retr0spective: LucasArts Adventure Games (Part Five)

Six years after the release of MI2, Guybrush and co. returned to spread laughs across the Seven Seas once again in 1997’s The Curse of Monkey Island.

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Taking place some time after the events of MI2, the plot revolves around Guybrush (whose goatee is now inexplicably gone) going on a quest to reverse a spell that he inadvertently cast upon Elaine, while also engaging in the franchise’s usual brand of comedic swashbuckling mayhem. With Gilbert out of the picture, it was clear that whoever was to take his position as the creative leader had to have a perfect understanding of his original vision for the games. As such, said position was given to Larry Ahern and Jonathan Ackley, who had by then worked on Full Throttle. The graphical style, done by Bill Tiller, has a noticeably more “animated” look to it than in the previous two entries, which both aimed for a more “live-action” graphical style. When it was released onto store shelves, the game received a myriad of critical acclaim, with some going as far as to calling it the best entry in the franchise yet, with the visuals, characters, design being the major highlights. Unfortunately, this would be the last game to ever utilize SCUMM, as LucasArts decided that it was time to move on from the engine.

In 1998, Schafer returned to helm the studio’s next big project, Grim Fandango. 

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Taking cues from the film noir genre and Aztec culture, the game revolves around Manny Calavera, a travel agent in The Land of the Dead, who finds himself embarking on a quest to reach the Ninth Underworld with a newly-arrived soul by the name of Meche, with corruption, greed, and betrayal getting in the way. Development for the game began in June of 1995, two months after Full Throttle was released. The idea of a Day of the Dead-set adventure was one that was one that Schafer wanted to bring to life for a while – in fact, it was before production on Full Throttle even started! The game was also the first time since a tie-in game based off of the Jim Henson film Labyrinth that an adventure title developed by the studio did not utilize SCUMM. Instead, they made an entirely new engine by the name of GrimE, though its’ origins rest in Sith, an engine used for the Star Wars game Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, and the programming language Lua. In addition to the aforementioned noir and Aztec influences, the game also takes inspiration from a number of other sources. Ed Roth, who is well-known for his over-the-top, exaggerated, and downright grotesque style, was the main influence for the demons and their vehicles. The general visual style of the game was also inspired by the Deco era of art. Initially, Manny was supposed to be a real estate agent instead of a travel agent, and the game was also supposed to be called “Deeds of the Dead”. After going through a number of titles such as “Dirt Nap” and “The Long Siesta”, Schafer ultimately ended up with “Grim Fandango”, and also ended up changing Manny to a travel agent. Like most other LucasArts games, dialouge is a major element in both gameplay and story; however, Schafer really wanted to amp it up with this game, as he felt that there is something about the way people talk in film noir movies that makes it feel both believable and honest. The game’s soundtrack, done by Peter McConnell, utilizes a range of musical styles, from jazz, South American, and mariachi. With all that I’ve just said in mind, you’d think that everything that Schafer and co. did would pay off in the end like all of LucasArts’ previous ventures with the point and click genre….unfortunately, this would not be the case. The release of this game can basically be summed as “being at the right place at the wrong time”, as it was during this period that the adventure genre began to enter a HUGE funk. Despite being met with universal acclaim, the game ended being considered a commercial failure, despite LucasArts stating that it “met expectations domestically and exceeded them worldwide”. What makes this even more saddening is that it was meant to breathe new life into the genre, meaning that in addition to all the work ultimately amounting to nothing, but the attempt had also failed as well. Thankfully, in recent years the game has gotten a cult following of gargantuan proportions, and has even gotten an HD remake a while back.

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To be concluded… (original image by Vidaextra)

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3 Comments

  1. Wonderful retrospective, as always! I’ll be honest. I still have to play Grim Fandango. Luckily, I actually have a version of it. I just need to get around to playing it. I’m inspired to now though. I love the LucasArts adventure games!

    Liked by 1 person

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