Celebrating 30 Years of LucasArts Games


Posted May 28, 2012 - By Brittany Vincent

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LucasArts Actively Working With Platform Holders To Get Games Everywhere

Let's look back at the success and vision that kept LucasArts 30 years young this month.

Full Throttle. Day of the Tentacle. The Secret of Monkey Island. Grim Fandango. If you've played and enjoyed any of these fantastic games, then you've witnessed the magic of LucasArts, brought to fruition by George Lucas (yes, that George Lucas) in 1982. Though the company saw most of its colossal successes in the mid-'90s, it's been a mainstay in both the eyes of consumers and other prominent figures in the industry.

Miraculously, LucasArts is still alive and well, now thirty years after its inception, as a renowned developer and publisher -- an illustrious feat in an age of abrupt restructuring, dissemination, and departures of key company employees. From point-and-click adventure games to best-selling third-person action spectaculars, LucasArts has a varied background when it comes to making gaming history.

For 30 years of providing us with memorable characters, oddball stories, and plenty of incidental laughs along the way, we celebrate LucasArts: the games, the legacy, and the facts: it's absolutely remarkable we can celebrate a milestone such as this, and we think many kudos are in order.

LucasArts Logo

Blazing A Trail, Er, Ball

LucasArts was founded in May 1982, as the brainchild of George Lucas, who then aimed to take Lucasfilm Limited into the future by experimenting with emerging technologies. Thus, a partnership with Atari spawned the very first games to carry the Lucasfilm Games label: Ballblazer and Rescue On Fractalis, both for the Atari 5200.

After enjoying some success with the Atari-published titles (and a becy of other releases afterward) the company shifted focus to the next logical step for the organization: combining with Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound, to form LucasArts Entertainment Company, or the LucasArts we know today.

After the illustrious name change took place, a very familiar emblem was unveiled. The "Gold Guy" logo, depicting a gold man, arms outstretched, atop the vivid purple LucasArts logo encased in a large "L" shape. Above the man is a curved line resembling eyelashes, or a shimmering sun. Though it's taken many different, revised forms over the years, LucasArts found a mainstay in the "Gold Guy" petroglyph, retaining it until the iconic design was replaced with something a little more "modern."

But even as things over the years began to change, the games only got better -- especially as the company entered the '90s -- the heyday of the adventure game, in many respects.

Maniac Mansion

LucasArts Hits The Road

After enjoying moderate success with the 1986 text adventure Labyrinth, it was time for the developer to try something a little different. With Maniac Mansion in 1987, they hit a home run. The brainchild of Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, Maniac Mansion brought with it, along with a colorful cast of characters, the Edison family, strange, disembodied tentacles, and a mad scientist who isn't above abducting people for use in his wacky experiments.

This hilarious point-and-click extravaganza all but opened the floodgates for what soon became some of LucasArts' most memorable releases, as well as establishing the SCUMM engine that would lay the groundwork for nearly every subsequent adventure game released afterward. The tongue-in-cheek horror spoof utilized cut scenes (the familiar term we all use and abuse today), a term coined by Ron Gilbert.

Maniac Mansion was ahead of its time in many ways, mostly through reinventing the way players interacted with their on-screen avatars. Freely available command choices were available to apply to inventory items and other characters, and each NPC -- no mantter how prominent -- was outfitted with appropriate animations, actions, and dialogue that seemed "just right." It was a blast to play and paved the way for other, bigger commercial successes, and even a sequel down the road.

Where Maniac Mansion left off, classics like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Loom picked up the slack. Both made significant improvements to their predecessors in terms of aesthetic overhauls and gameplay. The genre was changing, being molded into something distinctly more personable than ever before, and LucasArts was at the forefront of what was, arguably, a renaissance for adventure gamers.

LucasArts Reflects On Monkey Island And Where LucasArts Goes Next

The Secret of LucasArts

At the beginning of the 1990s, The Secret of Monkey Island was released, the first game in the wildly popular Monkey Island series -- still revered by many today. The series introduced the perils of one Guybrush Threepwood, a hapless pirate on a dangerous (and often hilarious) adventure. It was a swift return to form after previous endeavors (Loom, specifically) had deviated somewhat from the classic point-and-click format, and it brought LucasArts Games back with a vengeance. Also brought to fruition by Ron Gilbert, two others headed up the team responsible: Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer, with Gilbert pioneering the project.

Monkey Island was a silly, madcap pirate adventure that spawned a sequel in 1991 -- Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, and would go on to inspire many other installments in the present day. The sequel made many tweaks to the original, including the introduction of iMUSE, a system that allowed the in-game MIDI tracks to sync with the action on-screen.

In 1993, the aforementioned sequel to Maniac Mansion rocked gamers' worlds (including yours truly), revisiting the wacky world of the Edison family. Day of the Tentacle was a complete overhaul of the game that birthed it, and integrated more fluid animations, voices, and a host of absolutely insane main characters with a penchant for disaster.

The infamous tentacles as seen in Maniac Mansion made a reappearance -- this time with Purple gunning for world domination and the descendants of the Edison family wreaking havoc upon all those they came in contact with. It was a brilliant successor to the original game, and an adventure that tested the limits of what could be done with the medium. It injected copious amounts of clever humor (and puzzles) into the already out-there situations.

The Maniac Mansion series was its own monster, but LucasArts found success with a previously-established property -- the Sam and Max games, particularly Sam and Max Hit The Road, which became a signature for the company. The antics of dog-and-rabbit detectives Sam and Max were a perfect fit for those already interested in the LucasArts brand of humor.

Several other adventure titles rose to prominence soon after, each within the 2-D ealm -- The Dig, Full Throttle, and an additional Monkey Island adventure -- The Curse of Monkey Island -- all distinctive variants on a theme. But as the 90s were drawing to a close, something that packed a little more punch was necessary. The SCUMM engine was retired, and the GrimE engine took its place.

Grim Fandango

A Grim Future

Grim Fandango was the first to use the aptly-named engine, and also the first adventure from LucasArts to have utilized a fully-3D environment. Stylized characters, an interactive environment in which players used the keyboard to move around and complete various actions, and full-motion video cut scenes set Grim Fandango, Tim Schafer's last work for LucasArts, apart from the rest of the pack. It garnered a strong cult following as well as rabid fans looking for another rendezvous with Manny Calavera.

Escape from Monkey Island was the second title to utilize 3D graphics and the fourth entry into the Monkey Island mythos. It also marked one of the last adventure games that would see the light of day -- it received a PlayStation 2 and Mac OS 9 release as well, and enjoyed success as one of the newest, "renovated" series entries, but things seem to roll downhill from there.

Several planned projects were canceled, releases were conceived and then immediately cut short, and when word got out that Sam & Max: Freelance Police was about to hit, the project was also swiftly cut down in 2004. LucasArts' reasoning for stifling the next installment of the buddy cop story was simply "current marketplace realities and underlying economic considerations."

In the later years, after the days of Escape from Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, it was easy to see that point-and-click adventure games weren't exactly in demand. An unfortunate trend, for sure, but certainly played a part in the once prosperous and well-known company's decision to pursue other projects. President Jim Ward did go on to state that the company could return to developing adventure games in 2015, but it is yet to be seen what the future holds.

X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter

The Force is Strong with LucasArts

The end of adventure games didn't mean the end of LucasArts, however. After shifting creative energies to tackling other genres, some rather brilliant releases were spawned: for example X-Wing, Star Wars: Rebel Assault, Jedi Knight, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, and other miscellaneous Star Wars titles helped keep the company afloat.

Star Wars wasn't the only successful IP, either -- LucasArts struck gold with the western-themed Outlaws and the quirky Armed and Dangerous as well in the late 90s and early 2000s. Suffice it to say their involvement with fantastic LucasArts/BioWare joint venture Knights of the Old Republic remains to date one of their largest victories outside of the point-and-click adventure realm -- not only did a spawn a sequel, but a similarly-themed MMO in the form of The Old Republic, which likely many of us are enjoying right this moment.

It's no secret that Star Wars was an invaluable catalyst when it comes to LucasArts' continuing success -- of course, why wouldn't its founder seek refuge in the familiarity of his own creations? We're just happy to see these games continuing to be developed in light of the apparent "failures" of the point-and-click adventure genre.

Star Wars: The Old Republic Trooper

Are We in the Future? I Got Lost

So what does the future hold for LucasArts? Stunningly, quite a few things -- there's some sort of online service in the works which the company boldly claims will "revolutionize the industry." There's a purported return of familiar licenses and we've seen popular IPs such as Monkey Island return in a big way over the past couple of years. If Telltale Games' success with its various movie adaptations is any indication, we could see a real resurgence of the genre as we move into the next generation of consoles.

But as we move forward, it's important not to forget how and why LucasArts remains a force to be reckoned with: unique, unforgettable adventures, with new characters, new journeys, and even some jokes along the way that resonated with fans in ways that even some triple-A releases fail to do even now.

It’s a testament to creating quality games and innovating, the fact that LucasArts has hung in there for 30 years. That’s longer than many relationships. And though LucasArts hasn’t yet returned to the genre that rocketed them to success to begin with, we’re confident that with the right design decisions, we may yet live to see another Maniac Mansion, or even a Grim Fandango. We live in the age of the Kickstarter, after all. Anything is possible. For now, we’d like to congratulate LucasArts on 30 great years -- hopefully there’s more to come!

Celebrating 30 Years of LucasArts Games


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