RIP Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts
“You fight like a dairy farmer.”
“How appropriate, you fight like a cow.”
Those words will probably be burned somewhere into my brain for as long as I live. The very first insult and response combination that you learn for insult sword-fighting in Secret of Monkey Island, I remember reading those words in 1993, slowly and out-loud, when I was barely five years old while playing SoMI with my dad. An engineer at IBM, he had received a free Lucasfilm Games sampler pack with our latest computer - Secret of Monkey Island, Loom, and (inexplicably) Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. I don’t think I ever got Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe to work, but the first two games would have more of an impact on me than I ever thought possible. Every night when he came home from work, my dad and I would sit in front of the computer and work through every puzzle and challenge on Mêlée Island with Guybrush Threepwood.
To this day I’ve tried to work out exactly what it was about that game that snared my young mind so completely: The sense of humor that constantly straddled the intellectual and the juvenile? The thrilling adventures of (wannabe) pirates? The quaintness of the silent characters, speaking only in on-screen text? Whatever the case, I was completely mesmerized. It was a mundane moment in the story, however, that stands out for me as a lightning bolt memory. Early in the game, Guybrush is faced with the challenge of digging up the Hidden Treasure of Mêlée Island(™) if he wants to become a pirate, so he needs to find a treasure map. Luckily, there’s a shady-looking gentleman standing on a street corner selling exactly that if you know how to ask.
I don’t remember which joke it was, but one line in that conversation made my dad laugh out loud to himself, prompting me to ask what was so funny. He walked me through the joke, explaining the humor behind it, and that made me realize something that struck me to my core:
Words could make people laugh.
A silly-sounding realization in retrospect, but at the time I was stunned. None of these characters were speaking, there were barely sound effects, heck, the characters only had about 4 different animations they could cycle through... But they could still make people laugh. There are a couple of defining moments in my journey of deciding that I wanted to be a writer, but that one holds a special place in my heart. Only playing for half an hour a night a few times a week, it took my dad and I ages to finish Secret of Monkey Island, but when we finally doused LeChuck in root beer and banished him from the mortal plane I truly felt like we had accomplished something spectacular. As I watched the credits roll, the MIDI music swelling, I knew what I had to do: I had to play it again.
Over the next year, I played SoMI a few more times; getting faster each time, learning the fastest way to navigate and the most efficient way to get through conversations. But I would also dawdle sometimes, trying every line of dialogue, every inventory item combination possible, marveling at just how many jokes the writers had packed into that game.
It was about a year after my dad and I finished SoMI for the first time that I found the Lucasfilm Games Sampler box again and I spotted Loom. According to the back of the sleeve, it was another point-n-click adventure game, but this one driven by music and with (wait for it) actual recorded dialogue. My little mind was blown and I knew I had to load it up and try playing it on my own.
Holy. Crap. That game was difficult for a 7-year-old. Built on top of some unusual mechanics and requiring diligent note-taking more akin to Myst, Loom nonetheless wowed me with its epic (and sometimes scary) world-spanning story, recorded dialogue, and (slightly) more sophisticated graphics. It took me weeks, but I finished, incredibly proud of myself. From Loom, I kept chasing point-n-click graphic adventure games until I had played through all of the Lucasfilm Games (then LucasArts) library of titles. I was stunned at the drama of The Dig in 1995, amazed by the art and animation in Curse of Monkey Island in 1997, then utterly floored by the masterpiece of Grim Fandango in 1998. For some reason it would be years later, in college, that I would finally play Full Throttle, Fate of Atlantis and Sam & Max Hit The Road, but you better believe that I was amazed by those as well.
Through playing those games, soaking my brain in them as I grew up, I learned a sense of timing in dialogue, how to write different character voices, and the art of packing in as much information (or as many jokes) into every single line of text as possible. Each time I play one of my beloved point-n-click graphic adventure games I seem to always find something new.
To date I have played Secret of Monkey Island close to 50 times, including once or twice with the new Special Edition. I can speed-run through it in under 45 minutes and know more or less every line of dialogue verbatim. If this little essay hasn’t made it clear yet, it’s my favorite game.
So when I learned recently that LucasArts was being shut down, it hit me in my gut with more force than I really expected it to. I know: They hadn’t made point-n-click adventure games in over a decade. They hadn’t really put out a title that had gotten me jazzed in years. My heroes there had all left for other companies ages ago. Arguably, the company that I loved had been already gone for a while.
But it had always been there. In the back of my mind I had always sort of hoped that, someday, I would get to visit LucasArts. Heck, maybe even work there. Visiting the company that had created a game that had such a profound effect on me was one of my “bucket list” sort of dreams. As of April 2013, however, crossing that one off is now officially not possible.
I understand why it happened, and I can respect the business decisions behind it, but it doesn’t make it any easier to explain to 6-year-old Eric that, no, you can’t go visit the company that made Monkey Island. Not even someday. See, he doesn’t care about business decisions - He still doesn’t really accept the fact that you stopped making adventure games and focused exclusively on Star Wars titles in the early 2000s.
But 24-year-old Eric? He can pour out a (melting) mug of grog for Lucasfilm Games and reflect on the end of an era and the passing of one of the greatest legacies of computer games of all time. He’ll still treasure that catalogue of titles for a long, long time to come and he’ll tell you, til he’s blue in the face, why those games are some of the greatest games of all time.
So thank you, Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts. Thank you for Guybrush Threepwood. For Bobbin Threadbare, Sam & Max, Boston Low, Ben Throttle, Manny Calavera... A cast of protagonists and heroes that mean the world to me.
“I’ve learnt something from all this.”
“What’s that, Guybrush?”