RIP LucasArts: An Obituary

By John Walker on April 4th, 2013 at 11:00 am.

It’s always genuinely sad when a game developer closes down. People lose jobs, many lives are affected, and the industry as a whole loses a degree of potential. But before now no news of a studio closing has brought me close to tears. The death of LucasArts, while perhaps inevitable to anyone following closely enough, has made me very sad indeed.

No developer has ever had such a wide-reaching, hobby-defining impact on my life.

It’s certainly sadly the case that the studio has made little I’ve cared about in a very long while. The Monkey Island remakes were as close as they got to me in the last, what, decade probably. But even they were emblematic of what the studio was capable of, of how much the people working there cared about their projects, no matter how successful they might have been.

At a GDC gathering last week, I was chatting to a LucasArts employee I’ll obviously not name. For me, he captured the sense that so many had at LucasArts – he loved it there, and he loved the people he worked with there, but he was planning to hand in his notice in a couple of weeks. He was working on a project he couldn’t mention, but was incredibly excited about. Thrilled to be working on. (A game we’ll likely of course never even know the name of now.) But still feeling like his time there was done.

Churning through CEOs, constantly horrendously mismanaged, and cancelling so many projects as to become farcical, it’s a wonder that LucasArts kept going until 2013. Cranking out Star Wars licenses, or indeed cancelling numerous Star Wars licenses, it had certainly lost a significant portion of its heritage. But it never seemed to lose its potential. Whomever you spoke to there, they still had the drive, the sense of a history that pushed them forward. They had some of the best in the business in many areas, especially sound and voice recording, and it always felt like they could at any time turn themselves around.

But of course no matter their recent state, they were and always will be the studio that brought us Day Of The Tentacle, Sam & Max: Hit The Road, X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter, Zak McKracken And The Alien Mindbenders, Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis, The Secret Of Monkey Island, Dark Forces, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Jedi Knight: Mysteries Of Sith, Maniac Mansion…

God, that’s a list of games.

The same studio in the same year gave us the incredible FPS Dark Forces, Tim Schafer classic Full Throttle, and adventure epic The Dig. That was some of 1995 for LucasArts. It’s a lineage the like of which gaming has never known since. This is who we’re losing.

These are games that defined my teenage years, and without question, defined gaming for me. I loved Dark Forces so much more than Doom – hell, you could talk to the monsters. Full Throttle may have been relatively short, and may have had racing sections, but it was an exceptional adventure game, packed with brilliant writing the likes of which the genre hadn’t seen before. And The Dig – I implore you to go back and play it again now. While its ending doesn’t quite match its potential, it’s an incredibly thoughtful, gentle and brilliantly paced game.

And clearly anyone alive for enough years will have a LucasArts game they wish to celebrate at immense length. Whether it’s the original X-Wing, or the peculiar god game Afterlife, or idiotic time wasted away on Indiana Jones Desktop Adventures, their genre-spanning genius reached everyone. It’s this that we’re losing now.

In the last few years I went back to many of their games for Eurogamer, finding that so many of them still stand out today. Here are my thoughts on Dark Forces, The Dig, Jedi Knight, Zak McKracken, Day Of The Tentacle, Armed & Dangerous, The Curse Of Monkey Island, Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis, and Escape From Monkey Island.

Yes, a look at their recent releases isn’t the most cheerful sight. A string of Star Wars prefixed titles stretches back for a decade, interrupted only by the peculiar misfire of Lucidity, an experimental platformer that never quite came together. For a new generation of gamers, that’s who LucasArts were – the Star Wars people, occasionally seeming to stumble on something decent, but mostly cashing in on the success of Clone Wars. And it seems their final release, their swansong, shall be Kinect Star Wars. It couldn’t be a more degrading end.

But I swear that they were still a company bursting with the potential to revive themselves. Everyone I spoke to there believed it. If only, it was said, there could be management who’d let it happen. Management confident enough to let a non-Star Wars licence make it through to release, and then remember to promote it when it got there. Management not resentful of a more successful past, willing to make the incredibly obvious moves of releasing their extraordinary catalogue of games for tablets and phones. Day Of The Tentacle on iOS is so stupidly clearly a sensible move, and yet one that was never taken. Damn, even getting their classic games onto Steam seemed to require juggernauts to drive them – and they absolutely always refused to speak about what they were hoping to get on there next, as if they were determined to flatten any excited buzz.

And now, in the hands of Disney – a company that couldn’t prove itself incapable of managing gaming more – LucasArts is gone forever. In a time when the adventure has revived itself, when digital distribution allows far smaller scale games to achieve big success, when people are desperate for that personal touch on the FPS, a studio – that with the correct management, the correct downscaling, and the important freeing of staff – could have taken such strong advantage of it all, is gone. No, of course they don’t have Schafer, Gilbert, Grossman, or Stemmle. But with their heritage, their IPs, and the passion of those still working there, it’s hard to believe the magic couldn’t be revived.

So goodbye, LucasArts. I bloody loved you. You were so damned important to me. You helped make 1988 to 1998 some of the most special years in gaming, and provided my childhood and teenage years with genuine joy. In truth, I was already missing you. I’ll miss you more now.

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153 Comments »

  1. InternetBatman says:

    I’ll never forget the makers of the Force Unleashed II.

  2. Skeletor68 says:

    Kyle Katarn and Mara Jade, how I miss you both.

    Going to have to give Rogue Leaders a read again later. :(

  3. S Jay says:

    They had a great roll, thanks LucasArts.

  4. Petethegoat says:

    Outlaws! OUTLAWS!

    • makute says:

      Greatest Wild West shooter ever made.

      Man, the memories… I have acual, manly tears over my face.

      Maybe Disney would make now the The Dig movie that should be.

    • N'Al says:

      Finally, SOMEONE remembered. I thought I was going to be the only one…

  5. Giuseppe says:

    I may love many LucasArts games, but I’m not that bothered about its official closing. LucasArts has been dead to me for over a decade.

    • Guvornator says:

      Let’s face it, if anything was going to kill them, it’d be a decade where point and click adventures and space sims both died at the same time…

  6. Guvornator says:

    “The same studio in the same year gave us the incredible FPS Dark Forces, Tim Schafer classic Full Throttle, and adventure epic The Dig”

    To get an idea of how good they were in their pomp, it’s worth noting that 2 of those games were actually regarded as being disappointing. Not disappointing by general gaming standards. Not disappointing by even great games standards. Disappointing by LUCASARTS standards.

    As I write this, a clip of “Singing In The Rain” came on the TV. To me, even though I hate musicals pretty much across the board, it’s sheer perfection is undeniable. For a period in the 90s Lucasarts were banging out at least 2 Singing In The Rains year in, year out.

    • vanosofmanos says:

      This. It’s really kind of hard to imagine now, but there was a time when that Lucasarts stamp on the side of a box meant it was an instant buy. It could have been the weirdest, oddest, most messed up premise for a game, but because it had Lucasarts on it I knew it would be an awesome game. There’s few other game companies from back then I could say the same about, and maybe only one or two that came even close to how good that studio was.

      • MentatYP says:

        They were the Pixar of the PC gaming industry–everything they touched turned to gold. Unfortunately they lost their Midas touch a long time ago.

  7. brulleks says:

    Lucasarts were responsible for changing my life. I’d just left university, had given up my SEGA Megadrive a couple of years earlier, and was heading off into the grown up world of jobs, bills and a gradually decaying physical body.

    Then a friend showed me Jedi Knight on the PC and that was it – Game Over, Man.

    Since then I’ve been plugged into a PC pretty much constantly. I swapped my pitiful human existence for that of a cyborg because of Lucasarts.

  8. SupremeMartin says:

    My favorite was either Grim Fandango or Mokey Island I loved them

  9. Apocalypse says:

    I will miss you Lucas Arts.
    I really will.

    Now that being said: Can we loot the corpse? There are some damn fine IP there and if Disney does not want to use it, someone else could bring some damn nice stuff. All those old adventures as android versions for example. Steam releases, a new Jedi Knight worth the name, a new modern TIE-Fighter … and so much more.

  10. Bluerps says:

    The two Monkey Islands were among the first games I ever played. My brother loved them too, and sometimes we sat together in front of his PC and played until early morning. That’s not something I’ve done since then, with any game or person.

    Apart from the adventures, I also have a special place in my heart for their space games, especially TIE-Fighter. I was amazed by the space battles this game created, that were so different from what I knew from Wing Commander.

    • vanosofmanos says:

      TIE-Fighter’s definitely my favorite of the old space sim games. While all my friends were loving (deservedly so) Wing Commander, I was playing the hell out of TIE-Fighter. That game still has possibly my favorite, and definite contender for best ever, game expansion in Defender of the Empire. Fun games, excellent campaigns.

  11. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Eh. John apparently has more faith in Lucasarts as it has been recently than I do. I kinda feel about them like Bungie (or say, Interplay). Yeah, they used to do great things, but they have changed.

    Personally I expected little of the later Lucasarts and who knows, Disney may yet surprise us. I’m not necessarily convinced they know what to do with the IPs, but Lucasarts apparently didn’t either. No, I suspect this may be for the best.

  12. Paul says:

    Wonderful article. There really is something in my eye there, dammit.
    I want new Outlaws. New Jedi Knight. New everything. Damn.

  13. gaiusimperator says:

    Oh Lucasarts, the pipes, the pipes are calling.

  14. realitysconcierge says:

    Oh my God, I can’t believe I just saw a screenshot of The Fate of Atlantis! Talk about going back to my childhood.

  15. MadTinkerer says:

    As I mentioned elsewhere, if Broken Age does really good, then this opens up the possibility of Double Fine reviving IPs that they deserved to have all along.

    Yeah, okay: Telltale, but that’s only Sam & Max and the Telltale version of the Monkey Island games (which are good, but not the same as Tim Shafer / Ron Gilbert Monkey Island). There’s plenty of IPs that Disney could give Double Fine that Telltale don’t already have.

    And in case this sounds like complete pie-in-the-sky, that’s exactly what I would have said a little over a week ago. And then they announced a Ducktales remake for the consoles. I mean: Ducktales. The quintessential franchise that is comprised of excellence and deserves more but everyone assumed the suits forgot it existed because they’re suits and not fans.

    Seriously: They’re remaking Ducktales, which means the suits at Disney thought it was a good idea. Am I still in the same universe where EA’s Origin “service” exists? We better transfuse some of the suits from Disney to EA before some kind of paradox happens.

  16. Mr Biffo says:

    Good article John, thanks. We knew it was going to happen sooner or later but it’s still sad, you’re right. There are probably a million “if only’s” we could say that could’ve changed LucasArts’ fate, but the one that always stood out for me was their determined dogged reluctance to never re-visit the TIE Fighter Franchise despite all our requests and pleas over the years. We all wanted it but they ignored us, and this is the result. Not really surprising.

    Like many of us, I always wondered what TIE Fighter would’ve looked like imagined on recent hardware, know what I mean? Despite the obvious graphical improvements there was always huge room for improvement in other areas wasn’t there; like say, adding new dynamic campaigns in various regions of the galaxy (including planetary battles on different worlds in the atmospheres of Earth-like planets and Gas Giants), more focus on character interactions and Role Playing elements with your squadron wingmen back at base (aka Wing Commander style immersion), better strategy in wingmen combat commands up to Star Destroyer and Frigate level control, or how about turning it into a faux-simulation level sim complete with complex engine management and clickable cockpit switches to the level of games like the DCS Simulations (aka Black Shark and A-10 Warthog), Rise of Flight and the upcoming Battle of Stalingrad flight sims? I imagine that Mr Stone of maison Flare Path towers here might agree with me on this bizarre oddity list of missed opportunites that must surely be from a deliberate reluctance to do it rather than blind ignorant incompetence?

    I suspect the answer is that the new LucasArts management were more akin to Jabba the Hutt in their business dealings and deceptions rather than say Darth Vader or Obi Wan’s honourable methods; they sold out and joined the team of corporate criminals and worm-tongued weasles behind the scenes involved in the dumbing-down of the general public (through gaming). While they, their pockets lined with a few coins from the smoldering ruins and years of our commitment, took the money and ran, Solo. Do you see?

  17. Tom Servo says:

    I can’t imagine why Lucasarts never made Tie Fighter 2. Both Tie Fighter and the expansion were the pinnacle of the spaceflight genre.

  18. versusforward says:

    You forgot to mention one of the greatest adventure games of all time, Loom!

  19. BooleanBob says:

    They were the PC’s Rare, right down to the protracted and horrifying death spasms.

  20. MrStones says:

    I’m another one of the raised by Monkey Island crowd but my stand out memory is of 10 year old me doing a web-crawler search for “Lucasarts adventure games” in the mid 90′s, Waiting impatiently for a picture to slowly draw itself in line by line and seeing for the first time the cover of Full Throttle in all it’s glory. It was hand down the coolest thing i had ever seen.

    It would be another few years before I finally managed to find a copy on a trip to Dublin, a “Sold-Out” re-release hidden away in in the back of the Virgin megastore and it became the first game I ever bought with my own hard earned cash.

    Farewell Lucasarts of the 90′s, you deserved better

  21. Max says:

    Shit.

    *sigh*

    There’ll always be the games.

  22. Arglebargle says:

    Someone finally shot the zombie in the head. When it was alive, it was a real good guy.

  23. Geen says:

    He was a good company. What a terrible way to go.

  24. scatterlogical says:

    While this is all true, it’s only after the ventilator is shut off that people can finally get the closure to mourn.
    As the article mentions, there always seemed to be a faint glimmer that the company might regain consciousness and wake from it’s dreary corporate-management driven coma to start producing more wonderful games. But now, it’s set in stone that that will never happen. :*(

  25. Tuskin38 says:

    I still play all (Yes I mean ALL) of thier Star Wars games once and a while. Mostly X-Wing Alliance, works fine on Win7 with the newest cards if you can find the ddraw.dll fix. Same with Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2.

  26. Contrafibularity says:

    Sad indeed. I feel much the same way and have enjoyed so many of their games immensely. It shouldn’t perhaps come as surprise, but it is sad such a wondrous ‘studio’ doesn’t exist any longer. Good luck to all involved!

  27. OberoFortune says:

    Did anyone ever play Big Sky Trooper for SNES?

  28. Armante says:

    Someone, just please, simply please, give Xwing Space Combat Simulator a reboot on Kickstarter.

    DOn’t worry about new missions even. Just an up-to-date graphics engine to make it look like I’m flying in the Star Wars universe, with hi-def visuals and surround sound.

    I’d pay for that

  29. welshy says:

    Gone but not forgotten.. Some of the best game realted memories I have. I’m actually looking forward to having kids, just so I can re-play Day of the Tentacle thru their eyes. RIP LucasArts

  30. bill says:

    Lucasarts was such an awesome company at one time. They could do almost no wrong. I think it was when they put an accountant in charge and then started farming out all their games (and making them all start wars games) that it all went wrong.

    It is truly sad timing that they get shut down right when things like steam, kickstarter and mobile are reviving interest in their core genres and the work of their Alumni.

    It must be said that they were mainly killed by Star Wars. The prequels drastically changed them from a games company into a star-wars-licensed-property developer. And of course they were forced to tie in with the inferior prequels to boot. To be honest, there are only so many star wars games you can play before they start to get boring.

    They may well have been in decline before that, but it was the nail in their coffin. It was the thing that prevented them from opening the lid and starting to make a wide range of games once again.

    Their management decisions have been bizarre. Given the insane popularity of SCUMMVM and how it’s been ported to so many systems it’s just surreal that they haven’t released iphone/android/tablet versions of all their old scumm games. (plus dark forces and a few others).

    I guess that might still happen – maybe disney figures they can farm that out to other studios and don’t need their own studio for that. (actually, I should download scummvm now just in case disney takes a harder line on them).

    It’s a strange contradiction that my most loved lucasarts games are indeed star wars games – Tie Fighter, Jedi Knight, Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith, Dark Forces and X-Wing. (in that order) are all amazing games that I will love forever. But it’s a shame they didn’t take a bit more of a break from star wars after that.

    RIP Lucasarts of my youth!

  31. MurraySwe says:

    I tend to look past the fact that their recent games were subpar. Lucasarts served as a pillar, representing some of the best gaming had to offer. Even if it was a long time ago I still had hopes that they would redeem themselves without Gilbert, Grossman or Schafer. You will be missed, Lucasarts *salutes*.

  32. Monkeh says:

    *weeps*

    Lucasarts, you will be missed!

  33. Mr Biffo says:

    Tie Fighter Re-Orchestrated: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXb9drxXA0A

    This music will always be remembered as the background music to Guy Siner’s masterful TIE Fighter briefings. And if you don’t know who Guy Siner is, he was the actor who played Lieutnant Gruber in “‘Allo, ‘Allo”. A shame we never had a remake or sequel to this stroke of genius masterpiece eh?

  34. Mr Biffo says:

    More Guy Siner briefing music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmbmyvowqEo

    And THAT in-game music we loved so much… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kF2ahXSwG_I

    Whoever invented iMuse was a genius. Whoever killed it was an arsehole…

  35. Mr Biffo says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CacJbuSd0GE Enter your name, pilot.