the mole people were immuned to the effects of the Toys of Power as well as the Devil’s Toybox. So how is it possible for some of them to fall under Charlie’s control?

    Most mole people aren’t immune to the effects of the Toys of Power. Only the ones who were part of the anti-Sammun-Mak cult were.

  12. Another question: does Girl Stinky really love Sal or is she just using him to get what she wants like she was doing to Skun’kape up to the finale of episode 5 of season 3?

  13. Tilan: Stinky had somehow discovered the existence of the legendary Nutrispecs, and, fearing that they could someday be discovered and used to reveal her lies, started obsessively eating the ingredients of the Cake of the Damned so the Nutrispecs would give a misleading reading.

    Now where’s my freaking Telltale No-Prize? They already owe me one for reasoning that one of the newspaper boxes – the one with the headline about Brady Culture’s release from prison – was stuck for some time, including episode 102, explaining how that headline could be there when Brady had already been killed by then.

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