Before we really get going on this subject let’s make a few things clear:
LucasArts being closed by Disney is something tragic. As is the potential loss of Star Wars 1313 (even if it was going to be about Boba Fett after all), First Assault and other titles. It has put a lot of talented people out of their jobs who deserve to be working on games. Because of this licences like Grim Fandango are even less likely to see any future instalments. This article is not questioning any of these things or trying to argue this is a good thing, what it’s asking is this: Was the LucasArts which was shut down the same one beloved by fans?
Think about it for a second. What are the best games from them you personally enjoyed and best remember? Then think about when they came out and who actually made them. Think about what LucasArts personally made over the last few years and if the level of quality is even in the same ball-park. Now I don’t mean those which were created through LucasArts, I mean the ones specifically made by them. Not made in combination with someone else, not as the publisher, or another studio doing the bulk of the work.
A vast number of recent titles were made in combination with others. Look at this working back from what they created most recently: Kinect Star Wars was created with Terminal Reality with LucasArts as the publisher. Lego Star Wars III was by Traveller’s Tales, again with LucasArts effectively only as the publisher. Star Wars: The Old Republic was developed by Bioware. What was the last one LucasArts had considerable involvement in the development process? Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, a title from three years ago. Before that? The first Force Unleashed in 2008, with 2006’s Republic Commando preceding that.
Find a list of the titles they’ve been involved with, an extensive one detailing what they were doing. Then look down it and genuinely take a look at just how many had them as developer. The closer you get from the early 2000s to today, the less and less they have had any real involvement in programming and crafting the end product.
Many acclaimed titles, and some not so acclaimed ones, from recent years were done by others.
Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel were by Bioware and Obsidian. The Star Wars: Battlefront series was handled by everyone from Pandemic Studios to THQ Wireless and Rebellion Developments. Star Wars: Empire at War was handled by Petroglyph, the Lego Star Wars and Lego Indianna Jones games were done by Traveller’s Tales. Hell, if you really look into titles LucasArts Singapore did more work on titles than the actual LucasArts studio itself did in its final years.
When people seem to be talking about LucasArts being closed and how bad it is, they’re referencing titles from years ago. Things like Day of the Tentacle, the Rogue Squadron series, Monkey Island and Star Wars: Dark Forces. Referring to people like Tim Schafer and they games they created, people who moved on from them years ago. The sad truth of the matter is that the LucasArts they are talking about, the one they loved, the one which made games, died a long time ago.
The studio changed, people moved on and it turned less into a developer and more into a publisher with a very different approach to titles. This was something we’ve actually seen talked about before by those who worked with LucasArts. One specific example was on Kotaku with Steve Ellis in which he talked about how the drastic change in leadership resulted in huge problems. Even blaming the cancellation of Battlefront III upon it.
Just consider this for a moment: How many developers have made Star Wars titles, or even handled their own licences better than LucasArts in its final years? The answer is a huge number. Would it really be surprising to see another one handling Star Wars 1313 and, going from the developer’s track record, that they could do a better job than LucasArts would have?