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Grim Fandango

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Grim Fandango
A movie poster-style depiction of several film noir style characters whose appearance is that of stylised skeletons.
Cover artwork for Grim Fandango, displaying several of the game's central characters.
Developer(s) LucasArts
(original)
Double Fine Productions
(remaster)
Publisher(s) Original
LucasArts
Remastered
Double Fine Productions
Director(s) Tim Schafer
Programmer(s) Bret Mogilefsky[1]
Artist(s) Peter Tsacle,
Peter Chan[1]
Writer(s) Tim Schafer
Composer(s) Peter McConnell
Engine GrimE (Visual)
iMUSE (Audio)
Platform(s) Original: Microsoft Windows
Remastered: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
Release date(s) Original
  • WW October 30, 1998[2]
Remastered
  • WW January 27, 2015
Genre(s) Graphic adventure
Mode(s) Single-player
Distribution Original
CD-ROM (2)
Remastered
On-line download

Grim Fandango is a dark comedy neo-noir adventure game released by LucasArts in 1998 for Windows, with Tim Schafer as the game's project leader. 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 universal acclaim from critics, who praised 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.

A remastered version of Grim Fandango was announced during Sony's press conference at E3 2014, and was developed by Schafer's current studio Double Fine Productions with help from Sony to secure the property after Disney's acquisition and closure of the LucasArts studio. The remastered title, featuring improved character graphics and textures, an orchestrated score, and directors' commentary, was released on January, 27, 2015 for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux platforms.

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[1] 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 lead 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, these souls are allowed to visit their families in the Land of the Living.[1][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;[1] the manual asks players to consider that every smoker in the game is dead.[1]

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 runs his own nightclub off a converted automat 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, and 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.[18]

Development[edit]

Background and project inception[edit]

A middle aged Caucasian man with dark hair speaks from a lectern.
Tim Schafer was the project lead for Grim Fandango.

Grim Fandango '​s development was led by project leader Tim Schafer, co-designer of Day of the Tentacle and creator of Full Throttle and the more recent Psychonauts and Brütal Legend.[19][20] Schafer had begun work on the game soon after completing Full Throttle in June 1995, though he conceived the idea of a Day of the Dead-themed adventure before production on the latter began.[21] Grim Fandango was an attempt by LucasArts to rejuvenate the graphic adventure genre, in decline by 1998.[22][23] According to Schafer, the game was developed on a $3 million budget.[24] 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.[25][26] 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.[27]

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)

3D design[edit]

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.[28]

Themes and influences[edit]

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.[29] The Aztec motifs of the game were influenced by Schafer's decade-long fascination with folklore, stemming from an anthropology class he took at University of California Berkeley, 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][30] 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] Schafer recounted a Mexican folklore about how the dead were buried with two bags of gold to be used in the afterlife, one on their chest and one hidden in their coffin, such that if the spirits in the afterlife stole the one on the chest, they would still have the hidden bag of gold; this idea of a criminal element in the afterlife led to the idea of a crime-ridden, film noir style to the world, triggered too many ideas that they had to then trim down.[31] 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.[32]

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.[33][34][35]

Schafer opted to give the conversation-heavy game the flavor of film noir set in the 1930s and 1940s, stating that "there's something that I feel is really honest about the way people talked that's different than modern movies".[36] He was partially inspired by novels written by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.[36] Several film noir movies were also 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.[29] 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.[3][29] 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.[29] 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]

Originally, Schafer had come up with the name "Deeds of the Dead" for the game's title, as he original has planned Manny to be a real estate agent in the Land of the Dead. Other potential titles included "The Long Siesta" and "Dirt Nap", before he came up with the title Grim Fandango.[36]

Dialogue and music[edit]

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, María Canals as Meche, Alan Blumenfeld as Glottis, and Jim Ward as Hector. Schafer credits Plana for helping to deepen the character of Manny, as the voice actor was a native Spanish speaker and suggested alternate dialog for the game that was more natural for casual Spanish conversations.[36] 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.[37] The score featured live musicians that McConnell knew or made contact with in San Francisco's Mission District, including a mariachi band.[37] The soundtrack was released as a CD in 1998.[38]

Original release[edit]

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.[32]

Remastered version[edit]

Acquisition of rights and announcement[edit]

A remastered release of Grim Fandango was announced in June 2014 during Sony Computer Entertainment's press event of the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo, with a simultaneous release for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux platforms on January 27, 2015.[39][40][41][42]

The remastered version was predicated on the transition of LucasArts from a developer and publisher into a licensor and publisher in 2013 shortly after its acquisition by Disney. Under new management, LucasArts licensed several of its intellectual properties (IP), including Grim Fandango, to outside developers. Schafer was able to acquire the rights to the game with financial assistance from Sony, and started the process of building out the remaster within Double Fine Productions.[31] Schafer said that the sale of LucasArts to Disney had reminded them of the past efforts of former LucasArts president Darrell Rodrigeuz to release the older LucasArts titles as Legacy Properties, such as the 2009 rerelease of The Secret of Monkey Island.[36] Schafer also noted that they had tried to acquire the property from Lucasarts in the years prior, but the frequent change in management stalled progress.[43] When they begin to inquire about the rights with Disney and LucasArts following its acquisition, they found that Sony, though their vice president of publisher and developer relations Adam Boyes, was also looking to acquire the rights. Boyes stated that Sony had been interested in working with a wide array of developers for the PlayStation 4, and was also inspired to seek Grim Fandango '​s after seeing developers like Capcom and Midway Games revive older properties. Boyes' determination was supported by John Vignocchi, VP of Production for Disney Interactive, who also shared memories of the game, and was able to bring in contacts to track down the game's assets.[43] After discovering they were vying for the same property, Schafer and Boyes agreed to work together to acquire the IP and subsequent funding, planning to make the re-release would be a remastered version.[36][43] Sony did not ask for any of IP rights for the game, instead only asking Double Fine to give the PlayStation platforms console exclusivity in exchange for funding support, similar to their Pub Fund scheme they use to support independent developers.[43]

Challenges[edit]

A comparison of Grim Fandango from its original release (top) and the remastered version. Double Fine increased texture resolution and improved lighting models to improve the looks of the characters.

A major complication in remastering the original work was having many of the critical game files go missing or on archaic formats. A large number of backup files were made on Digital Linear Tape (DLT) which Disney/LucasArts had been able to recover for Double Fine, but the company had no drives to read the tapes. Former LucasArts sound engineer Jory Prum had managed to save a DLT drive and was able to extract all of the game's audio development data from the tapes.[43] Schafer noted at the time of Grim Fandango '​s original development, retention of code was not as rigorous as present day standards, and in some cases, Schafer believes the only copies of some files were unintentionally taken by employees when they had left LucasArts. As such, Schafer and his team have been going back through past employee records to try to trace down any of them and ask for any files they may have saved.[44] In other cases, they have had difficulty in identifying elements on the low-resolution artwork of the original game, such as an emblem on one character's hat, and have had to go looking for original concept art to figure out the design.[44]

Once original assets were identified, as to be used to present the "classic" look of the game in the Remastered editor, Double Fine worked to improve the overall look for modern computers. The textures and lighting models for the characters were improved, in particular for Manny.[43] Schafer has likened the remastering approach to The Criterion Collection film releases in providing a high-fidelity version of the game without changing the story or the characters.[45]

In addition to his own developers, Schafer reached to players who had created unofficial patches and graphical improvements on the original game, and modifications needed to keep it running in ResidualVM, and gained their help to improve the game's assets for the remastered version.[31][46][47] One such feature was a modified control scheme that converted the game's movement controls from the tank-style controls to a point and click-style interface. Schafer noted they created the game with tank-style control as it was popular with other games like Resident Evil at the time, but recognized it did not work well within the adventure game genre.[36] Schafer contacted Tobias Pfaff who created the point-and-click modification to obtain access to his code to incorporate into the remastered version.[44]

Later development and new features[edit]

Double Fine demonstrated an in-progress version of the remastered game at the 2014 IndieCade event in October 2014; new features included higher-resolution textures and improved resolution for the character models as well as having real-time lighting models, and the ability to switch back and forth between this presentation and the original graphics at the touch of a control. The remastered game runs in 4:3 aspect ratio but has an option to stretch this to a 16:9 ratio rather than render in a native 16:9 ratio. The remaster includes improvements to the control scheme developed by Pfaff's patch and other alternate control schemes in addition to the original tank-like controls, including analogue controls for console versions and point-and-click controls for computer versions. The game's soundtrack was fully orchestrated through performances of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (who also performed the soundtrack for Double Fine's Broken Age). The remastered version also includes developer commentary, which can be activated via the options menu and listened to at various points in the game. The PlayStation version also features cloud saving between the PS4 and Vita versions.[48]

Soundtrack[edit]

Original soundtrack[edit]

Grim Fandango soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Peter McConnell (Composer, Producer)
Released 1998
Genre Big Band, Bebop
Length 43:37
Label LucasArts Entertainment Company LLC
Sample of the Casino Calavera track, as part of the remastered soundtrack. In the first release of the game, IGN noted that "LucasArts has put together a film class soundtrack that uses a blend of simple jazz and classical Mexican themes to add depth to the atmosphere of an already fantastic title. Not only is the soundtrack not annoying, but once again it is used to reinforce the emotions delivered in various sequences of the game."[49]

Grim Fandango has an original soundtrack that combines orchestral score, South American folk music, jazz, bebop, swing, and big band music.[50] It also has various influences from traditional Russian, Celtic, Mexican, Spanish, and Indian strings culture.[51] 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).[1][52]

The soundtrack was released in 1998 as a CD album with 32 tracks and sold at the LucasArts company store.[50][53]

The soundtrack was very well received. IGN called it a "beautiful soundtrack that you'll find yourself listening to even after you're done with the game".[54] 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".[55] 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."[56] Game Revolution in its game review praised as one of the "most memorable soundtracks ever to grace the inside of a cranial cavity where an ear drum used to be."[57] PC Gamer in its 2014 list of Top 100 Games, acclaimed Grim Fandango for including "one of the best soundtracks in PC gaming history".[58]

In 1999's Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Annual Interactive Achievement Awards, the soundtrack was nominated in the category of "Outstanding Achievement in Sound and Music".[59] It was also lauded by GameSpot, which awarded it the "Best PC Music awards",[60] and included it in the "Ten Best PC Game Soundtracks" list in 1999.[50][61]

Remastered soundtrack[edit]

Peter McConnell announced that the game's soundtrack will be fully orchestrated through performances of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for the remastered version of the game being released in 2015.[50][48] After the original Pro Tools sound files were recovered, McConnell found that some of the samples he had used originally did not sound good, and the team opted to re-orchestrate the score.[43]

Reception[edit]

Reviews[edit]

Grim Fandango (1998)
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 93%[66]
Metacritic 94/100[65]
Review scores
Publication Score
Adventure Gamers 4.5/5 stars[62]
AllGame 4.5/5 stars[67]
Edge 9/10[68]
Game Revolution A−[57]
GameSpot 9.3/10[63]
IGN 9.4/10[49]
PC Gamer (US) 91%[65]
PC Zone 9.0/10[64]

Grim Fandango was universally acclaimed by reviewers upon its release.[69] Aggregating review websites GameRankings and Metacritic gave the game an 93% and 94/100.[65][66] Critics lauded the art direction in particular, with GameSpot rating the visual design as "consistently great".[63] 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".[64] 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."[70] IGN summed its review up by saying the game was the "best adventure game" it had ever seen.[49]

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.[62][63][49] The use of elevators in the game was particularly noted as troublesome.[63][49] 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".[62] 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".[71]

Awards[edit]

Grim Fandango won several awards after its release in 1998.[50] PC Gamer selected the game as the 1998 "Adventure Game of the Year".[72][73] The game won IGN's "Best Adventure Game of the Year" in 1998,[74] while GameSpot awarded it their "Best of E3 1998",[75] "PC Adventure Game of the Year",[76] "PC Game of the Year",[77] "Best PC Graphics for Artistic Design",[78] and "Best PC Music awards".[50][60] GameSpot named Grim Fandango its Game of the Year for 1998,[79] and in the following year included the game in their "Ten Best PC Game Soundtracks"[61] and was selected as the 10th "Best PC Ending" by their readership.[80] In 1999, Grim Fandango won "Computer Adventure Game of the Year"[59][81] 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."[82] GameSpy also added the game to their Hall of Fame in 2004,[83] further describing it as the seventh "Most Underrated Game of All Time" as of 2003.[84] Adventure Gamers listed Grim Fandango as the seventh "Top Adventure Game of All Time" in 2004;[85] in their 2011 list of "Top 100 All-Time Adventures" it was listed as #1.[86] In 2007, IGN included the game in the "Top 25 PC Games" (as 15th)[87] 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."[88] Grim Fandango remained as the 20th in the Top 25 PC Games in IGN's 2009 list.[89]

Lists of awards and rankings[edit]

Awards and nominations
Publication or ceremony Award name Result Year Ref.
PC Gamer Adventure Game of the Year Won 1998 [72][73]
IGN Best Adventure Game of the Year Won 1998 [74]
CNET Gamecenter Best Adventure Game of 1998 Won 1998 [90]
GameSpot PC Adventure Game of the Year Won 1998 [76]
GameSpot PC Game of the Year Won 1998 [77]
GameSpot Best PC Graphics for Artistic Design Won 1998 [78]
GameSpot Best PC Music awards Won 1998 [60]
GameSpot Game of the Year Won 1998 [79]
GameSpot Best of E3 1998 Won 1998 [75]
Computer Gaming World Best Adventure Game of the Year Won, tied with Sanitarium 1998 [91]
MicroManía Best game in the Adventure and RPG categories Won 1998 [92]
Game Critics Awards Best Action/Adventure Game (displayed at E3) Won 1998 [93]
Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Computer Adventure Game of the Year (Annual Interactive Achievement Awards) Won 1998 [59][81]
Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Game of the Year Nominated 1998 [59]
Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Outstanding Achievement in Art/Graphics Nominated 1998 [59]
Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Outstanding Achievement in Character or Story Development Nominated 1998 [59]
Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Outstanding Achievement in Sound and Music Nominated 1998 [59]
Rankings
Publication Ranking name Position Year Ref.
GameSpot Ten Best PC Game Soundtracks Included in top ten 1999 [61]
Adventure Classic Gaming Top 10 adventure games of all time 9th position 2000 [94]
Computer Gaming World CGW's Hall of Fame Inducted 2001 [95]
GameSpot Greatest Games of All Time Included in the list 2003 [82]
GameSpy 25 Most Underrated Games of All Time 7th position 2004 [84]
Adventure Gamers Top Adventure Game of All Time 7th position 2004 [85]
GameSpy GameSpy Hall of Fame Inducted 2004 [83]
IGN Top 100 Games of All Time 36th position 2007 [88]
IGN Top 25 PC Games 20th position 2009 [89]
Adventure Gamers Top 100 All-Time Adventures 1st position 2011 [86]
PC Gamer The 100 best PC games of all time 80th position 2011 [96]
TIME magazine All-TIME 100 Greatest Video Games Included in list 2012 [97]
GameSpot Best PC Ending (of all time) 10th position 2012 [80]
WIRED The Most Jaw-Dropping Game Graphics of the Last 20 Years Best of 1998 2013 [98]
Empire (film magazine) The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time 84th position 2014 [99]
PC Gamer The PC Gamer Top 100 21st position 2014 [58]

Sales and aftermath[edit]

Grim Fandango sales were poor despite the positive reception given to the game.[100] Initial estimates suggested that the game sold well during the 1998 holiday season.[101] Total cumulative worldwide sales are estimated between 100,000 and 500,000 units.[102] The game is commonly considered a commercial failure,[103][104][105] even though LucasArts stated that "Grim Fandango met domestic expectations and exceeded them worldwide".[106][107] Tim Schafer has affirmed that the game was profitable.[43]

While LucasArts proceeded to produce Escape from Monkey Island in 2000, they canceled development of sequels to Sam & Max Hit the Road[108] and Full Throttle[109] 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."[108] Subsequently, the studio dismissed many of the people involved with their adventure games,[110][111] some of whom went on to set up Telltale Games, creating an episodic series of Sam & Max games.[112] 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.[22][113] Grim Fandango's underperformance was seen as a sign that the genre was commercially "dead" to rival Sierra, as well.[114] LucasArts stated in 2006 that they do not plan on returning to adventure games until the "next decade".[115] Ultimately the studio stopped developing video games in 2013 after the The Walt Disney Company acquisition of Lucasfilm, and was dissolved shortly thereafter.

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 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."[116] With the help of developers such as Double Fine and Telltale Games, adventure games saw a resurgence in the 2010s, with financially successful titles such as Broken Age, The Walking Dead, and The Wolf Among Us.

Remastered version[edit]

Grim Fandango Remastered (2015)
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 84%[118]
Metacritic 83/100[117]
Review scores
Publication Score
Eurogamer 8/10 [123]
Game Revolution 4.5/5[120]
GameSpot 8/10 [121]
IGN 9.3/10 [122]
PC Gamer (US) 80% [119]

Grim Fandango Remastered has received similar positive reception as the original release, with many critics continuing to praise the game's story, characters, and soundtrack. They also found the developer's commentary to be very insightful to the history of the game. Reviewers were disappointed at the lack of an auto-save systems, as well as the game not receiving a full high-definition upgrade, leaving the higher-resolution characters somewhat out of place with the original 3D backgrounds. [122][121][119][123] Many reviewers also noted that the puzzles, though a staple of the day when Grim Fandango was first released, remain somewhat obtuse with solutions that are not clear even after the player solves them, and that a hint system, as was added to the Monkey Island remake, would have been very helpful.[119][123][124][125] The game's pacing, also unchanged from the original version, was also found harder to grasp considering the direction taken in modern games, in both the pacing within the game's four acts, and the time taken to move around and between rooms.[126] In his review for Eurogamer, Richard Cobbett warned players to "be careful of rose-tinted memories", that while the remastered version is faithful to the original, it does show aspects of the original game that have become outdated in more modern video game development.[123] Wired '​s Laura Hudson considered the remastered version highlighted how the original game was "an artifact of its time, an exceptional piece of interactive art wrapped inextricably around the technology and conventions of its time in a way that reveals both their limitations and the brilliance they were capable of producing".[127]

Legacy[edit]

In 2005 The Guardian characterized the game as "The last genuine classic to come from LucasArts, the company that helped define adventure games, Tim Schafer's noir-pastiche follows skull-faced Manny Calavera through a bureaucratic parody of the Land of the Dead. With a look that takes from both Mexican mythology and art deco, Grim Fandango is as unique an artistic statement as mainstream gaming has managed to offer. While loved by devotees, its limited sales prompted LucasArts to back away from original adventures to simply exploit franchises."[128]

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.[4]

Grim Fandango has been considered a representative title demonstrating video games as an art form; the game was selected in 2012 as a candidate for public voting for inclusion within the Smithsonian Institution's "The Art of Video Games" exhibit,[129] 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.[130]

The game was also included in the "Game Masters" exhibition, organized in 2012 by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI); an event devoted to explore the faces and the history behind computer games. Tim Schafer was featured as the creative force behind Grim Fandango, within the exhibition section called "Game Changers", crediting him along a few other visionary game designers for having "pushed the boundaries of game design and storytelling, introducing new genres, creating our best-loved characters and revolutionising the way we understand and play games"[20]

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.[131] 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.[102]

In an interview with Kotaku after the announcement of the remake, Schafer stated that he has long considered the aspect of a Grim Fandango sequel to further expand on the setting that was created for the game. He felt the story would be a difficult component, as either they would have to figure a means to bring Manny back from his final reward, or otherwise build the story around a new character. However, one option he has considered to alleviate the issue is by creating an adventure game using an open-world mechanic similar to the Grand Theft Auto series.[132]


Notes[edit]

References[edit]

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