Designer Diary: Saturday, August 20, 1995

A breach in the defenses! My office door is somehow open, revealing me on the phone to my bookie!

A breach in the defenses! My office door is somehow open, revealing me on the phone to my bookie!

Dear Diary,

Oh, things here in the future just ain’t what they used to be. Times are tough, let me tell you. I’ve got deadlines like you wouldn’t believe. I know what you’re thinking: In the future, the world isn’t going to have problems like we have back here in 1995. Game development technology will have advanced to the point where everything is planned and anticipated, and no one will have to work the kind of crazy hours we have to – late into the night, up against a wall, trying to meet some impossible deadline. At least that’s what I was thinking back in 1995. You are undoubtedly much smarter than I was then. (Of course, I’m much smarter than you now, what with all the brain pills and space food we eat here in 1997.) Every time I go into “crunch mode,” I always swear that it will be the last time, that we will never have another crunch mode again. I’m always wrong.

I’m just going to whine about this for one second.

Here are some of the Mexican skeleton figurines, or "Calaveras" that were the inspiration for Grim Fandango.

Here are some of the Mexican skeleton figurines, or “Calaveras” that were the inspiration for Grim Fandango.

So, it’s like this. You wake up late for work because you were up working until 4:00am…. OK, so you were only up working until 2:00am, but then you went home and couldn’t sleep so you watched two hours of scrambled movies on premium cable channels that you don’t subscribe to. You stumble into work at 10:00am dodging the evil looks from your small-minded coworkers who feel that the one hour of work they’ve already put in before you arrive makes them superior somehow. You lock yourself in your office all day to try to get some dialogue written, leaving only to get coffee or go to the bathroom. And when you’re in the hallways, you try to look as irritated as possible so that no one comes up to talk to you. Someone always does, though, and they always have a long, involved, technical question about the game.

For instance, “What am I supposed to be doing? Why did you hire me? Where’s my desk? How am I supposed to know what’s going on with you locked in your office all day?”

“Figure it out for yourself,” is my team-building response, “I’m busy!” Because, you have to remember, I’m on the way to the bathroom.

Notice how the artists predict the arrival of 3D texture-mapping technology by painting the bones on the outside.

Notice how the artists predict the arrival of 3D texture-mapping technology by painting the bones on the outside.

Next thing you know it’s 7:00pm and everyone’s gone and you can finally get to work. That’s when the network crashes or maybe just your own computer dies, probably from all the banging and kicking you give it, trying to shut up the noisy power supply fan that’s driving you crazy because the stress of the deadline has turned you into an irritable old man.

So you get in about six more quality hours of work, if you’re lucky, then you go home and see the stack of dirty dishes in the sink and the pile of laundry in the bedroom and you think for a second about how you should get around to them. Then you watch wasps fight on the Discovery channel for two hours.

But there IS actually an upside, believe it or not, at least for the first couple of weeks. There is something satisfying about working with intensity and focus, especially when you’re not normally an intense, focused individual. Game production schedules are like flying jumbo jets: It’s very intense at the takeoff and landing, but in the middle there’s this long lull. Crunch mode means, at least, that the lull is over and the end is coming up. When the whole team is staying late, and you’re eating Chinese food in a conference room together, it kind of galvanizes the bond between you (or at least it galvanizes the team’s hatred for you, the one who’s making them stay late). I find myself valuing this time with them because I realize that soon they will all move on to other projects and our little family will be no more <sniff>.

In the foreground is a traditional Judas figurine with the identifying single tear on his cheek. In the background, a card from the Mexican Loteria game.

In the foreground is a traditional Judas figurine with the identifying single tear on his cheek. In the background, a card from the Mexican Loteria game.

And it’s such a relief to say no more planning, no more thinking of the future. It’s time to wrap this game up and throw it out the window, and then stomp on its fingers until it lets go of the ledge. Then my energy level goes up, and I think the writing gets better and the characters really start to gel. Then again, so are the dishes in my sink back home, but who has the time to wash them? I don’t have the time for anything. What am I doing writing this designer diary? I should be writing dialogue for the game! Aaaaaaahhh!

Anyway… I said I was going to write about the game proposal process, not complain about how hard my namby-pamby job is.

Tim Schafer, Grim Fandango Designer