Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

RIP LucasArts

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 4, 2013

My birthday is over, but the party continues!  Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon is on sale for 50% off right now via this site, and also Desura.  Even though I’ve been at the indie thing for a long time and know how it works, I’m still surprised at how many people I’d expect to have heard of the game actually have not. Like, most. Apparently, I suck at marketing. I appreciate the help you have all given me in trying to spread the word around.

Yesterday’s trivia contest answer was “Shiela Bones,” the poor rogue whose companions were all slain or turned into a small furry animal. The winner has received a copy of Dark Scavenger via Gamer’s Gate.

3079_duskToday’s contest prize is also through Gamer’s Gate… the sci-fi indie RPG 3079. Inspired by Minecraft and Fallout, 3079 is a futuristic, open-world action first-person role playing game. You arrive on a planet experiencing constant war. It is your duty to find out why the warring factions cannot find peace on their own & hopefully restore it yourself. All areas, buildings, items, quests and characters are randomly generated. And it’s…. cubey. Quite cubey. But while it looks like Minecraft, it plays pretty differently.

Winning this game will be a little different today. There’s no right answer. Instead, I want to talk about the demise of LucasArts. You can skip down to the end for details, but basically – I want to hear about your favorite LucasArts game in the comments.

R.I.P. LucasArts

I think it was a bookstore where I first saw some games proudly displaying the logo for “LucasFilm Games.” Ballblazer and Rescue on Fractalis, I think they were. I couldn’t afford them, and knew little about them beyond the screenshots and text on the cardboard boxes, and to this day I have never played them. But at the time, my thought was, “AWESOME! George Lucas is making video games now!” Even at the time, I realized that the filmmaker was probably not sweating 6502 Assembly code or anything, but I did believe he’d be overseeing production in some capacity. Maybe he did, on those first games. I don’t know.

Eventually, LucasFilm Games became LucasArts, and through the 1990s they were a powerhouse. Many of their best games were actually created externally, through companies like Totally Games (X-Wing and TIE Fighter).  Formerly, Lawrence Holland had worked internally with LucasArts to create one of my favorite early flight sims (circa 1989), Their Finest Hour: the Battle of Britain. My favorite part of that game was actually the manual.  It remains one of the best-written game manuals of all time – a distinction that it is unlikely to lose in an era where Pong‘s instructions are likely to be bypassed by the TL;DR crowd. Half of the manual was a history of the war, complete with stories told by pilots who’d been on both sides of the battle.

x-wingX-Wing was awesomeness surpassed only by the sequel TIE Fighter, but I still preferred the first game simply because it fulfilled a longstanding fantasy. I was a hardcore Wing Commander fan at the time, and the two games were very different in style. I was trying to explain to a friend (and fellow X-Wing addict) about how I’d like to blend the strengths of the two games, and she shook her head and explained, “For you, X-Wing is a game. For me, it’s more of a religion.”

Another great movie tie-in title that I loved was Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. It was a wonderful blend of Monkey Island style humor and adventure-gamey goodness, coupled with an all-new adventure for the bullwhip-wielding hero, which as far as I’m concerned might as well be canon. After all, it was better than that Crystal Skull movie… Actually, IMO it was better than all but the first movie.

Embarrassingly, I’ve never played Day of the Tentacle or Maniac Mansion. That may be grounds for evicting me from the adventure gaming fan club, but I can at least say I’ve seen good portions of both games being played. Really, Loom was my introduction to the graphic adventure games of the 1990s – which I sadly finished in only two days (and could have finished in a single day if I’d realized I was so close to the end). After waiting a couple of days to play it because LucasArts had to send a replacement for a bad disk (which they did promptly with no fuss, I should add), it was kind of a let down. We replayed it on maximum difficulty to get the somewhat lame special scene only available in hard mode, but I do remember the story being really enchanting and cool. Just… short.

Not short enough to dissuade me from trying out The Secret of Monkey Island. Wow. The first two Monkey Island games were… just beyond awesome. Except for the stupid “Monkey Wrench” puzzle in MI2. I was very gratified to hear that Tim Schafer has finally admitted that that puzzle was stupid and unfair. I feel vindicated, twenty years later. I didn’t play the later Monkey Island games to completion, but in retrospect they were really good games. And the far more recent Tales of Monkey Island series from Telltale Games continue the tradition admirably.

And there were others. Sam & Max, for example, which was bizarre yet cool – which I keep promising myself I’ll finish one day. And Full Throttle – another one I’m rather regretful that I missed, which people tell me was an even more spectacular example of the graphic adventure genre than Day of the Tentacle.

GrimFandangoCoverBut the best adventure game of them all – to this day – remains Schafer’s Grim Fandango. I’m not sure I can tell you why – it’s been so long since I played through the whole thing.  I think it was a combination of the delightful weirdness of the setting (an entire world based on the Mexican Day of the Dead festival mixed with film noir? Really?), and the absolutely rock-solid, lovable (and hate-able) characters.

And one of the most loveable was the main character. While Manuel Calevera was the source of plenty of comedy on his own (spoken with a Mexican Spanish accent),  he was very, very different from other comic main characters like Guybrush Threepwood. He’s a film noir hero with comic timing – assertive, worldly, ambitious. At the end of one chapter, he finds himself stuck in a restaurant, inheriting the janitor’s job while he waits to find the girl, Mercedes (“Meche”).  The scene shifts to the next chapter – one year later – and Manny is now the owner of said establishment, and has turned it into a hot nightclub on the waterfront that might as well have been named “Rick’s Cafe” from the movie Casablanca.

And then there was Glottis. Glottis the elemental, Glottis the mechanic, Glottis the guy who can turn a hearse into a hot-rod.

And, sadly, the game was quite nearly the end for LucasArts adventure games. And, at least for me, the end of the time when LucasArts really mattered to me. They had one more lukewarm Monkey Island sequel in them, and that was that. At least until they licensed some remakes and the Tales of Monkey Island.

It’s been over a decade since then, and while there have been some really awesome Star Wars licensed games (LEGO Star Wars, the Knights of the Old Republic RPGs) in the intervening years, LucasArts as a developer and publisher has really been dead for a long time for me.  The people who made it awesome – who made these wonderful games – have since gone off and joined or started other companies. And they continue to do great things and make great games.

So really, the great studio that was LucasArts isn’t really dead. It’s just moved on. Literally. I feel bad for the approximately 150 employees let go by yesterday’s action, and hope they will rapidly find new employment and do great things in the games industry. Or maybe go indie and wow us with their skills. But yeah – LucasArts has really been pretty dead for a long time. So while I’m sad to see the era officially come to an end, if I were in Disney’s shoes, I’d probably have made the same decision.

WIN A GAME

Okay, so instead of doing Frayed Knights related trivia today, I just want your post in the comments telling us what your favorite LucasArts game is, and why.  Please use your real email address, which nobody else can see but I can use to contact you. I’ll pick a winner at random from among the commenters.  If for some reason you do not want the game (don’t want to deal with Gamer’s Gate, or you already have the game), add the note (N/G) (for “No Game”) to your comment, but feel free to participate.

Let’s all lift a glass to the LucasArts of old. The studio may be gone, but the legacy lives on in spades!

 


Filed Under: Adventure Games, Biz, Frayed Knights, Mainstream Games, Rampant Games, Retro - Comments: 16 Comments to Read



  • Jinroh said,

    So sad about Lucasarts, gave me some of my favorite games from an early age. X-Wing, Sam & Max, Day of the Tentacle, Maniac Mansion, Dark Forces, etc.

    My favorite is probably Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II like the first game I ever bought online for one thing, but really made me start getting interested in programming and the whole game making process. I used to go COG coding and simple 3DO modeling/animation and whatnot. Made a couple mods that sadly have not survived to this day. It was a great game and a very extendable engine. :)

    Lucasarts will always have a special place in my gaming heart.

  • Dan Barber said,

    RC, I’m going to echo your sentiments for my favorite LucasAtrs game, it is Grim Fandango. My wife and I played through many LucasArts adventures together, which definitely adds to my fond remembrances of their games in general, and for both of us Grim Fandango was just something very different from all the others.

    We loved Maniac Mansion (but never finished it), played all the Monkey Island games, including the Telltale reboot, but Grin Fandango has always stood out. Corruption and greed that continues on into the afterlife, that was just pure joy :)

    Thanks for some great games and memories LucasArts!

  • Blake said,

    I know Lucasarts has been falling for a while but the company played a big part in my upbringing. Namely with games like X-Wing, Tie Fighter, Sam & Max, Full Throttle,Maniac Mansion and DotT, etc.

    If forced to pick I HAVE to give Steve Purcell with Sam and Max a round of applause. His stylized animation of those fuzzy mongrels and dark humor mixing sophistication with macabre was far beyond it’s time. It took me back to the greats from Sierra Entertainment with a modern spin hitting the right notes like a pillowcase full of bricks.

    RIP LucasArts.

  • Luis Garcia said,

    I love all of the LucasArts’ PC Games, but if I have to choose only one of them, it would probably The Secret of Monkey Island 1.

    It was published just when I started to know PCs, and all the games I know were those on C64 and other 8-bit computers.

    It totally shocked me, and still today I think it has the best jokes in the games history. I have to install it and play it again…

  • SusanTheCat said,

    Star Wars Battlefront I and II are favorites at our house. My son and husband will still occasionally fire up a game.

    Surprisingly I miss all of their older games. Friends of mine have told me that I would like Monkey Island and Grim Fandango.

    Susan

  • Darius said,

    Picking a favorite Lucas Arts game is like picking a favorite child, I can’t do it.

    I will mention one of my many favorites that doesn’t tend to get a lot of love: Outlaws. It was a FPS built on the same engine as Dark Forces, and it was so blasted fun. It really captured the feel of the spaghetti westerns, and the music was fantastic. I copied all of the music to tape and had a mix of it and Ennio Moricone playing in my car everywhere I went.

  • Kyle Haight said,

    I’d have to go with Monkey Island II. It was the first game I played on the first PC I bought back in 1992. (Prior to that I’d been on an Apple //e, and a classic Mac — the former being a decade out of date technologically and the latter never a strong gaming platform.) To this day, the opening credits bring a smile to my face. I watched them again last night on Youtube.

    I think I still have the original box in the closet in my office. So long, LucasArts, and thanks for the memories.

  • Corwin said,

    Without a doubt, it was the first Monkey Island. While I’ve played many of the other LA adventure games, MI was my first ever and it simply blew me away. I still have a link in my bookmarks to a YT site playing the theme music and when I hear it, it takes me back to those wonderful days of SCUMM!!

  • Leopold said,

    Ballblazer and Rescue on Fractalis — two games my brother and I spent waaay too many late nights playing. Both *required* you to keep playing. They really sucked you in.

  • David W said,

    Gotta go with Curse of Monkey Island, myself, but my reasoning can pretty much copy Corwin’s: first really good adventure game I ever played.

    Most hours, though, that honor belongs to X-Wing. I was always thrilled when I could manage to take out a star destroyer – those shield generators really ought to have been armored a bit better!

    I actually have a copy of Grim Fandango around, but couldn’t get it to run. Maybe it’s worth seeing if GoG has a solution to that, seeing how highly rated it is on the other lists.

  • McTeddy said,

    Anything they made before the last few years.

    But, I’m going to answer Full Throttle just because of the memories. My first computer game purchases were an EA top 10 pack… and a Best of LucasArts pack.

    At the time though, those blocky text adventures like The Dig and Monkey Island were tough to get into. Full Throttle was beautifully animated and voiced…a simple click to do stuff interface… and even minigames like fighting on motorcycles and a demolition derby. Seriously… it was amazing for my kid brain.

    In fact… thinking back I am smiling and remembering ALOT of that game. I think I may have to go back and play it again.

  • Joseph F said,

    Like many of the others, I’m going to have to go with Grim Fandango – an absolutely fantastic game, and the soundtrack is always in heavy rotation chez moi.

    I will admit, however, to having spent (miss-spent?) a great deal of my youth force-choking enemies and flinging them into chasms in Jedi Knight II multiplayer…

  • CdrJameson said,

    Outlaws!

    Because it used the billboard-sprites-on-3D approach, one object was a cow’s arse. From every direction. Someone in LucasArts decided that it was the best view of the cow. Which was funny in a delightfully puerile way.

    It also had wonderfully satisfying guns (including a scoped sniper rifle) brilliantly layered levels and you lit dynamite with your cigar.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I’ve had the drawing for everyone above this post for the free copy of the game – grats to David W for winning the dice roll! (And David – lemme know if there are any problems)

    And thanks to everyone for sharing some of these memories. I’ll tell ya – I feel the strong desire to hunt down some of these games that I gave a miss to the first time around and check ‘em out (along with my remaining HUGE stack of unfinished / unplayed games that keeps getting larger every time there’s a big STEAM or GOG.COM sale).

  • BarryB said,

    Aside from the graphical adventures, no one ever mentions one of my LucasArts faves: Afterlife. It was a mix of SimCity, and parody of heaven/hell conventions. The explanation popups for each building on each side were extremely funny; you had two very different helpers with distinct advice; and the key to winning in each place was totally unlike the other. A truly clever, attractive, and tough game. And hey: even if you got seriously into debt, who doesn’t want to see The Four Surfers of the Apolcalypso show up, raining fiery death and destruction?

  • Greg Squire said,

    Whoa! I go on vacation for a week and they close down the studio that made most of my favorite games. :( I’m a big Adventure Game fan, so this news was a bit troubling. Yet I kind of thought something like this might happen with the announcement that Disney bought Lucasfilm/Lucasarts. However I figured that they would just absorb them into Disney Interactive, instead of a death blow like this.

    As for favorite Lucasarts game it’s hard to pick a favorite, but “Day of the Tentacle” might top the list for me. It was such a zany adventure and I loved the time travel aspect of it. The Chron-o-John method of moving items between the three times and characters was brilliant. I’d put “Secret of Monkey Island” and “Sam N Max Hit the Road” as a close second and third. I’ve never played “Grimm Fandango”, but I’ve heard so much good about it, I’m going to have to play it sometime. It just might become my new favorite.

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