Last week brought the devastating news that the Walt Disney Company had decided to close LucasArts, the video gaming arm of George Lucas’ media empire. Setting aside criticisms that the company lacked direction and turned into a factory that pumped out Star Wars video games, LucasArts played a major role in the early days of PC gaming with classic hits like The Secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango and paved the way for industry talent such as Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer. Join us today as some of our editors reflect on the impact the company made on them – for better or for worse.
It’s been a long time since I was into Star Wars, but I still have fond memories of playing Star Wars video games when I was younger. One of my first gaming loves was the LucasArts game, Shadows of the Empire for the N64. Going back and playing it now, it doesn’t really hold up, but I still remember playing it for hours at my cousin’s house. The 3D worlds were stunning to me as a child, and as far as I was concerned the gameplay was top notch. Looking back, that was my first real exposure to Star Wars as a living breathing universe. I played many more Star Wars games in middle school, especially the Rouge Squadron games, which I could spend hours and hours on. Flying through space and dogfighting Imperial starships was thrilling, and I’d never played anything quite like it. Those were some of the first games I ever actually beat. I still wish Factor 5 had gotten a chance to make another one, perhaps they will someday. Other highlights of those years were Battlefront, Podracing, Attack of the Clones for the GBA, Revenge of the Sith for the DS and PS2, and Jedi Knight II and III. All these games inspired me to read some of the expanded universe books, and started my obsession with Star Wars that would last for quite a while. It’s too bad that LucasArts is closing down. They were responsible for or published many of my favorite childhood games. Hopefully all those out of work will be able to find jobs elsewhere, and hopefully there will still be good Star Wars games to play.
I’ll remember LucasArts for its few wonderful successes with the Star Wars franchise, as much as for its repeated failures to follow up on those successes. When Jedi Academy finally perfected Jedi-action combat back in 2003, that series dropped off of the face of the Earth. The formula for making a great, single-player, action-adventure game was in plain sight, but it was never put to use again. Also in 2003, Bioware made one of the best licensed games of all time in Knights of the Old Republic. LucasArts bungled that success about as badly as you could do it. First, they unwisely forced Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords out the door well before it was ready in an attempt to get it on the shelves for the 2004 holiday season. Then, they abandoned the single player RPG altogether, flushing that wonderful series down the toilet. In 2005, they published Republic Commando, a quality squad-based first person shooter. Instead of following up on that success though, they abandoned that idea too. As a result of all of these missteps and the mediocre Force Unleashed games, the Star Wars license has been tragically irrelevant to video gaming this generation.
Even the misty eyes of Star Wars veterans can’t avert their eyes from Lucasarts’ pitiful output this generation. Fracture, the failed Force Unleashed franchise, and a handful of middling Clone Wars products made it obvious that the company responsible for pushing Star Wars video games was on the edge of the Sarlacc for a while now. Why did Republic Commando see no modern sequel? Where was Battlefront III? Did you really think Starkiller would be the bastion of hope for a new branch of Star Wars? I can’t say I have any memories of LucasArts’ legendary backlog of adventure games, but my childhood was brimming with interactive Star Wars experiences that helped fuel an unhealthy addiction for years. The unfortunate truth that no LucasArts fan wants to face is that the company was never making incredible games, but they were making fairly impressive Star Wars experiences. I’ll begrudgingly accept that I have to thank LucasArts for the Jedi Knight series and the countless hours I’ve spent indulging in the bizarrely loyal modding community that followed. I curse the what-if’s and the unfinished products, but LucasArts gave me over a decade of Star Wars experiences with close friends that I will continue to cherish. Live long and prosper.
I have a very different story about LucasArts than most people. The first game I had truly played by the studio was the absolutely atrocious Star Wars: Obi Wan for the original Xbox. It was a game riddled with bugs and problems galore but I was ten years old and to me it was the coolest thing in the world. I remember playing the second level over and over again as I kept on dying and dying due to poor controls, my inability to figure out what was going on, and the game just being awful. All I ever wanted was a game that made me feel like a damn Jedi! I finally got that experience when I played the later two installments of the Star Wars: Jedi Knight series. I mostly played against bots at first because I was young and afraid of competitive multiplayer but soon I was going all out with hours upon hours of matches. I really got sucked into the universe and fell in love with those games. It wasn’t until my years in high school that I found the adventure games LucasArts had made early on like the Monkey Island series, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango. All I can hope for now is that by turning the studio into a licensing proposition there will be some great studios, like Bioware or Double Fine, that can take the licenses and make them shine. Here’s to the future!
Let’s be honest: the writing was on the wall for several years now. The Force Unleashed franchise was squandered by the incredibly lackluster The Force Unleashed II. The noticeable lack of acclaimed games (both original and licensed) combined with constant personnel issues helped to spell doom. This doesn’t make their closure any less heartbreaking. When I started to really get into video games, LucasArts was there. From Dark Forces and Rebel Assault to The Secret of Monkey Island, Afterlife, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango…LucasArts was home to a great deal of talent and catalog of memorable adventures. Who can forget the thrill of battling against Dark Jedi in glorious 3D? Discovering the mysterious treasure of Big Whoop? Battlefront II? Barrelling down the highway in a 1960 DeSoto Adventurer? Sadly, the age of LucasArts’ best work makes them difficult to play on modern systems. If you’re listening, Disney, do the right thing and auction off the classic IPs. Or, at the very least, allow Good Old Games to make them available for a generation that doesn’t know the thrill of experiencing two pirates having a banjo battle.
Images courtesy of MobyGames