So LucasArts is no more. But let's be honest, will anyone really notice? In recent years, the studio once held in the highest of esteem for pioneering a golden age of adventure games, and (dare we say it) superlative licensed titles, has become a byword for everything wrong with the industry - once dominant hive of creativity laid low by quick-buck sequels, haemorrhaging talent, and shameless greed from the parent company overlords. We've had barely a peep out of the in-house development team in years, with a hands-off presentation of Star Wars 1313 last year and a vague leak surrounding Star Wars: First Assault the only hint of life behind those closed doors.
With that in mind, there's perhaps not much to lament with the news that Disney has called time on LucasArts' existence. However, to borrow the words of High Fidelity's Barry, is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great studio for their latter day sins?
Of course not. And those sins are the reason LucasArts is now defunct. But we should take a moment to remember some of the greatness that has borne the Gold Guy logo, and recall a time long ago, when LucasArts was synonymous with awesomeness...
I think of LucasArts and I think of two very separate things: Star Wars and adventure games. The former is a given, and remember this was back in the days when licensed games didn't have to suck as a rule. As a studio, they nailed wish fulfilment. We wanted to be crack pilots in the battle between the Rebels and the Empire, and the X-Wing series provided. We wanted to be a smuggler and a Jedi, and stepping into the boots of Kyle Katarn gave us that opportunity too. Dark Forces was my very first FPS, and I loved it. When LucasArts handed their license over in these early days, too, collaborations gave us Jedi Knight and KOTOR.
But it's the adventure games that I miss the most - products of a bygone golden age that revelled in excellent writing, sublime wit, and clever design. As someone who transitioned in from Choose Your Own Adventure tomes, Fighting Fantasy books, and tabletop gaming, here were games that I could sink into, that didn't require me to have superhuman reflexes, and instead tasked players with immersing themselves in rich, extraordinary game worlds, and having lots of fun.
It started with the SCUMM tools and Maniac Mansion, but it would be the superb Full Throttle that snagged me first, back in 1995, before leading me through the SCUMM back catalogue to Gilbert's first work, and then on to the magnificent Monkey Island series. Playing at being a pirate is something to which so many children can relate, and Guybrush Threepwood was a perfect hero: he had the idealism and exuberance of youth combined with a razor-sharp wit that no child could really possess. And I wanted to be him.
The enduring popularity of the Monkey Island series is hugely evident today, as the Telltale-led spinoffs dominate every platform from PC and consoles to iOS and Android. But, truth be told, the series doesn't house the best adventure game ever made. That would come when LucasArts abandoned SCUMM for GrimE, made the jump from 2D to 3D, and created Grim Fandango.
No HUD, no obstacles to immersion, just you and a cast of crazy undead characters in a wacky cartoon noir tale filled with expertly designed puzzle elements, one of the best stories ever written (both involving skeletal taxi driving grim reapers and otherwise), and some of the finest humour ever witnessed in a game. Grim Fandango deserves a Blast From The Past all to itself, in all honesty.
With Disney set to essentially commandeer all of LucasArts' IPs for licensing purposes, the prayer that they might hit up Double Fine for a few revamps continues, and is perhaps more likely. We wouldn't say no to Jedi Knight IV either. Or a new Rogue Squadron for that matter.
LucasArts used to be synonymous with the best adventure games in the business. I've still got fond memories of questing through Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis on my Amiga 600, grubbing around in the pile of eleven floppies for the correct disc every ten minutes, not to mention the all-conquering Day Of The Tentacle, Monkey Island and Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders. Bounty hunters? We don't need that SCUMM.
But for me, LucasArts reached the pinnacle of excellence when they reached out to Lawrence Holland to develop a new breed of Star Wars game. Setting up an independent in-house dream team with little in the way of oversight, Larry created a fully-featured, uncompromising and grandiose space opera that would forge a proud lineage of superior space sims.
X-Wing. TIE Fighter. X-Wing versus TIE Fighter.
For the first time, we really knew what it would feel like to pilot the cockpit of the ships we grew up fantasising about, re-enacting or buying models of. Sidewinder Precision Pro flightstick in hand, I danced my fragile A-Wing through incoming Turbolaser fire, slaving my cannons together and diverting shields to double front, and reduced Mon Cals to slag with the fearsome firepower of my Assault Gunboat. We could forge our own path through the Star Wars universe, whether following the exploits of Grand Admiral Thrawn or leading suicidal attack runs on Super Star Destroyers in XvT. Instead of compromising and dumbing down, the X-Wing series felt authentic and real, and delivered a thrill that you'll rarely find today outside of digging out your N64 for a quick blast of the more straightforward Rogue Squadron.
It's a crying shame that this generation left flight sims behind, and poor old Larry found himself helming some miserable shovelware over the last few years. But every time I look back on LucasArts' legacy, I unconsciously hammer the F key to lock my S-Foils into attack position. Some things you just never forget.
Back when I was only just beginning my journey into the hobby that was computer gaming, adventure games, flight sims, and stategy titles had been my genres of choice. I had previously played some First Person Shooters, but I wouldn’t say that I was necessarily a fan of the genre… that is until I got hold of the sequel to Dark Forces in Jedi Knight. Once again placing players in the role of Kyle Katarn, it not only provided some of the best level design of its time, it gave players the first real chance of becoming a lightsabre-wielding Jedi.
Complete with some rather hammy Full Motion Video sequence that helped move the story along, we were able to decide whether to side with the light or dark side of the force, taking on enemies familiar and new as Katarn tried to stop the Dark Jedi from attaining unimaginable power. Of course, it wasn’t all lightsabre action, as players had an arsenal of weaponry at their disposal (I was always fond of the Wookiee Bowcaster.) Chasing down 8t88 over Nar Shaddaa with only Kyle’s blaster to hand was one of my favourite opening sequences.
The success of Jedi Knight eventually led to critically acclaimed expansion Mysteries of the Sith, pairing Katarn with EU fan favourite Mara Jade, giving us more of the high quality FPS action. Jedi Knight II (and later Jedi Academy) would refine the lightsabre combat, but I’ve always felt that Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II really pushed the boat in terms of providing a true Star Wars experience, something the LucasArts studio of yesteryear was infamous for.
What are your favourite LucasArts titles and fondest LucasArts memories from yesteryear? Let us know in the comments below.