Tag Archives: tim schafer

Grim Fandango- Manny and Meche

During the 1990s, there seemed to be a glut of spooky romance across various media platforms.  Movies like The Addams Family and Nightmare Before Christmas shared eerie love stories on the big screen, while authors like Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton provided supernatural intimacy on the printed page.  At record stores, there was no shortage of music with themes of Gothic adoration, and video games were starting to come into their own with telling stories of otherworldly love.

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While I would hardly consider Grim Fandango to be a horror game, its story and subject matter certainly revolve around death.  Our intrepid hero Manuel “Manny” Calavera is a travel agent for recently departed souls entering the Land of the Dead.  As he begins to uncover a plot of crime and corruption within his employer, the Department of Death, Manny meets a virtuous soul named Mercedes “Meche” Colomar.

At first, Manny merely thinks of Meche as his ticket out of his dead end job.  If Manny can score a client with an honorable life such as Meche’s, he believes this will work off his debt so he can move onto a true afterlife of rest.  But when Meche’s chance at a golden ticket to the Ninth Underworld is stolen from her, Manny begins a quest that will ultimately lead him to fall in love with Meche.

Over the course of the game, a certain piece of music pops up as Manny and Meche begin to show feelings for each other.  The exact instrumentation varies in each scenario, but the basic melody calls to mind a haunting dance between two souls.  Soft strings resonate feelings of love and sorrow; the struggles of a romance that has been tested by difficult circumstances.

Composer Peter McConnell created a beautiful piece of music to encapsulate the feelings between Manny and Meche, and the remastered performance by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is both heartwarming and haunting at the same time.  There is a sense of sad uncertainty to the music; as if the dancing couple may not get to enjoy each other’s company once the song is complete.  But just as Manuel Calavera said, “Nobody knows what’s going to happen at the end of the line, so you might as well enjoy the trip.”

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Digital Draughts: Grim Fandango Remastered with Stone Brewery’s Xocoveza

The right drink can enhance an established experience.  Take food pairings as an example.  I already enjoyed the rich and meaty taste of a smoked turkey leg.  But when I added the toasty and bitter chocolate flavors of New Belgium’s 1554 black lager to the meal, each edible was taken to another level.  The bitter malted notes from the beer heightened the “hammy” sweetness of the meat, while the smoked salty taste of the turkey brought out a stronger coffee flavor in the lager.

Just as I have been trying out new beers with my favorite foods, so too have I been searching out appropriate brews for my most beloved games.  During my pairing quest, I look for common threads in the styles of beer and the aesthetic of video games.  As it turns out, the release of a beer based on Mexican hot chocolate happened to coincide with my purchase of a game inspired by the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos.

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Originally bottled in 2014 as a limited release 22-ounce offering, Xocoveza (pronounced “Sho-Co-Vay-Za”) comes from the mind of homebrewer Chris Banker.  His award-winning milk stout was inspired by the spicy and sweet flavors of Mexican hot chocolate. This beer was so well-received by the drinking public, that Stone has turned this once-in-a-lifetime brew into an annual release, aptly named, “Stone Xocoveza for the Holidays and New Year.”

At the risk of sounding pretentious, Xocoveza is a complex beer.  This is a stout that has been brewed with cocoa, coffee, dried pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Even though these ingredients play well together in various smaller combinations, there is certainly a risk of overwhelming the palete with too many factors.

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Xocoveza offers a dark and creamy pour, with a frothy head that calls to mind a caffè mocha.  Even at pouring distance, a cinnamon aroma permeates the air.  A closer smell only intensifies the cinnamon nose, along with a rich cocoa and vanilla odor.  The first taste is very similar to Mexican hot chocolate; dark cocoa and cinnamon with a hint of pepper spiciness.  As the smooth stout goes down, coffee and nutmeg take over, leading to a malty finish.

Xocoveza is an excellent beer.  It is well-balanced, providing a chocolaty sweetness that doesn’t overpower the bitter coffee and spicy pepper flavors.  Fans of dark beer and coffee drinkers will be right at home with this holiday brew, while folks who enjoy something a little sweeter will also find something to enjoy with this smooth and delicious stout. Xocoveza currently stands as my top brew of 2016, and it pairs very well with Grim Fandango Remastered.

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From the moment Grim Fandango Remastered was announced at E3 2014, I was ecstatic. The original stands as one of my favorite games of all time, never leaving my top ten list since its release in 1998.  Over time, it became increasingly difficult to play Grim Fandango; as PC gaming technology grew exponentially, the support for this CD-ROM title waned at a similar pace.  In the years leading up to the release of the remastered version, I was relying entirely on the efforts of Grim Fandango’s dedicated fans to provide unofficial patches to get the game running on anything past Windows 98.  But thanks to the efforts of Tim Schafer and his crew at Double Fine (along with the compliance of Disney/LucasArts), my frustrating days of cobbling together fan fixes and mods to play this classic title were coming to a close.

Not satisfied with simply overcoming the accessibility issues of Grim Fandango, Double Fine Productions remastered the entire game for modern machines.  The team went to great efforts to retrieve the original assets for the game, ensuring that the visual fidelity was preserved in the leap to new technology.  As a result, the remastered version features repainted, hi-res character models, along with new dynamic lighting effects.  Composer Peter McConnell returned to conduct the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for a live re-recording of the already beautiful soundtrack.  Double Fine even reached out to the modding community of fans for the original game to get their help in adding point-and-click controls for the computer and tablet versions of Grim Fandango Remastered.

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Despite all of these tweaks and improvements, Tim Schafer and his team worked very hard to preserve the original narrative of Grim Fandango.  None of the game’s scenes have been rescripted or removed; no new characters or plotlines added.  The result is akin to a Criterion Collection release of a classic film (right down to included developer commentary), and I absolutely love it.

The remastered visuals and soundtrack are a fantastic upgrade to an already outstanding game.  The film noir story of travel agent Manny Calavera and his epic journey of crime and corruption in the Land of the Dead has aged wonderfully.  During my time playing, Laura became equally engaged with the story, even as a passive viewer.  She did point out the one aspect that has not aged gracefully: adventure game logic.  While I was breezing through the game (having played it over a dozen times in the past), Laura would ask questions that showcased the potential difficulty for players who didn’t grow up with LucasArts.

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For example, I had no trouble in figuring out that I needed to ask for a Robert Frost balloon animal from a festival clown, to hide under a pile of bread crumbs on the Department of Death roof, to scare away a flock of pigeons, so I could steal their eggs to raise as tiny messengers for an underground revolution.  To this sequence of events, Laura simply stared in confused frustration, regularly uttering the phrase, “How could anyone have guessed that?”

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Even with these old school head-scratcher puzzles, Grim Fandango remains a fun and worthwhile experience.  The remastered visuals and music have honed the already impressive content to perfection, and the updated controls allow players several options to maneuver Manny on his adventures.  The mix of film noir with Mexican folklore provides a unique and wonderful world, which matches the dark cocoa and vibrant cinnamon spice of Xocoveza.  I highly recommend this combination.

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Gone, But Not Forgotten

LucasArtsLogoRoughly twenty years ago, my Father came home from a sunny Saturday outing with my uncle, each of them bearing piles of old electronic treasures.  The two of them had visited the local flea market, and found plenty of movies, music, and, of course, video games to share with the entire family.  As my siblings, cousins, and I surrounded our respective fathers, eager to see what was bought, my uncle produced a Super Nintendo game with an odd title: Zombies Ate My Neighbors.  As an avid horror movie fan, my uncle was delighted to find such a game, and he was eager to see how it played.  We dropped the game into the console, fired it up, and saw a golden stick figure standing upon a purple L-shaped logo.  Being a fidgety little kid, I randomly pressed on the controller as we waited for the title screen to appear, but we all jumped when my finger grazed the L button, and a piercing scream emitted from the television.

WelcometoLucasartsInitially, we were all confused by this screaming logo.  My cousins and I hypothesized that I must have entered a cheat code, and the scream was acknowledging proper entry.  But as we played through the game, there was no apparent benefit to our performance.  When we started a new game later, my brother tried to hit buttons through the logo once more, and when he pressed the R button, a goofy dog bark resounded from the Lucasarts screen.  Again, we assumed some sort of code had been entered, and again we were disappointed to find no evidence to support our claims.  This anomaly was later explained to us through Nintendo Power’s “Classified Information” section, where the scream and dog bark were revealed to be a sort of joke from the Lucasarts team for players to discover.

That was my first time playing a Lucasarts game and seeing the “Gold Guy” logo flash upon a screen.  Since the closing of Lucasarts Studios last month, I have been thinking quite a bit about this experience.  It has been some time since a Lucasarts release has piqued my interest.  The last game I played through was The Force Unleashed, which I found rather bland and a bit frustrating compared to previous Star Wars titles like Jedi Knight and the Trilogy Arcade Game.  So when I read about Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and the subsequent closing of Lucasarts, my heart did not fill with melancholy and disappointment.  Certainly, I felt bad for the 150 jobs lost due to this news, but my mind seemed to linger on the feeling that the Lucasarts I had loved ceased to be long ago.

GrimFandangoTitleLike my time spent playing Zombies Ate My Neighbors, most of my experiences with Lucasarts games were a mix of engrossing art styles, fun gameplay, and plenty of humor.  During my middle school years, I spent many an afternoon playing the PC sim Afterlife, where the management of Heaven and Hell was set against a cartoony style with plenty of tongue-in-cheek jokes.  Grim Fandango still stands proudly in my top ten games of all time, with an excellent film-noir inspired story and plenty of interesting and silly characters.  While I missed out on Monkey Island during its initial PC days, the Xbox Live re-release made up much of a weekend spent with my good friend Bobby, where we guffawed at the goofy pirates while trying to solve the various puzzles of Melee Island.  Each of these games hold such a strong place in my heart, and all of them were released by Lucasarts.  But as the new millennium dawned on this studio, many of the greats who made these titles left, and the company refocused its efforts on the Star Wars brand, almost exclusively.  So much of the humor and characters I had grown to love fell by the wayside, and so Lucasarts had completely fallen off of my radar.

For a while, it seemed like all of these old games would be trapped in the past; technology had moved forward too quickly, and the systems on which to play these games did not exist anymore.  Thankfully, a combination of independent patches and programming, along with great sites like Good Old Games have brought these classics out of commission to be played once more.  The talented designers who brought us games like Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle have not slowed down either.  Ron Gilbert just released The Cave earlier this year, Dave Grossman is the design director at Telltale Games, and Tim Schafer is doing just fine over at Double Fine Productions.

So while it seems that Lucasarts no longer exists, both officially and personally, the games and the designers who made it famous still live on; continuing to fill our hearts with joy through a piercing shriek and a dog’s bark.

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Costume Quest

Game: Costume Quest
Released: Double Fine Productions, October 19, 2010
System: Sony Playstation 3
Game started: October 13th, 2012
Amount completed: Saved our younger brother Reynold from the clutches of the evil witch Dorsilla.  Currently trying to aid the Grubbins on Ice.

Chip’s Thoughts

At my parents’ house, there is a box of random hats, fabrics, and hand-me-down outfits.  This collection of odds and ends is simply known as “The Playclothes Bin.”  Anytime my siblings and I wanted to dress-up and make believe, we would rummage through the old clothes and create fantastic characters.  With an old fedora and an oversized beige sportscoat, my brother would transform into a grizzled detective, who is too old for this mess.  A tattered black graduation gown and some plastic fangs twisted me into a vampire bat, ready to take wing upon the night sky.  Some fairy wings and bright scarves would metamorphose my sister into the princess of a faraway realm, who came to spread magic to the mundane world.  When we were young, our imaginations could change simple costumes into amazing things, and there was no greater time for this magic than on Halloween.

For children, Halloween is a time for dress-up and make believe, for mirth and merriment, and most importantly, for trick-or-treating and candy.  School days on October 31st will have parties with bright orange and midnight black decorations.  Each home in the neighborhood will become host to ghoulish galas and devilish decorations.  Even though this is a night for scares and monsters, Halloween is all in good fun and can bring an entire community together to celebrate and share in good fortune with one another.  When you are a kid, Halloween can get no better.  Fortunately, Costume Quest successfully embodies the youthful joy of Halloween.

The story of this game revolves around a pair of twins, who dress up in their best robot and candy corn costumes and depart for a fun night of trick-or-treating.  Unbeknownst to the siblings, a group of monsters known as Grubbins have been sent on a mission to steal all of the candy in the neighborhood.  So when the sweet-snatching goblins come across a kid in a giant candy corn costume, they assume they have hit the mother-load and kidnap the confectionary costumed child.

Naturally, it is up to the remaining sibling to save the kidnapped child and stop these nefarious creatures from ruining Halloween.  In order to do so, the player must guide their character from house to house, trick-or-treating at every door in order to stop any candy thefts in progress (and collect sweets, of course).  Most of the gameplay revolves around traditional turn based RPG battles, but with an interesting twist.  As the children navigate the neighborhood, their costumes are simple things, made up of items one can find around the home.  Over the course of the game, the player will collect base materials for new costumes, such as a bright red feather duster for the Statue of Liberty’s torch or a cardboard box for a unicorn’s latter half.

Once the kids are costumed and enter a battle, the entire perspective changes.  The plain costumes transform the children into epic heroes, ready to do battle with impressive weapons and awesome attacks.  Similarly, the Grubbins, who appear shabby and goofy looking as they stomp around town, change into vile looking monsters, outfitted with medieval armor and weaponry.  This style change is never explained or spelled out for the player, not that it needs to be.  Whether it be the magic of Halloween night, or the power of a child’s imagination, the characters become what their costumes dictate; the player sees the kids as they see themselves.

With age comes different priorities.  Costumes must be realistic and impressive.  Young men forgo the cardboard box robots and tin foil knights of childhood and turn to fake blood and prosthetics to be as gory as possible; to terrify their friends and impress the girls.  Ladies give up on the strong queen and policewoman costumes of their youth, and pare down to as little fabric covering their bodies as they can manage; to become a “sexy” insert-costume-here.  It is so sad to see how much of the magic of Halloween is lost once we grow up.  So if you are wishing to recapture some of the joy of All Hallows Eve, start a toasty fire, cook up some spiced cider or hot chocolate, and snuggle up with your loved ones to play Costume Quest.

Just be sure to have your candy bowl ready.  You never know when some young ghouls and ghosts will be tapping at your door, eager for some holiday treats.

Laura’s Thoughts

As my childhood is retreating further and further into memory, so too does the magic of Halloween. For a holiday that Chip and I hold so deeply in our hearts, it seems that adulthood and time has changed everything about it. Halloween (at least in the places I’ve lived) hardly resembles the celebration of my youth. No one seems to trick-or-treat anymore. Hardly anyone puts up decorations. Parties usually happen the weekend before.  And it seems things are only getting worse.

Admittedly, playing this game was the first Halloween thing Chip and I had done all month. We practically had to sneak it in one weekend when no one was looking; a fact that thoroughly depresses me.  If it hadn’t been for an unexpected four day weekend, this might have shaped up to be a pretty pathetic Halloween indeed.

But it just so happened that Hurricane Sandy came to town. While we were stuck inside waiting for the storm to run her course, we decided to cram as much Halloween magic as we could into that time. Everything from watching Halloween movies and shows, to baking pumpkin muffins, to carving our Pokemon jack-o-lanterns; truly, we spared no expense.

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Grim Fandango

Happy Dia De Los Muertos!  As many of you tend to peruse other gaming sites, there will undoubtedly be some form of Tim Schafer’s computer classic, Grim Fandango, covered at various places on the World Wide Web.  Some of you might wonder, “What the hell is Grim Fandango, and why do people like it so much?”  Since we are running our site from a netbook right now, I could not share this amazing game with Laura (yet!).  So it is natural that she had similar questions(as well as, “Where is the puppy you promised, damn it?!”).  I could take multiple days and articles to explain why I love Grim Fandango, and why you should too.  But for the sake of time, here is the opening to this tale of crime and corruption in the Land of the Dead, to provide some understanding to our wonderful viewers(readers?):

Now that the Long Halloween is over, we will start to get back to the general gaming awesomeness once more.  Since the season of Autumn is when most of the big game releases happen (just in time for Christmas), we will be featuring more recent titles this month.  There is even a clue to our first game in this post!  Can you solve the riddle, Detective?

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