Not since Alan Dean Foster's novelisation of The Dig has there been a book written so perfectly for us ("I though The Dig novelization was shite" – Ed). Covering the entire past, present and, um, a couple of inches of the future of our once-favourite and now estranged developer/publisher, Rogue Leaders: The Story of LucasArts by ex-PC Gamer editor Rob Smith is a truly excellent work.
You'll find a lot more detail in our Secret History series, but not all at once and certainly with not as much hidden detail. What's even more astonishing is that, for a book which has LucasArts' absolute support (enough to allow the author to dig deep into even their current games) Rogue Leaders never reads like a recruitment poster. While it also never heads into out-and-out condemnation, which would be a step too far, the author rarely shies away from calling attention to the controversy.
The main text of the book is a detailed ongoing history of LucasArts, from its very beginnings alongside Pixar to its current (lets be honest) mess of a company. You may have read Mojo since its beginnings and have studied all of our pages and hosted sites, but trust me – you haven't seen everything, and you're the perfect target for this book.
While the ongoing history is thorough for the most part, the book never skimps on the extra little anecdotes and details that make the reality so interesting. For example, do you know what happened in Tim Schafer's interview? He said he was a big fan of the publisher's game "Ballblaster", which instantly let them know that Tim had pirated the game. He then of course believed he had lost the job, so instead of a CV Tim sent the company a little cartoon strip of him being so happy that he got hired. He got the job. Somehow I don't think that would work today.
What will interest many people is the wonderful amount of previously unseen concept art, storyboards, puzzle flow-charts and other cool behind-the-scenes stuff for many of LEC's games. There's Steve Purcell's alternate Monkey Island 2 covers, some of Peter Chan's storyboards from Grim Fandango, the original Full Throttle logo and the notes for adjustment, designs for most of the creatures in The Dig, and even a letter from George Lucas praising the team after the success of Rebel Assault. For a lifelong Mojo reader, this is heaven.
What personally interested me was the details on many of the games that didn't get made. There were far more than we ever suspected. Let's just say our Cancelled Games section may need expanding exponentially. Some examples:
Sawyer, a 3D spiritual sequel to Zombies Ate My Neighbours and Ghoul Patrol. After monsters and demons came aliens, and they even considered bringing songs by Queen on for the soundtrack. The title was shelved when the team was brought over to do Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, perhaps the reason why such a cool-sounding game ended up sucking.
Imperial Commando, a personal sore point of mine now. The sequel to the rather good Republic Commando, this was unfortunately cancelled after LucasArts went through its big upheaval.
Knights of the Old Republic 3. Yes, there's concept art, and apparently a story was completely worked out. Another victim of the quagmire LucasArts seems to have sunk into.
There are plenty of others. There's a page of just logos for cancelled Star Wars games alone. They were even considering doing Episode VII, entitled ‘Shadows of the Sith'. I suspect Lucas would never have allowed that one.
Yet for all this there are niggles, although none are major and most are understandable. There is plenty of detail, but sometimes you want the book to go into even more detail on certain games and areas where it just can't. For example, I'd have liked to have seen more on Sam & Max: Freelance Police and the cancelled Indiana Jones games. Logistically speaking though that's an impossibility – you can't go into massive amounts of detail in every area or you would need a lorry to carry it back from the bookshop.
Speaking of Indy, there is one quibble I have and that it's the way my favourite fictional archaeologist is treated. I don't know if Rob Smith is sore about Indy IV, but after Fate of Atlantis Dr. Jones barely gets a mention. And yes, thank you jp-30, I do know some people think that's a good thing.
The cancelled sequels get a mention but in no way as much detail as even the likes of Imperial Commando (which was cancelled before the first game shipped). Infernal Machine doesn't get mentioned in the timeline but just gets a two-page spread mostly filled with old screenshots. Emperor's Tomb gets a small box shot. Greatest Adventures is mentioned offhandedly in a paragraph about Factor 5.
Luckily the balance is restored with Staff of Kings - a title not confirmed by the book by the way. There is a great deal of new information (or rather confirmations) and a lot of cool unseen artwork, including a gorgeous two-page spread of a ship crashing into a jungle with Indy at the head.
There are a couple of small errors only an obsessive fan (like me) would notice and nitpick, but they're acceptable. The only one of note is on the section on Freelance Police, where a screenshot that is supposed to be from the cancelled game is actually from Telltale's Sam & Max: Culture Shock. Telltale do get mentioned, so this is probably more of a crossed wire than anything.
Really though, the mistakes the book makes are minuscule in comparison with the enjoyment you'll get reading it. Rob Smith has crafted a fascinating history and in-depth look at our former lover, and even a quick flip-through at the art makes it a worthwhile purchase.
It's also not so much an advertisement for LucasArts as it is a warning and a point-by-point guide on how to make them a great company again. They'll never follow that path again unfortunately.
The book may not mention the savage curtailing of Armed & Dangerous and Knights of the Old Republic 2, but it's happy to mention the outrage of fans about Freelance Police. It's a shame it was written before the recent mass-culling of employees from the company supposedly dedicated to internal development, that would've made an interesting read.
Still, be happy with what you've got, and what you've got is a fantastic and enjoyable book with a good look at stuff you'll never see from the former best games developer in the world. If you're a follower of Mojo and are eagerly anticipating our next Secret History, you owe yourself to buy it... look, pretty pictures!
-- Chris Capel
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