Grim Fandango, I knew you had hard puzzles.
November 6, 2008 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Grim Fandango, which was released in 1998, is considered by many to be one of the best Lucas Arts adventure games ever made. It tells the story of Manny Calavera, a travel agent working in the land of the dead. The game combines Aztec and film noir imagery to create a game that is wholly unique and still has a rabid fan base. Tim Schafer, the primary writer for the original (and a mastermind behind recently critically appreciated games such as Psychonauts through his company Double Fine Productions [previously]) has released the full 72 page design document that was written in 1996. [direct pdf link]. This is great reading for those who get nostalgic just thinking about the game. Here's the opening scene of the game to help you develop an appreciation, if you haven't done so already: youtube link
posted by SpacemanStix (73 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's like this post was built from my browsing history this morning.. uncanny.
posted by splatta at 11:38 AM on November 6, 2008


Awesome. I will now spend the next three weeks playing "Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," the only two LucasArts games that I have that haven't been damaged by flood or magnetism.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 11:39 AM on November 6, 2008


It's got great music, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:39 AM on November 6, 2008


Aah, Grim Fandango! Great to see a document like this, I love seeing design docs and concept art of games, it definitely adds another level of enjoyment. And that last page was just wonderful:
To protect this document, please restrict your fallen tears to this box. Thank you!
posted by bjrn at 11:43 AM on November 6, 2008


Run, you pigeons, it's Robert Frost!
posted by uncleozzy at 11:44 AM on November 6, 2008 [12 favorites]


Glottis is one of the great creations of computer game storytelling.
posted by JHarris at 11:51 AM on November 6, 2008


Grim Fandango was just about the best time I had playing a single player adventure game. I'd loved that style of game since the Adams Adventures in the early 80's. I would love to still have a working copy of it and would love it even more if more games of this sort were made.

I mean, I was actually moved at the end of the game.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:52 AM on November 6, 2008


Is this game still available anywhere? It's a classic, apparently, but I'd like to play it at some point.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:54 AM on November 6, 2008


Bound only by the paper-thin wrapper of mortality, a soul here lies, struggling to be free. And so it shall, thanks to a bowl of bad gazpacho, and a man named... Calavera.

(I did that from memory)
posted by zsazsa at 11:55 AM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


I mean, I was actually moved at the end of the game.

I remember starting the game thinking it was fairly clever, with some good laughs. And then the story switched over to year 2, and it absolutely hooked me with how emotionally involved I got with the story, and how epic it felt at that moment. I didn't stop playing it until I was done.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:57 AM on November 6, 2008


Is this game still available anywhere?

Copies fetch a pretty nice price on ebay these days, otherwise it's hard to get your hands on one. I remember picking it up in a sales bin at Best Buy a few years ago for $10, and I would have bought a lot of them if I knew how rare they would get.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:00 PM on November 6, 2008


In stock at amazon for 35 bones.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 12:01 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, I loved the days before LucasArts did nothing but churn out Star Wars games. Those were the golden days of my gaming youth. Sam & Max, Day of The Tentacle, Monkey Island 1, 2 and even 3. These are all games that hold a cherished place in my gaming memories. I can still quote lines from many of them, even though I haven't played any of them in a while.

Grim Fandango took some getting used to, at first. All the other LucasArts adventures games had used the SCUMM system for interacting with the world. I liked the SCUMM system. I knew it and understood it. Suddenly we had the GrimE system, which seemed to involve a new way of playing. Manny would look at something as you walked past it which suggested that there was something that you could interact with. Then it became a question of "well what near here can I interact with?" It was enormously frustrating. At first.

After some time though I started to get to grips with the whole thing, and played my way through the game. I enjoyed it very much but it was, imo, far from the best of what LucasArts had ever done with adventure gaming. It was telling that this was the second-to-last adventure game LucasArts ever made... the final being Escape from Monkey Island, itself a mere shadow on past games in that series. Sales apparently dropped off significantly starting with Grim Fandango as well, according to Wikipedia.

Maybe it was a case of many old school LucasArts gamers experiencing the same frustration with GrimE as I first had but not sticking with it (my friend was one of these). Maybe it was just the changing times, as first person shooters and console gaming started to grow in popularity. Maybe LucasArts, who had already started churning out Star Wars games by the dozen, just didn't have their heart in the genre anymore. Or maybe the audience that had grown up with LucasArts adventure games had grown up and gotten jobs and were too busy to play deep, involved story games (or games in general). I dunno. All I know is that Grim Fandango, while not as great as LucasArts games of yore, was not at all a terrible game, so the declining sales must have been due to something far greater than any shortcomings it might have had.

All in all, I liked Grim Fandango very much, but I don't remember it with the same kind of reverance that I do earlier LucasArts games like Tentacle, Sam & Max, the earlier Monkey Island games or Full Throttle. Grim was good, but it was almost like a death echo of LucasArts adventure gaming as a whole; a reminder of what LucasArts used to be, but not as good as its former self.

Thanks for the post and the trip down memory lane, Spaceman!
posted by Effigy2000 at 12:03 PM on November 6, 2008


How would I play the game if I wanted to do so? Can I download it for PC?
posted by Eideteker at 12:05 PM on November 6, 2008


Grim Fandango was the first computer game that made me genuinely tear up. There have been a few since, but that was the first.

It's remarkably inventive, with superb voices. It's set in the Mexican Land of the Dead, which all souls must cross to get to their final resting place. It's an arduous and dangerous journey, traditionally taking five years in Mexican folklore.

But change and technology are everywhere, even after death, and you're playing Manny Calavera, a travel agent. His job is to sell upscale travel arrangements to the newly dead, from pack mules to automobiles. The better a soul was in life, the more comfortable a conveyance it will qualify for. The really virtuous may rate a ticket on the Number Nine Express train, which allows a soul to travel in perfect safety to its final destination in just a few hours.

But Manny hasn't been getting good souls for a long time, so he's not making his quota, and is in real danger of losing his job. This is apparently a Very Bad Thing in those parts, though that's never fully explained. You take control of him as he decides to figure out just what's wrong, and why his competitor is getting sweet soul after sweet soul, while he's left with the dregs. Something's rotten in the land of the dead....

The biggest problem with the game is probably that the controls are so awkward. It's in 3D, and moving your character around is kind of strange and awkward. Later Lucas games in 3D handled this better, but this was the first try, and they didn't do such a hot job with it. And the puzzles are TOUGH, especially in the second chapter (of four). Brutal. Painful. Probably the hardest game with 'fair' puzzles since Infocom's Spellbreaker.

I recommend printing out a walkthrough and consulting it if and when you get stuck. The plot and characters are so good that you don't actually need to solve the puzzles to enjoy the hell out of it. The whole thing is just SO good that it's kinda like watching an interactive movie, though you'll get more enjoyment out of it if you really work on the puzzles. The worst one is the racetrack puzzle picture, so definitely look it up if you get stuck there. (this is in Chapter 2.)

Highly recommended, if you can lay hands on a copy. I'm pretty sure it will run in XP, but it's been a long, long time, and I'm not entirely certain.
posted by Malor at 12:09 PM on November 6, 2008


Oh JEEBUS I loved this game. I still love this game. The style was totally up my alley, the puzzles were wonderfully hard, and the plot line was so...so...non-cliché. In a good way.

Gawd, I wish there were more of that these days.

And you kids, get off my lawn.
posted by LMGM at 12:13 PM on November 6, 2008


Damn. Now I have to play it again. (but thanks for reminding me how much I loved it.)
posted by merelyglib at 12:17 PM on November 6, 2008


Sam and Max was my favorite early twisted game. Playing that while having bronchitis made the hours fly by and then came 'Day of the Tentacles'. Being sick was so much fun.
posted by doctorschlock at 12:20 PM on November 6, 2008


I loved this game. Man, do I ever miss the adventure genre. Won't someone bring this back? Graphics are so totally overrated.
posted by fusinski at 12:24 PM on November 6, 2008


i need to find this too. now if there only i could find a proper emulator for oregon trail.
posted by fuzzypantalones at 12:29 PM on November 6, 2008


fusinski: "Graphics are so totally overrated."

QFT.
posted by sveskemus at 12:30 PM on November 6, 2008


Up 'till now, Manny, we crawled on the ground like rats. But now, we'll soar like eagles! Like eagles on... POGO STICKS!!!
posted by Pope Gustafson I at 12:33 PM on November 6, 2008


For what it's worth, the ScummVM folks seem to be working on an engine to run Grim Fandango as well.
posted by hattifattener at 12:34 PM on November 6, 2008


I love Tim Schafer. Now we just need to get Activision to release Brütal Legend already!
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:37 PM on November 6, 2008


Run, you pigeons, it's Robert Frost!

Honestly, that is one of the most hee-haw funny moments in video game history.
posted by fusinski at 12:38 PM on November 6, 2008


I was at a restaurant with a roaming balloon artist the other night. Some of the sculptures he made were really amazing; "monkey climbing a banana tree" was incredible. I should have asked for a Robert Frost. I bet he would have forgotten the pipe, though.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:42 PM on November 6, 2008


Found a copy of this in a discount bin last year. The game runs fine on XP, although you have to avoid the conveyor belt bug - and damn if this wasn't an excellent game. The atmosphere, music, and story are amazing.

I don't know why there isn't more of a market for these later-retro games - I picked up old copies of Grim Fandango, Monkey Islands, The Last Express, and Planescape: Torment, and they're all more fun than most of the current games in my collection.
posted by Paragon at 12:45 PM on November 6, 2008


Grim Fandango was just about the best time I had playing a single player adventure game.

Yep. If they still made games like this, I'd still be a gamer.
posted by davejay at 12:48 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Heard tons about it. Still have to play it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:56 PM on November 6, 2008


Sigh. And I was managing to not have to go through and play it yet again, but this might have just forced me to. Such a painfully awesome game, and incidentally got my best mate to watch Casablanca for the first time, which he also loved.

Oh, addendum to this would be the current news about Activision/Blizzard apparently deciding not only to not publish Brutal Legends, Schafer's new game, but stopping it going to other publishers... ActiBlizz are the new EA.
posted by opsin at 1:11 PM on November 6, 2008


Where's the damn sequel, LucasArts?

Well?

I'm not gonna drink dirty hookah water.
posted by notyou at 1:14 PM on November 6, 2008


Oh man. I loved this game so very much way back when. Thanks for this post, and for reminding me how tough it is to find a game that really worms its way into your life.
posted by shiu mai baby at 1:25 PM on November 6, 2008


I was cleaning out my closets last year and got rid of a whole bunch of old computer game CDs but I held on to Grim Fandango and all my other adventure games. I'm currently replaying Monkey Island 2 on my iPhone thanks to the folks at ScummVM and I would be ecstatic if I could do the same with Grim Fandango.
posted by ooga_booga at 1:26 PM on November 6, 2008


Excellent!


Now do Day Of the Tentacle!
posted by The Whelk at 1:32 PM on November 6, 2008


davejay: "Grim Fandango was just about the best time I had playing a single player adventure game.

Yep. If they still made games like this, I'd still be a gamer.
"

Me too. I also got so tired of chasing the latest and greatest specs for a gaming rig that I don't even bother anymore. Mostly, I've been replaying ancient games that will run on my laptop (Jedi Knight, Total Annihilation, System Shock II) and don't even have a gaming desktop computer anymore. Grim Fandango was awesome, I remember thinking at the time, "wow, this is the future of computer gaming." I guess that I was wrong.
posted by octothorpe at 1:39 PM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow, reading through that pdf, I have very vivid memories of Years One and Two, little recollection of Year Three and remember Year Four as being significantly different from the way its described in the document (I especially loved the deliberate printing "error" at the end).

Glottis is one of the greatest characters ever created for any medium ever. The sequence where his gambling addiction takes over is one of my fondest gaming memories ever.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:40 PM on November 6, 2008


this is actually one of the only games of his that I haven't played. anyone know how well it runs on modern machines? does it work with the SCUMM emulators?
posted by shmegegge at 1:42 PM on November 6, 2008


This . is for LucasArts' golden years. We had some good times together.

Please rerelease all those great adventure games to run under XP/Vista. Hell, I even dug The Dig. They would fit on a single DVD. DO IT! DO IT NOW!
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:46 PM on November 6, 2008


Man, do I ever miss the adventure genre. Won't someone bring this back? Graphics are so totally overrated.

oh, for everyone out there who wishes they still made games like this, I would very much like to draw your attention to the fact that there are actually new Sam and Max games to play if you're on Gametap, and they're every bit as good as the old ones. I remember watching a chorus line of singing Secret Service agents regaling me with a song about how much they love war and I thought "Ah. This is what I was missing."
posted by shmegegge at 1:52 PM on November 6, 2008


Isn't it in the mefi by-laws that a developer that worked on the game should've replied by now?
posted by flaterik at 1:56 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thank you for this post. Everything about this game's presentation was simply amazing. The visuals, the music, the storyline, the dialogue. No game before or since has ever made me feel so attached to the characters, or given me that same mixture of happiness and sadness on its completion. The day after I finished it for the first time I tried playing it again, but couldn't knowing that it would have to end again.

I hope this post makes someone else finally go out and buy an old copy and play it through, just like a recent post did for me and System Shock 2.

(Keep in mind I think there's a patch you need to download to stop the game freezing somewhere year 2)
posted by teem at 1:56 PM on November 6, 2008


God, I hate Jack Black AND heavy metal, but I'll be damned if I won't be playing brutal legend. Grim Fandango is a goddamned masterpiece, and I will support Schaffer to my dying day.
posted by bookwo3107 at 2:00 PM on November 6, 2008


I won't, however, spell his name right. Shafer, obviously.

Incidentally, Grim Fandango's manual had a great gag about people concerned about the amount of smoking in the game. It points out that everyone that smokes in the game is dead.

Also-incidentally, here is a song Glottis sings that is criminally overlooked by many people while playing through the game:


posted by bookwo3107 at 2:03 PM on November 6, 2008


I swear, I'm not normally this spastic. The video
posted by bookwo3107 at 2:23 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


The fan-site is pretty fantastic, and even has the soundtrack for download (from an official CD, not as old in-game files =)

I actually bought this game last year, and installed it on a modern Windows XP machine. My wife and I started playing it, but somehow got distracted. We just need to set aside time to play this (and Sam & Max Season 1 on the Wii, and a few others ...) From the initial stages, Grim played just fine. I'll check it out again tonight to see how it goes. I forgot where we got it, sorry.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:33 PM on November 6, 2008


For all of you asking why they don't make games like this anymore, it's because of you. You didn't buy Psychonauts, you didn't buy Beyond Good And Evil, etc.

Tim Schafer is a god, but I swear Brutal Legend is his "Oh, so I keep making sweet awesome games anyone can play and you all keep ignoring me. Fine. Here's a game with decapitation and tits. Happy now?"

Great post. I keep crossing my fingers for Grim Fandango on GOG.
posted by lumpenprole at 2:37 PM on November 6, 2008


I haven't really gone that far into Grim Fandango fansites, but I came across The Department of Death's download page, another fan-site which has a fan-made launcher that allows the game to work with all versions of Windows, including Vista and Vista64.

And I've seen a few "abandonware" sites hosting what appears to be the whole game, though I haven't tested those venues.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:39 PM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


I keep crossing my fingers for Grim Fandango on GOG.

Man, that would be so great.

I can't comprehend why even more companies aren't cashing in on nostalgia, doing a little bit of work to get them up and running on current machines and distributing them through online services.

There's MONEY TO BE MADE HERE! MONEY!!
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:40 PM on November 6, 2008


As shmegegge says, there are new Sam and Max games, Zack and Wiki on the Wii is basically a string of adventure game style puzzles and the DS has Hotel Dusk (and according to WP Trace Memory and a follow up coming to the Wii, but I haven't played that).

But the reason you don't see adventure games coming out of the big studios is that they don't sell.
posted by markr at 2:46 PM on November 6, 2008


Oh also, if you like irreverent point and click adventure, the Strongbad games on Wii are pretty fun.
posted by lumpenprole at 2:58 PM on November 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Terrific game. This is another one that I yank back out pretty regularly.
posted by spirit72 at 3:07 PM on November 6, 2008


Gotta throw out the Penny Arcade games - On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.

I think I may need to buy Grim Fandango
posted by OrangeDrink at 3:25 PM on November 6, 2008


"That's not on fire."

(Anyone else attempt to use the fire extinguisher as a desperate last-resort attempt on every frustrating puzzle they encountered?)
posted by argh at 4:22 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


That game always glitched out on me 3/4 of the way through on Windows 98.
Afer a while I stopped trying.

Much like Starship Titanic.
posted by Balisong at 4:24 PM on November 6, 2008


Grim Fandango was the first game that made me cry. Not to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't played it, but... well... I think this game has a legitimate claim to having one of the best stories, art direction, music, and voice acting of any game ever made. I haven't been into adventure games in quite some time, and I'd still put this in my top 5 favorite games of all time, easy.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 5:02 PM on November 6, 2008


One of my top 5 games of all-time.
posted by Vindaloo at 5:44 PM on November 6, 2008


I loved this game and I just realized that although I remember pretty much everything up until the end of chapter 2, I don't remember the ending of the game! A good reason to take it out and replay it some point, I think. I'll avoid reading the design document until then....

For fans of old-school adventure games: try Telltale's new Sam and Max series. By the 4th episode of the first season it really hit its stride. It's become (dare I say it?) better than the original Sam and Max. Telltale Games is the new Lucasarts.

Anyone remember The Riddle of Master Lu? That was another of my old favorites. Getting the pin out of the bottle and escaping the German nobleman's basement was a great puzzle. I once considered blowing an AskMe question to ask people what they considered the best/most clever/most satisfying adventure game puzzles, but decided it was too surveyish. Anyone have any suggestions? (Obviously, creating the tentacle costume in Day of the Tentacle is in there.)

Of course, let's not forget what really caused the death of adventure games.
posted by painquale at 7:05 PM on November 6, 2008


what really caused the death of adventure games

Oh man, as much as I loved Sins of the Fathers, Gabriel Knight 3 was just awful. It gleefully crossed the line from clever puzzles to inane nonsense. I don't know if it killed adventure games, per se, but it certainly wasn't any fun.

I played through Day of the Tentacle a few weeks ago, and it was a blast. I'm going to have to see if I can track down a copy of the new Sam & Max series for Wii. I really love adventure games.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:55 PM on November 6, 2008


This is another one that I yank back out pretty regularly.

Same here. Mainly when I've been drinking.

(See? That works on multiple levels.)
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:59 PM on November 6, 2008


For those of you who haven't played it but want to know what the fuss is about, I give you Grim Fandango: The Movie. Courtesy of SA goon Vexation, it's pretty much the best Let's Play ever.
posted by graventy at 11:25 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


The ever lovin' Malor: The plot and characters are so good that you don't actually need to solve the puzzles to enjoy the hell out of it. The whole thing is just SO good that it's kinda like watching an interactive movie, though you'll get more enjoyment out of it if you really work on the puzzles.

In fact I wouldn't describe it as an interactive movie. That comparison has been used so many times it's become meaningless.

Those who've played it know that, without exaggeration, it's every bit as good as the best real movies, which means on the average it's better than what an interactive movie would be. (I wouldn't want to watch Armageddon, whether I could control Bruce Willis or not.)
posted by JHarris at 1:39 AM on November 7, 2008


gravanty: I was watching that movie - thinking "I know that voice" during Manny's lines, so I looked up the voice actor, only to discover he's mildly famous on TV these days. Perhaps that's what Manny looked like before he was a skeleton.
posted by Sparx at 2:00 AM on November 7, 2008


I used to greet my chatty cat with "It's a squeaky little kitty!"

I never waved her at any pigeons, though.
posted by Spatch at 6:15 AM on November 7, 2008


Is this game still available anywhere?

We bought a copy at HMV in Reading for £5. Try British games sites, they had plenty of copies.
posted by mippy at 7:29 AM on November 7, 2008


Criminy - there's also a bonus 2CD soundtrack set, for a total of 3 CDs of game music! I haven't seen the bonus set around except for on a music er, "enthusiasts" site. And I did get the 2CD version of the game last year, for Windows 95. It worked so far in XP, but I'll re-install it with the Grim Fandango Launcher and see how it goes. Especially nice that you can play without the CDs.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:37 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


The new Sam & Max games aren't quite up to the level of the original, sadly.

Swearing in longhand, asterisk-breath.
posted by spiderwire at 10:11 AM on November 7, 2008


Never worked for me on my MacBook Pro running Boot Camp. It qualifies as one of the greatest gaming tragedies of my life. It rivals the time I spent money on Pyst.

I already knew Aeris was gonna die. That moment doesn't count.
posted by spamguy at 12:49 PM on November 7, 2008


graventy: I had long thought about making something just like the SA guys have provided in that link. It is awesome.
posted by JHarris at 5:26 PM on November 7, 2008


Grim Fandango is probably my favorite game, ever. Now I want to play it again!

Man, LucasArts used to be awesome.
posted by OolooKitty at 6:22 PM on November 7, 2008


It turns out that in celebration of the election, Telltale Games has made the White-House-themed episode of Sam and Max available for free download.
posted by painquale at 12:48 AM on November 8, 2008


Hasn't that always been free? I know it was free on Steam about six months ago.
posted by dirigibleman at 5:16 AM on November 8, 2008


I had long thought about making something just like the SA guys have provided in that link. It is awesome.

Yeah, most games require a significant amount of explanation or commentary, but Grim really works well as a movie.
posted by graventy at 1:22 PM on November 8, 2008


How hard would it be for Doublefine to buy the rights for this game (back?) from Lucas Arts to make a sequel, or perhaps a remake that controls and runs better on modern systems? I loved the game dearly, but the awkward Resident Evil style controls and unintuitive angling Manny just so to look at/pickup something grew tiresome. A full 3D design would be awesome, but that's probably asking too much.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:37 PM on November 9, 2008


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