Thursday 4 April 2013

LucasArts closed and game over for Star Wars 1313

Rescue on Fractalus!, Ballblazer, Koronis Rift and The Eidolon are amongst my all-time favourite video games from the 8-bit era (I've written about them, previously)! These titles all emerged from the same studio in the 1980s: LucasArts.

LucasArts' (formerly Lucasfilm Games) story began over 30 years ago and, unceremoniously, ended this week. John Rivers takes a retrospective look at the studio synonymous with the point-and-click genre...

Guest post by John Rivers

There are some game studios that have their name unforgettably embedded in my memory: The Bitmap Brothers, Codemasters, Psygnosis, Sierra and, of course LucasArts. This week Disney announced that it has shut LucasArts and ceased all productions including the feted Star Wars 1313.

It was inevitable really, Disney is focusing all its Star Wars efforts on 2015 and the new JJ Abrams movie, but its decision to close LucasArts is the end of an era!

For me there are three or four games that will always remind me of LucasArts and not all of them classics. In fact the one that immediately springs to mind is one of the most fiddly and frustrating.

CD-ROM suddenly allowed you to actually feel like you were playing a movie. The huge capacity of a CD allowed for FMV to become prevalent and games like Myst and The Seventh Guest showcased the increased fidelity. Not so well-received (except perhaps in my house) was Rebel Assault!

Released in November 1993, Rebel Assault was an incredible looking and, at times, near unplayable journey through Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. It looked and, crucially for a Star Wars game, sounded fantastic. The on-rails nature of the shooting and ‘flying’ sequences betrayed a hapless game engine. Some levels were more fun if you skipped them. I remember if you moved your joystick up, down, left and right on the LucasArts logo then you would hear a whiny voice say “Lu-casArts” and you could skip levels.

Two other Star Wars games were much, much better: X-Wing brought the frankly dizzying prospect of a space fighter simulator to the Star Wars universe. It required great skills and tactical ability knowing whether to divert your power to your shields or weapons. Yes, it was frustratingly difficult and I remember getting stuck on a level where you had to protect a blockade runner. A colleague of my Dad’s had supplied me with a small .BAT program that I could run after successfully completing a mission. It backed up my pilot, so if he died I could fully restore him by simply copying him back in via DOS.

Dark Forces was the LucasArts entry into the First Person Shooter genre and put the terrible shooter memories of Rebel Assault to rest. Riding on the success of Doom, but using its own Jedi game engine, Dark Forces was atmospheric and exciting and showed that LucasArts could compete with the likes of id Software on their own terms.

The genre though that LucasArts defined is Point-and-Click and they arguably created its finest ever example.

The Secret of Monkey Island is one of gaming’s greatest franchises and greatest games full stop.

You play Guybrush Threepwood, who’s on the quest to become a mighty pirate. Funny, atmospheric and heavily based on Disney’s own Pirates of the Caribbean ride, TSOMI had an amazing plot that felt more like a movie than a game. You genuinely believe in the lead character and enjoy playing him as he goes from zero-to-hero. That I have this game on my iPhone and played through it all again, is a testament to how amazing it is. If you want to remember LucasArts then I suggest you download and play this game now.

LucasArts knew they were on to a good thing and what followed – Monkey Island 2, Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones & the Fate of Atlantis and Sam & Max Hit the Road (which I pre-ordered as a kid and waited AGES for them to release it) are all some of the greatest adventure games ever.

So, goodbye, LucasArts. You not only created some good games, but contributed to the overall history of games, too. You will be missed.

This post originally appears here.

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