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Telltale's Grossman: Assumptions About Audience Will Fail You

Telltale Games designer Dave Grossman shares a story of testing Sam & Max on his mother-in-law in Gamasutra's latest feature, explaining why assumptions
Telltale Games designer Dave Grossman shares a story of testing Sam & Max on his mother-in-law in Gamasutra's latest feature, explaining why assumptions about the audience will fail you. One such assumption is that your audience will implicitly understand the tone of the game they're playing. Writes Grossman, "We hadn't managed to make it clear to Subject M that this was the sort of game where she was going to have to do some thinking in order to make progress. But over and above that, we hadn't given her any guidance as to how to think." Grossman writes that his mother-in-law -- referred to in the feature as Subject M -- didn't apply cartoon logic to the world of Sam & Max without prodding. The solution to the game's first puzzle -- in which a rat asks for Swiss cheese -- is to shoot holes in cheese with Sam's gun. But Subject M ignored this possibility, instead searching for Swiss cheese after finding the hole-less kind. "She was trying to use her real-world knowledge and logic, because neither Sam nor Max had gone to sufficient lengths to demonstrate that theirs was the kind of world where shooting a wedge of cheese would put neat little holes in it instead of splattering it all over the wall, and where an otherwise rational character would be taken in by this ruse and believe it to be Swiss cheese," writes Grossman. The Gamasutra feature contains a full writeup of Subject M's playthrough and includes insights into all aspects of the initial moments of the game's designs -- and explains how this puzzle was refined into a useful tutorial for the remaining episodes of the Sam & Max series thanks to insights gained from this session.

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