Tim Schafer on bringing Grim Fandango back from limbo
Point-and-click veteran Tim Schafer on bringing Grim Fandango back from limbo
Like an Excelsior Line trip to the Ninth Underworld, Grim Fandango’s refresh has been a long time coming. With the rights buried in the LucasArts vaults for over a decade, it seemed like the game might remain forever bound to Windows 98. But creator Tim Schafer’s dogged persistence and Disney’s acquisition of LucasArts in 2012 allowed Double Fine to acquire the rights, and Schafer to realise his work’s importance. Did you feel any trepidation about revisiting a 16-year-old work? I had a bit of trepidation about announcing it; I was scared everyone would be, like, “What game?” But there was a big response, a lot of people who got really excited. But it’s held in such reverence. Do you think your perception came about as a result of Double Fine mostly engaging with a different audience these days? Well, we had much less engagement with our players back in the ’90s, because there was no Twitter. We would sometimes get physical fan letters, and that was it. You’d make a web page and see the press, and maybe, if you looked, you’d dig up some forums. But there just wasn’t this feeling like we have today, where I’m in a conversation with the community all the time… So maybe that’s why it didn’t feel like [ Grim Fandango] had that same active fanbase. It was nice to see it did. Did working on the remaster at the same time as Broken Age: Act 2 reveal how your approach has changed? It is interesting to be remastering a 15- or 16-year-old game while making a brandnew one – and replaying Day Of The Tentacle, which we’re also remastering. They have so many similarities. I’m like, ‘Wait a second, I’ve used this fork-andspaghetti puzzle before!’ But I’m also seeing how things have changed in terms of puzzle difficulty. It just made me realise how hard they are to make and tune. How do you think modern audiences will cope with Grim’s puzzles? I think we relied on the fact that there’s the Internet now if they really get stuck! With Broken Age, we really tried to capture all those people who are getting lost and going off in strange directions and lead them back to the path without destroying their entertainment. But with Grim, I was like, ‘We’re not going to alter the content of it. We’re going to make it look better and sound better, but we’re not going to make it easier or anything like that. And we’re going to hope that people respond to the aesthetic of the time, which was that you were expected to be OK being stuck.’ Some people just immediately tweeted me, saying, “Look, I’m stuck. Tell me what to do.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I know – you are now being entertained, You just don’t realise it.” [Laughs] Some of the puzzles, we just kind of expected people to make the leap, because when you solve it, you’ll be like, “Oh, that was hilarious”. The demon beavers, for example. I think that’s the kind of thing where, in your mind, you see all the stones. You see a fair leap between them. But looking back on it, I don’t know if we put them all in. There’s supposed to be this idea that the fire extinguisher works on the beavers, but then they relight each other. And that’s supposed to be a clue that you’ve got to separate them. And then you’re like, ‘How do they get through this thick river of tar? Oh, they’re superheated. But if I could put them out and get them in the tar river separate from their friends, they couldn’t relight and they’d be stuck in there.’ But I feel like some of those steps along the way aren’t made clear, like the fact that they’re using the heat to cut through the tar, for example. So if we were going to go over it again with these 15 years of hindsight, I would be really clear about every step in that logical chain being established in the game.
“Some people just immediately tweeted me, saying, ‘Look, I’m stuck. Tell me what to do’”
How did you decide what to change, and what to leave alone? The choice there was really focusing what time and money we had on the places that we felt mattered the most, which is Manny and all the characters. You’re going to be looking at Manny, so the programmers figure out a way to make his dynamic cigarette light up his face and have his textures look great. The backgrounds are important, but I guess we felt that, among all the stuff, they held up the best, because they were rendered to a high quality level back then.
Schafer was reluctant about the widescreen option, since Grim was intentionally framed