Roughly twenty years ago, my Father came home from a sunny Saturday outing with my uncle, each of them bearing piles of old electronic treasures. The two of them had visited the local flea market, and found plenty of movies, music, and, of course, video games to share with the entire family. As my siblings, cousins, and I surrounded our respective fathers, eager to see what was bought, my uncle produced a Super Nintendo game with an odd title: Zombies Ate My Neighbors. As an avid horror movie fan, my uncle was delighted to find such a game, and he was eager to see how it played. We dropped the game into the console, fired it up, and saw a golden stick figure standing upon a purple L-shaped logo. Being a fidgety little kid, I randomly pressed on the controller as we waited for the title screen to appear, but we all jumped when my finger grazed the L button, and a piercing scream emitted from the television.
Initially, we were all confused by this screaming logo. My cousins and I hypothesized that I must have entered a cheat code, and the scream was acknowledging proper entry. But as we played through the game, there was no apparent benefit to our performance. When we started a new game later, my brother tried to hit buttons through the logo once more, and when he pressed the R button, a goofy dog bark resounded from the Lucasarts screen. Again, we assumed some sort of code had been entered, and again we were disappointed to find no evidence to support our claims. This anomaly was later explained to us through Nintendo Power’s “Classified Information” section, where the scream and dog bark were revealed to be a sort of joke from the Lucasarts team for players to discover.
That was my first time playing a Lucasarts game and seeing the “Gold Guy” logo flash upon a screen. Since the closing of Lucasarts Studios last month, I have been thinking quite a bit about this experience. It has been some time since a Lucasarts release has piqued my interest. The last game I played through was The Force Unleashed, which I found rather bland and a bit frustrating compared to previous Star Wars titles like Jedi Knight and the Trilogy Arcade Game. So when I read about Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and the subsequent closing of Lucasarts, my heart did not fill with melancholy and disappointment. Certainly, I felt bad for the 150 jobs lost due to this news, but my mind seemed to linger on the feeling that the Lucasarts I had loved ceased to be long ago.
Like my time spent playing Zombies Ate My Neighbors, most of my experiences with Lucasarts games were a mix of engrossing art styles, fun gameplay, and plenty of humor. During my middle school years, I spent many an afternoon playing the PC sim Afterlife, where the management of Heaven and Hell was set against a cartoony style with plenty of tongue-in-cheek jokes. Grim Fandango still stands proudly in my top ten games of all time, with an excellent film-noir inspired story and plenty of interesting and silly characters. While I missed out on Monkey Island during its initial PC days, the Xbox Live re-release made up much of a weekend spent with my good friend Bobby, where we guffawed at the goofy pirates while trying to solve the various puzzles of Melee Island. Each of these games hold such a strong place in my heart, and all of them were released by Lucasarts. But as the new millennium dawned on this studio, many of the greats who made these titles left, and the company refocused its efforts on the Star Wars brand, almost exclusively. So much of the humor and characters I had grown to love fell by the wayside, and so Lucasarts had completely fallen off of my radar.
For a while, it seemed like all of these old games would be trapped in the past; technology had moved forward too quickly, and the systems on which to play these games did not exist anymore. Thankfully, a combination of independent patches and programming, along with great sites like Good Old Games have brought these classics out of commission to be played once more. The talented designers who brought us games like Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle have not slowed down either. Ron Gilbert just released The Cave earlier this year, Dave Grossman is the design director at Telltale Games, and Tim Schafer is doing just fine over at Double Fine Productions.
So while it seems that Lucasarts no longer exists, both officially and personally, the games and the designers who made it famous still live on; continuing to fill our hearts with joy through a piercing shriek and a dog’s bark.