It's been 25 years since the release of Grim Fandango. Manny Calavera arrived on the scene in 1998 and immediately charmed folks with his dry wit and gritty determination. The Land of the Dead teemed with flaming beavers, dazzling casinos and hot rod driving elemental companions. Grim was a bright flash in the adventure game pan right before the genre went into an extended hibernation. Even so, it left a deep mark on players and its influence can be felt in games today. Fans old and new have made astounding art and cosplay, developed deep thoughts about the characters, and wear their love for the game on their sleeves. Sometimes literally!
To mark this occasion, we reached out to fans for an in-depth survey of the fandom. Hundreds of fans replied and pulling all of their thoughts together provides a lovely picture of how, even though time has passed, some games are timeless.
One of the first questions we asked fans was "who is your favorite character?" and while the most popular denizens of the dead aren't surprising there were a few curveballs to be found. The immediate results were as follows:
- Manny Calavera
- Salvador Limones
Honorable mentions: Olivia Ofrenda, Hector Lemans, The Balloon Animal Clown. Domino Hurley. Lupe! (I like Lupe a lot!)
Shout outs to Velasco and the Balloon Clown for surpassing characters shocking no one, Manny took an astounding 45.625% of around 200 votes as a result of his determination, wit, and courageous quest to find Mercedes "Meche" Colomar. But that's the lightest summary of what fans think about these characters. Let's break it down for each characters and see that makes them so compelling. Then we'll move on to the amazing artwork that fans have created. Let's dive in! When possible I'm gonna try to include people's names but we don't have everyone's (since not everyone gave it on the survey) so that might be tricky...
Manuel "Manny" Calavera
The man himself needs no introduction. Protagonist, salesman, casino owner, ship captain, hero. Tony Plana's voice acting mixes with wry writing (hey that's kind of alliterative) to craft a character that fans swarmed the survey to praise. Here's what they said:
Now let's move on to our second place...
Our favorite elemental is both incredible huggable and musically talented. Glottis took 29.375% of the vote and that means between himself and Manny y'all can't get enough of our dynamic duo. Whereas Manny's various flaws made him a relatable character that folks identify with, it's Glottis' larger than life personality that seems to have inspired such a huge outpouring of support. Here's some choice thoughts about our orange pal
Editor's Note: Wait! Is that the guy from Night Dive Studios!?
So there we are! The dynamic duo! In the interest of keeping your reading brisk, I'm gonna collapse the rest of our top five into a small overview. Let's start with Salvador "Sal" Limones. Our charismatic revolutionary leader certainly has flair and that was more than enough to make him stand out to fans. One person even claims Grim Fandango turned into into a communist and I gotta imagine that's a combination of Sal and the Sea Bees. Either way, even if Sal didn't inspire you to change your entire political ideology, he's certainly one of the most memorable characters in Grim. Your thoughts:
Editor's Note: Yes, literally two of you called Sal "noble" after a dramatic pause. Makes sense! Pretty sure Eva does the same thing. Also this person has Sal in their online handle so.. yeah that makes double sense!
Coming in after Sal on our list is someone that I wasn't really expecting but it started to make sense as people shared their thoughts. Velasco's a pretty reliable guy and one of the most genuinely friendly faces in Rubacava. He's also got an eyepatch even though he ain't got no eyes! The salty dockmaster beat out some of the most central characters in the cast owing to his reliable and friendly nature. His jaunt into poetry helped too. In your words:
Last we have Membrillo. His secret to happiness is that he has the heart of a 12 year old... in a jar. The moody coroner slipped into the top five almost entirely on a few choice quotes that resonated with players. Quoth y'all:
Membrillo the coroner because of his great saying: “We may have days, we may have hours but sooner or later? We’re pushing up flowers.”
That quote's be mentioned multiple times in our survey from folks who found that Grim helped them come to terms with (or at least not have constant panic attacks about) death. We'll go over some of the stories and memories y'all shared later on. Tales of parents and childhood demo discs and learning to love culture.
But first off I want to look at your creative work and highlight how you've all celebrated the game over the years in art, cosplay, and more! Let's start with fan art since that had an absolute deluge of submissions. There's plenty of Manny but even though he won the charactr vote, it's actually Glottis that seems to have beaten him for everyone favorite subject. What a wonderful, orange muse!
Grim Fandango Fan Art Gallery
But maybe it's not enough for you to put things on the page. Maybe you have a desire to put on your finest suit, don a handcrafted mask, and dazzle people at conventions. Grim's officially reach "aged" status but its characters are iconic enough that no matter where you're at there's a good chance that someone can point at you can say "Manny Calavera!" Cosplay is a wonderful declaration of love and enthusiasm for any game and it's easy to get into! Not easy to master necessarily but the biggest hurdle is deciding "yeah, I'm okay wearing a costume in public and possible even on the subway."
Below are some wonderful fans who have tossed caution to the wind and designed lovely versions of Manny (and Meche!) perfect suited for turning heads on the convention floor. Or dropping Tim's jaw.
Grim Fandango Cosplay Gallery
There's plenty of creative ways to show your love for something however. For the die-hards, a tattoo is the ultimate gesture. That's basically a poster right on your skin and you know what? Depending on where it is they don't actually hurt too much to get. (Disclaimer: some places extremely hurt.) You can peep some lovely tattoos below but there's an entire miscellaneous collection. From skull earrings and pumpkin carvings to 3-D printed figures and a USB stick from former Double Fine programmer and Hack 'n Slash project lead Brandon Dillon.
Grim Fandango Tattoos and Other Stuff Gallery
There's more beyond that even. Many people replying shared other creative ways of celebrating Grim Fandango. Perhaps you're looking for some fabulous words? Consider this story of a vulnerable Glottis sharing a quiet moment of reflection with Meche as written by Baby Charmander. (Some of you also sent fics which... wow! Oh wow... those are not safe!) Games provide a canvas that we can expand. Our imaginations build on what came before as we hear character voices in our head and put them to page. Of course, the language they speak is important. Literally! One respondent shared a Turkish subtitle pack. I'm not really able to share a direct link to those files but if that sounds like something you've always needed, it's only a few clicks away on this here internet. And speaking of the internet, did you know that the Grim Fandango Network, a modest but lovingly maintained fansite, has been around for 23 years? That's one long-lived website. [Editor's Note: Hold up! We were sent a false tip! The site is even older than that! It's been around since July 1998!]
But beyond this a few fans have gone so far as to seek out those involved with the games throughout the years on quests to learn more about how everything was made. As time goes on, even with Double Fine's remastered version and rescued assets, these pieces of amateur reporting map out an exciting piece of gaming history. If you want those detailed, look at this interview with composer Peter McConnell at the International House of Mojo. If you want a very lengthy but in-depth interview with former LucasArts wiz and Grim Fandango lead programmer Bret Mogilefsky, check out the video below:
Grim Fandango has inspired people to sit down and sketch, 3-D print all kinds of goodies and figures, and dress up as skeletons. The collection above is only from people who sent us stuff. I have no doubt there's hundreds more fans who are similarly creative. But the question remain: what inspired such loyalty and love? What was the moment that Manny charmed your heart? How has Grim affected your life since then? Thankfully, fans were eager to share stories of basement gaming sessions, bonding with parents, camp counselors sharing the game, and more.
Let's take a break from the parade of goodies and walk down ~memory lane~ for a few moment!
Some fan made their journey years ago while others discovered the game quite recently but Manny's found a place in their hearts. Special shout outs to the demo disc from publications like PC Gamer and PC Zone. For many of our longest-term fans, that demo was a very important doorway into Grim Fandango and, for some folks, adventure games in general.
That's a little before my time but I still played some demo discs for later generations of consoles and PC. Being able to dip your feet into strange waters for even a tiny moment of fun really can ignite your mind. From there, it's bonding experiences and even one very specific interview with Tim. Grim splashed big and, for many of you, the rippled have carried into today. Let's pick your brains!
If we listed every single story, we'd be here for years! However, between these stories and votes for a certain "character" there was one trend: everyone loves the music in this game! More than a few of you said The Music was your favorite character and that's a) cheating and b) not surprising. Peter McConnell's done plenty of work (so much of that is collaborating with Tim) and while it's difficult to choose a favorite soundtrack he's worked on—I hum quite a few Hearthstone tunes that Peter wrote—it's hard to argue that Grim Fandango's mix of noir jazz and festive street music isn't one of the most distinctive OSTs in games. And look, I feel kinda weird being a hype person and just going "This is great!" over and over but sometimes things are true. They literally have an excerpt of some of Year Two's music on the Wikipedia page.
It's literally that iconic and central to the game. There's some musical fun that we'd like to share with all of you but that'll come at a later date. Meanwhile, for the collectors out there we have a fun announcement: iam8bit has opened pre-orders for a reprint of their amazing vinyl press of the soundtrack. These released initially for the 20th anniversary and a few folks have asked me about it over my brief time at Double Fine. The good news is that there's a fresh chance. The Grim Fandango 2xLP Vinyl Soundtrack features 51 tracks pressed on two vintage black vinyl discs and a cool sleeve where you can show off one of Manny's many faces.
But that's a lotta marketing talk. Let's look at how another fan reacted to the music. In this case, we were sent a video from the very talented voice actress Sarah Elmaleh who you may know as the voice of Korsica from Hi-Fi Rush and many other things. Talking about her own experience with the game, she said:
"I remember my mom’s basement office, that had the PC in it. I remember being stunned and seduced by the aesthetics and the performances, the noir archetypes. I remember wanting to live in Rubacava. I remember listening to the soundtrack over and over which I still have saved in my iTunes library…I don’t think mp3s can be vintage but if so, these certainly are."
Which is another odd thing about Grim Fandango's ripple effect with fans: many of those fans end up working in game or covering them for publications. Some fans create mods and other adjustments. Sometimes those their work mingles with Grim Fandango's legacy. For instance, when point and click was implemented in the remaster, Double Fine sought out programmer Tobias Pfaff and his peers; they had already modded the feature into Grim and understanding their work made adding the feature into our version of the game a smooth experience. For the topic of music, we had a pretty dang accomplished fan reach out: composer Austin Wintory, whose talent has crafted the soundtacks for games like Journey, The Banner Saga, and Abzû. Speaking about the game, he shared:
"I was utterly overwhelmed by the creativity of the world, characters (those voice actors!) but above all, Peter's utterly iconic music. I was intrigued about a possible future career as a game composer, and this was among the first scores I heard that featured spectacular MUSICIANSHIP in the score itself. Amazing, inspiring performers bringing it to life. I can't overstate how much that emboldened the direction my life would subsequently take."
Wintory was the conductor for the premier performance of Grim Fandango's music with the Queensland Symphony in Brisbane, Australia. He called it "a full-on bucket list life highlight." It's another one of those ripples. From Peter's mind to music sheet to game to a player into their heart and then eventually back at Peter and Grim care of their own musical talent and love for the game. Music! It's da secret sauce, baby! But now it's time for...
The End of the Line
It's hard to really comprehend how time works. It's weird stuff. Grim Fandango has been a part of people's lives long enough now that it's been with them longer than it was without them. And yet somehow that still feels like the blink of an eye. 25 years is a long time in video game years. It marks countless leaps in technology and audience trends, contains the rise and fall of genre, the triumphs and sometimes the tragic closures of studios. Games move at a mile a minute and that can sometimes means things don't hold up quite as we remember them. Folks say things like "wow, this updated version with five billion polygons looks like how my kid brain felt the game did!" or "how did I ever play with with only tank controls?" But sometimes, if you're lucky, you create something that lasts. You make something that holds strong and retains its shape year after year. Grim Fandango is one of those lucky games. Fans revisit it time and time again. New players pick it up to find the same joy other found decades ago. It's easy to think of games as distractions. You pick them up, get your adrenaline rush or excuse to zone out, drop them and move on. But every now and then they leave a mark on your heart.
Reading through our survey it's clear that for many of you this is one of the things that helped shape you into the people you are today. It's not the only thing but it's an important part of the wonderful puzzle that is YOU! It's hard to know how far the ripple effect will go but Manny's story has already spanned generations and left its mark. It's been truly humbling to read your thoughts. I look forward to doing this again after we've uploaded our souls to The Collective 50 years from now!