A review of the year that is a little less angry than last year's. Passing unnecessary judgement: Gabez.
The year began with a fairly typical start for LucasArts: one cold dreary January morning the news came through that Traxion, the company's only non lisence game apart from Thrillville, had been cancelled.
The sad likelihood is that you, dear reader, are staring at the screen with a dumb founded expression soundlessly mouthing: "What? Traxion? What the Dickens?"
Nobody understood exactly what Traxion was. In any case, it seemed bizzare that LucasArts wanted to publish it as they had never been involved with anything like that at all. It seems to be part of LucasArts' new business stragedy: in Jim Ward terms, they are "looking for exciting new entertainment mediums, and focusing on the future of fun," or in other words, "floundering around like an old man looking for his slippers, not knowing where he is or what he is supposed to be doing." Sure, LucasArts could go back to what they were always good at – exciting storytelling – but why do that where there are rollercoasters and... music games to make?
"I never understood what [Traxion] was," admitted Dalixam, webmaster of the (now deceased) World of Monkey Island. "Probably because I didn't pay attention to it" – a reaction that is familiar across the way, I feel. We didn't pay much attention to it partly because it's not what we want from LucasArts. They might be appealing to someone with the likes of Traxion and Thrillville – but it's not us. Traxion's excessively vague press release didn't help matters either. "All the music you could ever listen to... and more!" it proudly proclaimed. "Listen to music... with your imagination!!" I think I'll stick with Sam & Max.
February knocked on our door right after January, and brought with it exciting news from Ron Gilbert! He's setting up his own World of Warcraft Guild. Great! That's... sort of like making his own game. This may just be me, but hearing anything about Ron Gilbert these days feels a bit like being trapped in a time warp, where I'm falling through space and every five seconds Ronzo's face appears and says: "I'm making a new game! It'll be like Diablo, except not. I have a desk at Double Fine!" Every fifth time this happens I also hear "those publishers don't want to hear about it!" echoing from all directions. Of course, none of this is Ron Gilbert's fault – and he must be frustrated about it more than anyone else. But please, for goodness sake, stupid publisher people: just sign this man up for a contract! He only helped create one of the best games of all time. At the very least giving him a publishing deal will stop this continuous time-warp nightmare.
HAPPINESS IS AN INSIDE JOB
Speaking of new games, February was also the month that Insecticide was announced, the game by Crackpot, formed (like Telltale, Double Fine and Autumn Moon) by many LucasArts layoffs. To a certain extent Insecticide has shared the same fate as Traxion. Regardless of how much quality it may or may not have, it has nevertheless faded into obscurity. But the comparison to Traxion is not really fair, because, unlike Traxion, I do feel that Insecticide will actually be really good. Probably. It's just that Crackpot have focused so much on making the game good and haven't had so much time for previews and interviews and the like – and to be fair this is a good thing. I just think that we'll all suddenly become more aware of Insecticide before its release, and rise from our beds, yawning and wiping our eyes, and roll down to the games emporium to make pretty business with Game Cock (the game's publisher. Naturally.)
There's been some criticism of the game's screenshots – but if anyone would rather take character and story over graphical bling bling, then it's the LucasArts crowd. The key for the game's visual success will not be in polygon count or shading, but in atmosphere, and that's usually the last thing to be added. Little touches here and there, not to mention the quality of the music and voices, will play a big role in a game like this. Get those right, Crackpot, and you can't go far wrong.
From what I've seen and heard from the official web-site (gotta love that Film Noir style jazz) I have pretty high hopes for Insecticide. At its best, it could be Psychonauts meets Grim Fandango. At its worse it'll merely be tedious. But at least it won't be Traxion (whatever that was.)
Having Larry Ahren (Co-designer of The Curse of Monkey Island) and Michael Levine (artist for classic LucasArts adventures) on the team doesn't hurt either. Stay tuned for more coverage of Insecticide in the future – and hopefully there'll be a really cool game to play when it gets released in February 2008, exactly a year since it was first announced.
CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION
Meanwhile, back in February 2007, LucasArts were making moves. They were in a new gear. Unfortunately, it was in reverse. They spectacularly decided to sue Digg.com because it has a vague similarity to the classic 1995 adventure, The Dig. In ‘real life terms,' this was a bit like an old friend turning up at your house one day, despite the fact that you hadn't talked for twelve years, and setting fire to your neighbours house because this friend from long ago deemed them a threat, when all your neighbour was doing was pleasantly weeding the garden. As it turned out the match was never lit, and Digg.com escaped being burnt to the ground. LucasArts just came out looking very silly, standing in the driveway with their trousers down. Their behaviour in this instance was a curious contrast to their "2015" attitude, outlined in May 2006, which directs the company forward without so much as a hasty glance to the past.
Speaking of which, the official LucasArts web-site was remodelled in February 07 to reflect this change of business strategy. Gone were the mini-sites of old, with their characteristic designs and nuggets of information on old classics. Vanished was the singing Manny doll from Grim Fandango. Obliterated was the Dan Pettit Curse of Monkey Island journal.
In its place is... well... it's like Traxion and Thrillville, isn't it? It's not exactly bad – it's just hard to say what's good about it. Whilst the old purple and black web-site looked like a vicious dictator's blog, at least it had some kind of character. The present design looks like a vision of 2007 from the sixties. There's so much white space, and hardly anything to hold on to – although I might add, it still takes eons to load.
Reading news from the old site meant glancing at the headlines that was displayed on the main page. Getting news from the 2007 site means going through information and trying to remember if it has changed from the last time you looked. In this way we learnt that the next Indiana Jones game (still with no title) had been delayed to mid 2008 – but with no reason given, no apology; no indication, in fact, that anything else was ever the case. It was a case of "we have always been at war with Eurasia."Back in 2004 I did advocate a change to the LucasArts site – but I didn't want anything like what they have now. I made a comparison to the Revolution site, with its inclusion of old games and links to fan-sites, but there is nothing like that for LucasArts.
Though in some ways it makes sense to focus on what LucasArts are doing now, it is nevertheless a bit like writing a history of Literature devoted almost exclusively to what has been written in the past few years, with only a footnote for Shakespeare and Milton. Luckily, 2007 also saw new versions of Telltale and Double Fine's web-sites, and the creation of an official site for A Vampyre Story, and all of these have excellent resources and links for the fans. Crackpot are yet to make anything, but we'll forgive them as they're no doubt working like wasps on Insecticide.
As for the new Indiana Jones game – Indiana Jones and the White Void – I'll try to reserve judgement until we actually know something (anything!) about it. I think it's a good thing that it's being internally developed and has some pretty funky physics on in the background: but what will be really important is the story, atmosphere and characters. If there's a good enough premise, like with Fate of Atlantis or Infernal Machine, then this new Indy game could be really special. Let's just wait and see.
In response to a reader poo-poo-ing the next Indiana Jones, site staff member j3-p0 said: "We've moved on from "LucaArts is the Devil", and are now interested in seeing what they can produce to stay relevant in today's marketplace." This is true – but on the other hand it's still fun to say, "LucasArts is the Devil." It's not to say that the devil can't make good games, though.
Next page: Tempus ad est gratiae hoc quod optabamus