We told Gabez to "do some real work for a change", and a week later this appeared.
Okay, I’ll level with you: the title of this article is not at all accurate. I don’t think all Star Wars games suck. But it worked, didn’t it? If I had called this “why *most* Star Wars games suck” then you probably wouldn’t have wanted to read on. It doesn’t have the same zing as saying “all”, which is likely to spark up controversy from the word go. It’s what TV people call a grabber.
So, yeah, I don't have anything against Star Wars per se. If you read the last two features on Mojo you'll see that there are such things as good Star Wars games. The Episode III cash-in was unspectacular, sure, but it wasn't totally awful either. As for Lego Star Wars - well, in my opinion that's the way the franchise should head; I want everything done in Lego from now on. That said, those last two games weren't made by LucasArts - so the question is, why can't the Gold Guy cut it in that galaxy far far away?
The answer might just be money. Obviously LucasArts has realised that what sells is the Star Wars logo, and the quality of the game itself is secondary to the brand. This is where I have problems with LucasArts – if you’re going to make Star Wars games, then fine, but at least make them live up to the films. As it is, the San Rafeal fat cats don’t care about that, which results in games like Obi Wan being released when, really, they should have been aborted as a zygote.
THE SICK WORM
Perhaps if LucasArts had concentrated on one Star Wars game at a time, then we wouldn’t have this problem. Take a look at our games database and you’ll see that it definitely seems to be a case of quantity rather than quality. Let’s do some maths: there are 55ish Star Wars games. For the sake of simplicity, and because I can’t go beyond GCSE level maths, we’ll make that number 50. Okay, 50 titles. How long has LucasArts been around for? 20 or so years, but it looks like they only had the technology to actually recreate the Star Wars universe from ’92 onwards, making it about 12 years. This means that they’ve released an average of 4 Star Wars games per year from the moment they had the means to do so.
Now if you ask me, 4 titles per year is 3.75 too many. If they had taken the time then they could ironed out the game play problems of Obi-wan or the graphical mess that was Force Commander. Or even better, they could have spent more time on pre-production and wouldn’t have made game making mistakes in the first place. This is partly what lies at the heart of why most Star Wars games are so bad: it’s not so much the developers faults, but rather the faults of the executives, who decide the budgets and the time constraints.
THE GARDEN OF LOVE
Of course there are some good Star Wars games, namely the Jedi Knight saga and the X-wing/Tie Fighter series. But why are those games so good in comparison to the other 40 or so titles? What makes them so special? The easy answer to that is, quite simply, that modern LucasArts sucks. Any good Star Wars game was either created in the good days of Yore or was produced by another company. It seems that in a wild attempt to make more money, LucasArts have forsaken the ten commandments of Star Wars game making:
1st Commandment. Obey! Thou shalt not have shit graphics – the movies looked amazing, and so should the games. No-one wants to see Yoda reduced to a hastily rendered green polygon. Sinners: Force Commander, Battle for Naboo, Obi-Wan. Saints: Jedi Knight, Episode III video game.
2nd Commandment. Obey! Thy bugs shalt be quashed – I don’t think Luke received an invalid protocol error and crashed to the desktop during his duel with Darth Vader, so why should stuff like that happen in games? Admittedly bugs plague lots of games, but hey, we expect Star Wars to be above all that crap. Sinner: Obi-wan.
3rd Commandment. Obey! Thou shalt capture the magic of thy films – nothing ruins the Star Wars ambience more than a Wookie turning around and going “dude, where’s my blaster?” Sinner: Star Wars Galaxies.
4th Commandment. Obey! Thou shalt be interesting – you’ve got a huge extended Universe out there, so why the hell concentrate on just that Pod Racing scene from Episode one!? Make it a sub-game in something better if you really must, but above all keep the excitement. Once you’ve done the six billionth lap the thrill starts to fade, baby.
5th Commandment. Obey! Thou shalt not screw with the force – now Super Bombad Racing was actually a fairly decent kart racing game, but why the hell did they have to do it with Star Wars? Franchising this sort of thing with cartoon characters is fine, but Star Wars? Doesn’t it sort of bring down the calibre of the films? I think so.
6th Commandment. Obey! Thy game shalt be what people want – you think I want to spend my time playing extras from the film? Hell no! What we all really want is to play Vader, or Luke, or be able to pick up a bottle with the force and smash it into some weird Alien’s face. Sinner: Pod Racer.
7th Commandment. Obey! Thou shalt use thy imagination – like I said, you’ve got this massive extended universe, and the ability to create just about any race or planet you want. So why not use it? Allow us to use the force or to play as Vader, sure, but you don’t need to be limited to the settings in the film. Keep the essence but surprise us as well, please... let’s not be lazy, eh?
8th Commandment. Obey! Thou shalt not forget plot – the Star Wars trilogy story is the classic fight against good and evil, fusing elements from our world’s myths and legends. In short, it’s a great tale that deserves similarly great tales in its games.
9th Commandment. Obey! Thou shalt not go for a quick money making scheme – adding in a new video clip of Obi-wan blinking may appeal to the die-hard Star Wars fan, but it won’t do for the rest of us. A game should sell because of what it is, not what it’s about. Sinner: Episode 1 Insiders Guide
10th Commandment. Obey! Thou shalt stick to what thou is good at – in other words, for God's sake, get back to making decent adventure games (and don't cancel them this time!) and let other companies deal with Star Wars. You know it makes sense.
SO LAST WEEKEND
Unfortunately most Star Wars games are sinners, and are thus destined for gaming hell. At the heart of all of this seems to be a lack of ambition caused by desire to make money rather than desire to make great games. LucasArts have one of the best mythical worlds at their fingertips, yet instead of using this wealth of material, they instead chose to focus on individual aspects of the films, in the hope of appealing to a fan who wants to relive a part of the movie. To be honest, if I were that fan, I’d feel cheated – I don’t want to relive just a part of that movie, I want the whole thing! Hell, I want to go beyond the whole thing...
Maybe we’ve seen too much of the Star Wars universe, though; great as it is, I think we’d all like a break. LucasArts say they’ve got a “focus on creating rich, immersive worlds for players to discover”, yet they’ve only began to scratch the surface of game settings. We’ve seen Star Wars, and we love it, sure, but c’mon, we want more original ideas for God’s sake. Either go beyond the films or do something imaginative, but don’t just give us another space-craft or a generic sci-fi planet, please.
YOUR GAME MAKING SKILLS ARE WEAK, OLD MAN
But perhaps I’m being too harsh. Sure, these games are crap. I know that, you know that. The question is – is that such a bad thing? I mean, no-ones forcing us to buy them. If someone wants to race a kart as Darth Maul with a deformed head, then why shouldn’t they? Star Wars games are like food from McDonalds – it’s shit, it’s reckless Americanisation, and yet... who cares?
Well adventure gamers might care, of course. You could very well argue that making Star Wars games is distracting LucasArts from doing what they do best. No-one makes a good adventure like LEC do and it’s depressing to see the creators of Monkey Island pop out an average of four Star Wars titles per year, especially when they’re so bad.
You might also argue that bad games ruin the films, but, again, what are you going to do? The best thing is to not get excited about a Star Wars game again, ever, and when a new one is released, you should read reviews of it before you buy it. That way, you won’t get false hopes over it, and no-one’s heart needs to be broken. If you want a recomendation, go for Lego Star Wars - not only it is polished and fun, but it also doesn't take itself too seriously and makes great use of the lisence. As a general rule, stay away from anything that has "super" "kart" or "Droids" in the title, unless you want to be dissapointed to buggery.
But let's be frank - LucasArts isn't going to stop pooing out these half-arsed attempts at using the franchise, so long as there's money to be made. The only thing we can hope for is that they pass on all their projects to decent third party developers, which they seem to be doing, and concentrate on, oh, I don't know, some original and fun games for a change.
As if that's ever going to happen. Thank God for Double Fine Autumn Moon and Telltale...
Next week: Star Wars month concludes with a look at the last movie of the saga. Plus some retro articles.