White-knuckled, cat killing action!
So Lucasarts died the other day. A lot of people have been sharing their thoughts on the subject of Disney collapsing the 30 year old game developer that brought us the SCUMM engine, a bunch of great Star Wars games, a bunch of not great Star Wars games, and a bunch of games that not a lot of people talk about anymore (when they really should, because there’s some great games out there that a lot of people forget, or don’t even know Lucasarts had anything to do with..)
Anyway, as someone that frequents social networks on a pretty, well, completely wired-in basis, and pays attention to different gaming journalism locales, I’ve heard a slew of thoughts and comments. A lot of it is lament. A lot of it is sour grapes.
Usually to the tune of “Why, god, why?! Damn the mouse! All of the awful things are happening at once and it burns like fire!” Or troll bait like, “Good riddance. They haven’t published a decent game in years. Why the hell care?”
I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it, based on both of these viewpoints.
So instead, I’ll tell you a story that best summarizes one of my best Lucasarts gaming experiences.
It involves being eleven years old, responsibility, the original x-wing on PC, and a cat that I almost killed.
I grew up in Oceanside, California – my dad is at this time in the military, so we lived in officer military housing on base at Camp Pendleton, in what I could define as the most closely knit neighborhood of Marine Corps brats, wives, and whathaveyou. There were plenty of kids to play with (some nice, most not), lush outdoor parks and trees to climb in (Which I seldom ever saw. Hence the reason i’m writing a video game based column today.) This sounds like the start of an amazing coming-of-age story, the kind that triumphant kids in 1980s stories have never, ever seen.
Nope, here’s me. And let me tell you a thing about my life at this point, and between the ages of 5, to about 16. I essentially did nothing but play the hell out of my Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and was frequently in front of what even then could be referred to as one of the most primitive computers ever constructed (The Vendex Headstart III. With MS-DOS 2.1, Dual 5.25 drives. EGA (yes. You read that correctly. 16-color) Video display, and absolutely positively no game support, unless you like shareware text games, or the shit you’d eventually have to learn to program for yourself using BASIC, which I did out of necessity.)
Fuck being outside! I was a bony, 80-pound, near albino weakling that was addicted to electronic entertainment. And nothing much was going to get me out of my weird secluded environment.
That is, unless you had offered me two things.
Money. And the opportunity to play something on a better PC with REAL graphics and an actual, honest to goodness HARD drive.
This is where my neighbors enter the tale.
I won’t give out many specifics about them, but they were a newlywed couple that had to be in my current age group, and they were what you could consider proto-nerds. (Also known by my parents as “…fucking odd people.”)
From what little I saw of their housing unit (we couldn’t really call them houses, or apartments, as much as living quarters, I suppose), the guy in the relationship was into Science Fiction – Star Wars, Battletech stuff (one of the first things he did when he heard that some isolationist weirdo child that was all about robots and shit lived next door, he graciously gave me an old illustrated Battletech technical Readout manual from 3025, the one that had all the awesome, original, totally lifted Robotech/Macross designs in it. Yeah. Instant friend.)–you name it, this guy liked cool stuff. (The wife, less important to this story, seemed to go along with her husband’s interests, and was more into other, more seemingly grown up and therefor boring things. Also, cat ownership. But I’ll get to that in a second.)
In an era where seeking approval and acknowledgement of an adult was the paramount ideal, this dude was the proverbial bee’s knees. And one day, he had presented what I consider my first ever employment opportunity.
They were going out of town for a week, and they asked me what I knew about taking care of a pet. (I had a dog. I did basically nothing that involved responsibility with this animal, other than once I watched it shit, then proceed to bark at it’s own shit, and then roll around in it’s own shit. If that counts.) And then asked me if I’d like to learn how to clean a litter box, feed a cat, and do general adult-like activities, in exchange for fiscal compensation and perks?)
They would give me 20 WHOLE dollars. (Which to a kid, save for birthdays, is basically like almost having someone give you keys to a new goddamn BMW.) AND….AND….i could play on dude’s computer…AND play the original X-wing. The one I read about in a Video Games and Computer Entertainment magazine one time, and looked awesome (WITH REAL POLYGONS! GIANT SHIPS! AND LASER SPACE COMBAT!)
How in the hell could I refuse? How hard could this be? I mean, it’s a cat.
They invited me over to give me a trial run of “how all this works”, explaining the scoop, the trash bag, the awful, awful stench, the gigantic kibble bag, the water dish—going through each key point with clarity and rigorous repetition of importance, driving the message of “MUST DO THIS” with each bullet point.
…and well, if anything is to be said about my attention span then, and now, my brain was leering away in the direction of an aspiring hotshot rebel pilot taking his snub fighter into heated combat amongst the stars. To the point where…major…details of what I was being told, were immediately falling into deaf ears and out into the nebulous aether of “Oh. Fuck, eleven year old me. Weren’t you supposed to be doing something?”
This was a summer job, too, which meant that I had been entrusted with a key to gain access to next door, in order to perform my duties that I had graciously agreed to…whatever they may have been. And not only was I able to stay in the house, I was able to stay in, and play X-Wing as LONG as I GODDAMN liked, it turns out.
And so I did. I spent a better part of one week adjusting shield modulations, running sorties, taking down Imperial targets, and all the while NEVER taking a second to bother cleaning any litterbox, or remembering to feed the persistent, mewing creature desperately pawing at my shins, desperately trying to get my attention as I gave the Emperor and the might of his regime, a solid one-four, in a tangle of combat scenarios in the hey day of flight simulator software for home personal computing.
I mean, holy shit. X-wing, believe it or not, is so freaking good. Not in hindsight, naturally (flat polygon surfaces don’t age well, it turns out), but it gave a growing shut-in everything he could ask for. Mission briefings, cutscenes featuring REAL GRAPHICS (it’s like being in the movie!), and gameplay that features almost every single goddamn button on the keyboard, which all do corresponding things to the AWESOME freaking spacefighter you, the player, got to control!
One week of awesomeness concluded with stark inevitability. My neighbors came home, and had a couple of innocuous enough questions, such as “why in the hell did the house smell of urine and poop” (didn’t it always?), and “why the hell did it seem like the cat wanted to drink water for what they said was an exaggerated twenty straight minutes?” (preposterous notion at best, falsifications.)
Post note to this story. I didn’t get paid.. I’m also pretty sure that was the last time I ever had been on any kind of speaking terms with the newlywed couple that lived next door, and gave me that really awesome book full of robots once. But it did teach me a few lessons.
1) I am most definitely not a pet owner kind of person. (For those who may be worried about reporting me to the ASPCA, still am not.)
2) The Vendex Headstart III computer that my parents bought was now even more awful, because I couldn’t play this, or countless other awesome PC games, at this time. But mostly it was awful just specifically for the reason that I wanted and asked for X-wing BY NAME for years and years.
3) Working, for any reason, even if it presents opportunities for Space Combat, is total bullshit. And I don’t recommend it for anyone.
Maybe it’s not such a great Lucasarts story, but it is a first-hand story with what I consider the crown jewel of their entire game library. (Yes, even beyond ALL of those titles I’ve heard mentioned a million times as of yet. The SCUMM games. Zombies ate my neighbors. Loom. (well, someone should have mentioned Loom, somewhere.))
And while a lot of people have their contempt for the changing of hands in a very mutable industry, or have their callous “who the fuck cares?”-come attitude, or even a middle of the road approach, well…i’m not sure what my opinion is.
Because I’m not really sure what to say, because I’m going to fill you in on something.
Someone’s gonna keep making a whole bunch of Star Wars games. (Great or not, they’re coming.). And it’s because they always manage to make a bunch of money. Someone also might be able to have the opportunity to make any follow-up games to any of the great properties that Lucasarts had exclusive rights to (If we’re lucky and presumptuous, how cool would news of an official Maniac Mansion HD remake for XBLA/PSN/PC be?)
That somebody’s just not called Lucasarts anymore. And honestly, that’s okay.
These games will still be developed, and then distributed through whatever retailer or digital resource you have available, and past the feelings of “I sure hope all the people Disney decided to lay off in this apoplexy of business maneuvers, find jobs”, it doesn’t really affect the end-user of you and me that much at all.
Save for logo nostalgia, I mean.
Until next time, remember to shovel, sift, bag, and repeat as needed.
Excuse me. I’ve got consoles to play.