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You Will Be Missed, Lucasarts April 15, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, You Will Be Missed.
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I’ve been following gaming news for over ten years and I’ve been involved in the industry for over eight years as a staff writer on various sites.  I understand that not all companies last forever, but there comes a time when you are so caught up in the activities of an organization that when it shuts down, a part of you goes with it.  It’s happened to me more times than I can remember, but here’s a list of companies from my experiences that are no longer with us.  They’ve either been shut down, gone bankrupt, or were taken over so badly that they are no longer the same company I loved.  It is a sad story to see such great potential end abruptly, but like life we have to move on, but we will never forget.

In the past several months, there have been an enormous list of closures in the gaming industry.  Many of these are companies that I would consider to be staples of gaming’s history, and its sad to see them gone.  Without them, who knows what will happen to the industry as a whole with them no longer able to contribute to it.  Will we truly have innovation anymore?

Out of these closures, one has impacted me the most, and that is the closure of George Lucas’s video game development studio and publisher, Lucasarts.

Lucasarts was one of the first major video game publishers on the market, and probably one of the strongest until a few years ago when the publishers started buying each other and increasing in size.  In the past, they had produced some of the best adventure games ever made.  Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Sam and Max Hit the Road, Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, Maniac Mansion, and the Monkey Island series were all published by them.  But lets not forget this was a part of the Lucasfilm empire and they also produced Star Wars video games.  They had a ton of great successes in the early 90s with some flight sim games like X Wing and Tie Fighter, which are to this day considered staples of the flight sim genre.  Since then, they had dominated the PC space into the 00s, with one heck of a catalog of great games to back that up.  Sadly, the glory days on the PC would not last forever, and this tale will not end well.

I first became aware of Lucasarts in the late 90s after I got my first real gaming computer.  I had been a fan of the Star Wars movies since 1994 when the movies started to reair on the USA Network, and I was excited to learn about any new stories which took place in the Star Wars saga, and read a lot of books on the expanded universe.  My father wanted to give me a nice gift for Christmas that year and he saw that Lucasarts bundled together six of their games into a single package called the LucasArts Archives.  When I got the games for Christmas, I immediately started to install them to my PC and started playing them.

Here was everything that a Star Wars fan could have wanted.  The opportunity to play around in the Star Wars universe as if I was there.  Depending on my mood, I could pick any perspective I wanted to view this universe from.  If I wanted to be a smuggler with a heart of gold, I could play Dark Forces.  If I wanted to be a hero fighter pilot, I could play X Wing.  If I wanted to fight from the imperial perspective, I could play Tie Fighter.  If I wanted something simple I could play in short goes like games of Solitaire, I could play Yoda Stories.

After I played through all the games that were included in the bundle, I noticed that about half of them were merely short preview demos.  When browsing through the included Lucasarts Catalog, I noticed that Lucasarts had a HUGE library of games which were available on the PC.  Having missed the early years of PC gaming, it looked like this was providing me a great opportunity to play catch up.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I finally got to live out my fantasy of becoming a Jedi in Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II.  If you would like to hear more about how I felt about this time, you can always check out my Podcast on the Jedi Knight Series.  When the end of the 90s hit, the first prequel Star Wars movie made it to the big screen, and with it some of the final Star Wars games for the PC.  They went out big, with the very enjoyable Episode 1 Racer, a game based around the only enjoyable sequence in Episode 1, and which took advantage of 3D Acceleration, and had a great sense of atmosphere and speed.

However, Lucasarts, once a major player for PC games, was now setting their sights exclusively on the consoles.  The Xbox, PS2 and GameCube offered some impressive hardware and boasted incredible sales figures, and I guess Lucasarts felt that they should start supporting them.  Practically overnight, most of the new game releases became console games.  As the latter prequels started to come out, they switched away from the PC and instead made games for the consoles like Star Wars Starfighter and Bounty Hunter.  While Starfighter got a PC release due to its critical reception and decent sales, many of the other games they released to consoles during this era would never see a PC port.  The PC gamers were promised the best of the lot, the game Obi Wan, which was supposed to be a spiritual sequel to Jedi Knight, as well as a retelling of Episode 1.  Sadly, that game was cancelled, and later brought over to the Xbox, where it was a critical disappointment.  The company wasn’t perfect, it had produced some flops, and not all of them were Star Wars related.  RTX Red Rock for the PS2 was practically unplayable, although it had some great cutscenes.

By 2003, game development was slowly returning to the PC as the generation’s consoles started to get long in the tooth, but in a lot of cases, PC games from Lucasarts would see a release on at least one other game console.  They were also looking away from developing their own games in-house and instead started publishing games made by independent developers who had made a name for themselves delivering some unique games.  This was when they announced that developer Raven Software, which had previously had developed the biggest hit game for the Star Trek franchise with Elite Force, was going to do the official sequel to Jedi Knight, called Jedi Outcast.  They also announced that Planet Moon Studios, which had previously showcased their own unique brand of humor with Giants: Citizen Kabuto, would develop a standalone game with an entirely new IP called Armed and Dangerous.  These games were great, and a ton of fun to play on the PC.

What will probably be the most famous pairing from this strategy was when they teamed up with developer Bioware, who had already made a name for themselves with their role-playing games based on the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset, and published Knights of the Old Republic. While KOTOR is still considered by many to be the finest Star Wars game ever made, sadly this game was followed up by a very disappointing sequel and a lukewarm MMO reception with Star Wars Galaxies.

With the dawn of the current generation consoles on the horizon, Lucasarts showed off what they had planned for the next generation.  An entirely new franchise was coming for us called The Force Unleashed, which was intended to become a major portion of the Star Wars franchise.  We would now be able to explore EVERYTHING that could be done with The Force beyond our wildest dreams, and Lucasarts saw fit to tease gamers by promising we would have the opportunity to pull a full-sized Star Destroyer out of the sky!  Sadly, the game could not live up to its hype and disappointed many players.  Personally, I thought the game’s story was interesting, as well as its art style, but the gameplay was terrible.  I hoped they would fix all the original game’s problems when they announced The Force Unleashed II, which fixed some of the original’s gameplay problems, but was an extremely short game with a terrible story.  Sadly, this is for many the last game most people can remember coming from Lucasarts which is why I think so many people aren’t as upset the company shut down.

With the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney, I immediately became worried for many of the companies that went along as part of that deal.  Sadly, Disney already has some game development studios of their own, and Lucasarts became obsolete.  Still, I remember them for their entire catalog, not just their disappointments, and I’m very sad to see them go.  They were in the process of making a major future generation game called Star Wars 1313, which looked to be about the underworld of Coruscant.  The game looked amazing, and drew a lot of attention at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo.  It looks like that project is now dead with the company’s closure.

Please, raise your glasses.  To Lucasarts.  May the Force be with you all.

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