We probably should have seen it coming when Disney first purchased Lucasfilm, but the shutdown of LucasArts still hurts. So many great games issued forth from those halls, especially in the heyday of the point-and-click adventure genre, with titles such as Full Throttle, Sam & Max, and the entire Monkey Island series running the gamut from wacky insanity to gritty film noir. LucasArts, though, was best known for the games it released tied to Lucasfilms’ most popular franchise: Star Wars.
Here, too, there was much variety. From their humble beginnings with 2D side-scrollers on home consoles to the complex simulations of the X-Wing series. There were first-person shooters, such as the Dark Forces franchise, and the Battlefront titles, which drew from EA’s Battlefield series in their structure.
Most notable, though, were some of the games that LucasArts didn’t itself create, but certainly had a hand in. The LEGO Star Wars games were what originally popularized the LEGO concept, while BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic still stands as one of the most memorable RPGs of all time, and certainly among the very best on the original Xbox. Its name is so powerful, in fact, that it alone drew millions to Star Wars: The Old Republic’s initial launch, even if interest has since waned.
And there was more in the pipes. Star Wars 1313 had been shown at E3 last year and, though it hadn’t been seen since, what had been shown then was a very different take on the franchise. Star Wars: First Assault, meanwhile, aimed to continue the Battlefront tradition in the downloadable space. These have since, with the shutdown of LucasArts, been canned.
Yet, still, there are glimmers of light in the endless shadow.
Obsidian, the RPG studio comprised in part of Black Isle alumni, and creators of the slightly-rushed Knights of the Old Republic II, have expressed interest in creating a new Star Wars game. The pitch, originally intended for LucasArts before they were bought by Disney, details an RPG set between movie episodes III and IV. It’s a compelling time period, during which Force-sensitive individuals were voraciously hunted in the wake of Order 66, while Anakin Skywalker, as Darth Vader, grew into his role as enforcer under the newly-minted Emperor Palpatine. We’ve seen a bit of this time period in the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed titles, but those have largely been fairly small, personal stories rather than galaxy-spanning RPGs.
Feargus Urquhart, Obsidian’s CEO, has gone so far as to say that Chris Avellone had even come up with a potential storyline for the title, calling the pitch, overall, one of the best the company has ever conceived. Most importantly, Obsidian is aiming to pursue the project with Disney, so even with the dissolution of LucasArts, there’s hope that the Star Wars franchise will live on in games through those who can do it justice.
While this is certainly one of the more compelling time gaps in the existing Star Wars Chronology, the Extended Universe is also ripe for the picking. Could the time finally be right for someone to bring forth a pitch for a New Jedi Order game, pitting players against the Yuuzhan Vong? An action game in which Jedi abilities are limited by one’s foes unique nature would be a distinct twist on what we expect in our Star Wars games. Much as in the period between Episodes III and IV, these stories turn the Jedi into the hunted.
And what of Disney itself? They have plans for a new Star Wars movie, already moving forward. Set after the end of Return of the Jedi, will they draw from the Extended Universe books or override them with entirely new canon? Either way, it seems incredibly unlikely that Disney will miss this chance to release a movie tie-in of some sort. While a mobile game seems likely, given how much cheaper those are to produce than full-fledged console titles, an actual Episode VII game, or one that tells a parallel story of some kind, is a very real possibility. Cross-media entertainment is almost taken for granted now, after all. Also, while licensed games have traditionally been subpar, and Star Wars’ history in this capacity is no exception, a talented studio given enough time and freedom with regard to a tie-in product can still create something exceptional.
So it is that we return to Star Wars 1313 and Star Wars: First Assault. Earlier, it was mentioned that both of these games were cancelled upon LucasArts’ closure. While this may be true, with the intense amount of work that had gone into them, it seems like a waste to simply let them die and fade away. Could we potentially see them return under the auspices of other studios? Perhaps DICE would like to take a shot at First Assault while Digital Extremes tries their luck with Star Wars 1313. It all seems unlikely, at best, but a Star Wars fan can dream.
LucasArts may be dead, but it doesn’t look like the Star Wars franchise is going to rest in peace anytime soon. After all, outside studios have developed Star Wars games before and have often done an absolute bang-up job of it. What, really, has changed?
Date: April 29, 2013