Inside Pulse 12

Diehard GameFAN: Hall of Fame Nomination – Grim Fandango

Every week, we will present a new game to be nominated for the Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame and Hall of Shame. These nominations will occur every Monday and Friday, respectively. Our standards are just like the Baseball Hall of Fame: every game will be voted on by members of the staff, and any game that gets 75% of the vote – with a minimum of four votes – will be accepted – or thrown – into their respective Hall.

Game: Grim Fandango
Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts
Release Date: 10/30/1998
System Released On: PC
Genre: Adventure

Who Nominated The Game: I did. Alex Lucard. The token adventure game reviewer here on the site.

Why Was It Nominated: I actually nominated Grim Fandango for several reasons, both positive and infamous. It’s one of those odd games that is almost universally considered both the best game of 1998 and the best point and click title ever. Yet it’s also the game that crashed the genre in such a way that it has yet to fully recover from. It’s a game both critically acclaimed and historically important as no game before or since has shaped an entire genre (for both good and bad) like this one.

Grim Fandango was to be the second to last LucasArts adventure game ever made (not counting re-releases) and is also considered the zenith of the company in terms of quality and critical acclaim. Considering this is the company that original gave us Sam and Max, Maniac Mansion and Secret of Monkey Island, that is pretty impressive indeed. It’s also the game that game us the GrimE engine, which is important to PC gamers as the engine’s language, Lua, would go on to form the basis of the Baldur’s Gate engine. Grim Fandango was the first game that shows Lua could not only be used to make a good game, but that it could be used to make some of the best games ever. Besides Baldur’s Gate, Grim Fandango‘s legacy regarding its engine and programming code can still be seen in a wide range of games including Brutal Legend, Tom Clancey’s H.A.W.X, Psychonauts, The Sims, and World of Warcraft. It’s hard to believe a point and click title has descendents that diverse, but it is indeed so.

On the positive side, Grim Fandango is one of the most critically loved games of all time. Sure titles like PC Gamer and Computer Gaming World gave it their GOTY award in 1998. Those are PC oriented titles. But what about non PC gaming publications, both on the web and not? IGN listed it as the best adventure game of all time and also heaped awards on it. Now normally even mentioning IGN would make me want to bathe for a week, but this is important as IGN almost exclusively covers console games. So for a PC Game to not only be considered the best in this genre, but the best game of 1998 and later on listed as one of the 20 best games of all time, especially one that only traffics in mainstream high profile titles, is telling indeed. Gamespot also gave Grim Fandango its 1998 GOTY award, which is another shock due to how, once again, that website is almost exclusively devoted to console gaming. The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences heaped multiple awards on the game and nearly every gaming news publication gave it their GOTY award or it was at least a nominee. Never before or since has a PC exclusive title received that much love and critical acclaim from console gaming publications. Even now, it has a 93.3% aggregate at GameRankings for those of you that feel that site as any merit or bearing on a game’s quality.

Yet, with all this praise and adoration from everyone who played Grim Fandango it’s also a double-edged sword and will forever be considered the pivotal game that led to many publishers and developers shutting their doors on the adventure game genre. You see, no matter how much a game is loved, it needs to sell and Grim Fandango didn’t sell. According to sales data, the game sold a paltry 98,000 copies (a number that in 2010, a lot of games would love to achieve, especially PC adventure games) in North America and worldwide sales were between 100,000 and 500,000 copies, depending on what source you want to use. I know that doesn’t sound like shabby number, it was a drastic drop from how these games usually perform. There are many reasons why, such as FPS becoming center stage for PC gaming, or that the 32 bit era is really when console gaming left PC gaming in the dust in terms of popularity. Because of the sales figures, LucasArts shut down its entire adventure game line, finishing only the nearly done Escape From Monkey Island (which was met with less favourable, but still positive reception and even worse sales figures). They cancelled the sequels for Sam and Max and Full Throttle and never returned to adventure gaming. However, they have hinted at a return with high definition remakes of some Monkey Island games and subtle comments on how successful Telltale has been with their episodic format. LucasArts biggest rival, Sierra, also considered adventure gaming “dead” with the failure of Grim Fandango and stopped their franchises like King’s Quest, Gabriel Knight, Leisure Suit Larry and the like. Of course, Sierra would go on to have one of the most insane publisher histories of all time from that point on, being bought and sold like a cheap French whore, only to meet its final demise in 2008.

So Grim Fandango is an odd duck. It’s most of the most critically acclaimed games of all time, yet very few people have played it (as we found out first hand after nominating this). It’s considered the best game ever in its genre, yet also led to the collapse of the genre as a whole. So we have a game that is considered amongst the best of the best, a game whose historical importance can’t be denied and whose legacy can still be felt to this day, more than a decade after its release. It sounds like a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame (And perhaps even a Hall of Shame nomination as well), doesn’t it? Well, let’s see the result.

All in Favor:

Dave Olvera: I’m going to be brief: Grim Fandango is a Hall of Fame worthy game. It was one of the last LucasArts adventure games and one doing with so much style and uniqueness, it is almost criminal to have never played it. Tim Shafer wrote the gem of a story, about a man working in the Department of Death, combines noir and Aztec lore very well. The game not only has a very interesting background, but it is well paced and executed. The characters are well written and the game does not get caught up in too many cliches. The first LucasArts adventure game to be in 3D, Schafer and company did not stumble.

Grim Fandango is not a perfect game, but it is a game that is a touchstone for a genre and its fans of the genre, beyond what one could say about a game like FFT. Grim Fandango is
a reminder that the adventure game exists and an inspiration to keep the genre alive.

Alexander Lucard: For many PC and/or point and click gamers, Grim Fandango stands out as the epitome of the LucasArts adventure game era. It’s also a game that has never been re-released or remade unlike the Monkey Island games, and that’s just sad. Grim Fandango is poignant, funny, and one of the best point and click titles ever made. It’s easily Tim Schafer’s best work and I really wish Manny and friends would get the episodic treatment a lot of other point and click series have received from Telltale in the past few years. My guess is they don’t touch it since Tim is over at DoubleFine and they wouldn’t want to mess with his baby.

For me, the Hall of Fame should be the best of the best and only the best of the best. Grim Fandango is not only considered one of the best adventure games ever made, it’s considered to be THE best by nearly everyone who has played it, from adventure game aficionados to sites that barely touch PC games like Gamespot and IGN. When is the last time you saw universal agreement from that many sites or (now defunct) magazines? It won nearly every “GOTY” award in 1998 (Again, including publications that tend to ignore the existence of PC games) even though it sold horribly.

If you haven’t played this game, you really need to give it a try. I guarantee you’ll fall in love with it.

All Opposed:

NO ONE! That’s a first.

Result: 2 In Favor, 0 Opposed, 100% Approval = REJECTED (due to lack of votes)

Conclusion: You think I’d be disappointed that Grim Fandango didn’t get in, but in fact, this very column is a perfect parallel for the history of the game itself. The game sold poorly and thus very few people played it, but those that did loved it. It’s one of those games that was critically adored but sold like DVD copies of a indie drama put out by the Dutch. It certainly deserved its almost unanimous GOTY wins in 1998, but history certainly repeats itself here when we see only two people on staff played the game and thus it is unable to meet the criteria for entry as we have a four vote minimum. So Grim Fandango may not make the HoF, but it does make the history books as the first game to get unanimous support, as well as the first nominee to make the percentage cut, but not the minimum number of votes needed. Ah, Grim Fandango – you always do one thing exceptionally well and fail miserably at something else.

Next Week: We take a look at one of the most unique SNES games ever as Quest gets a second shot at the HoF.

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