Something amazing happened on Wednesday – the Day of the Dead. Tim Schafer, a senior member of adventure gaming’s Mount Rushmore, gave a very precious gift to the world by releasing the original puzzle design document for his epic game, Grim Fandango.

I’ll be honest with you: I was not a big fan of Grim Fandango. I found the new 3D user interface frustrating, as well as many of the puzzles being obscure and unsatisfying. Even Tim comments on this: “reading this again, I’ve realized that holy smokes–Some of them puzzles were nuts. Obscure. Mean, even.” But that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate quite how monumental an occasion this is, as we the public get an inside glimpse into the mind and workflows of a man who lovingly crafted some of the most influential experiences of my childhood, such as the inimitable Day of the Tentacle.

I use that word “crafted” because that’s exactly what this newly released document shows: true craftsmanship. We see the incredible attention to detail, the pacing of the narrative as it builds and as the puzzles get increasingly sophisticated, always coaxing the player along with them. As somebody whose spent the last few years trying to write my own adventure game, what struck me most about this document is the sheer simplicity of it – it’s well established that it takes a great deal of clarity and hard work to boil down something so vast as Grim Fandango into such a simple representation that conveys so much information in such a succinct way.

This is an incredible boon to amateur adventure game developers like myself, to get an insight into the creative process like this. Techniques such as the puzzle flow diagram is an incredibly useful tool for visualising the flow of the narrative and how the puzzles build and relate to one another – simple as it is. This is exactly the kind of help I needed to give me some very welcome motivation. Tim Schafer, I thank you! This is truly a precious thing you have given us, when it probably seems so ordinary and everyday for you. Now, Ron, how’s about doing the same thing for Monkey Island? :-)

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