Disney announced the other day that it was shutting down the storied LucasArts studio, putting to bed a development team that, though nothing but troubled lately, has historically been the source of some truly remarkable gems. We here at Scanline regret anyone losing their job, but LucasArts is bigger than just that to us– once upon a time, they created some of our favorite games. We decided it would be appropriate to take a moment to look back on the history of one of the biggest licensed studios in our industry.
I don’t remember if I ever actually tried to get my parents to let me get Doom as a kid, but I know that it would have been a complete nonstarter. Going into Hell to fight demons… this would not have flown. So Dark Forces, Star War’s answer to the sudden FPS revolution, was what I was weaned on– and dammit, I’m better for it. What a game, what a GAME. Intense, fun, at the time incredibly lifelike, and atmospheric. The oppressive might of the Empire pressed in on you from all sides as you strode boldly through their hallways, blaster in hand.
I remember when I was in high school, during the time of the Gamecube, my friends and I would sometimes play Rogue Squadron 3: Rebel Strike. Even at the time, we knew that it wasn’t quite the game its predecessors were, that LucasArts was starting to slide in quality, but we didn’t care, because it had one feature that was enough to sell us on the whole game. We would do co-op Death Star trench runs in A-Wings, the fastest damn fighters in game, with the throttle all the way up. It was a ridiculous game of sudden death twitch racing, and we never got CLOSE to that exhaust port. In our defense, though, if the trenches had been that perilous in the movies, neither would Luke!
As far as the classic Tim Schafer adventure games, I actually missed most of those back when they were big. The people I knew just weren’t talking about them, so I didn’t know about them myself. One day, however, my older sister (to whom I owe my introduction and enthusiasm for gaming) brought home Grim Fandango, and man. It was a time in my life where I was more in the mood for explosions and swords than logic puzzles and dry wit, but even then it blew me away. To this day, the puzzle with the pigeons on the roof is my favorite game puzzle solution of all time. Just incredible.
I could go on and on, but I’ve gone on too long already. You were a shadow of your former self when you closed, LucasArts, but I always was willing to believe you were one step from turning it around. I hope you guys find good jobs, and know that we’ll miss what you did there.
Even though I had seen Star Wars at a very early age, I wasn’t allowed near LucasArts’ virtual interpretations of the series until I was almost thirteen, for fear that the sword-fighting and shooting would turn me into a little deviant. However, that didn’t stop me from sneaking upstairs with my older cousin and watching him play through stacks of these games. There’s just something about the Star Wars setting that spoke to me; I imagine it has something to do with the perfect visual balance it strikes between dilapidated and futuristic. Rarely did I get the chance to wield the joystick or mouse, but even watching someone else pilot a TIE-fighter or run through the grimy streets of Nar Shaddaa was an experience.
Years later, after some begging and pleading, I finally started adding Star Wars games to my collection. The ones I were interested in all tried to integrate the player into a unique part of the universe; I collected bounties of ruthless criminals as Jango Fett, destroyed my brother in one too many podracing tournaments, and even clashed lightsabers with other Jedi online. Even if the stories were rubbish and the characters were bland, the games celebrated everything that made Star Wars special, and that was enough for me.
As an adventure game “fan” (I play so many of them but I also acknowledge that the genre is almost universally broken since the genre’s inception), this makes me something of a heretic, but I never really cared about LucasArts’ contribution to that genre. I’ve heard nearly universal acclaim for games like Full Throttle and Monkey Island, with fans calling them “timeless classics”. They may have the latter part right, but I knew the former was false as soon as I loaded up a few of the games last year. Every puzzle involves a train of logic only MacGyver could appreciate. I understand that the story is the part that most gamers appreciated, but the “game” part is so vile that you’re practically breaking your teeth on the hard bit of a candy to get to the gooey center. Every game Tim Schafer has made for Double Fine, including Brutal Legend, is a better game than any LucasArts adventure. Search your feelings, you know it to be true.
It’s sad to see so many lose their jobs at LucasArts, but I still hold out hope that Disney will be smart and license its newfound IP to some stellar developers. It would be great if the scattered remnants of Bizarre Creations came together for a shiny new podracing game, or Harmonix made Cantina Band, but such dreams are the ramblings of a madman who shouldn’t be allowed in spitting distance of any expensive license.