Designer Diary: Friday, January 2, 1998

Grim Fandango title card

Grim Fandango title card

Well, it has been a few months since my last Designer Diary. I’m going to try to get these things out faster, but as you can imagine, I’ve been pretty busy. And I think you know what I’ve been busy with:

Fan Mail.

Bags and bags of fan mail have been pouring in from all over the world, from the tiniest of children to the oldest of the incredibly old. These are not fans of the games, mind you! No, these are the fanatically loyal fans of this journal you are reading right now! You see, not everybody loves games (take it from me). But everyone loves a good tell-all diary. I get people writing to ask me to speak at their graduations, their weddings, their children’s baptisms; asking me when Grim Fandango’s coming out, asking me if there’s any ship combat in Grim Fandango, asking me how to spell “Grim Fandango,” asking me how many times I can possibly use “Grim Fandango” in one sentence. So, I’ve taken these sacks of correspondence and stolen myself away these last two months in the remote west wing of my suite of personal offices, supervising the temp we hired to bulk-respond to all this junk. He told me, in one of his suspicious “carpal tunnel breaks,” that in many of the letters, there is one question that comes up over and over again, a question that only I can answer due to its subtle, philosophical implications:

Game design inspiration

“Where do you get the ideas for new games like Grim Fandango?”

Ha ha ha! That question always makes me laugh! Ho, ho! Ideas! Like our ideas count for anything around here. No, the sad truth is we game designers have ideas, great ideas! I’m having one right now in fact! How about a game where you play this, like, guy, who really, like, has a lot of attitude, and all this stuff keeps happening to him, and he’s like, “I’m too old for this stuff!” Then there’s, like, these sexy robots called the, uh, the “Guildee Fla’raux,” who are trying to kill him, and uh, there’s an ice level, and we do it all in 3D! See? Free game idea! Go ahead and take it! I have a new one every minute. And they’d never have the guts to make something like that here, anyway. Wait, I’m having another one: Worm people, struggling for peace, need help of sexy cyborg fairies, ice level, all 3D. Ba-Boom! Money in the bank! But we never really get a chance to even submit those cutting-edge ideas, believe it or not.

Oh, sure, we have “pitch meetings.” We, the timid, helpless project leaders of LucasArts, bundle up our game concepts in swaddling clothes and carry them in the crook of our arms like the fragile, newly born babies that they are into the offices of the president, knowing we will never get to raise those children, knowing that The Man will crush our hopes and dreams in the same way he always does, game after game….

Tim’s pitch meetings

“You have just consumed deadly poison, Mr. Schafer,” the meeting always begins, “and we will only give you the antidote upon the completion of this game, a game of our own design. If not, you will be dead within a year.”

“I could never finish a game in a year!”

“Well, maybe you’d better get started right away then! Bah-ha-ha! It’s called Grim Fandango! All the characters are skeletons! Ha ha ha! Good luck! Ha ha ha ha!”

Why do they always stick us with these pretentious, showboat projects, when really I just want to do games like…well, I have this one idea about this zany skunk who loves cheese, and it’s all set in the Star Wars universe…. Oh well.

Sigh. I really have no grudges. I’ve actually come to love the game called Grim Fandango, much like a prisoner comes to love his jailer. I especially love it now that we are in crunch mode. I have to get all of the dialogue finished by February 2. Today’s date is…

January 2, 1998

…and I’m happy because I had to work New Year’s Eve. That saves me the trouble of thinking up some lame way to try to have fun that night, which I never do. Actually, sitting here working was probably one of the best New Year’s I’ve ever had. I opened a bottle of special KISS wine (which was not as good a wine as you might think, coming from four such talented artists as KISS) and tried to listen to the ball drop on the radio. Of course, there is no radio reception in the Fandango offices (probably because our offices are actually a collection of boxcars buried 50 feet under the desert, connected by a claustrophobic system of tunnels – but they promise to dig us up if the game ships on time!). And so I tried to find a live camera somewhere on the Internet, but then I just got distracted rereading my own Designer Diary until the wine hit me and I passed out on my ergonomic keyboard. Happy New Year!

Working on dialogue

I don’t know if I’m going to get the dialogue for the game done by February 2. Here is my genius plan for success: work until 4:00am every morning and try to get the most out of the “golden hours,” those quiet hours after everybody leaves and before the only other guy in the building, that crazy level-designer on Mysteries of the Sith, starts cranking the Iron Maiden at 1:00am.

Tim Schafer, Grim Fandango Designer