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LucasArts Entertainment Company (sometimes shortened to LEC), is a video game developer and publisher. The company was famous for its line of point-and-click adventure games and today mainly produces games based on the Star Wars franchise.
The company had its beginnings in May 1982 in the Games Group of Lucasfilm Ltd., the film production company of George Lucas. Lucas had wanted his company to branch out into other areas of entertainment, and so he cooperated with Atari to produce video games. The first results of this collaboration were unique action games like Ballblazer and Rescue on Fractalus!. However, they were not released at first because pirated copies were in circulation months before the original release date. In 1984, they were released for the Atari 5200 under the Lucasfilm Games label. Versions for home computers were not released until 1985, when publisher Epyx showed interest in the games.
The Adventure games
In 1987, the adventure game Maniac Mansion was released, which effectively spawned the subgenre of point-and-click adventure games. It was followed by more adventures of high quality and in the following years Lucasfilm built a reputation for producing the best games of the genre. Amongst the early LucasArts classics was the much-loved Monkey Island (later followed by three sequels), an adventure game notable for the quality of its comedic script, the absurd solutions to many of its puzzles and the invulnerability of its protagonist, which was quite an innovation in a genre where choosing the wrong thing to say could often result in instant death.
The company also started producing military simulation games, the first of which were the naval simulations PHM Pegasus and Strike Fleet. In 1988, Battlehawks 1942 was released, later followed by Their Finest Hour and Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. The WW2 Air Combat Trilogy, as it was later called, was created by Lawrence Holland's team, who later founded their own company in Totally Games.
The early 1990s
In 1990, in a reorganization of the Lucas companies, the Games Division of Lucasfilm became part of the newly created LucasArts Entertainment Company, together with Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound. Later ILM and Skywalker Sound were consolidated in Lucas Digital Ltd. and LucasArts became the official name of the former Games Division.
Even though LucasArts had created games based on other Lucasfilm properties before (Labyrinth, Indiana Jones), they didn't use the most promising Lucasfilm license until the early 1990s: Star Wars action games began appearing on the Nintendo consoles, but were developed by other companies for LucasArts. The first in-house development was the space combat simulator X-Wing, developed by Larry Holland's team, which went on to spawn a successful series.
The CD-ROM-only Star Wars game Rebel Assault became one of the biggest successes of the company and was considered a killer app for CD-ROM drives in the early 1990s. Another game that utilised the new technology of the CD-ROM drive was 1993's Day of the Tentacle, the first LucasArts adventure game to have a full spoken soundtrack available on the game's release rather than relying on text.
The first person shooter
After the unprecedented success of id Software's Doom the PC gaming market shifted towards production of three dimensional first person shooters. LucasArts contributed to this trend with the 1995 release of Star Wars: Dark Forces, a first person shooter that successfully transplanted the Doom formula to a Star Wars setting. The game was well received and spawned a new franchise: the Jedi Knight games. This began with the sequel to Dark Forces, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II released in 1997; this game reflected the changing face of PC gaming, being one of the first games to appreciably benefit when used in conjunction with a dedicated 3d graphics card like 3dfx's Voodoo range. The game received an expansion pack, Mysteries of the Sith, in 1998 and a full sequel in 2002 with Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. 2003's Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy can be seen as a spin-off from the series, but was less well received by reviewers, who complained that the franchise was becoming formulaic.
In 2005, Republic Commando was released, dubbed: "The Least Star Warsey Star Wars Game"
The last wave of LucasArts Adventure games 1997-2000
LucasArts' focus on three dimensional action games was detrimental to their line of adventures. The PC game market, traditionally the home of the adventure game, was being driven by technological change. The market wanted titles that would show off expensive new graphics cards to best effect, a change replicated in the home console market as the 3d capabilities of the Sony PlayStation and its competitors the Sega Saturn and Nintendo's N64 dictated the nature of the majority of games produced for those platforms. The adventure genre, two dimensional, focused on story, script and puzzle solving was seen as no longer popular with gamers.
However, there was a brief resurgence in the genre between 1997 and 2000. The Curse of Monkey Island was the last LucasArts adventure game to retain traditional two dimensional graphics and the tried-and-tested point and click interface. It was followed by Grim Fandango, arguably LucasArts' finest adventure game, and the first attempt to convert 2d adventure to the gimmick of 3d games. The game interface suffered most from this conversion, with control of the protagonist becoming unwieldy and less intuitive than the traditional mouse interface. However, the highly stylised graphics, superb voice acting and sophisticated writing more than made up for this flaw. Escape from Monkey Island replicated Grim Fandango's graphical engine and control system, and was well reviewed. However, since then LucasArts have continued to prioritise action games over traditional adventure games, a consistent position that led to a sequel to Sam'n'Max Hit The Road being aborted in 2004 despite rumours that it was 85% complete. This, combined with the 2003 cancellation of a sequel to Full Throttle has led fans of adventure gaming to surmise that the traditional LucasArts adventure game is dead.
As the quantity of Star Wars games increased, many critics felt the quality began to drop; this was especially noted with the titles released since the cinematic release of The Phantom Menace.
In 2002, LucasArts recognized that the over-reliance on Star Wars was reducing the quality of its output, and announced that future releases would be at least 50% non-Star Wars-related. However, many of the original titles were either unsuccessful or even cancelled before release and currently LucasArts has again mainly Star Wars titles in production.
2003 saw the fruitful collaboration of LucasArts and BioWare on the exceptionally well reviewed role-playing game, Knights of the Old Republic. Combining a three dimensional environment with the type of storytelling and writing that made LucasArts' early adventure games so memorable, this game has been seen as breathing new life into the Star Wars franchise. Its 2005 sequel Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords continued in the same vein, uniting top notch voice acting with an absorbing unfolding story.
In 2003 LucasArts and the Star Wars franchise also branched out in a new direction—the world of the MMORPG, with the creation of Star Wars Galaxies. After a successful launch, the first expansion, Jump to Lightspeed, was released in 2004. The new expansion featured the addition of real time space combat.
In May 2005, LucasArts released Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, a third person action game based on the film. More Star Wars games are planned for later in the year, including Star Wars: Empire at War, a real-time strategy game developed by Petroglyph Games.
- Official LucasArts website
- A fanpage dedicated to this company (with a strong accent on adventure gaming)
- A fanpage dedicated to the Jedi Knight series
- The Lucasfilm Computer Division Games Project is born by Peter Langston
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