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Grim Fandango artwork

Cover art for Grim Fandango.

Grim Fandango is a point-and-click adventure game for the PC and Mac platforms, designed and published by LucasArts. It was designed by Tim Schafer, and is frequently regarded as one of his best works, if not his magnum opus. It was also notable in its abandonment of the SCUMM adventure game engine, opting instead for an entirely new system made specifically for the game, which allows the player to actively walk around the environment. The game uses the GrimE engine, pre-rendering static backgrounds from 3D models, while the main objects and characters are animated in 3D.

GameplayEdit

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 Land of the Dead. 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. The player reviews the inventory of items that Manny has collected by watching him pull each item in and out of his coat jacket. 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. 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).

PlotEdit

Grim Fandango takes place in the Land of the Dead, where recently departed souls make their way to the Ninth Underworld. For sinners, this is a four-year journey made on foot, and many do not complete it, being eaten, "sprouted," or ending up taking jobs at way-points along the route. However, more virtuous souls receive assistance, the most virtuous getting passage on the "Number Nine" train ("Double N") that cuts the journey down to four minutes. 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 November 2, there is a large festival celebration of the Day of the Dead.

The souls in the Land of the Dead appear as skeletal calaca figures. 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. Many of the characters are Mexican and occasional Spanish words are interspersed into the English dialog, resulting in Spanglish. Many of the characters smoke, following a film noir tradition.

The game is divided into four acts, each taking place on November 2 on four consecutive years. 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". 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. 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. Manny arrives at the small port city of Rubacava and finds that he has beaten Meche there, and waits for her to arrive.

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. 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's 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. 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. 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. 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. Together, Manny and Meche part with Glottis and board the Number Nine for their happy journey to the Ninth Underworld, whatever it may hold for them.

CharactersEdit

  • Manny Calvera (voiced by Tony Plana) is the protagonist of the game and initially a Land of the Dead travel agent, though he later becomes a nightclub owner and ship captain. He endeavours to work off an unspecified debt so that he may proceed to the Ninth Underworld, but manages to be wrapped up in a conspiracy.
  • Mercedes Colomar (voiced by [[Maria Canals-Barrera) is Manny's love interest and a down-on-her-luck client, whose Number Nine ticket has gone astray. She begins as a shrinking violet, becomes a fallen angel femme fatale when the world begins to weigh on her, and is finally restored to goodness by the end of the game.
  • Glottis (voiced by Alan Blumenfeld) is a summoned demon native to the Land of the Dead, his sole purpose in existence is to drive vehicles, as well as maintain and service them. Manny recruits him in his agency's garage and he decides to accompany him on his journey.
  • Hector LeMans (voiced by Jim Ward) is a lost soul who has decided to make good on the Eight Underworld rather than aim for the likely better but potentially unreachable Ninth, and has become a mob boss. He has been stealing Number Nine tickets and selling them at exorbitant prices. He is the game's main antagonist.
  • Don Copal (voiced by Michael Sorich) is Manny's boss and secretly in league with Hector Lemans.
  • Domino Hurley (voiced by Patrick Dollaghan) is another employee at Manny's agency, with whom he shares a bitter rivalry. At one point Manny was the go-to guy, but in recent times Domino has become the star booking agent.
  • Salvador Limones (voiced by Sal Lopez) is a Che Guevara-inspired resistance leader fighting against Hector LeMans.
  • Olivia Ofrenda (voiced by Paula Killen) is Don's secretary and secretly another member of Salvador's resistance.

DevelopmentEdit

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. Grim Fandango was an attempt by LucasArts to rejuvenate the graphic adventure genre, in decline by 1998. According to Schafer, the game was developed on a $3 million budget. 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. 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.

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. There were more than 90 sets and 50 characters in the game to be created and rendered; Manny's character alone comprised 250 polygons. 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. 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. The 3D engine also aided in the choreography between the spoken dialog and body and arm movements of the characters. 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 similar to the actual game.

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. The Aztec motifs of the game were influenced by Schafer's decade-long fascination with folklore and talks with forklorist Alan Dundes, with Schafer recognizing that the four-year journey of the soul in the afterlife would set the stage for an adventure game. 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." The division of the game into four years was a way of breaking the game's overall puzzle into four discrete sections. 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.

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. 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.

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. The design and early plot are fashioned after films such as Chinatown and Glengarry Glen Ross. 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. The main villain, Hector LeMans, was designed to resemble Sydney Greenstreet's character of Signor Ferrari from Casablanca. His voice was also modeled after Greenstreet, complete with his trademark chuckle.

Originally, the game was to be shipped in the first half of 1998 but was delayed; 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. 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. 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."

MusicEdit

The game featured a large cast for voice acting in the game's dialogue and cutscenes, employing many Latino actors to help with the Spanish slang. 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. The score featured live musicians that McConnell knew or made contact with in San Francisco's Mission District, including a mariachi band. The soundtrack was released as a CD in 1998.

ReceptionEdit

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.

Grim Fandango received almost universally positive reviews, and won several rewards after its release in 1998. It has been included in several publishers' "Top Games" lists well after its release.

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. The use of elevators in the game was particularly noted as troublesome.

Grim Fandango sales were poor despite the positive reception given to the game. Initial estimates suggested that the game sold well during the 1998 holiday season. 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). Total cumulative worldwide sales are estimated between 100,000 and 500,000 units. The game is commonly considered a commercial failure.

Packaging artworkEdit

External linksEdit