Remastering a Legend
In 2015, lots of devoted gamers celebrated when Grim Fandango was brought back to life. Created by the now-defunct LucasArts, 1998’s “Game of the Year”* was only playable for a few years before fast-advancing technology left it behind.
Set in a shadowy afterlife, Grim Fandango was mourned by the living for well over a decade until Sony and Disney (which now owned the property) decided to revive it in 2014.
Shiny Shoe was brought in to work on the relaunch in tandem with Double Fine Productions, a studio founded in 2000 by Tim Schafer, the game’s original designer, and the driving force behind the reboot.
Our assignment was to help make the legendary game playable on modern platforms, updating many aspects while preserving essential visual elements that made this “dark comedy neo-noir adventure game” a fan favorite and critical darling.
Filling a Void
“I don’t think I can overemphasize how loved this game was,” says Shiny Shoe CEO Cooke. So remastering this classic was like granting a wish for both older gamers who missed it and younger ones who’d only heard of it.
“There was a long period of time when the game was unplayable. It was built for Windows 98 and didn’t work on modern operating systems,” explains Cooke, who worked on the original iteration as a LucasArts intern. He adds that die-hard fans had made it playable on modern systems for those gamers with a large amount of technical knowledge. “By doing the official remaster, we were able to make it accessible again to the average person.”
Collaborating with Double Fine, Shiny Shoe’s staff spent nine intense months in 2014-15 on the remaster, not only making the game playable on new platforms, but also adding new features.
Artists and developers were careful to preserve the integrity of the game’s original visual mix—a distinct fusion of film noir shadows and Mexican Folklore (think “Day of the Dead”).
Enhanced Game Controls
A lot had changed in 15 years and upgrading the game for modern players involved a number of improvements. “In the original game, players could control Manny Calavera (the main character) with the keyboard or a gamepad. It defaulted to an awkward and now ancient controls style referred to as “tank controls” by gamers because you drive a humanoid character like a tank with treads,” Cooke explains, continuing, “Modern games have moved away from this completely. In the remaster, we improved the keyboard and gamepad controls considerably with a more modern character control system.”
Double Fine and Shiny Shoe also added mouse and touch support. “On the PC, most adventure games are played primarily with the mouse. This adds a considerable amount of additional accessibility to the game. By adding touch controls we were able to bring it to mobile platforms,” he says.
Bringing it Up to Code
The game original codebase was built for 32-bit CPUs and the modern PlayStation 4 is 64-bit only.
“So we had to update a number of systems in the original codebase to function on 64 bit CPUs. In addition, the remastered version also shipped on systems with 32 bit CPUs, so we had to make all the code compatible with both,” Cooke says. “Players can also share save games between different platforms, so we had to ensure the complex save game format could be transferred between 32 and 64 bit machines without issue.”
New Rendering Engine
In addition to supporting the software rendering technology from the original game, the remaster includes a deferred hardware renderer with new lighting and shadow effects to enhance the atmosphere of the game while staying true to the original artistic intent.
Creating a new rendering pipeline that could co-exist with the original renderer while allowing the player to switch back and forth at will required a lot of effort.
Even Better Than Before?
Grim Fandango: Remastered was launched to much fanfare in January 2015. Released worldwide in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Brazilian Portuguese, its now playable on MS Windows, Mac OS X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Linux, Android and iOS. Response has been just as positive as the first time around.
In addition to the technical improvements described above, the new version also features a number of upgrades, including a recorded live-orchestra score, new lighting and more than two hours of exclusive developer commentary.
Shiny Shoe’s team was thrilled to participate on this project.
“It seems like fate that we ended up working with Shiny Shoe on Grim Fandango, and in many ways the game would never have achieved the level of polish we accomplished without them. We will continue working with Shiny Shoe well into the future, and it is amazing to see the passion for games that they bring to each new challenge.”
Matt Hansen, Vice President of Development at Double Fine
*Grim Fandango was voted “Game of the Year” for 1998 by Gamespot website, among many others.