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A Trip Down LucasArts Lane

It’s always sad to see a notable and historic games studio close down, regardless of the circumstances. So many talented studios in recent years have succumbed to economic downturn and poor sales, slowly fading away into obscurity. THQ studios is probably one of the biggest casualties you are likely to have heard of recently, and you can’t help but think that if such a large and well known studio such as THQ can fall foul of such a fate, anyone could be next.

Well, that inevitable closure was announced a fortnight ago to be LucasArts Studios. As you’ve probably heard by now, Disney acquired LucasFilm and its subsidiaries last year in a £2.5bn deal which led to the announcement of another Star Wars film trilogy. The confirmation of the deal however, cast doubt over the future of LucasArts’ future and its highly anticipated title: Star Wars 1313.

It is sad when any studio closes for any reason, but it’s especially disheartening to see a studio close for no reason other than to arguably refocus efforts on the heavily milked cash-cow that is the Star Wars film franchise.

Negativity aside though, just how successful was LucasArts as an in-house developer? I can’t attest to having played every game they ever developed or even a vast majority of them, but I can safely say with utmost certainty that the titles that I did play formed some of my fondest memories of video games. So join me as I take a personal trip down LucasArts lane and hopefully this article will trigger some brilliantly nostalgic memories for you too.

The first time I raced around the Tatooine track of Star Wars Episode I: Racer as a nine year old child, I can’t remember the first thought that crossed my mind, but my exclamation to friends that it was the best racing game I had ever encountered is a memory that is still firmly lodged in my brain today. Of course, I was nine, and my experience of video games as a whole was limited at best, but when I recently found the arcade version at a service station on my travels I couldn’t help but jam a coin in the machine and relive some childhood memories.

One of the marks of a good game is one that is entertaining because of its mechanics, and not its license or appearance and if LucasArts’ pod racer didn’t have the Star Wars license, it would still be wildly entertaining. Just thinking about the illusion of skin-peeling speed coupled with the sounds of the racers being reminiscent of a turbo-charged tank exhaust always made me want to go to my nearest second-hand store to see if I could pick up a Nintendo 64, not least because pod racer was only one of a number of LucasArts games to grace Nintendo’s retired console.

The Rogue Squadron series, specifically the second (developed in conjunction with Factor 5 studios), and its spiritual successor, Battle for Naboo were all titles that I grew up with. Being in my pre-teens, nothing was cooler or even more worthy of my attention than piloting an X-Wing fighter and humming the eponymous theme tune whilst attempting the iconic trench run stage. Not since watching my brother play Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter as a wide-eyed four year old had I felt so immersed in a world outside of the silver screen.

Sadly, six years passed between my adoration of Rogue Squadron II and my decision to pick up another LucasArts game. The passing of so much time in the world of digital entertainment is arguably the equivalent of a lifetime in the context of technological advancement and personal taste, and I was convinced that I would be disappointed by The Force Unleashed, fearing that nostalgia would cloud my vision of how enjoyable the studios games were.

Fortunately, I decided to buy TFU after hearing of its crossover story with the film series and, being wholly confirmed as a canon part of the franchise elevated my level of anticipation even further. No Star Wars title before (or arguably after) TFU ever managed to replicate the genuine atmosphere of the franchise as competently as Starkiller’s journey across the galaxy on his quest for redemption and revenge, but of course, the well written story was merely the icing on a well made cake. The general feeling of badassery afforded to the player with Bayonetta-lite lightsaber combos and TIE fighter crushing force powers only elevated the title even further above what came before.

It’s a shame though that such a strong start to a series was almost ruined by the cop-out that was The Force Unleashed 2, and the genuine disappointment left a bitter taste in many people’s mouths; including my own.

No developer has a spotless record however, and the announcement of Star Wars 1313 at 2012’s E3 immediately set tongues wagging in lieu of the reveal. Of the little that I did see of 1313, that same feeling of genuine Star Wars atmosphere that reached its pinnacle with TFU was already oozing through the screen at me. Arguably one of the main reasons that so many fans were so excited about 1313 was the same feeling of authenticity that the TFU had exhibited five years ago – it felt like Star Wars, not just a rushed spin off.

Of course, LucasArts never just exclusively developed Star Wars titles, and although my personal experience with the company only extended as far as the popular film franchise, many others will remember them for their point and click adventure games, the most notable probably being The Tales of Monkey Island. It’s a series I admittedly never really heard of until the months leading up to Disney’s acquisition of the company but regardless of my disdain for the sale of such a historic studio, at least they indirectly led me to the discovery of such a revered series. Thanks Disney, I guess.

JoeP | 20th April, 2013

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