Inside the Mind - Designer Diaries - Page 1
Whilst producing Grim Fandango, Tim Schafer took the liberty of producing a small diary of his work allowing us to see just what was going on before the game had come out. For the sake of immortality, these diary entries have been preserved below. Note that the dates relate to when he was writing about, not when he was actually physically writing from - just in case it gets confusing.

June 14, 1995:
Guess what? I'm writing to you from the future! Isn't that cool? In my time it's actually November 5, 1997 - the Day of the Dead. I'm just sitting here - in the future - writing my first installment of a designer diary for GameSpot. I hope it will be a candid tell-all, which will hopefully leave you with both a lingering sense of pity for us in game development and a strong desire to rush out and buy Grim Fandango! But to really do it right, I feel that a designer diary should tell the whole story, from beginning to end. So, we need to travel back, way back to June of '95. Full Throttle had just finished, and I was starting to feel a little restless...

Well, Full Throttle has just finished, and I'm starting to feel a little restless. I have no idea what to do next! I should take a vacation, but I'm really nervous about getting a new game started before I leave. And I'm worried someone will steal my office while I'm gone. I should be working on a new idea, but all I seem to be doing is playing Warcraft. I love this game! I don't know what my next game's going to be about, but I'm pretty sure it's going to be one of these Warcraft-style games. That's for sure.

June 28, 1995:
Okay, scrap the Warcraft game idea. What was I thinking? I don't know how to make one of those things! I must have been crazy! I need to stick to what I know - graphic adventures. I think I was just trying to hide from the fact that I don't know what kind of graphic adventure to make. What I really need to do is concentrate. I just have to sit in this chair, clear my mind, and have a good idea. Hmmm... what... kind... of... game...? Need an idea... a really good idea... need an idea for a game... just one simple idea... hmmm... Maybe I just need some coffee.

Hey, how about a 3D graphic adventure that tells a tale of hard, cold crime and corruption in a wildly surreal and mythical world, combining elements of ancient Mexican folklore, classic film noir movies, and '60s-era custom hot rods? Woooo! Caffeine high!

Sometimes things are so easy! Okay, so maybe it wasn't all that easy. Maybe I agonized for months, suffering from writer's block and a paralyzing fear of the blank page. But I'm writing this from the future, so I can remember it anyway I want.

The truth is, I had part of the Fandango idea before I did Full Throttle. I wanted to do a game that would feature those little papier-mache, folk-art skeletons from Mexico. I was looking at their simple shapes and how the bones were just painted on the outside, and I thought, "Texture maps! 3D! The bones will be on the outside! It'll look cool!"

But then I was stuck. I had these skeletons walking around the Land of the Dead. So what? What did they do? Where were they going? What did they want? Who's the main character? Who's the villain? The mythology said that the dead walk the dark plane of the underworld known as Mictlan for fours years, after which their souls arrive at the ninth plane, the Land of Eternal Rest. Sounds pretty "questy" to me. But who supplies the dramatic opposition? Why demons and monsters 'n stuff? There you have it: a game.

"Not cool enough," said Peter Tsacle, my lead artist. "A guy walking in a supernatural world? What's he doing? Supernatural things? It just sounds boring to me. Really boring. In fact, I'm falling asleep just thinking about... zzz."


Well, back to the drawing board...

July 14, 1995:
Getting shot down is always tough, but if you only glean a tiny piece of advice from this diary it's this: There is nothing more valuable than someone who hangs around saying things like "not cool enough," especially when you've got as many assistants and interns and lickspittles as I do, running around you in circles all day, saying things like, "That's why you're the boss," and "You said it, Chairman!" and "You must be right, because you're so handsome!" It's nice to have at least one person hanging around who's bitter enough to speak the ugly truth.

So, after I had Peter fired, I revamped the story. Adventure games are all fantasies really, so I had to ask myself, "Who would people want to BE in a game? What would people want to do?" And in the Land of the Dead, who would people rather be than Death himself? Being the Grim Reaper is just as cool as being a biker, I decided. And what did the Grim Reaper do? He picks up people who have died and carts them over from the other world. Just like a driver of a taxi or limo.

Okay, so that's Manny Calavera, our main character. But who's the bad guy? What's the plot? I had just seen Chinatown, and I really liked the whole water supply/real estate scam that Noah Cross had going there. So of course I tried to rip that off and have Manny be a real estate salesman who got caught up in a real estate scandal. Then he was just like the guys in Glengarry GlenRoss, always looking for the good leads. But why would Hector LeMans, my villain, want real estate? Why would anyone? They're dead! They're only souls. What do souls in the Land of the Dead want?

They want to get out! They want safe passage out, just like in Casablanca! The Land of the Dead is a transitory place, and everybody's waiting around for their travel papers. So Manny is a travel agent, selling tickets on the big train out of town, and Hector's stealing the tickets and - well, I'd better stop there before I start hurting hint book sales.

Anyway, there you have it. That's where game ideas come from: 1) Fear of losing your job, 2) People telling you it's not cool enough yet, 3) A good idea about how to do art for cheap (which will turn out to be wrong later, of course), and 4) A lot of coffee. Then you've just got to trick the company into making it. I'll leave that step - putting together the game proposal and getting it approved - until next time. Until then, I bid you farewell... from the future.