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Why are We Still Talking about LucasArts' Old Adventure Games?
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Why are We Still Talking about LucasArts' Old Adventure Games?

April 5, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

This story is being highlighted as one of Gamasutra's best stories of 2013.

The gutting of LucasArts earlier this week was a tragic loss for the video game industry, but for many of us, it was more than that. 

It was more severe of a loss than the cancelled projects, the rumored 150 job losses, or the between-the-lines message that even a company as diverse and global as Disney puts little value in game development.

No, for us, the death of LucasArts was the death of a dream. A dream rose-tinted by nostalgia, perhaps, but a dream nevertheless. A dream that one day, the unique environment that birthed what may have been the most wildly creative studio in mainstream game development history would, somehow, come back.

It was a far-fetched dream, but as long as the name LucasArts continued to exist, a small part of us held onto it. 

A lot of innovation came out of the studio, but without a doubt, the strongest legacy it left behind was its series of graphical adventure games from the '80s and '90s. Unique, story-driven, easily-accessible adventures with titles like Grim Fandango, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders.

By most accounts the last truly great LucasArts (or Lucasfilm Games, if you go back far enough) game was released almost 15 years ago, and yet, many in the industry still hold these titles as the benchmark not only for comedy writing in games, but for narrative-driven games of all kinds.

But why is that? Why is it that we still consider these games among our pinnacle achievements as an industry? Why do developers still namedrop Monkey Island in pitch meetings when discussing their proposed game's story? Why do we all continue to mentally associate the word "LucasArts" as the splash screen we see before a graphical adventure game, even though the company hadn't released one in over a decade?

We turned to our game development community to find out. Specifically, we asked via Twitter and Facebook:

What is it about the classic LucasArts adventure games that makes them timeless? Why are we still talking about them today?

We've collected a good majority of the answers below. Following these responses, as a special treat, Lucasfilm Games veteran David Fox attempts to answer that question with his own insider perspective.

(Image credits: MobyGames, Lemon64, The Scumm Bar)

Helping Green Tentacle get a recording contract was the least of your worries in Maniac Mansion.

They often broke the fourth wall and made you feel like you were in on the joke. As if the joke was "Can you believe we get to make these things?" 

It was exhilarating and inspiring. Even today, my fantasy of what game development nirvana feels like stems from my experience playing those games, and the insinuation that they were created in the most liberating and creative environment on earth.

- Mike Mika, development director at Other Ocean Interactive

People always talk about how hard it is to make a comedy game, and maybe it's true, but LucasArts made it look easy. I still go back and play Day of the Tentacle every couple years with my wife, and man, that game holds up thanks to its perfect delivery.

From that one game I have learned a lot about how to be funny despite players having control over the timing of a scene, and I learned when you really just have to yank control away from them in order to drive a joke home.

- Dragon Fantasy creator Adam Rippon, of Muteki Corporation

Steven Spielberg himself laid the groundwork for The Dig.

Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

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E Zachary Knight
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Sam and Max Hit the Road, Day of the Tentacle and Indiana Jones and the Lost City of Atlantis were among the first and most memorable games I have ever played. I played them over and over loving every little gag and looking up a lot of words I had never heard before.

They are the inspiration to a number of game ideas I have rolling around in my brain just waiting for the chance to break free and run rampant in the streets.

TC Weidner
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They knew their audience , as they were of the same peer group ( 1980 tech nerds - and I use the word nerd with reverence being one myself) and they just nailed it in their games. Its as if you were playing a game made by some of your friends.

Let remember the demographics of computer games players back in the day was pretty specific to certain gender, age, education level and in being so, we all had roughly the same senses of humor, got the references , etc etc. It was just a magical time in gaming and Lucas Arts was at the forefront at that time. I will miss them, but will always fondly remember their games.

One odd thing that comes to mind about their games besides the obvious awesomeness, was the fact that they were some of the only true plug and play PC games of their times. I remember that if I saw the LucasFilms label I knew I could expect an easy install and get up in playing fast. Which today to younger players may seem odd, but back in the DOS days man sometimes you never knew what to expect. I remember some games required you to spend half a day in DOS just trying to get your soundblaster card to be recognized by the program.

Frank Cifaldi
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I think the ex-girlfriends I never got my copies of Grim Fandango and Monkey Island Madness back from would probably disagree with you, as would I. They weren't tech nerds in the 1980s at all.

All the playground kids talking about Maniac Mansion on the NES when it came out weren't either. We didn't even have computers, for the most part.

Frank Cifaldi
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Oh, and I watched another (ex-) girlfriend with zero interest in games bogart my iPad for a week or so to get through the first Monkey Island not four months ago.

I guess the lesson here is that LucasArts adventure games lead to breakups.

TC Weidner
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Maniac mansion was but one game,(and the only graphic adventure of that time to come out on the NES, no others followed), .LucasFilms games at that time, were primarily computers games, and at that time while there are always exceptions, apple/commodore/pc users were not too varied of a crowd. That doesnt rule out that later generations of "nerds' wouldnt also come to love the humor and games.

The point is, if LucasFilm games didnt capture the hearts of the 1980 nerd gamer, they wouldnt of been hits and Lucasfilms would not of kept funding and making those classics for that time span 1987-92

TC Weidner
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As far a sports I was standout athlete, being great at sports didnt stop me from loving some tech. and being a nerd. Lets also remember computers were not nearly as users friendly back in the day. So just being able to use one made you a wee bit of a nerd.

As far as demographics, back during this time I was a buyer for an east coast computer and gaming retailer, the 1980 nerd demographic was the bread and butter demographic. NES games were much more mainstream, broadening the base from the previous consoles such as intellivision, atari, coleco et.

Even back then we had niche apple users, commodore users, and the emerging pc dos users. You have to remember if a computer title sold over 100k copies back then, that was a major hit.

Even in 1993 as these great games winded down Ron Gilbert noted:

In 1993 the graphic adventure game “Day of the Tentacle” the sequel to Maniac Mansion. It sold around 80,000 copies upon release, and was critically acclaimed.

Luke Meeken
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The very user-friendly "plug & play" install you describe, as well the the deliberately not-punishing adventure gameplay, were precisely reasons why LucasArts games found such a wide audience BEYOND the cloistered he-nerds you feel they were pandering to. While the genres the games tended toward were stereotypical "white boy fantasy" (pirates, pulp sci-fi), the quality and style of the writing and design held a much more universal appeal than typical action games and so on.

Putting aside the gender issue, LucasArts adventures could appeal to folks who liked games, folks who likes comedy, folks who liked movies, and folks who liked cartoons - this is a way wider audience than was targeted by, say, arcade shooter games.

To add on to Frank and Michale's pile-up of anecdotal dismissals of your claim, during my 90's adolescence, I was a computer nerd and played a ton of different types of game, LucasArts adventures being my definite favorite. However, all of my cousins were girls and young women, and while they weren't as into Warcraft, or MegaMan, they did enjoy LucasArts and Sierra adventures, and it was actually their interest in graphic adventures that led me to play King's Quest games and eventually independently discover the glory of LucasArts.

Frank Cifaldi
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This was the response I wrote as an example when I asked people to contribute to this article. I'm posting it here in the hope that the discussion will continue here as comments:

I think it was all in the environment. LucasFilm Games in its golden age had a setup that I don't think we've seen before or since: a bunch of wildly creative young people were put under one roof and funded by a very wealthy man who was smart enough to just leave them alone (so long as they were making money).

The result was a financially comfortable game studio that was free to make the kinds of games they actually wanted to make, with little tinkering from anyone outside. Independent studios often have that same spirit, but they seldom have the comforts of a regular paycheck while they flesh their ideas out.

Erin OConnor
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They made games for the love of making games.
That age is long lost.*
Now is all about making money.

*Thankfully there are a number of smaller game developers out there that are "getting back to their roots" and creating amazing games for the sake of creating amazing games.

Ryan Creighton
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i articulated why LucasArts was so special to me long before the studio closed, back when i touched Ron Gilbert:

What's the last game that made you laugh out loud ... intentionally? It really was a magical, special time and place - a perfect storm of talent and creative freedom that i hope we'll see again, somewhere.

*cough* In Toronto. *cough*

Paul Marzagalli
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Frank asked for a few brief sentences, so of course I spammed him with three huge paragraphs (which he did an awesome and necessary job of carving up). Below are my unabridged comments. The mechanics and achievement in puzzle design and writing *do* hold up, but how we carry these things forward and share them goes a long way toward why these games still matter today.


It starts with "Star Wars". It has to. Seeing that Lucasfilm logo was a call to adventure for any boy or girl who loved those films. As the years passed, we branched out and discovered new things, but still...any time we saw that logo or heard that fanfare, we became kids again. That was the magic of Lucasfilm Games, later LucasArts. These weren't games made for children, though. They were stories which grew up with us.

For every adolescent who turned into a snarky teenager or a sardonic twenty-something, here were games made by our peers. They were games that made sense for where we were in life, made by people who walked the same road as we did. Eventually, we had children of our own and introduced them to "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones". Is it any wonder then that as they got older, our kids might have caught a glimpse of the "Monkey Island" remake or Telltale Games' "Sam & Max" series and had something click with them, too? Vastly different properties, but all of them infused with the same spirit of Lucasfilm inspiration.

The games endure because the stories are sharp and respect the audience's intelligence, the humor is inclusive, and because still today when we see "Lucasfilm" or "LucasArts", it brings us (and now our sons and daughters) back to those childhood memories when all we wanted was a great adventure and friends to share it with. I hope that whichever companies license the LucasArts brand understand its amazing legacy and strive to make it magical again for a new generation. To anyone who ever worked at the company, thank you a million times over!

Noah Falstein
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Wow. "You fans sound as sentimental as a Mom saying goodbye to her 'widdle gwown-up kiddie' "
To which my proper response is, "How appropriate, I'm crying like a baby"

On behalf of my colleagues of the time (we've been sharing our own surprise at how hard this hit us on the phone the last few days) let me thank you - and say how the best compensation for the sadness is hearing how many of you game developers of the current day we helped launch into this industry.

Noah Falstein - Lucasfilm Games Employee #7 (or maybe #8, it was a long time ago, get off my lawn!)

David Fox
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Totally agree, Noah! Besides reading all (well many) of the retrospectives from the game-related websites to BBC to the main newspaper in Germany, the hundreds of tweets, writing my own thoughts, and especially reminiscing in a special facebook group for all ex-Lucas employees, this has been a very humbling and moving experience. Totally took me by surprise at how affected I am by LucasArts' closing, even after leaving it 2 decades ago.

David Fox, Lucasfilm Games Employee #3, or #2 if you don't count Rob Poor.

William Volk
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Monkey Island is my favorite adventure game of all time.

It inspired me.

Francois Verret
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This is the moment to come out and say that I have never played any of their adventure games. Yes, I do feel like an awful gamer/human being. Hopefully, I will get to them, someday.

Brandon Van Every
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Start with Grim Fandango. There's an undercurrent of awfulness in it that will appeal to you.

The adventure game industry mostly died with that title. This is probably why I'm not sharing the nostalgia. I said my goodbyes to a certain kind of game development a long time ago. Eventually, brand identities become faceplates. All we can do is try to make the games we want *now*.

Corey Cole
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Secret of Monkey Island and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis were Lori's and my favorite adventure games - Yes, above any Sierra game. (We don't count Quest for Glory - too close to it to compare to anyone else's game.) Ron Gilbert once confided that he "borrowed" from Hero's Quest for SoMI, and of course we returned the favor in our later games. We were all trying to make the best games we could. And everyone we met from LucasArts were great people. Softball game on the Ranch (Sierra vs. Lucas), yay! :-)

Frank Cifaldi
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Did you guys seriously play softball against each other??

...who won?

Dimitri Del Castillo
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The Dig. That is all.

Christian Nutt
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I've been trying to write a comment in this feature all day and I can't quite figure out what I want to say.

When I was a kid I had a C64 and I had an NES (of course.) I played a lot of games on my C64 but really, only a few stuck with me at all, and none of them meant anything like as much to me as the NES games as Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken. They were (almost) the only ones (that I had) that did something meaningfully different or better than their competition on consoles, that carved out a space that meant something to me as a kid. I still have the box to Maniac Mansion. I had the poster on my wall for years.

I think they're still in the back of my head in some foundational way as what games "should be."

jaime kuroiwa
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Although I was raised in the arcades, I never felt satisfied from playing a game, and then I completed Full Throttle. That was the moment I decided I wanted to work in the game industry; LucasArts, specifically. To be so engaged with characters and explore such an interesting world, I had to be a part of the process that created such a beautiful thing.

I guess the closure of LucasArts is a hidden blessing for me, because I can now move on from that dream.

Cassio Raposa
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LucasArts's adventures were great simply cause they - the guys behind the codes and pixels - always looked for excellency.
Fate of Atlantis and Monkey Island II made me, a 6yo Brazilian back then, learn English so I could play :).
It was also playing FoA that I decided to work with videogames.
Disney, shame on you... Games are art and not just millions of units selling so you can be even more full of our money ¬¬

Dave Hoskins
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As people may have forgotten, the Grim Fandango design document was published, and you can get it online. Definitely worth looking at. It reminds me of the work and love of telling a story that's both entertaining and bizarre.
Point and click games are still being written and appear to be quite popular. Revolution (Broken Sword) appear to be still going strong. But instead of cutting Lucas-arts down to a more realistic and humble position, they decided to sell off it's IPs, then set fire to it - not making enough money you see.

Pier Castonguay
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Because people are stupid.
When talking about video games, most people just keep remembering "back in the days" when they were playing. STOP IT. Nostalgia isn't everything. These games were good, but games nowadays are better than ever, especially the point and click adventure genre. I hate it how they all go unnoticed and only a small subset of people try them. It did not change, there are over 10 point and click adventure games released this year that are even better than the old LucasArt classics. Just try them. Daedalic Entertainment is a good start.

Paul Marzagalli
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Remind me to never invite you to speak at anyone's wake or memorial tribute.

Chris Melby
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RAGE!!! :)

I don't agree with your opinion on this being just nostalgia, since I revisit these old games often -- DIG being one of my favorite games and the first graphic adventure I turned around and replayed...

The "MUSIC," the art( Not the rushed half-assed reworks. ), the HUMOR, the CHARACTERS, the story being told, all make Lucas's games more than just nostalgia and in many cases a step above this newer stuff.

Nostalgia in my case is PacMan. Walka walk walka.. Beweeeeeeeeuuuu Weeeeuuuuuuu Beweeeuuuuuuuuu...

Amir Barak
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I love Daedalic (finished most of their games) but none of their products so far are better than the older LucasArts titles; sorry to burst your bubble. Wadjet Eye Games (especially the Blackwell saga) approach the same level of script, narrative and characterization but not quite yet.

I'm an avid point'n'click adventure game player but recent titles haven't really pushed the genre forward. Not that they pulled it backwards mind you, it's just that they've been sort of keeping in place but not really building more on the 'shoulders of giants' so to speak.

Michael Ball
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Don't like something other people loved?

Bill Zielinski
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It's not one of the 'adventure' games, but let's not forget about Habitat. Essentially an MORPG that was up and running in 1986!. For those developing games at the time, Habitat was hugely influential and provided an enticing glimpse of the future.

Tom Szirtes
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I think nostalgia is an element of their appeal. But also adventure games draw on something that doesn't really age - thats Storytelling. Storytelling appeals to all ages and its at the core of the genre. In other genres storytelling acts more as a framework on which to wrap loads of action (usually shooting people).

As they tend to adapt to 2D art really well, that allows a lot of expression and individuality to come through from the creator (as well as they don't require such large teams). So we remember adventure games more as an experience.

These games really inspired us to make our game The Realm ( so its great there is still interest in them.

Sebastjan Rijavec
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Hello everyone!

As my comment on this would be that, i did my try-error thingie with some games but at the end of the day, there is no game there to keep me stuck to the screen, or, to say it differently, no game out there to really appeal to me. So i folded back to The Curse of Monkey Island game and the moment i started playing i was floored.

I appreciate the storyline, and the gameplay. Specially the gameplay is so away from today's standards, which i personally appreciate. Do you guys think if someone would put out an interesting game in the style of Monkey Island, would it have any "followers" ?