I hope I can afford an Afterlife train ticket (Grim Fandango Remastered overview)

In 1998 I was in third year of college and working hard. I’m not even sure how I found time for video games, but I did and on top of that heap was Grim Fandango. Up to that point I was a Lucasarts adventure game for lifer starting back with Loom. When Grim Fandango came out I can’t really remember the marketing at all, but I knew the Day of the Dead plot and that it was from the mind of the same person who made Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle and that was enough for me to grab it up for whatever probably outdated PC I had at the time.

IMG_5360

Truthfully though I don’t think I ever beat it. I do remember being amazed by the music though. Peter McConnell at that point had cemented his abilities with various LucasArts games but he seemed to become super inspired through Fandango’s mexican jazz and noir influences. That music would stay with me for years past ever actually touching the game. What also got me was that voice acting. At that point the lead, Tony Plana was a pretty established character actor with multiple film and TV appearances and an impeccable voice for comedic timing while still coming across as serious. Equally Alan Blumenfield who at the time was also one of those character actors who fell under the “hey, it’s that guy” was just perfect as the super energetic bounce off Plana’s cool and collected. The rest of the cast was full of known acors as well, but what stood out for me then and NOW was Pamela Segall. That was the coup of the voice casting, she was a former child actor and known cartoon voice actress at the time so hearing that she would be part of Grim was exciting. Honestly though I don’t know if I ever got far enough in the game to actually hear her in 1998. Those tank controls were… well, like controlling a tank. A headache and a half. I don’t care what Tim Schafer thinks… they aren’t fun. They’re a new device never used in an adventure game adding to the difficulty, but they also took away from the fun and ability to enjoy his clever script, engaging puzzles and curious plot.

Thankfully, in 2015 that all got fixed with Grim Fandango Remastered. Over the years I’ve tried using the fan made systems to play Fandango on new windows and even tried the fan made P&c scheme, but it just never felt… right. Multiple crashes and other doohickey annoyances made it nigh impossible to finish… even more than the the old tank controls.

While Remastered allowed me to finally play Fandango from start to finish without having to rely on tank controls even then it wasn’t completely easy. The game is difficult and has certain puzzles that were more annoyances then puzzle solving (ex: the section getting past skeleton tigers, and in the same general area, following an arrow). So it wasn’t the game I loved. In retrospect now as I sit here thinking of the experience, the game is actually not fun… but the acting, the script, the characters really just propel you to go forward. Some of the logic puzzles are equally obtuse as any adventure game, but the way they play out are either funny or justified in a way that made me continue and nod in a “allright, that works”.

What really makes Remastered special isn’t being able to play in a new game style way though. It’s the extras and bonuses. The commentary tracks are amazing and cover so much ground. There are interviews with not just Tim or Peter, but also the designers, the programmers, the casting & voice director and everyone in between. The making of the game is truly explored in fun and interesting ways along with a large gallery of design art including unused cut scenes and a full storyboard. On top of that the amazing soundtrack has truly be remastered and in cases re-recorded using a symphony guided by McConnell. It’s a wonder to hear and behold and makes playing so worth it.

The only thing not included (as far I could tell) was the original puzzle document. Fortunately that wondrous piece is still on the internet. Don’t read it till you’ve beaten the game though.

GRIM FANDANGO Remastered is currently available on PC/Mac and Linux DRM-Free and Steam as well on PS4 and PS Vita for $14.99.

Tim Schafer Games: the History of, and my Love of BROKEN AGE


Double Fine Adventure was what turned me into a Kickstarter fiend for a few months. The only thing that ended that fun was a mix of finances and seeing certain projects I funded just take way too long. Still I pledged $100 to DFA with trust in what Tim Schafer and Nathan “Bagel” Stapley coming together and combining their efforts to create a modern point and click adventure based off the strength of Tim’s previous work and where it’d lead had he not had to move on to things such as Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. This is not a commentary on those games, but more to explain my views of what became BROKEN AGE and my feelings towards it versus how certain reviews and opinions have formulated based on preconceived expectations based on misunderstanding and lack of comprehension on the part of the backers.

Being a backer meant that for the last two weeks I have gotten to playtest, look for bugs, analyze the game and prepare for whatever post release onslaught could be coming. The fans on the boards who were negative… and I mean NEGATIVE and I can understand most of their issues. Yet, those issues are mostly based in falsehood expectations that they had. Not one of them have I heard complain about the story or the art. Many of them have complained about length and character, but the second is to each his own. Some people love Natural Born Killers, others hate it, the same with True Blood, My Little Pony, Ben 10, Batman and many many other things. One person will say the character was full of emption and I could really relate and another person of the same exact character can say they had no emotion and could not relate at all. These are things that happen with every creative piece of art ever made and BROKEN AGE truly is a piece of art and it is a game.

It is is not an interactive story, or an animated children’s book which you can press buttons on. It is the perfect example of an adventure game that exists as it would’ve had if when Double Fine was created did nothing but point n click games. This is how they would evolve. They wouldn’t just be retreads of Day of the Tentacle or Full Throttle or even Grim Fandango, but the next step, following the path that gaming has taken from going casual, back to hardcore, a return to casual and then reaching a happy medium that isn’t exactly a perfect balance and definitely won’t please all, but would allow for something fun, creative, purposeful, enjoyable, engaging and for some challenging, while others truly easy. For those who find it too easy though they would be getting something that no other game possessed. A special kind of charm, a witty humor, a sense of logic and story building that only Tim Schafer and a team he helped hand select could create.

My personal largest issue is people saying this is not what they expected and yet their expectations are all based on their own personal nostalgia and conception of what a Tim Schafer game is instead of the reality of it or at least to sound less biased, that there is another view of that and that the most important one is Tim Schafer’s. I will leave this argument and focus more now on the game itself and a couple of facts on the history of Tim Schafer games and Double Fine.

I feel to look properly at BROKEN AGE we must skip Monkey Island, as those were mostly Ron Gilbert games in which Tim got input but did not show us what type of game he would make. Day of the Tentacle is the first place when one sees the type of game Tim would make. Something that would take the genre to the next place. While multiple characters had been used in Maniac Mansion, finding a way to have those characters work together was new. DOTT was not as hard as people seem to remember though. Dave Grossman co-directed it and lots of his work which would be seen later on Moop & Dreadly and the Telltale Games catalog was definitely in place here… and they were equally Tim’s. Simplifying things to extract humor and thoughts but not making things so hard. The same can be said with Full Throttle, a game that was much more about fun, humor and story then trying to make things hard or complicated. It was short and balanced and even combined a difficult but not impossible action sequences, the first hint that Tim felt the best way to expand the genre was to simplify puzzles and add different types of gameplay. Full Throttle also showed Tim’s great and intriguing choices in voice casting and focusing on getting performances that would really show off his hilarious quips and really thought out storytelling. Mark Hamill, Maurce LaMarche, Tress Macneille, all inspired choices who at the time were established actors known to animation and genre fans worldwide. Then with Grim Fandango he flipped EVERYTHING upside down and made a 3D game with difficult controls, an abstract plot and even more abstract casting with voices everyone knew… Tony Plana, Maria Canals, Alan Blumenfeld and Pamela Segall-Adlon were all established actors with careers. It was an indication that if Tim could he’d really reach as far and as wide to get performances above and beyond that of a normal video game. The kind of performances we have all slowly now gotten used to, but back then… not even close to the norm.

Then… Tim Schafer stopped making point and click adventure games. Psychonauts had puzzles, but it was also an action platformer and one that took that genre into new directions with a heavy emphasis on conversations, visual cues, great storytelling with depth, and amazing acting performances. There was some really interesting casting on it with Armin Shimmerman, Josh Keaton and Tara Strong. He also proved a dedication using a lot of the talent from Throttle and Fandango. Then came Brutal Legend, turning the entire third person action adventure game in new ways and at times trying to do also way too much by adding Real Time Strategy. Yet, inspired casting, dialogue and story really leaped and showed Tim’s true talents as a director. Jack Black, Brian Posehn, Tim Curry, Jennifer Hale, Cree Summer and of course getting those legends of Rock.

After Brutal Legend and how it fared though Double Fine went smaller and Tim became a department head, while other voices in Double Fine showed how equally awesome they were. Costume Quest, Stacking, Iron Brigade, Middle Manager of Justice were all brilliant and definitely Double Fine games which also felt like Tim games even with Tasha Harris, Lee Petty, Brad Muir and Kee Chi as directors.

All this brings us to BROKEN AGE and I’ll start with this. I love it, I understand any negative reviews and complaints but respectfully disgaree with them and I think this is something all gamers who want a new experience that at the same time feels old. Tim’s handprint is all over this thing. The jokes are aplenty and funny. Some are easily missed if you don’t experiment at illogical things, but there comes the real fun of adventure games. This is the linchpin of everything for me. Tim has created something that is funny, heart warming and full of depth. Are the puzzles easy? I guess. I’ve seen plenty of people also stating they were stuck in places and actually turning to a walk-through or asking for a hint, so I think the balance has been hit. A delicate balance that any game of this type will have had trouble juggling. I believe they have done so successfully. We also really get everything we’ve gotten from Tim in the past, innovation, the next step. This is the game he’d of made in 2014 as an adventure game especially if Psychonauts and Brutal Legend were point and clicks if he had complete control without publishers and never turning to Kickstarter in the first place. Turn to Kickstarter he did though and that created a whole different setup. Because this might not be the game he would’ve made under a publisher. A publisher would’ve maybe given him that little amount asked for and then he’d make a game and publishers would complain instead of fans. All this could be wrong, but it’s what I feel and isn’t that what reviews are, feelings?

I think the biggest thing that makes BROKEN AGE special is twofold.

Firstly, taking the evolution of casting to the next level. Tim brought in a ton of old friends along with him, including the folks with him since Day of the Tentacle and even bringing back Jack Black, as well as Cree Summer and even recruiting Wil Wheaton again. It’s the NEW people that are so exciting though. In the leads Elijah Wood (yes, that guy!), Masasa Moyo (best known for Team America: World Police and Young Justice), and David Kaufman (Danny Phantom and animated Jimmy Olsen); joining them in minor roles are major voice actresses like Hynden Welch and Grey Delisle with a final extra special appearance by the creator of Adventure Time & Bravest Warriors (and the voice of Spacy Lump Princess) Pen Ward. It’s like the greatest cast ever in forever for anything.

Secondly is the art style. No game has ever looked like this, because no game has ever tried to look like a painting by Nathan Stapley (well other than the Flash game on Double Fine.com based on his comic book). While he’s been an employee at Double Fine for a long time and was previously at Lucas Arts, his personal work is something special and other worldly. His palette and style has a frenetic energy that has not been seen by many… not even his occasional mate and fellow Double Fine employees Scott Campbell, Levi Ryken or Lee Petty. “Bagel” is a very special artist and that comes through every image in the game. While Peter Chan and the other artists I mentioned had a major part in the concept art, the final look of this thing is still all through the eye of Nathan.  Words really do it no justice, so here’s two screen shots.  One from the “fantasy” world and one from the “space” world.  Both have all the artistic influences in here and really show off how absolutely beautiful this game is.

The final word from me is you need to get BROKEN AGE. Be it now (released February 28th, 2014) off STEAM to experience the awesomeness of ACT 1 and marvel at an amazing Part 1 or waiting for the whole game off of Humble and other sources. I say play it now… as you get the entire game. Also grab the soundtrack.

I’m being hacked by Double Fine!


—TRACE BEGIN—
> CONNECT host:www.hacknslashthegame.com port:80
> SEND ApplicationData
>> GET /download/hacknslashannouncement.txt HTTP/1.1
>> Host: hacknslashthegame.com
>>
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Server: Apache/2.2.15 (CentOS)
Connection: close
Content-Type: application/octet-stream

DOUBLE FINE ANNOUNCES PUZZLE ACTION GAME HACK ’N’ SLASH
Former Amnesia Fortnight Prototype to Launch in First Half 2014, Supported by Indie Fund and friends of Double Fine

SAN FRANCISCO–December 10, 2013–Double Fine Productions today announced that Hack ‘n’ Slash, a hacking themed puzzle action game for Windows, Mac, and Linux, will release in the first half of 2014. A version of the game debuted during Double Fine’s Amnesia Fortnight 2012 internal game jam. It was selected by the gaming public to be turned into a two-week prototype, after garnering more votes than any other Amnesia Fortnight pitch.

In Hack ‘n’ Slash, a young elf uses her computer hacking skills to cheat her way through a classic action/adventure game. The game was funded by Indie Fund, Humble Bundle, Hemisphere Games, make all, AppAbove Games, Adam Saltsman, The Behemoth, Morgan Webb, and Rob Reid as part of a two-game deal that also includes Spacebase DF-9, which released in Early Access Alpha and recouped its investment within two weeks.

“I’ve always loved games with lots of secrets in them,” said Hack ‘n’ Slash project lead Brandon Dillon, “and when I first discovered a hex editor in an emulator, it dawned on me that I could be a kind of digital treasure hunter—no game could keep even its deepest secrets from me if I adventured long enough in its code and memory.”

By subverting old-school gaming tropes with unique hacking mechanics, Hack ‘n’ Slash allows non-programmer players to experience that same sense of mystery and discovery.

“Look, I’m going to be honest with you here: I don’t really understand what’s going on inside this game’s code,” said Double Fine president and CEO Tim Schafer, who claims to possess a degree in computer science. “I believe it contains ‘algorithms.’ But I know what’s going on inside my heart when I play it. And that is joy.”

“We’re psyched to be helping with Hack’n’Slash because Amnesia Fortnight projects are about empowering individual creators,” said Indie Fund partner Ron Carmel, who definitely possesses a degree in computer science. “And I can confirm that this game’s code does contain algorithms.”

Hack ‘n’ Slash will be released for Windows, Mac, and Linux on Steam and DRM-free in the first half of 2014. It will include algorithms.

> CONNECT host:hacknslashthegame.com port:443
> SEND ClientHello suites:TLS_RSA_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA certs:x509 random:xIl3HWupPdsvwY94XV3UHtW04aE/wT4X8p7FmdSxW5w=
RECV ServerHello random:Up2+Rmzxa4CFywMpfAMCBn7wJHaiBnwEGslWPq4QaTQ=
RECV Certificate [verified]
RECV ServerHelloDone
> SEND ClientKeyExchange premaster:AwKV0UmxkA/iXZ4Y4NDn0P1Ju/m6GNL10FR7PuJae/83Ghy3Eo+6qDiJwQsNzjyB
… [encrypting provided premaster]
> ENCRYPT
… [computing master key]
… [sending ChangeCypherSpec]
> VERIFY
… [computing verify_data:Tcz7sewhNdF70Xmd]
… [sending Finished]
>SEND ApplicationData
>> ******************************************
>> ***************************
>>
… [sending ApplicationData encrypted_payload:9Uxik4wGjQEoga0gznSZM7H+x4gnbdG9iqVwCOucgvE=]
… [sending ApplicationData encrypted_payload:Z41sWWPE2pPTxXnfbb/ju+g9NGrE/7gMltSvCW2J5aLCjH0R5k8E1iHJydJ1OuguAyZqKPlUDOxVZ6I1dnIJkPBXre5y2wcZU5misdX8Hk+exdqsbpjeDRwQKxwxcOTm]
wqbzvEF9EWuIshMxNfrvhg75TbHD5/WY4dA8m73GW6kX6S7lszdMKCKr3QWz0/2EAwdkU51tyAqEMB1DR87/9PnAXnECqvbVZLWL8MBNgcyd4ri+YzRDF/R+XbJ3qXbRIfuaiJGqjB8AQSYTHdmBIqdcamc6404t5cw0Gx7oRyYmudXx4CZ1D2fpD801jKNOm/Zv0saw3XwF7j0gPvvKZBWmUzwGc9L8PNFkKzsliozmBUxyE3hdRu0L7G5fqviPejgjau3VBC3LI64nvNz8yQ27yoZKpaqAlAV69tnPkwqTGeXgFM6ev4w6CTFUYPHucogo5OJ3V0G0n69k8+aljaeeNTuVzmRML9bHJdzVB4s252NF2PrgPlzGQIgbih7P4unwshrtCLeg8zLF0AApCA==
—TRACE END—

A Fortnight of Amnesia in 2012 gives us more Doublefine Sausage AND 5 new game prototypes

Double Fine Games came into super extra megaton popularity earlier this year with their monumental Kickstarter that launched the  excellent Double Fine Adventure game now codenamed REDS along with the so far six episode documentary Doublefine Adventure from 2 Player Productions.  If you aren’t already a backer on that and getting to enjoy the awesoment development, art, production and stories on this future old school inspired modern adventure point n click adventure game from the mind of Tim Schaefer and as of now featuring the art design of Peter Chan, Scott Campbell and most specifically Nathan “Bagel” Stapely, there’s still time with their Slacker Backer program.  That isn’t what this is about though. In the continued interests of opening of their doors to all, Double Fine decided to take their annual two week new idea/prototype development session a public event.  Titled Amnesia Fortnight, previous years have brought forth prototypes that gave us games such as Costume Quest, Stacking, Trenched and Once Upon A Monster.   Now this year we’ll be seeing five new prototypes, but for the first time these prototypes will be shared with the public.  Well that is if they buy into the Humble Bundle for the program.   Not only will one get these 5 new prototypes though, they’ll also get three old prototypes if they give at least the minimum top price suggested on the bundle.  Humble Bundle gives to charity as much as it does itself and the developers, you get to choose how much you give for how much you get and how it gets allocated.  The three prototypes available are Happy Song (which became Once Upon A Monster), the original Costume Quest and a game called Brazen which was made in last years Fortnight and is now being prepared for further development.  Along with the prototypes you’ll also get documentary episodes of the daily progress on the development produced by 2 Player.  On top of all that there is also a live stream from twitch, running from 10 AM-6 PM PST.  It has been running since last week and shall continue along till the games are ready to be shared in the two week process. Each of the five games being developed were actually whittled down from 23 pitches from various Double Fine employees which were voted upon by fans who discovered the Humble Bundle project on day one and wanted to be right on the ground floor.  It could be said the five best choices were selected, but some of the games not being worked on this Fortnight definitely deserve exploring at some point and I believe this is honest being considered.  Of the five games I personally am excited for the two artistically envisioned games, but from the work shown on all them they should all be awesome.  Here’s a list of the five, short descriptions based on my personal understanding, and a cool progress image that shows what I think is exciting.  More images can be seen on the Doublefine Tumblr and the Doublefine forums. The White Birch: A plat-former with exploration, there won’t be foes, but the protagonist must continue climbing and exploring to reach the top of a strange tower where an actual White Birch tree sits with a prize and I assume the only way home.  I believe the prizes and exploration will change in repeated playthroughs as there will be multiple paths to the top, but not ways to actually go back and explore the other paths once you choose one.  Here’s some early concept art from Derek Brand.

Black Lake: From the mind of Levi Ryken, this looks like it’ll be a 3rd person top down perspective.  You’ll be playing a mythical animal hunter who doesn’t actually hunt, but uses some type of dream control mechanic to capture these supernatural beasts in a combination of action/adventure and another mechanic not fully explored.  Levi’s art concepts are what really attracted me on this one.  Here’s a final version of the lead protagonist he designed.


Autonomous: The brainchild of Lee Petty, the same man who gave us the ingenious STACKING, this is set to be a first person game (the first 1st person game from Double Fine they keep saying, although I thought that the cancelled SPECS was first person).  In it your character programs, but does not control Automotons… also known as robots.  Through basic input these bots will help the character explore and survive the world he has found himself in.  The team is hard at work on robots and especially making really awesome looking arms that would be the main inputting.  Here’s Lee’s early arms design that 3d modeller Ray Crook has been building furiously.

Spacebase DF-9:  A simesque game that being pitched/promoted as Dwarf Fortress in Space with graphics (and I assume simpler mechanics).  You’ll be building a spacebase, hiring employees, setting up shop, and placing characters in situations and then watch what happens, with each playthrough creating a virtual fiction/story that I assume can be easily shared.  I have to admit I am still not sold completely on where the fun is here.  I understand some people find this fun and once upon a time I actually thought the idea of games like this sounded like the most fun ever, but I’ve changed.  What I feel shall be one of the saving graces of this game is the creative minds of DF  instilling their humorous creative juices and also that Nathan Stapely is working on the character designs that will if anything make the game fun to look at.  I know I keep using the word game, instead of demo and/or prototype… as none of these will be full games, but a game is still something someone can play and hopefully have fun with, so… game.  Spacebase doesn’t really have any mockup graphics to show off that make me go “Oooh…” but the twitch.tv stream showed Bagel working on the characters and they look great.

Hack n Slash:  A NES/SNES Zelda-esque game in which instead of slashing away at stuff, you actually try to hack the game using codes, glitches and various secrets to find your way around monsters, walls, and more.  Team leader, head programmer Brandon Dillon really seems to have most of the game figured out mentally, so it all comes down to the programming itself.   Mark Hamer has come up with a great character design and Raz has conceptualized an awesome background, so visually this game is looking awesome.  I actually at first really couldn’t even see how this game would work, but I really do look forward to it.

So get in on the ground floor now for what could be the next best great Double Fine game to come after the upcoming The Cave from the mind of Ron Gilbert, the iOS superhero management sim Middle Manager of Justice, the sequel to Double Fine Action Theater known as Kinect Party, Double Fine Adventure and who knows what else they have up their sleeves.  If the 2012  Amnesia Fortnight is any hint to some of the ideas running around, expect awesomeness.