The lights are on
We're saddened by the news that Disney closed LucasArts today. A lot of us at Game Informer grew up with LucasArts' games and have fond memories playing them. From its kooky adventure games to continuing to churn out interesting Star Wars titles, the company will be missed. As an appreciation for all the games the company has given us over the past 30 years, we reflected on what LucasArts has meant to us and some of our best moments with its games.
LucasArts will always hold a special place in my heart. Growing up a PC gamer, I spent countless hours dog fighting TIE Figthers in X-Wing, writing Kyle Katarn's legacy with a lightsaber in Jedi Knight, recovering ancient artifacts with Indiana Jones, and barreling down the open road in Full Throttle. Whenever a new LucasArts game hit the store shelves, my friends and I would move it immediately to the top of our want list. The quality of the games slipped greatly after that golden generation of games, but games like Knights of the Old Republic convinced me the publisher was still capable of delivering amazing games. I wish everyone who lost their jobs at LucasArts the best, and thank everyone who worked in its hallowed halls for giving me some of my favorite gaming memories.
When people talk about LucasArts and adventure games, titles like Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island are usually at the center of the discussion. While I can't deny the importance of those titles, I'll always associate LucasArts' contributions to the genre with Indiana Jones – and not even much-loved Fate of Atlantis. I loved the point-and-click interpretation of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I was still young when it first came out, so I hadn't ever seen an Indy movie before playing the game, but that didn't stop me from loving the character and his quest for the holy grail. It also introduced me to the concept of multiple solutions in an adventure game; I had previously only played King's Quest, which had a more rigid structure. Indy could either talk or fight his way through various situations, and one of the final stretches splits into two distinct paths (take the Zeppelin or fly the plane), which provided enough fuel for me to play through the game dozens of times. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade not only helped me build my gaming vocabulary, but also served as the perfect introduction to the Indiana Jones universe – which I still (mostly) love.
To all of the employees who worked at LucasArts, I hope you land on your feet and continue to be a part of this great video game family. After news of LucasArts' closing hit the Game Informer offices, I joined several co-workers in taking a video tour of LucasArts' game history. The lines "I need to play that again" and "this still looks fantastic" were uttered numerous times as we watched footage from Grim Fandango, Star Wars: X-Wing, Maniac Mansion, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and numerous other games. I find it hard to believe that a company with such a rich history – and all potential to live up to that history – is no more.
My memory may not be of LucasArts’ best game, but it is still one I hold dear. The Nintendo 64 was the first console that I was able to get shortly after its release. My brother and I saved up for a long time, but that wasn’t nearly as difficult as breaking down my parents to let us buy it. They finally caved, but didn’t let us buy any games initially. We had to rent them. It was my parents' clever way of limiting our play time. The first game we were able to claim ownership on was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. My parents bought it for my brother’s birthday and I remember looking at the shrink-wrapped box, secretly counting down the days to my brother’s birthday when we could finally play. When we finally got our hands on the game, we savored every level. It took us weeks to get through the game as we were very much amateur gamers at the time. Also, when we got to the speeder bike level, I just kept playing it over and over, which also slowed us down. A lot of people think of LucasArts’ point-and-click games, or its much better Star Wars games, but for me Shadows of the Empire was the first LucasArts game I ever really sunk my teeth into. I still have fond memories of the game, even if it hasn’t aged as well as other Nintendo 64 titles.
I've hit a lot of the high points in LucasArts' video game run, and I'm glad I'm left with nothing but good memories. From X-Wing to Dark Forces to Jedi Knight and the Rogue Squadron series, I haven't felt the need to play every Star Wars-branded title, and I'm probably the better for it. The possibility that the Star Wars franchise can be licensed out to third-party publishers and developers in a – hopefully – thoughtful manner is exciting for the future of the property. As long as Disney makes smart decisions (it can't much worse, can it?), we could see a resurgence for the Lucas' properties.
First of all, I'd like to send sympathies to all of those who lost jobs in today's shut-down of LucasArts. I had the opportunity over the years to work with many talented and capable people at LucasArts. Though I'd like to share some warm, fuzzy memories of LucasArts — and there are some, most notably the company's still classic adventure games developed by Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer — the fact is that the story of the company is, at heart, a tragedy. It's the story of a company that had all the technology, resources, talent, and classic IP in the world that somehow managed to squander it all through years of rudderless mismanagement. While there are exceptions, the Star Wars franchise has been mismanaged. The Indiana Jones franchise, which would seem to be a no-brainer for games, has had it even worse. Attempts for a new franchises went nowhere. Even successes, like Star Wars Battlefront, were left to die on the vine. It's a real shame.
I have very fond memories of Maniac Mansion, even though I didn't play it until the NES version was released. The quirky sense of humor, branching paths and replay value kept me engaged through multiple, consecutive playthroughs. Maniac Mansion taught me that there’s a little tentacle in all of us… and you should probably get that checked out by a doctor.
My fondest LucasArts memories almost all have to do with booting up my old PC in my parents’ basement. I played the point-and-click adventure Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis over and over until I ultimately ended up dressing as Indy for Halloween one year. Full Throttle was an impulse buy at a Barnes & Noble which ended up blowing my mind with its gorgeous cutscenes, genius puzzles, and hilarious dialogue. Then you have the whole suite of excellent Star Wars games like Dark Forces, Rebel Assault, and Tie Fighter. I have vivid memories of blasting through the sewers as intergalactic mercenary Kyle Katarn. The developer’s struggles this generation and eventual closure sadden me, because its early games helped shape me, not only as a George Lucas fan, but a gamer as well.
I love the old LucasArts adventure games as much as anybody, but I’d have to say that my favorite game from the company is Star Wars: Dark Forces. It might not look like much now, but Dark Forces was one of the first FPS games I ever played, and made me fall in love with the genre by capitalizing on my fondness for George Lucas’ sci-fi universe. Even without lightsabers or characters from the films, Dark Forces felt undeniably like Star Wars, and introduced me to what is really the only expanded-universe content I’ve ever been interested in. Even though Kyle Katarn’s falling scream was a stock sound effect being used well before Dark Forces, I still always think of the game whenever I hear it recycled in a movie or television show.
Being a sucker for most things Star Wars, back in 1999 I picked up a copy of (the surprisingly good) Star Wars Episode 1: Racer. In between races with Gasgano and Sebulba, my eye was drawn to an ad in the instruction manual for a mysterious game called Grim Fandango. Great art direction pays off: based solely on the bizarre look of the skeleton characters, I ran out and bought the game. As my first adventure game since the text-based Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy on the Apple II, I was immediately swept off my feet and tried to sell the experience to my friends by showing off the "action-packed" fight with Domino. It's funny, beautiful, and has a stunning soundtrack. With the insane, magazine cut-out look of the land of the living and an over-abundance of Robert Frost jokes, Grim Fandango immediately shot up my list of favorite games of all time and remains there to this day. LucasArts, you'll be missed. Disney, get this game on Steam.
It’s easy to forget that I used to look at the LucasArts logo as a reliable symbol of quality instead of a flashing yellow warning light, but it’s absolutely true. I was an adventure-gaming junkie since the first time I fired up King’s Quest II, but I didn’t get a sense of just how much fun I could have solving puzzles (and, of course, getting stuck) until Maniac Mansion and the Secret of Monkey Island. Even with Leisure Suit Larry in tow, Sierra was downright stodgy compared to what the guys at LucasArts were producing.
One of my favorite things about LucasArts wasn’t tied to any particular game or franchise. The company had a free quarterly newsletter called The Adventurer that revealed info on upcoming games, showcased the talented people behind them, and introduced me to Steve Purcell’s excellent Sam & Max comics. If the people making the games weren’t having the times of their lives, they did a great job of faking it. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and I looked forward to every issue.
LucasArts was my go-to for adventure games like Grim Fandango, Maniac Mansion, and Monkey Island. I'll forever be thankful to the studio for opening me up to genre and believing in it. The possibilities always seemed endless when I loaded up one of those games, and I could always tell there was a lot of heart, creativity, and passion in the titles. More importantly, I played many LucasArts games in a group of friends and those memories are forever with me. I can't even begin to count all those light bulb moments as we finally figured out how to solve a nagging puzzle. Talk about literally jumping for joy. I always looked to LucasArts for the next best adventure game, and it's sad that things have changed. But I thank those who worked hard to make those games the childhood-defining experiences they were.
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