Civilization on the run
Puzzles are for geezers

A Grim week

Games_as_art_grimfandango The Vintage Game Club is one week old, and we're having a bang-up time playing through Grim Fandango together. It's not too late to join - heck, it's never too late to join - so if you're interested, head on over to our forum and jump into the conversation. We'll be playing the game for the next three weeks. All are welcome.

Periodically, I'll feature excerpts from the forum here to highlight a topic I think you may find interesting. I'm indebted to the club members for pursuing these topics and contributing to the discussion in such useful and constructive ways.

Despite its age, Grim Fandango remains one of the most stylish games ever made. Its artistic inspiration are "calaveras," (the game's hero is named "Manny Calavera") papier-mâché dolls that are traditionally part of the annual Mexican celebration of El Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead. The game's influences can also be found in 1940s Hollywood film noir, art deco, San Francisco, jazz, and mariachi music.

Grim Fandango's unique sense of style has been a focus of much attention in the forum. You may run into a spoiler here and there, but no show killers:

  • The first thing that hit me was how good the soundtrack still is. They nailed it at the time and it just conveys so much swank and swagger, wonderful, especially when combined with the cinematic nature of the opening.  Past that, I'm very impressed at how the visuals really haven't aged...GF  looks significantly better than the other games of it's era that used a similar static 3d render for backgrounds (with the exception of the fourth Monkey Island, which was an evolution of the Grim engine anyway). You hit the nail on the head with the dialogue, brilliant voice acting and well thought out trees. --David Whitney

  • I think it's great that Fandango doesn't throw the story at you in a lengthy introductory scene or some type of tutorial. Much like a good book or movie, you're gradually introduced to Manny's history, his current pridicament, the plot, etc. Something that even good game stories rarely do. --MattB

  • ...I wanted to share my favourite moment. I only ever played a small chunk of it at a friend's place eons ago, but one section became a running gag between me and my partner ever since. When you're trying to scare off some pigeons by making balloon animals, you can make Robert Frost, and Manny chases them saying "Run you pigeons! It's Robert Frost!" Now, whenever we chase after anything, the cats in particular, we use that line. --Raynaa

  • Given that the vocal work is so good (and varied and professionally delivered), I'm especially grateful for the depth of the conversation trees. The game rewards digging through these, and the first encounter with Eva the secretary is a great example. You can obviously zip through these, extracting only the stuff you need to progress. But oh, the good stuff you'll miss! The games I've played with genuine flashes of clever, sardonic wit are sadly few and far between. So far, Grim Fandango is putting on a clinic for how to do that well, with voice actors up to the task of delivering Schafer's signature dialogue. --Michael Abbott

  • On the graphics: I'm really pleased at how it holds up, I love the art deco style.  Looking at Glottis, my first reaction was "wow, that's not very many polygons, is it", but my second reaction was "so what?"  I mean, maybe it would have been better if each of his teeth had been lovingly crafted out of 100 polygons (instead of existing solely as textures on the face), but maybe not: that might have shifted the designers out of bringing out the humor of Glottis's size and behavior and into, well, modeling teeth.  Not to take anything away from tooth modeling, but it may be harder to present a strong unified style when you're going down to that level.  See also Dan's recent blog post on graphics: --David Carlton

  • I thought Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation put it well when he said the following in his Psychonauts review:

    "One of the themes running through [Tim] Schafer's humour is the juxtaposition of a mundane situation and a bizarre or fantastical setting."

    In the case of Grim Fandango,  it's clearly a travel agency and a film noire style Mexican underworld. The clash between the mundane and the fantastic plays heavily on the game's sense of style, but I think there's something more at play here that I can't quite put my finger on. --Matthew Gallant

  • As many have stated, the game's art and sound design are absolutely amazing. Everything seems to roll the two main influences of Mexican folklore and film noir together beautifully. Though the game is incredibly colorful and festive, especially at the Day of the Dead itself, something about the palette they use never takes away from this underlying seediness that makes for a great detective story. And though the music is all heavily influenced by Mariachi bands and the like, it's still feels a little worn down, a little less than optimistic, matching the characters. --SkeptikalKlown

  • ...For the moment, though, I just want to talk about the imagery. This chapter is loaded with just unforgettable sights. The bridge leading the racetrack, the surreal and eerie statue of Justice looming over the police station (and the lighting that's thrown on it), Membrillo in the morgue, and the harsh white light on the flowers... Year 2 just makes me want to crawl through the screen and into that world, because it is so packed with style. --Flitcraft

The control scheme for the game was, shall we say, less universally admired; and the in-game logic of some puzzles has received some interesting analysis too. You can check it all out on the forum. Thanks, again, to all the club members for participating.