So Disney closed Lucasarts. It’s not necessarily the end of Lucasarts games, of course. If they’re interested, Disney could easily license out the intellectual property in the Lucasarts back catalog. I don’t know if they will, but Lucasarts had a treasure trove of classic IP and it would be a travesty if Disney left all of it in the bottom of a filing cabinet in the legal department. If they were to put the right titles into the hands of the right developers, we could end up with lots of cool things that modern-day Lucasarts wasn’t able to produce. They could make some money, we would get to see some classics again, and a new generation could discover a few of these old gems that have been largely lost to floppy disk decay and compatibility issues.
So what treasures are lurking in the Lucasarts attic that could now be dusted off and given fresh life?
I’m going to ignore the games they made back in the 80’s – stuff like Ballblazer and The Eidolon. I never played them and they aren’t really remembered today. We can also set aside the old Lucasarts adventure games like Loom, The Dig, Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max, and Monkey Island. Telltale Games has already revived Sam & Max and Monkey Island and they’re doing a fine job of it so far. The others? I suppose you could re-release the games with a graphical overhaul, but such a project would basically be a game with niche nostalgia appeal. That kind of thing might sell, but it would never make the kinds of money Disney cares about. Okay, almost none of the games in my list can make Disney-class money, but old adventure games are a niche within a niche. These games loom large in the minds of fans because they were really good, but they didn’t sell particularly well – even in the early 90’s when they didn’t need to compete against so many other, flashier titles with larger budgets and massive marketing.
So of the titles that are left, what potential reboots, re-makes, or revivals would work well today?
The Dark Forces series has a strange lineage. The first game was pretty much a Doom-era shooter where you blasted stormtroopers and robots. The second game moved a bit away from its shooter roots with Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II by having protagonist Kyle Katarn pick up a lightsaber. Then the next game was Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, where it left behind its shooter roots for mostly saber-based combat.
That’s a very unexpected way to number sequels. It would be like if the sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge hadn’t been called”A Nightmare on Elm Street 3″, but instead they called it “Freddy’s Revenge 2”. But this shift in titles actually makes sense, because by the third game the series had ditched its shooter roots and given us a lightsaber game with a third-person view and unlockable Force powers. It defined a solid template that would later be embraced by Force Unleashed. (Seriously: You’re a Force-using savant who kills armies of stormtroops, level up your powers, and your girlfriend handles the piloting and exposition for you. Force Unleashed is basically Jedi Knight II on Red Bull with B-grade Darth Vader fanfiction thrown in.)
Why this is good for a revival: Force Unleashed has painted itself into a corner. The story doesn’t have any room to develop without flagrantly conflicting with the events of the movies, and the ridiculous inflation of force powers is running dangerously close to comedy. From here they can only go for a reboot or self-parody. Rather than doing that, why not revive the Jedi Knight name? It gives them the chance to keep what works, jettison what doesn’t, dial down the force powers, and write whatever story suits the gameplay.
X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter
Back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and PCs ruled videogames, space combat sims were really popular. At the time, Wing Commander and X-Wing were the Coke and Pepsi of the genre. You flew missions, blew up ships, and upgraded your craft in a campaign punctuated by brief cutscenes. The genre was notorious for having dense controls that made use of the entire PC keyboard.
Why this is good for a revival: Actually, I think the whole genre deserves another shot, and it might as well happen with X-Wing. I think modern thumbsticks are better suited for flight controls than the mouse ever was. Yes, the classic dual shock controller isn’t going to have enough buttons so you can have actions like, “Target the nearest enemy who is targeting a cargo container with less than 50% health” on a hotkey. I think a good space combat game can be made without that same density of inputs. As a bonus, these games ought to be cheap to produce, and the recent success of X-Com has shown that it’s possible to find a good balance between classic PC games and modern console interfaces.
I didn’t play this one, but I’m including this on the list simply because people will send me hate mail if I leave it out. Republic Commando is a shooter where you play as a clone trooper. It was yet more proof that players are hungry for games where they don’t play as the super-powered scene-stealing Jedi, and are happy to play as traders, smugglers, or (in this case) grunts in a ground war. Star Wars has some fantastic lore, and it’s always nice to explore the bits where a sanctimonious Mary Sue isn’t solving problems with a lightsaber.
Why this is good for a revival: I don’t even know if we can call this a “revival”. The game isn’t forgotten. The game is fondly remembered by fans and was well-reviewed, but there was never a follow-up. (The sequel was cancelled in early development.) It was a fine game with a good name. They just need to make more of them.
Imagine an alternate universe where the original Lego Star Wars was given a narrow release and billed as an “educational” title just because it aesthetically resembled a kids game, and therefore didn’t sell well. That’s what happened to Pit Droids, a game so obscure it doesn’t even rate a page on Wikipedia.
It was billed as an “Educational” title under the Lucas Learning division, but Pit Droids wasn’t really educational beyond being intellectually stimulating. If Pit Droids is educational, then so are Portal, Lemmings, and Plants vs. Zombies. In the game you had to use a fixed number of inputs to guide a line of single-minded pit droids to the exit. It played with sorting, timing, and pathing problems and was generally a ton of lighthearted fun.
Why this is good for revival: The original never really got the chance it deserves, and it’s fiendishly hard to get it running these days. (The game rewarded progress with short little cutscenes of slapstick pit droid tomfoolery, and those cutscenes do not like today’s computers.) It’s available for the iPhone, but I’d love to see the game given another chance at wider release, either in the form of a re-make or just a “gold” edition that fixes all the wonky parts to work on modern machines.
What did I miss?
The Lucasarts back catalog is massive, and there was no way I was going to be able to cover it all in detail. It’s physically impossible to make a list like this without leaving off some unappreciated gem. I’m sure you’ll tell me what I missed in the comments.
Shamus Young thinks that hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.