Grim Fandango
Grim Fandango artwork
Developed by: LucasArts
Published by: LucasArts
Genre(s): Graphic adventure

Grim Fandango is a dark comedy neo-noir Windows adventure game released by LucasArts in 1998, primarily written by Tim Schafer. It is the first adventure game by LucasArts to use 3D computer graphics overlaid on pre-rendered, static backgrounds. As with other LucasArts adventure games, the player must converse with other characters and examine, collect, and use objects correctly to solve puzzles in order to progress.

Grim Fandango's world combines elements of the Aztec belief of afterlife with style aspects of film noir, including The Maltese Falcon, On the Waterfront and Casablanca, to create the Land of the Dead, through which recently departed souls, represented in the game as calaca-like figures, must travel before they reach their final destination, the Ninth Underworld. The story follows travel agent Manuel "Manny" Calavera as he attempts to save Mercedes "Meche" Colomar, a newly arrived but virtuous soul, during her long journey.

The game received positive reviews, praising its artistic design and overall game direction in particular. Grim Fandango was selected for several gaming awards at the time of release, and is often listed in publishers' lists of top games of all time. However, the game was considered a commercial failure and factored into LucasArts' termination of their adventure game development, contributing to the decline of the adventure game genre.

Gameplay Edit

Grim Fandango is an adventure game, in which the player controls Manuel "Manny" Calavera ('calavera' being Spanish for 'skull') as he follows Mercedes "Meche" Colomar in the Underworld. The game uses the GrimE engine, pre-rendering static backgrounds from 3D models, while the main objects and characters are animated in 3D.[1] The player controls Manny's movements and actions with a keyboard, a joystick, or a gamepad. Manny must collect objects that can be used with either other collectible objects, parts of the scenery, or with other people in the Land of the Dead in order to solve puzzles and progress in the game. The game lacks any type of HUD. Unlike the earlier 2D LucasArts games, the player is informed of objects or persons of interest not by text floating on the screen when the player passes a cursor over them, but instead by the fact that Manny will turn his head towards that object or person as he walks by.[2] The player reviews the inventory of items that Manny has collected by watching him pull each item in and out of his coat jacket.[3] Manny can engage in dialogue with other characters through conversation trees to gain hints of what needs to be done to solve the puzzles or to progress the plot.[4] As in most LucasArts adventure games, the player can never die or otherwise get into a no-win situation (that prevents completion of the game).[5]

Synopsis Edit

Setting Edit

Grim Fandango takes place in the Land of the Dead, where recently departed souls aim to make their way to the Ninth Underworld. Good deeds in life are rewarded by access to better travel packages to assist in making the journey of the soul. The best of which is the Number Nine; a train that takes four minutes to reach the gate to the Ninth Underworld.[6] Souls who did not fulfilll a kind life are left to travel through the Land of the Dead on foot, which would take around four years. Such souls often lose faith in the existence of the Ninth Underworld and instead find jobs in the Land of the Dead. The travel agents of the Department of Death act as the Grim Reaper to escort the souls from the mortal world to the Land of the Dead, and then determine which mode of transport the soul has merited. Each year on the Day of the Dead, the souls are allowed to visit their families in the Land of the Living.[4][7]

The souls in the Land of the Dead appear as skeletal calaca figures.[7] Alongside them are demons that have been summoned to help with the more mundane tasks of day-to-day life, such as vehicle maintenance. The souls themselves can suffer death-within-death by being "sprouted," the result of being shot with "sproutella"-filled darts that cause flowers to grow out through the bones.[8] Many of the characters are Mexican and occasional Spanish words are interspersed into the English dialog, resulting in Spanglish.[2] Many of the characters smoke, following a film noir tradition;[4] the manual asks players to consider that every smoker in the game is dead.[4]

Plot Edit

A photograph of a sculpture of a skeletal figure in a brightly-colored, feminine outfit and hat.

The characters in Grim Fandango are based on Mexican calaca figures used to celebrate the Day of the Dead.

The game is divided into four acts, each taking place on November 2 on four consecutive years.[9] Manuel "Manny" Calavera is a travel agent at the Department of Death in the city of El Marrow, forced into his job to work off a debt "to the powers that be".[10] Manny is frustrated with being assigned clients that must take the four-year journey and is threatened to be fired by his boss, Don Copal, if he does not come up with better clients. Manny steals a client, Mercedes "Meche" Colomar, from his co-worker Domino Hurley. The Department computers assign Meche to the four-year journey even though Manny believes she should have a guaranteed spot on the "Number Nine" luxury express train due to her pureness of heart in her life.[11] After setting Meche on her way, Manny investigates further and finds that Domino and Don have been rigging the system to deny many clients Double N tickets, hoarding them for the boss of the criminal underworld, Hector LeMans. LeMans then sells the tickets at an exorbitant price to those that can afford it. Manny recognizes that he cannot stop Hector at present and instead, with the help of his driver and speed demon Glottis, he tries to find Meche on her journey in the nearby Petrified Forest. During the trip Manny encounters Salvador "Sal" Limones, the leader of the small underground organization Lost Souls Alliance (LSA), who is aware of Hector's plans and recruits Manny to help.[12] Manny arrives at the small port city of Rubacava and finds that he has beaten Meche there, and waits for her to show up.

A compute image of approximately 40 characters, most skeletal figures with a few large, cartoonish characters, arranged on a series of steps, posing for the photograph; one figure is of a human face imposed onto the character.

The cast of Grim Fandango. In front center are Domino, Meche, Manny, and Sal. Glottis is in the upper left and Hector is on the far right. The game's creator, Tim Schafer, is in the bottom-left corner.

A year passes, and the city of Rubacava has grown, Manny now running his own nightclub near the edge of the Forest. Manny learns from Olivia Ofrenda that Don has been "sprouted" for letting the scandal be known and that Meche was recently seen with Domino leaving the port. Manny gives chase and a year later tracks them to a coral mining plant on the Edge of the World. Domino has been holding Meche there as a trap to lure Manny.[13] All of Domino's clients who had their tickets stolen are also being held there and used as slave labor, both to make a profit with the coral mining and as a way to keep Hector's scandal quiet. Domino tries to convince Manny to take over his position in the plant seeing as he has no alternative and can spend the rest of eternity with Meche but he refuses. After rescuing Meche, Manny defeats Domino by causing him to fall into a rock crusher. Manny, along with Meche, Glottis and all the souls being held at the plant then escape from the Edge of the World.

The three travel for another year until they reach the terminus for the Number Nine train before the Ninth Underworld. Unfortunately, the Gate Keeper to the Ninth Underworld won't let the souls progress without their tickets, mistakenly believing they have sold them. Meanwhile, Glottis has fallen deathly ill. Manny learns from demons stationed at the terminus that the only way to revive Glottis is to travel at high speeds to restore Glottis' purpose for being summoned. Manny and the others devise a makeshift fuel source to create a "rocket" train cart, quickly taking Manny and Meche back to Rubacava and saving Glottis' life.[14] The three return to El Marrow, now found to be fully in Hector's control and renamed as Nuevo Marrow. Manny regroups with Sal and his expanded LSA and with the help of Olivia, who volunteered to join the gang earlier in Rubacava, he is able to learn about Hector's current activities.[15] Further investigation reveals that Hector not only has been hoarding the Number Nine tickets, but has created counterfeit versions that he has sold to others.[16] Manny tries to confront Hector but is lured into another trap by Olivia, who has also captured Sal, and is taken to Hector's greenhouse to be sprouted. Manny is able to defeat Hector after Sal sacrifices himself to prevent Olivia from interfering. Manny and Meche are able to find the real Double N tickets, including the one that Meche should have received. Manny makes sure the rest of the tickets are given to their rightful owners; in turn, he is granted his own for his good deeds.[17] Together, Manny and Meche board the Number Nine for their happy journey to the Ninth Underworld.

Development Edit

A middle aged Caucasian man with dark hair speaks from a lectern.

Tim Schafer was the designer and writer for Grim Fandango.

Grim Fandango was designed by Tim Schafer, co-designer of Day of the Tentacle and creator of Full Throttle and the more recent Psychonauts and Brütal Legend.[18] Schafer had begun work on the game soon after completing Full Throttle in June 1995, though he conceived the idea of Day of the Dead-themed adventure before production on the latter began.[19] Grim Fandango was an attempt by LucasArts to rejuvenate the graphic adventure genre, in decline by 1998.[20][21] According to Schafer, the game was developed on a $3 million budget.[22] It was the first LucasArts adventure since Labyrinth not to use the SCUMM engine, instead using the Sith engine, pioneered by Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, as the basis of the new GrimE engine.[23][24] The GrimE engine was built using the scripting language Lua. This design decision was due to LucasArts programmer Bret Mogilefsky's interest in the language, and is considered one of the first uses of Lua in gaming applications. The game's success led to the language's use in many other games and applications, including Escape from Monkey Island and Baldur's Gate.[25]

An image of an office drawn in pencil; the office has two windows, a desk, an oval-shaped computer monitor, and additional furniture. The walls and decorations of the furniture have art-deco stylings to them.

An image of an office created in a 3D wireframe mesh (white on blue); the office has two windows, a desk, an oval-shaped computer monitor, and additional furniture. The walls and decorations of the furniture have art-deco stylings to them.

An image of an office rendered by a computer; the office has two windows, a desk, an oval-shaped computer monitor, and additional furniture. The walls and decorations of the furniture have art-deco stylings to them. A skeletal figure sits in one of the chairs looking to the viewer.
Manny's office, from Peter Chan's original concept art (top) to wireframe mesh (middle) to in-game representation (bottom)

Grim Fandango mixed static pre-rendered background images with 3D characters and objects. Part of this decision was based on how the calaca figures would appear in three dimensions.[8] There were more than 90 sets and 50 characters in the game to be created and rendered; Manny's character alone comprised 250 polygons.[8] The development team found that by utilizing three-dimensional models to pre-render the backgrounds, they could alter the camera shot to achieve more effective or dramatic angles for certain scenes simply by re-rendering the background, instead of having to have an artist redraw the background for a traditional 2D adventure game.[8] The team adapted the engine to allow Manny's head to move separately from his body to make the player aware of important objects nearby.[8] The 3D engine also aided in the choreography between the spoken dialog and body and arm movements of the characters.[8] Additionally, full-motion video cutscenes were incorporated to advance the plot, using the same in-game style for the characters and backgrounds to make them nearly indistinguishable from the actual game.[26]

The game combines several Aztec beliefs of the afterlife and underworld with 1930s Art Deco design motifs and a dark plot reminiscent of the film noir genre.[27] The Aztec motifs of the game were influenced by Schafer's decade-long fascination with folklore and talks with folklorist Alan Dundes, with Schafer recognizing that the four-year journey of the soul in the afterlife would set the stage for an adventure game.[2] Schafer stated that once he had set on the Afterlife setting: "Then I thought, what role would a person want to play in a Day of the Dead scenario? You'd want to be the grim reaper himself. That's how Manny got his job. Then I imagined him picking up people in the land of the living and bringing them to the land of the dead, like he's really just a glorified limo or taxi driver. So the idea came of Manny having this really mundane job that looks glamorous because he has the robe and the scythe, but really, he's just punching the clock."[2] The division of the game into four years was a way of breaking the game's overall puzzle into four discrete sections.[2][8] Each year was divided into several non-linear branches of puzzles that all had to be solved before the player could progress to the next year.[28]

A flow diagram consisting of text boxes connected by arrows; the contents of each box list out the summary of a puzzle that is to be completed before following puzzles can be completed.

The team created a puzzle design document in the planning of the game, laying out branching non-linear puzzle paths for the player to solve within the context of each year of the game.

Several film noir movies were inspiration for much of the game's plot and characters. Tim Schafer stated that the true inspiration was drawn from films like Double Indemnity, in which a weak and undistinguished insurance salesman finds himself entangled in a murder plot.[27] The design and early plot are fashioned after films such as Chinatown and Glengarry Glen Ross.[2][7] Several scenes in Grim Fandango are directly inspired by the genre's films such as The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, Key Largo, and most notably Casablanca: two characters in the game's second act are directly modeled after the roles played by Peter Lorre and Claude Rains in the film.[1][27] The main villain, Hector LeMans, was designed to resemble Sydney Greenstreet's character of Signor Ferrari from Casablanca.[2] His voice was also modeled after Greenstreet, complete with his trademark chuckle.

Visually, the game drew inspiration from various sources: the skeletal character designs were based largely on the calaca figures used in Mexican Day of the Dead festivities, while the architecture ranged from Art Deco skyscrapers to an Aztec temple.[27] The team turned to LucasArts artist Peter Chan to create the calaca figures. The art of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth was used as inspiration for the designs of the hot rods and the demon characters like Glottis.[2]

The game featured a large cast for voice acting in the game's dialog and cutscenes, employing many Latino actors to help with the Spanish slang.[2] Voice actors included Tony Plana as Manny, Maria Canals as Meche, Alan Blumenfeld as Glottis, and Jim Ward as Hector. The game's music, a mix of an orchestral score, South American folk music, jazz, swing and big band sounds, was composed at LucasArts by Peter McConnell and inspired by the likes of Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman as well as film composers Max Steiner and Adolph Deutsch.[29] The score featured live musicians that McConnell knew or made contact with in San Francisco's Mission District, including a mariachi band.[29] The soundtrack was released as a CD in 1998.[30]

Originally, the game was to be shipped in the first half of 1998 but was delayed;[8] as a result, the game was released on October 30, 1998, the Friday before November 2, the actual date of the Day of the Dead celebration.[2] Even with the delay, the team had to drop several of the puzzles and characters from the game, including a climactic five-step puzzle against Hector LeMans at the conclusion of the game; Schafer later noted that they would have needed one to two more years to implement their original designs.[28] Tim Schafer left LucasArts shortly after Grim Fandango's release, and created his own company, Double Fine Productions, in 2000 along with many of those involved in the development of Grim Fandango. The company has found similar critical success with their first title, Psychonauts. Schafer has stated that while there is strong interest from fans and that he "would love to go back and spend time with the characters from any game [he's] worked on", a sequel to Grim Fandango or his other previous games is unlikely as "I always want to make something new."[31]

Reception Edit

Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 93%[32]
Metacritic 94/100[33]
Review scores
Publication Score
Adventure Gamers 4.5/Template:PluralTemplate:Loop11px[34]
Game Revolution A−[35]
GameSpot 9.3/10[36]
IGN 9.4/10[37]
PC Zone 9.0/10[38]

Grim Fandango received almost universally positive reviews. Critics lauded the art direction in particular, with GameSpot rating the visual design as "consistently great".[36] PC Zone emphasized the production as a whole calling the direction, costumes, characters, music, and atmosphere expertly done. They also commented the game would make a "superb film".[38] The San Francisco Chronicle stated "Grim Fandango feels like a wild dance through a cartoonish film-noir adventure. Its wacky characters, seductive puzzle-filled plot and a nearly invisible interface allow players to lose themselves in the game just as cinemagoers might get lost in a movie."[2] The Houston Chronicle, in naming Grim Fandango the best game of 1998 along with Half-Life, complimented the graphics calling them "jaw-dropping" and commented that the game "is full of both dark and light humor."[39] IGN summed its review up by saying the game was the "best adventure game" it had ever seen.[37]

The game also received criticisms from the media. Several reviewers noted that there were difficulties experienced with the interface, requiring a certain learning curve to get used to, and selected camera angles for some puzzles were poorly chosen.[34][36][37] The use of elevators in the game was particularly noted as troublesome.[36][37] The review from Adventure Gamers expressed dislike of the soundtrack, and, at times, "found it too heavy and not well suited to the game's theme".[34] A Computer and Video Games review also noted that the game had continuous and long data loading from the CD-ROM that interrupted the game and "spoils the fluidity of some sequences and causes niggling delays".[40]

Awards Edit

Grim Fandango won several awards after its release in 1998. PC Gamer selected the game as the 1998 "Adventure Game of the Year".[41][42] The game won IGN's "Best Adventure Game of the Year" in 1998,[43] while GameSpot awarded it their "Best of E3 1998",[44] "PC Adventure Game of the Year",[45] "PC Game of the Year",[46] "Best PC Graphics for Artistic Design",[47] and "Best PC Music awards".[48] GameSpot named Grim Fandango its Game of the Year for 1998,[49] and in the following year included the game in their "Ten Best PC Game Soundtracks"[50] and was selected as the 10th "Best PC Ending" by their readership.[51] In 1999, Grim Fandango won "Computer Adventure Game of the Year"[52] for the 1999 Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Annual Interactive Achievement Awards. It was also nominated for "Game of the Year", "Outstanding Achievement in Art/Graphics", "Outstanding Achievement in Character or Story Development" and "Outstanding Achievement in Sound and Music" that same year.

Grim Fandango has been included in several publishers' "Top Games" lists well after its release. GameSpot inducted the game into their "Greatest Games of All Time" in 2003 citing, "Ask just about anyone who has played Grim Fandango, and he or she will agree that it's one of the greatest games of all time."[53] GameSpy also added the game to their Hall of Fame in 2004,[54] further describing it as the seventh "Most Underrated Game of All Time" as of 2003.[55] Adventure Gamers listed Grim Fandango as the seventh "Top Adventure Game of All Time" in 2004;[56] in their 2011 list of "Top 100 All-Time Adventures" it was listed as #1.[57] In 2007, IGN included the game in the "Top 25 PC Games" (as 15th)[58] and "Top 100 Games of All Time" (at 36th), citing that "LucasArts' second-to-last stab at the classic adventure genre may very well be the most original and brilliant one ever made."[59] Grim Fandango remained as the 20th in the Top 25 PC Games in IGN's 2009 list.[60]

Sales and aftermath Edit

Grim Fandango sales were poor despite the positive reception given to the game.[61] Initial estimates suggested that the game sold well during the 1998 holiday season.[62] However, the game only sold about 95,000 copies up through 2003 in North America, excluding online sales, based on data provided by PC Data (now owned by NPD Group).[63] Total cumulative worldwide sales are estimated between 100,000 and 500,000 units.[64] The game is commonly considered a commercial failure,[65][66][67] even though LucasArts has stated that "Grim Fandango met domestic expectations and exceeded them worldwide".[68][69] While LucasArts proceeded to produce Escape from Monkey Island in 2000, they canceled development of sequels to Sam & Max Hit the Road[70] and Full Throttle[71] stating that "After careful evaluation of current market place realities and underlying economic considerations, we've decided that this was not the appropriate time to launch a graphic adventure on the PC."[70] Subsequently, the studio dismissed many of the people involved with their adventure games,[72][73] some of whom went on to set up Telltale Games, creating an episodic series of Sam & Max games.[74] In 2006, LucasArts stated they do not plan on returning to adventure games until the "next decade".[75]

These events, along with other changes in the video game market towards action-based games, are seen as primary causes in the decline of the adventure game genre.[20][76] Grim Fandango's underperformance was seen as a sign that the genre was commercially "dead" to rival Sierra, as well.[77]

Eurogamer's Jeffrey Matulef, in a 2012 retrospective look, believed that Grim Fandango's combination of film noir and the adventure game genre was the first of its kind and a natural fit due to the script-heavy nature of both, and would later help influence games with similar themes like the Ace Attorney series and L.A. Noire.[3] Grim Fandango has been considered a representative title demonstrationing video games as an art form; the game was selected as a candidate for public voting for inclusion within the Smithsonian Institute's "The Art of Video Games" exhibit,[78] while the Museum of Modern Art seeks to install the game as an exhibit as part of its permanent collection within the Department of Architecture and Design.[79]

Grim Fandango has been the centerpiece of a large fan community for the game that has continued to be active more than 10 years after the game's release. Such fan communities include the Grim Fandango Network and the Department of Death, both of which include fan art and fiction in addition to other original content.[64]

Soundtrack Edit

Grim Fandango

Grim Fandango has an original soundtrack that combines orchestral score, South American folk music, jazz, bebop, swing, and big band music.[80] It also has various influences from traditional Russian, Celtic, Mexican, Spanish, and Indian strings culture.[81]

The soundtrack was released in 1998 as a CD with 32 tracks at the LucasArts store. It is no longer available at the store, and It can downloaded as MP3 version on various websites.[80][82] A PC soundtrack was also released in two CDs with numerous additional tracks.[83]

The soundtrack was generally well received. IGN called it "Beautiful soundtrack that you'll find yourself listening to even after you're done with the game".[84] SEMO said "the compositions and performances are so good that listening to this album on a stand-alone basis can make people feel like they're in a bar back then".[85] RPGFan said "the pieces are beautifully composed, wonderfully played (...). has a stellar soundtrack with music that easily stands alone outside the context of the game. This CD was an absolute pleasure to listen to and comes highly recommended."[86]

It was composed and produced by Peter McConnell at LucasArts. Others credited are Jeff Kliment (Engineer, Mixed By, Mastered), and Hans Christian Reumschüssel (Additional Music Production).[87]

See also Edit

References Edit



Notes Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 LucasArts' Grim Fandango Presents a Surreal Tale of Crime, Corruption and Greed in the Land of the Dead; Dramatic New Graphic Adventure from the Creator of Award-Winning Full Throttle Expected to Release in First Half 1998. Business Wire (1997-09-08). Retrieved on December 2, 2007.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Script error
  3. 3.0 3.1 Matulef, Jeffery (2012-02-05). Retrospective: Grim Fandango. Eurogamer. Archived from the original on March 31, 2013. Retrieved on February 5, 2012.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 (1998) Grim Fandango Instruction Manual. LucasArts. 
  5. The Greatest Games of All Time: Day of the Tentacle. GameSpot (2004-04-30). Archived from the original on March 31, 2013. Retrieved on March 13, 2008.
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  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Script error
  9. Shaker, Wyatt (1999). Grim Fandango Game Guide. GameSpot. Archived from the original on May 8, 1999. Retrieved on March 13, 2008.
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External links Edit

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