LucasArts adventure games
From the late 1980s to the early 2000s, LucasArts was well known for their point-and-click graphic adventure games, nearly all of which received high scoring reviews at the time of their release. Their style tended towards the humorous, often irreverent or slapstick humor, with the exceptions of Loom and The Dig. Their game design philosophy was that the player should never die or reach a complete dead-end, although there were exceptions.
Many of the games shared similar game interfaces and technology, powered by SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion). After 1997, these games transitioned into 3D graphics with the GrimE game engine. Common features between the games include in-joke references to both other LucasArts games and Lucasfilm productions, as well as other running gags, such as Chuck the Plant and Sam & Max cameo appearances, that spanned numerous games. Most of the games were designed by the people with experience from creating preceding adventure games for LucasArts, whilst the same composers were involved in the majority of productions.
In 2004, after a string of titles that never reached release, LucasArts ceased development on graphic adventure games. Many of the development staff involved in the making of these games moved on to form new companies, continuing to produce similar games at studios such as Telltale Games, Double Fine Productions, and Autumn Moon Entertainment. In 2009, however, LucasArts announced a collaboration with Telltale to revive the Monkey Island series, one of the old LucasArts adventure franchises, as well as stating its intent to revisit its past portfolio. This collaboration brought the LucasArts developed special editions of the first two Monkey Island Games and the Telltale helmed adventure game Tales of Monkey Island.
Initial titles (1986–90)
LucasArts' first adventure game was the 1986 title Labyrinth. The game's development was led by David Fox, with contributions from Douglas Adams, Christopher Cerf, Noah Falstein and Brenda Laurel. Based on the film of the same name, it is LucasArts' first video game adaptation of a film. It is the only adventure game not published by LucasArts, as Labyrinth was published and distributed by Activision. Labyrinth differs significantly from later LucasArts adventure games as it uses text parser gameplay as the main means of play.
Labyrinth was followed in 1987 by Maniac Mansion. Maniac Mansion was the creation of Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, and marked the debut of SCUMM, the game engine that powered all but two of LucasArts later adventure games. The game was also the first LucasArts adventure game to be released for DOS. Maniac Mansion was LucasArts' first full graphic adventure game, using a point-and-click interface rather than the text-based gameplay seen in Labyrinth. A menu of verbs allows the player to choose how to interact with the game's environment. Maniac Mansion aims to parody the horror genre. The game was subject to several enhancements and re-releases, and was included as a game within a game in its sequel, Day of the Tentacle.
The third LucasArts adventure game was Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, designed by David Fox, Matthew Kane, David Spangler and Ron Gilbert. Set within a science fiction setting, the game was released in 1988. It used a slightly upgraded version of the SCUMM engine, but adopted the same control and gameplay methods of the earlier games. Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders introduced digital music to LucasArts adventure games in the form of MIDI.
In 1989, LucasArts released their first adaptation of one of Lucasfilm's major franchises: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, based on the film of the same name. The game again upgraded the SCUMM engine's capabilities, but kept similar gameplay. The project was led by Ron Gilbert, David Fox and Noah Falstein; it was Fox's last adventure game for the company. A quotient point system, referred to as "Indy Quotient", allowed the player to overcome puzzles in several different ways, such as fighting a guard, sneaking past the guard, or convincing the guard to allow the player to pass.
Loom was the fourth game to utilize the SCUMM engine and was released in 1990. Designed by Brian Moriarty, the game was set in a fantasy setting. As well as updating the engine's graphics, Loom marked a major deviation in interacting with the game's world. Instead of using the standard point-and-click interface of previous games, Loom requires players to use four-note musical tunes to create spells on objects or other characters. Loom also introduced the game design philosophy that the player character cannot reach a dead-end or die; this design decision was applied to all later adventure games. A later CD-ROM re-release added Red Book CD-DA music featuring the compositions of Pyotr Tchaikovsky and a full voice soundtrack (although, as a consequence of using Red Book CD-DA for the speech, the dialogue script had to be shortened considerably to fit on the CD-ROM).
The early Nineties (1990–93)
The Secret of Monkey Island is the first game in the Monkey Island series and was released in 1990. The game, noted for its greater use of witty humor over previous titles, was designed by Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer. The concept itself was pioneered by Gilbert. Following the deviation in gameplay in Loom, The Secret of Monkey Island returned to similar point-and click gameplay featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The SCUMM engine was again upgraded for the title. Set in the Caribbean in the Golden Age of Piracy, the game introduced Guybrush Threepwood, a hapless amateur pirate. The game's MIDI music soundtrack was the first to feature work by Michael Land. The CD-ROM re-release added a new CD-audio music soundtrack, and updated the game's graphical user interface.
A sequel to The Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, followed in 1991. As with its predecessor, it was designed by Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer, though it would be Gilbert's last work for LucasArts. The game once again placed the player in the position of Guybrush Threepwood, searching for a fabled treasure in the Caribbean. Gameplay remained mostly unchanged from The Secret of Monkey Island, though the game's user interface was simplified to be more user-friendly. LeChuck's Revenge again featured music by Michael Land, although Land was joined by Clint Bajakian and Peter McConnell. In addition, the game marked the debut of iMUSE (Interactive Music Streaming Engine), a system developed by Land and McConnell that allowed for the game's MIDI music to be synchronised with the visuals.
The 1992 title Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis was the second LucasArts adventure game based on the Indiana Jones franchise. Unlike its predecessor, The Fate of Atlantis featured an entirely original storyline. The development was led by Hal Barwood and Noah Falstein, the latter of whom was one of the co-designers of The Last Crusade. The Fate of Atlantis was Falstein's last LucasArts project. The game incorporated the "Indy Quotient" system from The Last Crusade to allow the game to be completed in several ways. A 1993 CD-ROM re-release added a full voice soundtrack.
Day of the Tentacle is the sequel to the 1987 title Maniac Mansion. Released in 1993, it was designed by Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman and focused on saving humanity from a megalomanic mutant tentacle by using time travel. It was Grossman's last project for LucasArts before leaving in 1994. The game featured a further upgrade in the SCUMM engine to enhance the graphics capabilities. Day of the Tentacle's music was composed by Michael Land, Clint Bajakian and Peter McConnell, who composed the themes for the future, past and present settings of the game respectively. Day of the Tentacle was the first game to drop support for older, less successful platforms, instead initially releasing only for DOS and Mac OS. The game was one of the first video games to feature a full voice soundtrack upon its release.
Following the focus on the Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island and Indiana Jones franchises, LucasArts developed a game based on a different existing franchise in 1993 with Sam & Max Hit the Road. Designed by Sean Clark, Michael Stemmle, Steve Purcell and Collette Michaud, the game was based on comic book characters Sam and Max, which were created by Purcell. As with Day of the Tentacle, the game featured a full voice soundtrack upon release. The players' interaction with the game's environment was redesigned. Command functions were compressed into a number of cursor modes instead of having a list of verb actions to choose from on screen, and the inventory system was moved to an off-screen menu. The more streamlined interface allowed for more of the screen to be dedicated to gameplay. Land, Bajakian and McConnell returned to score the game's music. While Bajakian did not compose any further LucasArts adventure games, he was still involved with sound production in later titles.
Later SCUMM games (1995–97)
In 1995, after a year-long hiatus from adventure games, LucasArts released Full Throttle. Full Throttle was designed by Tim Schafer, and follows the story of Ben, a biker in a dystopian future who has been framed for murder. It was the first LucasArts adventure game to be released for Windows, although support for DOS was still retained. The game was the tenth to use the SCUMM engine, which had undergone further enhancements. The game kept a modified version of the streamlined interface used in Sam & Max Hit the Road, but introduced a contextual pie menu that dictated how players interacted with the game. Full Throttle featured technology called INSANE (Interactive Streaming Animation Engine) to assist with cut scene animation and the game's action sequences. The game's musical score was produced by Peter McConnell, and incorporated a title theme by The Gone Jackals. Full Throttle was the first LucasArts adventure game to be distributed only on CD-ROM.
Later in 1995, The Dig was published. Production had started in 1989, however The Dig was plagued with development problems. The final version of the game was overseen by Sean Clark, although two previous versions had involved Noah Falstein, Brian Moriarty and Dave Grossman. The game's story itself was envisioned by Steven Spielberg, who had concluded that a film version would be prohibitively expensive. Spielberg's story focused on a group of astronauts becoming stranded on an alien world while on a mission to stop an asteroid hitting Earth. The Dig used the SCUMM engine and the INSANE technology. In addition, fellow Lucasfilm company Industrial Light & Magic was involved in the game's special effects. Michael Land composed the game's music, which included excerpts from Richard Wagner's work.
The twelfth and final game to utilize SCUMM technology was the 1997 title The Curse of Monkey Island. The game was the third entry in the Monkey Island series, and the first not to involve series creator Ron Gilbert. Development was instead led by Jonathan Ackley and Larry Ahern. For its final outing, the SCUMM engine was completely overhauled to produce significantly more advanced graphics than any previous LucasArts adventure game. The resulting distinct cartoon style was created by artist Bill Tiller. The Curse of Monkey Island featured slightly refined gameplay based on the pie menu interface used in Full Throttle. The character of Guybrush Threepwood returns, with a voice actor for the first time in the series, in an effort to save his girlfriend from a voodoo curse. Michael Land once again composed the game's score. The Curse of Monkey Island would mark the end of support for DOS; the game was released on CD-ROM solely for Windows.
3D graphics and GrimE (1998–2000)
For the 1998 title Grim Fandango, LucasArts retired the SCUMM engine in favor of a new 3D engine. The GrimE (Grim Engine) technology was created, using the Sith engine as a base and coded using Lua. The new engine resulted in a redesign in control and gameplay: instead of using point-and-click mechanics, the player uses the keyboard or a gamepad to interact with the game. Full-motion video cut scenes are used to advance the plot, stylized to be nearly indistinguishable from the in-game backgrounds. GrimE was also a true 3D engine: characters are collections of 3D-rendered polygons.
Grim Fandango was created by Tim Schafer, his final work for LucasArts. The game follows the tale of Manny Calavera, a travel agent in the Land of the Dead, as he becomes embroiled in a web of crime and corruption. As well as drawing inspiration from Aztec concepts of the afterlife, Grim Fandango is strongly rooted in film noir tradition. Peter McConnell composed the musical score; as with Schafer, this was McConnell's last LucasArts project. As with The Curse of Monkey Island, the game was only released for Windows.
The second title to use GrimE and the final original LucasArts adventure game to be released was Escape from Monkey Island. Released in 2000, the game is the fourth installment in the Monkey Island series. The game's development was led by Sean Clark and Michael Stemmle. The GrimE technology was slightly modified for the game, although Escape from Monkey Island was in most respects similar to Grim Fandango in both graphics and gameplay. Escape from Monkey again follows Guybrush Threepwood, this time attempting to deal with an Australian land developer attempting to eradicate piracy through a voodoo talisman. The game's music was written by Michael Land. In addition to the Windows version, support was added for Mac OS 9 and a PlayStation 2 version was released in 2001.
Special editions (2009–10)
In June 2009, LucasArts announced an enhanced remake of the 1990 title The Secret of Monkey Island, with the intent of bringing the old game to a new audience. According to LucasArts, this announcement was "just the start of LucasArts’ new mission to revitalize its deep portfolio of beloved gaming franchises". Described by British journalist John Walker as a "cautious toe in the water" for LucasArts, the move was prompted by LucasArts president Darrell Rodriguez, who had assumed the post only two months prior. According to Walker, many LucasArts employees had grown up playing the games from the 1990s, suggesting that should the renewed endeavour be successful, the developers would be keen to continue with further adventure titles.
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition ran in an engine updated for high definition graphics that utilized the original game's resources, including the original SCUMM scripts. The special edition featured new high definition art and music played by a live orchestra. The original DOS CD version of the game was playable at anytime with the press of a button.
Following the success of the first special edition, LucasArts released the sequel, Monkey Island 2 Special Edition, in the summer of 2010. Like the original special edition, the second special edition used an updated engine that supported high resolution graphics, and utilized the original game's resource files. This time, since the game used the iMuse system, the engine had to be modified to run the new live orchestra music in various arrangements that simulated the shift in tone and pitch from scene to scene that iMuse performed on the original midi music. The second special edition featured a change in control scheme as well as a change in art direction due to criticism of the first special edition.
Following the release of Escape from Monkey Island in 2000, LucasArts put three further adventure games into development. However, all three were later canceled. The first of these was Full Throttle: Payback, a sequel to Full Throttle that began production in early 2000. Tim Schafer, the original creator of Full Throttle, was not involved in the project. Instead, development was led by Larry Ahern and Bill Tiller, who had both worked on The Curse of Monkey Island. In the early stages, the project received positive feedback from other LucasArts employees. According to Tiller, however, Payback eventually fell apart because of disagreements over the game's style between the development team and "a particularly influential person" within the management division. Production ceased in November 2000, when a quarter of the levels and about 40 percent of the preproduction art were complete. Ahern and Tiller both left LucasArts in 2001.
Another Full Throttle sequel began production in 2002. Entitled Full Throttle: Hell on Wheels, the game was to be for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles. In contrast to the original Full Throttle, Hell on Wheels was to be an action-adventure game. Development was headed by Sean Clark, his last work for the company. Hell on Wheels was showcased at the 2003 Electronic Entertainment Expo, where a playable demonstration and a teaser trailer were displayed. Despite this, LucasArts halted production in late 2003. Commentators cited poor graphics compared to other action-adventures of the time and Schafer's lack of involvement in the project as possible reasons for the decision. Additionally, Roy Conrad, the voice actor for the series' protagonist, had died in 2002.
The final attempt by LucasArts to develop an original adventure game was Sam & Max: Freelance Police, a sequel to the 1993 title Sam & Max Hit the Road. The game was announced for Windows in 2002 as a counterpart to Hell on Wheels. Michael Stemmle, one of the co-designers for Sam & Max Hit the Road, was the lead designer for the project. Series creator Steve Purcell, who had left LucasArts in 1997, worked as an advisor for the development team. Freelance Police was displayed alongside Hell on Wheels at the 2003 E3 convention, where the game's trailer was revealed. Although development appeared to be proceeding smoothly, Freelance Police was abruptly canceled in early 2004, just a few weeks before the game's marketing campaign was about to begin. LucasArts cited "current market place realities and underlying economic considerations" as the reasons for their decision. Commentators, however, felt that the move was representative of a perceived decline in the adventure game genre, and that LucasArts was moving to maintain its position with low business risk Star Wars-themed titles instead of the high risk graphic adventure games that had brought success in earlier years. LucasArts subsequently dismissed many of the designers involved with developing their adventure games, and in 2006 LucasArts president Jim Ward stated that the company may return to developing adventure games in 2015, effectively ending their adventure game era.
Descendant companies and titles
As various designers left LucasArts, new companies were created to produce adventure games in similar styles to those created by LucasArts. Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert, who left LucasArts after the completion of LeChuck's Revenge, went on to found Humongous Entertainment in 1992. Humongous created several series of point-and-click adventure games aimed at children, some of which used SCUMM. Gilbert also co-founded Cavedog Entertainment in 1996 to produce more mature games; the company is known for the 1997 title Total Annihilation. In 2008, Gilbert became the creative director at Hothead Games, where he is driving the development of the adventure game DeathSpank.
Tim Schafer, the creator of Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, left LucasArts at the beginning of 2000 to found Double Fine Productions. In 2005, Schafer's company released Psychonauts, an action-adventure following a secret training facility for psychics. The title is known for its critical praise and awards, but became notorious for its commercial failure. In 2009, Double Fine released Brütal Legend, a heavy metal themed game incorporating aspects of action-adventure and real-time strategy. While critically successful, Brütal Legend failed to make any sales breakthrough. Schafer, however, was not concerned about the commercial success of Brütal Legend or Psychonauts, as despite poor sales, "as long as you make a cool game, publishers want to talk to you".
After departing LucasArts in 2001, Larry Ahern, the co-designer for The Curse of Monkey Island and Full Throttle: Payback, founded Crackpot Entertainment along with members from several additional LucasArts adventure development teams. Their first product, released in 2008, was the action-adventure Insecticide. Bill Tiller, the art director for The Curse of Monkey Island and Full Throttle: Payback, founded Autumn Moon Entertainment in 2004 with another group of former LucasArts alumni. Autumn Moon went on to create A Vampyre Story, which was released in late 2008, and the 2010 title Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island.
In the aftermath of Freelance Police's cancellation in 2004, LucasArts dismissed many of their designers who worked on adventure games. Most of the Freelance Police development team, including Brendan Q. Ferguson, Dave Grossman and Chuck Jordan, formed Telltale Games in 2005, to continue the development of graphic adventures. Michael Stemmle, the lead designer of Freelance Police, joined the company in 2008. The company released their first adventure game, Bone: Out from Boneville, in late 2005. A sequel, Bone: The Great Cow Race, followed in early 2006. In 2005, LucasArts' license with Steve Purcell concerning the Sam & Max franchise expired. Purcell, who had left LucasArts in 1997, moved the franchise to Telltale Games. The company subsequently released Sam & Max Save the World in episodic fashion from late 2006 to early 2007. A second run of Sam & Max games, Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space, was released across late 2007 and early 2008. 2008 also saw the release of an episodic series based on the characters of Homestar Runner, Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People. Telltale Games adapted Wallace & Gromit into a further episodic series, Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures in 2009. The third Sam & Max season The Devil's Playhouse was released in 2010.
At the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2009, LucasArts announced a collaboration with Telltale Games to create a new series of episodic adventure games, Tales of Monkey Island. Development of this project was led by Dave Grossman, with Michael Stemmle assisting with design and story production. The development team also included members with past experience from both The Curse of Monkey Island and Escape from Monkey Island. In addition, series creator Ron Gilbert was involved in the early design of the project.
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- LucasArts Entertainment Company official website
- ScummVM official website
- LucasArts Museum
- Graphic Adventures, a book about the history of LucasArts and Sierra games
- The International House of Mojo
- 1UP Specials: LucasArts Reunion