Fun LucasArts Facts!
When LucasArts was firs founded in 1982, then under the title of LucasFilm Games, the studio was not allowed to make games based on the company’s biggest IP: Star Wars. Sounds rather incredible, but the reason is actually very understandable. LucasFilms could make more money by simply licensing Star Wars out to other studios and thus not risk the financial losses of making the game themselves (which explains why most of the 80s Star Wars games sucked). This was essentially the same reason why Disney closed the Studio down eventually.
The ban on using LucasFilms IPs was finally lifted in 1986, when the company released their first adventure game, The Labyrinth. They followed this up four years later with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Adventure Game. Eventually in the early-90s LucasArts finally started to publish all the Star Wars games. This was also the reason why LucasFilm Games churned out such oddball games like Rescue on Fractalus and Koronis Rift, which have been mostly forgotten now.
In the late 1980s, LucasArts finally started to release their iconic adventure games. This all started with a quirky title called Maniac Mansion. It introduced the SCUMM engine and cutscenes all in one fell swoop. LucasArts then approached their old partners in crime, Electronic Arts, to publish the game.
Maniac Mansion appeared too unconventional for EA though. They shot the game down immediately, saying it would never sell. Not discouraged, LucasArts published the game themselves and it of course took off by storm. LucasArts maintained its self-publishing ways since with all of their titles, even ones that weren’t developed in-house.
Maniac Mansion’s popularity eventually prompted LucasArts to release on numerous platforms.
Visionary game designer and all-around goofball Tim Schafer would become a legend at LucasArts with his game Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, before heading his own company: Double Fine Studios. Schafer also had a great passion to work for LucasArts, but he made a fatal error in his first job interview. When he was asked what his favourite game was, he answered “Ball Blasters” and was shown the door.
The game which Tim referred to was actually called BallBlazers. Ball Blasters was a widely circulated pirate version of the game which understandably angered Schafer’s interviewer. Tim didn’t give up though and was eventually given a second interview by Monkey Island’s creator Ron Gilbert who eventually hired him. Schafer’s first job was actually overseeing the development of the NES port of Maniac Mansion.
Fact #4: Ron Gilbert made the Period-button skip dialogue because periods go at the end of sentences
A rather interesting bit of trivia comes from the adventure game maestro himself Ron Gilbert. Gilbert had a wide-eyed attitude towards game making but eventually became very opinionated. He headed many of LucasArts game philosophies, such as not allowing characters to die in games. He was particularly opposed to the design philosophy of Sierra’s adventure games. And who can blame him.
However, for such a stern figure, Gilbert has a quirky sense of humour which was also reflected in his game design and programming. In every single one of LucasArts’s iconic adventure games, if you want to skip dialogue, you press the period ( . full stop) button. This seemed logical to Gilbert since periods end sentences.
George Lucas had a “hands off” approach to running LucasFilm Games and mostly let the development teams get on with their work. However, he would occasionally visit and review what the company did. One of his visits occurred while the LucasArts team was busy in the midst of developing The Secret of Monkey Island, the game which eventually usurped Maniac Mansion as their most popular title.
Lucas reportedly liked the game, the style and the comedy. According to Tim Schafer, Lucas also gave a piece of advice which proved invaluable. Originally, Guybrush (then called just “Guy”) was a very generic and bland character and Lucas suggested that the development team focus on making the character more jokey and funny, since he felt that the star of the game was being eclipsed by the goofy supporting cast. As a direct result, Guybrush was given more comedic dialogue.
At the end of development for Monkey Island 2, Gilbert felt he had done all he could do for the company and the development of their adventure games. Gilbert had a passion to try something new and left LucasArts just after releasing the game he has become most known for.
Gilbert helped fellow game designer Shelley Day to make her dream come true of starting a company which made adventure games specifically for children. Together they founded a company called Humongous Entertainment. Dave Grossman, Schafer’s co-writer on the Monkey Island games, also joined the company in 1995 after finishing Day of the Tentacle. Gilbert, who had previously done games only for adult crowds, found working at the company an interesting challenge as a lot of the conventions of his games had to be rethought since they wouldn’t necessarily work.
Humongous Entertainment eventually branched out to other titles besides adventure games. The company in its original form effectively ceased to exist in 2000 when Gilbert and Day were unable to buy their company back from Infogrames (which bought out Humongous’s publisher and owner GT interactive) and left the company along with the majority of the original staff.
Although LucasArts’s adventure games didn’t break out into massive success outside the PC gaming crowds, two games were picked up for TV adaptions. The first one was Maniac Mansion which was turned into a comedy series and ran for three seasons between 1990 and 1993. The show however, barely bore resemblance to the game with completely original characters.
The other game produced into a TV show was Sam & Max, the characters created by artist Steve Purcell (now employee of Pixar). The characters appeared in the game Sam & Max Hit the Road and had received artist cameos in prior LucasArts games. Purcell created the characters for his original comic before joining LucasArts. The cartoon (made-up from 15 minute episodes) was fairly true to the game and ran for two seasons.
Monkey Island was also very nearly produced into an animated movie in 1995, but probably discouraged by the high cost of the undertaking, LucasArts reconsidered and instead focused on making a new Monkey Island game.
Fact #8: Tim Schafer intended the interface of Grim Fandango to be entirely literal
Schafer’s cult hit, Grim Fandango, which is on its way to being remastered, received a lot of praise for maintaining the creator’s high standards for a silly and awesome adventure. The game was also one of only two 3D adventure games that LucasArts would make (the other being Escape from Monkey Island) before the company stopped adventure game production entirely in the early-2000s.
Being 3D, Schafer intended to make most of the experience and dispensed with the mouse-cursor interface since he wanted the game’s interface to be entirely literal and intuitive. This is why Manny walks with tank controls and why there are no on-screen icons of any kind. In addition, Schafer omitted the traditional dialogue-bar (a decision yours truly regrets) since he felt that the game was no longer verb-based. Schafer was reportedly a little disappointed that the creators of Escape from Monkey Island reverted to using the dialogue-bar.
Grim Fandango was a review success and sold respectably, but wasn’t as big of a hit as the company wanted which is why it faded into obscurity for a while before its resurgence amongst adventure game fans a little later on. Schafer left LucasArts after Grim Fandango and founded Double Fine Studios.
Fact #9: LucasArts axed both a Sam & Max as well as Full Throttle sequel before closing down its adventure game studio
As talked about in my prior blog, LucasArts was still working on new adventure games after Escape from Monkey Island and two games were in development in the early-2000s. The company had been planning a sequel to Full Throttle pretty much since the release of the original game. One of the project heads of The Curse of Monkey Island (Jonathan Ackley and Larry Ahern, who both worked on Full Throttle) was planned to spearhead the project, but it fell through long before it went to production. After Escape from Monkey Island, Full Throttle 2 was being developed as a 3D action-adventure title and was reportedly half-way finished before LucasArts pulled the plug on it.
Another game, well on the way before the team’s disbandment, was a Sam & Max sequel. The bemused development team left LucasArts and formed a new studio called TellTale Games. Some years down the line, they finally cleared the rights for Sam & Max from Steve Purcell and did indeed finish their Sam & Max game.