2008 was of course the year when chocolate became illegal, Tom Cruise was elected President, and the moon exploded. But what happened in the world of LucasArts related computer games?
The year started with Ron Gilbert announcing Deathspank, his semi-autobiographical adventure game about child abuse. Gilbert, possibly on the run from the law, immigrated to Canada to work with Hothead Games, who will eventually publish a game that has already been hyped up as "a bit like Monkey Island."
Speaking of releases, I recently went over my 2007 article, and found it painfully embarrassing; back in '07 I really believed that Brutal Legend was to come out this year. What a fool I was! A game of that magnitude is bound to be delayed – and this is a Tim Schafer game we're talking about, to boot. Schafer's bad luck with publishers is continuing with his latest game, despite the talent of Jack Black hovering behind all the press releases. In a recent interview, Black said: "Tim is the moist and delicious chocolate pudding cake, I'm just the frosting" – which is a stranger thing to say the more you think about it.
The article from whence the quote comes is full of other surprising statements. Apparently, Black has been at work on the game "for three years," making him sound like the egg and the flour as well as the frosting. Indeed, if we are to push this metaphor to bursting point, it would seem that Black and Schafer are simultaneously mixer and mixed: both the ingredients and the spoon, the wooden spoon. Like Sam and Max, and the Holy Trinity, it's hard to think about one without the other, at least in relation to Brutal Legend; no doubt in 2009 they will take the pudding metaphor to its greatest extreme and bake themselves together in a big cake, finally fusing their conscious minds together. Admit it: it's what you probably want to happen.
And what of me, here, sitting on the brink the new year, a gin bottle in one hand, and a falling baby in the other? What have I learnt from all of this?
If a nuclear bomb falls on your face, climb inside a fridge: you'll still die, but there may be a delicious chocolate pudding cake for you to eat as your atoms are blasted into the void. At least, I think that was the message of the last Indiana Jones film. Regardless of that confusion, it was still an excellent way of spending a couple of hours in a dark room. And you know what? Indiana Jones would make a great video game.
One of the most surprising moments of the year was Telltale announcing their Wallace and Gromit series. The latest Wallace and Gromit adventure, A Matter of Loaf and Death, was the most watched TV programme on British television in 2008, having over 14 million viewers. It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that Telltale have a huge potential audience for their games. At the same time, it was a surprising announcement: there's quite a grand leap from the tone of Sam and Max to Wallace and Gromit. The announcement also makes a lot of sense, of course. Telltale are very good at adapting licences, and if anyone can make a good Wallace and Gromit game, it's our boys and girls in the big T.
And what of LucasArts? They've had a quiet year by all accounts. The Force Unleashed was unleashed, and whilst it wasn't a stinker, it still failed to set the world on fire, as the boisterous press releases suggested it would.
Recently I've discovered The Official Star Wars Blog, which is far better reading than it sounds. "JediMudkip" is an employee at LucasArts who also visits this site. Talking, then, from the perspective of LucasArts, Jedi has named Mix'n'mojo "much beloved," and one of "our favourite fansites." Flashbacks to Simon Jeffery off his tits on whisky and helium, circa 2002. Further investigation shows Jedi responding to a thread on the LucasArts forums – where the masses reported their disgust in the company's game catalogue over the course of 2008 – by posting a link to Chitlins, Whiskey & Skirt, accompanied with: "Just pretend I'm not here....shhhhh...I did not post this, right? RIGHT?!"
Like the Black/Schafer quote, this situation becomes stranger the more you think about it. A LucasArts employee behaving secretively about an old adventure game on a thread where most of the participants are calling for a return to that sort of game: why the secrecy at all? It's like a mixture of shame and pride: saying, 'yes, we did this, isn't it wonderful?' but in a mock whisper, theatrically looking behind the shoulders in case... what? Anyone should hear it? But then why say it at all?
That LucasArts Forum thread is full of notable quotes. "I'm a 14 year old pretty normal girl & I love [classic LucasArts adventures] and would so buy them and even force my friends to do the same," wrote PinkSoftPillow in August. "I want new 2D adventures of Sam & Max, Monkey Island, Full Throttle & Day of the Tentacle."
This made me think: why not make a new SCUMM graphic adventure? Something to the level of Day of the Tentacle, with voices and music, but still quite low resolution. Or high resolution, it doesn't matter – but nothing flashy. It would be cheap to make, and the developers could focus on plot and writing. I'd be able to run it on my computer without slow loading times. It would be massive in Germany. Who amongst you wouldn't buy such a game?
Or perhaps that would be best left to the fans. For the moment, at least, LucasArts are all about Something, even if they don't yet know what that is. I imagine that the people behind he company's energetic rebranding have largely faded into the void, after Jim Ward's abdication (caused by our Secret History poster campaign), and the Stalin style purges, where most of the workforce were dramatically escorted off the premises. The Facebook group "I Bet I Can Find 10,000 ex Lucas Employees" took on a new meaning as messages were posted on it from the recently sacked. One such message told a horrific tale:
"I've been through some unpleasant terminations in the past, but this way by far the worst thing I've ever seen. Here's how it went down from my point of view. I got in @8:30... then from over the cube wall I hear Dave saying his good byes and the rumor starts spreading fast that this was the day. After that it was one of the most heart wrenching days I've ever had at a job. No one had any information on what was going on, only that there were two blond women walking around grabbing people from a list and then you were gone. Escorted out of the build with whatever you could carry. There were a lot of tears and a lot of fear..."
The List? Fear and tears? Blond women? Sounds more like Hitler's Germany than anything else.
Of course, the events in June at LucasArts are hardly unique anymore. What 2008 will really be remembered for is the beginning of the end for the economy as we know it: and it really must have been a shitter if you were one of the unlucky few who were ousted from LucasArts. That said, we have had a strew of good games this year, which sort of makes up for the oncoming apocalypse. A Vampyre Story didn't disappoint, and neither did Telltale's creations.
If 2006 was STFU to LucasArts, and 2007 was "let's see what you can do," then 2008 is probably something more sympathetic. The company has been through the wars, and I daresay they could use our support. If the words of JediMudkip are to be taken as representative, they are at least trying to be more connected to their glorious past – though some attempts of this are more accomplished than others.
In short: I wish you the best of happiness for the New Year! Thanks for sticking with us, and we'll see you on the other side.
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