The massively publicized lock-stock-and-barrel acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney a few months back was some serious goddamn news, considering how it led to the announcement that not only will there be another Star Wars trilogy but that nerdmaster J.J. Abrams would be directing the initial foray. There was much rejoicing when the news broke, but unfortunately the other shoe has dropped now that the hoopla has died down: Disney announced yesterday that Lucasfilm’s video game studio, LucasArts, would be shuttering its doors effective immediately.
Whatever hatred or disdain you may have in your heart for George Lucas and his enormous flabby beard after he subjected us to three Star Wars prequel films that were the equivalent of strapping us down to a hospital gurney and giving us a nine-hour Cleveland Steamer fueled by a steady diet of chili dogs and cat food, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who feels the same level of vitriol towards LucasArts. In the late 1980s and 1990s, if you had a PC and you were looking for a good adventure game, you had two major choices when it came down to it: the sadly now-defunct Sierra On-Line – which now joins its erstwhile competitor in the dustbin of history – or LucasArts, and from the first time I played Maniac Mansion or The Secret of Monkey Island I knew that LucasArts was something incredibly special.
LucasArts leveraged its intellectual properties expertly throughout the latter days of the 20th century, with an amazing selection of games tied to both the Star Wars and the Indiana Jones franchises, and even as the popularity of graphic adventure and combat simulator games began to wane, LucasArts achieved their zenith with games like the X-Wing series and Sam and Max Hit the Road. Anyone who’s ever experienced these games has absolutely nothing but fond memories from them; in fact it’s almost enough to erase the foul taste in your mouth after having to put up with howlers like Super Bombad Racing and Star Wars: The Old Republic. If anything, complete and utter failure of SW:TOR as a subscription-based MMORPG could have easily been the nail in the coffin for LucasArts, though much of the blame there could be placed on the shoulders of the BioWare team that developed the game in partnership with LucasArts, despite the fantastic success of the first two Knights of the Old Republic games; LucasArts has most likely been hemorrhaging cash for quite a few years, which undoubtedly led to Disney’s decision to ax the division completely, sending 150 employees out into the cold.
If anything can be gleaned from this story of the meteoric rise and tragic fall of LucasArts, it’s that hope isn’t necessarily lost. In fact, many of the luminaries behind these fantastically entertaining LucasArts games from the ’80’s and ’90’s – people that were sadly axed once the market for adventure games and space combat simulators dried up in the early 2000’s – have gone on to found their own game development studios like Telltale Games and Double Fine Productions, and have since resurrected the adventure game genre. There’s still a home out there for clever, well-written games that focus on problem-solving, exploration, and inventory management instead of racking up combat multipliers or pressing X to win, and while LucasArts is finally gone its spirit lives on.
Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go find my copy of Day of the Tentacle.