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A Very Grim Anniversary

Harper Jay Harper
Grim Fandango 25th Anniversary - Grim Fandango © & ™ Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

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:

  1. Manny Calavera
  2. Glottis
  3. Salvador Limones
  4. Velasco
  5. Membrillo

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:

His mellowed out nature contrasts perfectly with how much he actually does care about doing right by people. The mystery and never knowing why he owes a debt is also very interesting about him..
I don't think my answer needs much explanation, he is very charismatic, has great jokes, a mysterious background and the determination and willpower to make things right, if he had a heart (instead of the scythe), it'd be the biggest. His design is very iconic and the phenomenal voice acting of Tony Plana helps bring the character to life (or death?).
He's witty and a troublemaker but behind that façade he's a good person with a strong moral compass that I love.
He is a perfect representation of a guy that can make mistakes, have doubts, and overcome them.
Mighty Pirate
Manny is just a great classic noir protagonist. He's cool, funny, and has a lot of heart for a skeleton. The whole cast is a delight, but Manny's still my favorite.
Brandon Dillon
I can't help but love Manny, one of the first games I played where he felt like a real person, fleshed out and "living" in a real world. Blew my mind as a kid."
I think [he is my favorite] because his heart is in the right place (so to speak), even when he screws things up.
His motivations are very noble and his journey feels very earned. By the time he ends up in Rubacava and works his way up from mopping floors to owning the place, it felt like even with all the loose ends and unanswered questions up to that point Manny would be rewarded for his efforts and his loyalty to those he cares about.
I genuinely think [my favorite] is actually Manny. I can't think of any character I dislike (in terms of characterization of course- they are very bad guys in the story), but ultimately this is his story and he's so wonderfully written and realized. He's a good man with flaws that make him very relatable and human.
He's been too important and formative to me to say otherwise. I see a lot of myself and my own struggles in him, and he's exactly the kind of protagonist I love to write--one that's funny, and suave, and charming while still being deeply flawed, and relatable, and complicated without any of those things taking away from another. Tony Plana did such an incredible job voicing him, and Tim did such an incredible job writing him.

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

I really love Glottis - he was such an unexpected delight to discover and his character was such a great compliment to the seriousness that Manny brought to the story. I especially loved the scene in Year 2 when he wears the white tuxedo.
Stephen Kick

Editor's Note: Wait! Is that the guy from Night Dive Studios!?

His passion for cars (and other fast transportation), but also his strong friendship with Manny just make him adorable. Please release “The Glottis Story."
He's just a giant goofball. I loved his story and the interactions with Manny. I even made a fan art of him!
He's got a big personality to match his big body! I love big characters. I often feel they are poorly designed and end up being the butt of a joke. Glottis is a really well-written character. He's smart, he's capable, and he's got a big heart!
Charlie (she/her)
The easy answer is Glottis, I love his big demon heart (even covered in demon spider-bat webbing), his earnestness, loyalty, and that he's got a little flaw here or there that make him or demon.
Peter WG
Glottis, hands down! He never failed to bring a smile to my face with his antics :-)
Glottis, easily. He's chill, friendly to a fault, and the friendship between him and Manny is an absolute delight throughout the game.
I missed him whenever he wasn't on screen.
Andrew Rhoades
Alan Blumenfeld's voice is so perfect for him.
Glottis! He's absolutely adorable and hilarious, and I love how loyal he is to Manny. Having an overwhelming obsession with a particular thing is pretty relatable too, haha.

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:

He's just so... NOBLE.
Salvador Limones. He is just so…noble! Ahh Salvador. He had his heart at the right spot. I loved his dedication and he always felt like a good role model for live. Being good and giving all he had, really something I really admire that.

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!

I think Sal is my favorite... just because as a bodyless head thrown at you at the end, he just says "Hola."
Sal. When I was 14 I thought I was really funny and printed his face on a parody Che shirt.
Geoffery Thew

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:

Manny is too obvious so I will say Velasco. Just a comforting old soul.
Velasco always stands out. I think about that moon poem all the time.
I feel like I'd sail with him if he allowed me.
Douglas Klaus
No matter the amount of running around you do, he's always that friendly face to be around.
Bryan McDonald

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:

Such a fabulous bit of voice acting.
Membrillo. Just because of his overall attitude towards the dead.

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

Art provided by: toromy, Stephen Kick, Lucas Andrade, Junaid Chundrigar’, Baby Charmander, Kay Cee Howery, Megan A, Saul Orozco

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

Cosplay by: Malik Kandjy, Sal, Michael Karpinski, Del Le Blanc, Baby Charmander, Sanchek and Rosalie Newcombe.

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

Images from: Maria Lopez, Laura Romero, Sanchek, Sven Ruosti, David Oglarrsson, Brandon Dillon and Katherine Brugman.

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:

Daniel Albu chats with former LucasArts Play tester & Developer, Bret Mogilefsky (Grim Fandango, Jedi Knight). View on YouTube.

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!

The first time I played through was magical like few stories ever have been for me. It felt as if this game was specifically tailor-made for me, personally. I was a mixed Hispanic kid from a small town where nobody had even heard of the Day of the Dead (or, worse, if they had they called it "Mexican Halloween"). I was nerdy, and queer, and neurodivergent back when those were things people either laughed or whispered about. I was living in a broken home that was constantly going through changes, always in some kind of trouble, and outside of my games I was completely alone in the world. The opening scene of Grim Fandango began to play, and suddenly I wasn't invisible anymore.

It had all the things I liked that nobody else did, even the other nerds: jazz music, Noir film references, art deco and architecture, Big Daddy Roth cars, Aztec lore, alebrije-inspired monsters... It had actual Spanish words being spoken by actual Latino people. There was absolutely nothing else like it that existed. I remember I cried at the end of the game. I play it at least once a year, and I still cry every time. In a roundabout way, somebody out there knew me and a lot of the struggles I was going through. I cannot begin to tell you what a difference that has made in my life.
M. M. Quintanilla
I was 8. My mom bought it for me because she saw a commercial about it and thought it looked awesome. I can’t thank her enough as it became one of my favorite games. I became a professional writer in 2009 – French writer, obviously, as my English is awful. [Editor's Note: It seems pretty good to me!] I don’t think I wouldn’t have this passion for writing without this game. It also really made me loved the “Day of the Dead” aesthetic. It was also my first “film noir” type of story, which I loved. It really felt special – even though I got stuck forever in front of this annoying door in Year 3.
Grim Fandango is one of those games I hold near and dear to my heart, even all these years later. From memories of playing it on that old Gateway PC at my mum's friend's house in the late 90s, to playing it again when the remaster was made available, it's always been a part of my life...

I also became obsessed with the anime Cowboy Bebop, which along with Grim Fandango, grew an appreciation of jazz in me that's still prevalent even now. At the time, I was learning the Violin through a free music program aimed at working-class schools and children, and wanted nothing more than to be a game composer. Peter McConnell has a huge part to play there...

As of now, I am a staff writer at a PC gaming website (PCGamesN), and although I specialise in writing about hardware, it feels almost fated that I get to be involved in the industry that inspired me so much. To this day, I believe Grim Fandango is a testament to great video game design, and the greatest PC game ever made. Even 25 years later, I get to introduce people to it constantly, either as they ask about my tattoo, or during a discussion about PC games we grew up with.
Rosalie Newcombe
I played it for the first time probably in 2003, when I was around 10 years old. I found a CD-ROM box at a shopping mall here in a small town in Brazil, that came with Grim Fandango and Outlaws. I actually wanted it just for Outlaws and asked my mom to buy it for me. Ended up playing basically only Grim Fandango. I remember being fascinated by it and spending whole afternoons just wandering around, talking to every character and trying to crack the puzzles. Only made to the Petrified Forest years later, haha
Early in the game, my brother couldn't actually figure out how to do the hole punch into the playing card and after a few hours he was about to give up and left the PC. I remember playing around with the inventory and by pure chance, selected the card and hole punched. He came running back, I scooted over and he played some more.
Playing it with my dad on break was amazing. He doesn't usually play video games, so when I showed it to him he was skeptical. After playing a bit he started to like the writing and was interested in the game. Manny had similar mannerisms to my dad and a similar personality, so there were lots of times where a character would say something, my dad would say a response back to the tv, and manny would say more or less the same thing and my dad would get really excited. I'm forever indebted to this game, as it is to date the only game ever that my dad would ask me to boot up to sit and play or watch, and it got him more interested in video games.
Grim Fandango motivated me to be a game developer, and my path eventually wound its way to Double Fine where I was the technical lead on the remaster, so it had a pretty direct and lasting impact on my professional life, but on a personal level it means a lot to me as well.

I can't think of many other creative works in any medium that reach the same level of uniqueness and cohesion, especially with such a disparate set of influences. It wound up being a direct conduit for me developing long-term interests in both film noir and m culture; it sort of helped me reach escape velocity from the fantasy and sci-fi gravity wells that dominated my childhood and helped me start exploring a wider range of media and culture. I guess if I had also gotten into hot rods I could've completed the trifecta.

When I interviewed at Double Fine, I told Tim I'd written a reverse-engineered port of Grim Fandango that could run on an Xbox 360. He asked if I could show it to him; I didn't have the Xbox build with me but I told him I could show it on my laptop. He said he'd seen the game on a PC already! Fortunately, I still got the job, but I regret not bringing the Xbox build with me. I still have the USB stick with the Xbox build at home.
Brandon Dillon
It was 1998-99, I was 6 or 7 years old, and I just got my hands on Day of the Tentacle a year prior. It was my very own first game ever and we played it together with my mom. As we all enjoyed it as a family, we decided to go look for a game to gift my dad for his birthday. We got Grim Fandango, and I wasn’t expecting for it to change my life forever.

Grim Fandango was an amazing experience to play as a family. Each one of us had their own save, and whenever we got stuck, and someone else got around that puzzle, we would help each other out. I still remember how much we suffered on the Petrified Forest outside El Marrow, when you had to move the sign around to open the passage to Rubacava. Or when we couldn’t get the right ticket to recover the photo Lola took from Nick and Olivia. Those were like magic and I still hold to those memories deeply.

... In 2013, I got an opportunity I never imagined I would have experienced. Tim Schafer, my idol, was going to be in Buenos Aires for a presentation. A friend of mine got an interview with him, so he told me to come to where he was, as he was going to introduce me to him. I started crying even before I got there. My mom was in town visiting me, so she came with me, and I’m deeply proud to have lived that moment with her as well. A few years later I even tattooed a Manny Calavera on my forearm and showed it off on E3 2019 to Tim himself (he still remembered me, I love him)

Grim Fandango is the reason that I got into Day of the Dead culture, reading all about it, and wanting to experience it by myself once in my life. I’m currently living in Mexico City, and I’m extremely excited to be experiencing this incredible celebration of life. This year, I’ll be celebrating my mom’s life, as she passed away in 2021. Playing old school graphic adventures was something we shared with her

Since the Remaster of the game came out, I started a tradition, to play the full game every year, around November 2nd. And yes, I still remember all the puzzles and some dialogs, and of course, I sing along to the beats of beautiful soundtrack, I really love the diversity of sounds it has.
Laura Romero

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."

Austin Wintory, Peter McConnell and Tim Schafer pose for a photo at an awards ceremony. Image courtesy of Austin Wintory.

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!

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