Gaming

Rest in Bits: LucasArts

Lucasarts Logo

Looking back

When I first began writing this, a week had passed since Disney announced it was effectively shutting down LucasArts, the 30 year old game studio it inherited when it purchased George Lucas’ “empire” for four billion dollars.

Though more known for its Star Wars games in the last decade, its rich history and early innovations have left an indelible mark on the minds of those gamers fortunate enough to join them on the journey from the beginning.

Like many, I want to share those memories, both good or bad, and thanks to the Internet we can make sure they aren’t forgotten.

So here are my thoughts on many of the great games from this one little company. I hope they revive fond memories for you or perhaps convince you into trying them out and seeing what the fuss was about.

Rescue on Fractalus

This was my first LucasArts (then called Lucasfilm Games) game and still fondly remembered. You played a pilot whose mission was to travel down to the plant surface and rescue crashed pilots.

It was interesting how this game was more about saving lives than taking them. Rumour has it when George Lucas first played it he couldn’t understand why there weren’t guns on the ship so it could defend itself. So the game mechanics were changed to incorporate basic gunplay.

Graphically it was well ahead of the curve. The fractal mountains were a sight to behold on those 8-bit machines.

Koronis Rift

A follow up to Fractalus replaced the towering mountains with flatter terrain in exchange for more gunplay as you drove your tank over the planet searching for alien artifacts.

A sense of urgency was also introduced; the longer you remained in a rift the more likely the automated defenses would defeat you. However, the reward might just be worth it as you find that expensive loot.

Ballblazer

This was the first game that wowed me on the strength of its intro alone. One on one space soccer in hovercraft and a hellishly catchy jingle which I don’t think I will ever forget. I suppose you could call it glorified Pong but it was a pure arcade style game that was easy to pick up but required time to master.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Graphic Adventure

This was my first exposure to the SCUMM adventures and it was as great an introduction as you could wish for.

It was the first of them to introduce simple arcade style segments to mix up gameplay between sections. Okay, you were mostly punching Nazis but it was a nice diversion.

A neat feature though was that if you played well enough you could even avoid most of the Nazi fisticuffs. In addition, a “grail diary” bundled with the game ultimately helped the player solve the final puzzle, thus providing not only information but a unique form of copy protection.

Day of the Tentacle

Of all the classic SCUMM adventures, this one might just be the perfect storm of design, creativity and humour.

For me, it was probably the first PC game I had ever seen that achieved cartoon quality visuals. In conjunction with the excellent audio, this game really was a shining example if the advantages of CD-ROMs.

That the developers also found a way to sneak in a copy of the original game (Maniac Mansion) was not only genius but perhaps a harbinger of what was to come with modern remakes.

Recent rumours of an HD version of this classic adventure being close to completion before the closure was a heartfelt loss.

Grim Fandango

The first LucasArts adventure to use 3D characters was also one of the most unique with its film noir setting based in The Land of the Dead. The choices made in both the art style and technology have helped it to age well.

The Curse of Monkey Island

Though not developed by the original creators, this was my favorite of the series thanks to the excellent 2D artwork and animation that lifted to game even higher than Day of the Tentacle.

I was also a fan of Murray, the talking skull.

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6 replies »

  1. Wow all of those memories. X-Wing and Tie Fighter were amazing games but two of my favourites weren’t on your list – Full Throttle and Outlaws. Those games were just fantastic and I will sorely miss LucasArts.

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    • Have to admit I forgot about Full Throttle! Really loved the opening section of the game and it had some killer animation too. That was a great game that also was the first of many to combine technology from their adventure games with (believe it or not) Rebel Assault. 🙂

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  2. Day of the Tentacle is, to me, the epic masterpiece of LucasArts’ heyday. Tim Schafer’s name belongs in the Game Designer Hall of Fame for that game alone (along with Dave Grossman’s). I always give Ron Gilbert credit for starting that ball rolling, though. Without his SCUMM engine and carefully worked out design ethic (which you can find his description of if you google “Why Adventure Games Suck”), I don’t think LucasArts would have risen to the heights they did. Yet somehow they could never compete, in terms of sales, with the inexplicably popular Sierra (inexplicable pre-Jane Jensen, at least).

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