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Why Are We Still Talking About LucasArts' Old Adventure Games? 285

Posted by samzenpus
from the best-in-class dept.
jones_supa writes "The gutting of LucasArts was a tragic loss for the video game industry, but for many of us, it was more than that. By most accounts the last truly great LucasArts game was released almost 15 years ago, and yet, many in the industry still hold these titles as the benchmark. 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? Gamasutra has collected a good majority of the answers. Following these responses, as a special treat, Lucasfilm Games veteran David Fox attempts to answer that question with his own insider perspective."
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Why Are We Still Talking About LucasArts' Old Adventure Games?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 08, 2013 @09:37AM (#43390605)

    Those games are gone. Those game companies are gone.

    And the current games will most likely not produce anything like them again.
    Heck todays games won't even run when they shut the activation server off in 2 years.

    Excessive greed... Kills all the good stuff.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Monday April 08, 2013 @09:38AM (#43390621)

    The reason the games from 15 years ago were so great was that there was no attempt to shoe-horn prequel material into the story.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday April 08, 2013 @09:44AM (#43390695)

    For the same reason scummvm has been ported to damn near every platform and why I still play these games on brand new smartphones. Reminds me, I need to find my Full Throttle game files.

  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Monday April 08, 2013 @09:46AM (#43390701)

    Its a shame that George forced his entire empire to eat, breath and shit out Star Wars franchise IP which is why the empire collapsed and got absorbed by an even bigger evil empire. But the few original IP created by Lucasarts were actually quite good and original.

    I'm not saying we need to revisit them or have remakes of any of them, but it shows there were actually some creative and inventive original thinkers in the Lucasarts company and hopefully now they are free of the oppression of only doing Star Wars IP, we might see some new and novel games come from them again.

  • Nostalgia. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jonnythan (79727) on Monday April 08, 2013 @09:53AM (#43390777) Homepage

    It's not because those games were just particularly amazing, well-written, and well-constructed. It's because those were the games that we grew up with. Those of us in their 30s and early 40s are the ones currently dominating the industry, and we grew up playing King's Quest IV and Monkey Island and Loom and X-Wing etc. We have a fondness for those now because we were kids and those games were the world to us.

    Same reason most of us love Voltron and hate Power Rangers, even though they're damn near the same thing.

  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Monday April 08, 2013 @09:53AM (#43390781)

    There was not one game from that era that could install without spending a day trying to tweak config.sys files and autoexec.bat, no reason to single out Lucasarts. Its just that they made some of the better games in that era.

    I remember the same headaches with the Wing Commander series responsible for causing me to have to spend hundreds of dollars to find the right combo of video and sound card just to get the opening cutscene to play without stuttering.

    DOS was the dark days of PC gaming for sure.

  • Why? Simple ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tgd (2822) on Monday April 08, 2013 @09:53AM (#43390787)


    Everyone doing that right now is getting old. Kids today will be doing the same thing about Gears of War, Borderlands and Splosion Man.

    And some of us, who are older, are still doing it about Joust, Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers.

    Welcome to the pool of people not at the top of the generation queue.

  • Re:Why? Simple ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Windwraith (932426) on Monday April 08, 2013 @10:04AM (#43390881)

    I don't think so. I still pick up some of their games every now and then, and they are as rightfully enjoyable as they were back in the date. Even new ones I never got around to try as a kid, I enjoy greatly now.
    I think the word "nostalgia" has been shifting meaning as of late. Nostalgia is when you think of that summer in 1989 (random example). Something you only relive through your memories, if you will.
    Perhaps if you relived that summer, it wouldn't be as memorable as you remembered.

    However, this is videogames! Things you can pick up and play almost anytime. I still pick up games from the Genesis/Megadrive or SNES. I still find new obscure games that I never played as a kid. And know what? I love them! Because they are genuinely good, and nothing else.

    This is not nostalgia. This is given credit where it's due.

  • Re:Why? Simple ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mike Frett (2811077) on Monday April 08, 2013 @10:08AM (#43390907)

    Not really. There is a difference between a good game with lots of playability and a game that can't be played anymore when the DRM servers are turned off. There is a difference between making a good single-player game and a game where the devs can't be bothered with anything but the same dime-a-dozen multi-player.

    There is a difference between a finished game and a game that requires DLC. There is a difference between a game company that wants to make games, and a game company that only cares about money. This has nothing to do with that first glass of Milk and Cookies you ever had.

  • by Guru80 (1579277) on Monday April 08, 2013 @10:13AM (#43390965)
    Simple..because LucasArts just got canned for exactly what is mentioned...they haven't produced much that's appealing in a decade. Sure, those games were fun and mind-blowingly fun when they came out but I assure you, nobody I know "still talks about them" except in a moment of nostalgia and that's no different than any other game from the first time we played Pong right up to recent years.
  • Re:Nostalgia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by qwak23 (1862090) on Monday April 08, 2013 @10:15AM (#43390985)

    When I was 8-12, I thought adventure games were pretty awesome. I rarely beat them, and figured it was just a lack of creativity/ingenuity on my part. Even though I failed and failed and failed some more, I love solving puzzles/problems (I'm a technician by trade and math student by hobby currently) and spent hours going over the same few screens, scouring for clues that I missed, inventory combinations I hadn't tried (and in the days of the infamous parser, word combinations I hadn't tried). I'd spend hours doing this.

    Then I got a little older, installed a few of the old games out of nostalgia's sake (even still have a few of the more memorable ones installed) and given that I don't have hours to spend staring at the same screen, decided to give up, look up some FAQs and at least push my way through the story (some of those games had some really well written ones). At this point I discovered that my failures were not entirely due to a lack of problem solving ability on my part, as I found that the majority of puzzles I had always gotten stuck on lacked any sort of logic at all (I believe there is an excellent write up on Gabriel Knight 3's issues somewhere on the net). They required the kind of creativity and problem solving ability you get at 4am from numerous bongs, a few beers and the inability to click where you want to click.

    And before anyone "wooshes" me, I totally got the sarcasm in the parent and just felt this was the perfect spot for a mini-rant =)

  • Grim Fandango (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MetricT (128876) on Monday April 08, 2013 @10:16AM (#43391001) Homepage

    In the 30+ years I've been gaming, Grim Fandango was the best game I ever played. Such an absolute joy, and an ending that was worth the journey.

    If I had to choose between Grim Fandango 2 and Half-Life 3, GF2 it would be.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 08, 2013 @10:18AM (#43391017)

    I had a Pro Audio Spectrum 16 and a Gravis Ultrasound in my 486dx33 back in those days (plus a US Robototics 14.4 Sportster modem). The IRQ/DMA assignments were definitely messy. The GUS sounded absolutely amazing but messing around with MegaEm, Ultramid, and all the other nasty software was a pain at times. I loved the games that would allow me to use the PAS for the digital fx and the GUS for music (yay MT32/LAPC1 via MegaEM).

    DOS 6 and the arrival of multi-config was a *godsend*. Without it, I'd have needed to make a boot disk for each family of games.

  • by discord5 (798235) on Monday April 08, 2013 @10:50AM (#43391335)

    There was not one game from that era that could install without spending a day trying to tweak config.sys files and autoexec.bat

    I remember it well, and it was the first steps for me into the dark art of understanding how computers work. I can only thank videogames of that era for making me start a voyage into a new realm. Understanding memory, learning about DMA and IRQs, getting a modem to work, setting up a LAN, trying my hand at programming, ... I learned a great deal from all that and it got me interested in a subject I had little interest in before.

    Thanks DOS games! You've set me onto a career which I enjoy tremendously (despite becoming such a cynic).

  • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Monday April 08, 2013 @11:13AM (#43391597) Homepage

    I chalk this up to nostalgia, rather than the games being better than any other games from the same era.

    While Sierra was still trying to kill you in dozens of more or less "funny" ways and allowed you to end up in dead ends, LucasArts practiced essentially modern game design practices and made sure that you couldn't get stuck into dead ends, get killed or otherwise get your gaming experience ruined by obtuse puzzle design. I think that is the main reason why those LucasArts game are so fondly remembered and Sierra not quite so much. When you load up an old LucasArts adventure today it essentially plays not much different then a modern one would, the interface is clean and polished and the game design very straight forward without any ugly surprises. When you load up most other games of that time you are greeted with a rather obtuse interface, unclear game rules and other problems that just make those old games far less tolerable in modern times.

    It of course also helps that the games are just damn good, with rememberable characters, great graphics, voice acting and all that.

  • Re:Nostalgia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bfandreas (603438) on Monday April 08, 2013 @11:19AM (#43391659)
    Let me join your rant.

    GK3 was the worst offender. Not only did you have to be at the right time at the right spot with little indication given. It also had the worst puzzles(and also some great puzzles). Having to molest a cat to get a fake mustache for your Mosley costume must be the worst thing ever done in an adventure game.
    The only adventure that ever did the real time thing right was The Last Express which sadly has to be the best game nobody ever played. But even that had its fair share of problems. Putting an action sequence into an adventure game is propably lost on your audience. Fighting on the roof of a train may be fun in a fighting on the roof of a train game but not in an adventure game. Some did it right(you could skip the jump&run sequence in Rise of the Dragon) and some did it wrong(the kneel down sequence in Indiana Jones 3 springs to mind).

    But the worst puzzles were those that referenced popular culture. In Day of the Tentacle you had to scare off a couple of morons. What you had was white paint and a black cat sitting on a fence. A friend of mine is from Romania and it took a couple of highly educational Pepe le Pew cartoons to explain to him why painting a white stripe on the back of a black cat was the obvious choice to do things.

    It's the cultural equivalent of why none of us old farts will ever get why painting some obnoxious kid's hair orange and gel it into a spiky mess will scare off bullies. Kamekamehaha...whut?

    I very rapidly understood why adventure games are best played with a walkthrough. And it is best to consult it only when needed. Being stuck was the worst thing that could happen to you. Being stuck because youd didn't pick up something at a place you can't get to anymore was even worse. And that is what never happened to you in Lucasfilm Games adventures and that was also something that made them awesome. That and you very rarely got stuck. And they were great fun. And they sometimes even made you think. They had great atmosphere. And diversity. They sent you on tropical islands, the afterlife, who knows where(Loom was odd), the future, the past, on a bike, on a zeppelin and even Atlantis(which would have been the better choice then looking for alien glass skulls)

    Sadly they fell victim to the Doom clone craze and continued to produce rehash upon rehash of the least cerebral game concept since shooting gallery shareware was invented. Only with light sabres! And Jedi! Yay!
    http://www.dosgamesarchive.com/download/shooting-gallery/ [dosgamesarchive.com]
  • by s0nicfreak (615390) on Monday April 08, 2013 @11:33AM (#43391785) Homepage Journal

    Those games are gone.

    Wait... where did they go? Did some mass fire destroy all remaining copies in the world? No. They're still there. I can still have my kids, born after they came out, play those games. I can - and do - have my kids play games from 30 years ago, from when I started gaming. Even the games that actually were lost to me due to fire or whatever ravages of time. Games do not suddenly cease to exist a few years after they are released. The good games are still played 15 years later, 30 years later, and I'm assuming 60 years later, 100 years later. Like classic books, the good ones will survive, they won't go anywhere. The games that only have nostalgia going for them will be lost once the people with that nostalgia stop lamenting or die out.

    By the time the servers of today's games are shut off, someone will have hacked/cracked them and made them playable without those servers. Games needing activation or some kind of server has been around for years now, many games have had their servers shut off. But I can't think of a single game that I still want to play, but that I absolutely can not play.

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Monday April 08, 2013 @12:03PM (#43392125)

    The games of old, we look back on when we were in our pre-teen to early adult years have a special place in our heart. These adventure games are the first few games that you have won and it was a hard win to have won. My nostalgia was more towards Sierra Online Adventures, but the premise is the same. You spend hours as there wasn't easy access to the internet to give you a hint. The excitement every time you were able to get to a new screen, as you are about to face a new challenge. Then you get older, you have real challenges in your life, and the new games just don't spark that kind wonderment. It isn't that the new games are any better or worse, but when you were a kid, things are new.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday April 08, 2013 @12:40PM (#43392561) Journal

    Getting someone else's puzzle is HARD. For instance, in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father, one puzzle is to translate a piece of German text. I happen to be fluent enough in German to never think of looking for a dictionary in the game to find the answer to progress to the next bit.

    It is the same reason stereo-types are so common in media, when you got a X amount of time to make something clear, you can't afford to leave any room for mis-interpretation. Mine was to forget Gabriel Knight is an American and as such mono-lingual.

    The Secret World is a MMO by the maker of The Longest Journey and it has some puzzles in it... and boy was it "fun" to see anyone from PhD's to xbox owners tackle them. One tricky puzzle asked you to find a password with no more a clue then "Night Helen and I meter, under the fireworks set to my favorite composer." and "Music of the Seasons" that one right next to the computer you are trying to unlock. You would be surprised how many didn't get it.

    Another hinted to look at the psalms for a keycode near a church. Is it THAT obscure that churches display psalms going to be sung at the next service somewhere? I am not even a Christian and I know that. Many many don't.

    Adventures games are games from a time when you had to read books to learn things in an age when everything is a Google away. People have gotten lazy. I have gotten lazy. Throw six switches when I can throw 1? Throw 1 when I can throw 0?

    Look at the latest Tomb Raider, pretty enough but the "hidden" dungeons couldn't be easier to find if they had flares next to them (instead of giant white graffiti) and consists of exactly ONE short puzzles doable in a few minutes. Compared to slowly making your way all around a gigantic underground pyramid, it just don't compare.

    TSW was considered by many to be to hard... as an old fart, I can't be anything but be amazed by how mindless such people must be. But the simple fact is that the old Lucasarts and Sierra adventures were THEMSELVES, dumb downs of the text adventures.

    I enjoyed the new Tomb Raider, I just wish it required me to actually think for a second at time instead of being a rather tiring roller coaster all the time. I wish TSW had more puzzles but spend more time playing Guild Wars 2 which is so fucking easy you have to do something else at the same time to avoid slipping into a coma.

    Because while these new shallow games are much simpler, they are also far far smoother. No endless quest bugs in GW2, or none you mind anyway. The new Tomb Raider had me dropping to my death only a handfull of times and rarely required me retrying a jump several times to get it pixel perfect.

    Old quality games required quality players and quality time and that is hard combo to get when you get old or have an xbox.

  • Actually I think you nailed it about "not dumbing down" but I would put the era all the way to the early/mid 00s. After all the late 90s gave us such games as Half Life (can you imagine anybody putting in something like the opening tram sequence without Michael Bay-ing the shit out of it today?) and No One Lives Forever series, the Descent games and Freelancer, these games cared about making their worlds, no matter how real or unreal they were, come alive for the player. Today all the games act like you have the attention span of a hamster and if shit isn't shooting and you or exploding for longer than 20 seconds you'll fall asleep. I remember in Freelancer just exploring for new places to mine for just hours, other than the occasional tense run in with raiders i could just explore this rich galaxy (and with the mods out there the universe is now insanely huge, with dozens of systems) all I wanted with ZERO hand holding. None of this "You must do X-Z before you can go here" leading by the nose crap.

    I do have to wonder though how much of this hand holding and noise is because of Michael Bay and how many truckloads of money he makes each picture as I've noticed that movies and TV likewise throw jump cuts and explosions like jangling keys in front of your face, its like they think we simply can't pay attention if they don't constantly throw shit at us. I bought the Kane & Lynch games (hey they were a buck a piece on Amazon) just to see what was so horrible and frankly 10 minutes in I was thinking "A video game by Michael Bay" as it was nothing but camera effects, shit blowing up, and foul mouthed one dimensional characters we couldn't give a shit about, classic Michael Bay.

    So I have to wonder how much of the "dumbing down" and hand holding with an emphasis on set pieces is the changing taste of the devs and gamers and how much of it is a cynical attempt to rip off the Michael Bay style of doing things.

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