Designer Diary: Thursday, 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.
Tim Schafer, Grim Fandango Designer