Tired of this Schmitt Episode IV: A New Hopeless?
** To the employees of any game development studio that were recently fired: I wish you the best and hope you find a new job soon. **
Since the acquirement of Lucasfilm, some fans might be inclined to suggest that dastardly mouse is being consumed over his newfound power of the Death Star. First, the culling of Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series and most of Lucasfilm Animation; now, the famous LucasArts Entertainment Company (LA) has been whittled down to nothing more than the licensor for all of its intellectual properties. The name may still be there but as nothing more than a shell of its past successes. This dreary intro coupled with the surfeit of comments lambasting Disney across the web may lead some to believe I also see Mickey as an evil creature whose eyes are really just cavities for all to peer into that empty chasm he may call soul, but I actually think it’s foolish for so many to be convinced of that being the case. The problem is rooted in one word: nostalgia. Although no one should ever forget the wonderful golden age of this company, can we really still pretend they have a hint of such overwhelming talent left in them? Before we continue to revel in the LA of the distant past, let’s recognize their standing in the present and try to see why this change could in time lead to a better future.
When looking at the entire industry, I can’t think of any other publisher more disappointing than LA. It may be easy to jump the gun and bring up anti-consumer moves from the likes of EA and Ubisoft, which are by all means fair points, but when I look at the scant opportunities LA has given for its IPs to blossom compared to last gen I can’t help but wonder how they fell to the dark side so quickly. What is quite possibly one of the simplest tasks you could ask for (sell Star Wars products) couldn’t be more clumsily handled if any other company had tried.
The backstory behind this “beginning of the end” showed warning signs a mile away when management continued to get worse and worse, resulting in several bosses in less than a decade: Jim Ward, Darrell Rodriquez, Paul Meegan, and four interim leads at various times. During the beginning of Meegan’s term, nearly one-third of the employees at LA were fired. Diving further into the inner-workings of the studio that have surfaced will result in anyone getting a headache. From creative minds’ departures to cancelled projects, the fiasco wouldn’t stop. One of the worst cases of LA ruining a game even extended to the collapse of a developer, Free Radical. They backed out of financing the nearly finished Star Wars Battlefront III (often said to be 99% completed by former Free Radical employees) and employed sleazy loopholes to stall their due payments to the company. Compared to earlier generations, the publishing studio heads seemed content with writhing itself out of any risky endeavors whenever the chance arose, pushing “low-risk” titles like the LEGO games, or backing unsuccessful IPs. And whatever risks the internal development team made often didn't turn out well.
I’m certainly in the minority when I say this: I find The Force Unleashed to be a rather good game; however, it would be fair of me to note it was received with average scores by critics. Outside of that one refulgent example in my opinion, there’s nothing else recently crafted by this team that shows me they could stand on their own two feet without their parent company. During the span of this entire generation, two Force Unleashed titles and Lucidity are the only in-house creations by this company. And diving further into Lucasarts’ back-catalogue shows this team simply wasn’t the same after the likes of Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert were out of the picture (though I’ve seen and heard good things about Gladius).
Even the idea of sprucing up older IPs for loose change rarely dawned upon them! After making two great Monkey Island special editions, LA decided that was enough. Outside of insanity, what reason is there to ignore such a lucrative market that almost every other publisher has used to behave as an auxiliary line of revenue? With the likes of Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle, and a litany of other adventure classics, it shows a severe lack of direction on their part to not reproduce those titles for such a starving genre.
Despite these frustrating past years giving me little reason to feel anything other than indifference for LA’s downfall, there’s still a part of my gaming heart that feels…empty now because of the broad cultural symbolism they once had for the industry. In many ways, LA embodied a similar attitude towards its medium like Lucasfilm had upon its inception. People may have forgotten the influence, simply because they haven't shown that potential since the early 2000's, but LA mirrored that of a real-life rebel base: a self-sufficient operation carrying out day-to-day tasks of a game developer, regardless of platform, without having to deal with corporate oversight. And with that freeing principle, Lucas and company persisted into an all-but-disregarded medium for visual storytelling and became one of the earliest pioneers of it. Despite seeing some talented triple-A and indie developers continually venture further in that role, it’s still sad to see the archetype of that ideal being bought, sold, and now chopped into pieces.
Even though that ethos and cherished time is now locked away in the annals of gaming history, I contend there’s a silver lining in knowing Mickey will be safeguarding these revered titles. We can cry foul at Disney’s insatiable need to monopolize so many touchstones of popular culture all we want, but when it comes to doing what they do best it’s a safe bet to anticipate them trying to place LA’s fantastic library of 80s-90s games on the likes of steam, good old games, etc. Despite various quotes from Disney’s CEO declaring casual being the current greatest focus for their gaming portfolio, I simply can’t see how a conglomerate of some of the smartest businessmen around will continually ignore a big slice of the market that’s been yearning for more hardcore Star Wars games for years; in fact, it’s almost too easy for the new suits to take notice of a critically-underwhelming title like Force Unleashed becoming the (currently) fastest-selling Star Wars game of all time and see opportunity. If they were willing to maneuver such risky tasks in undertaking a separate Avengers continuity in film—and all the initial costs from that, then it’s not difficult to imagine better outcomes under this new management spreading to Lucasfilm and all of its subsidiaries.
In the end, I don’t see the purpose in getting into a frenzied state against Disney over mercy-killing something that--quite frankly--we’ve been ashamed to talk about for a few years (with exception to 1313’s footage). I’m certainly not blind to see the probability of bland cash-ins tied to the new movies coming up, but there’s a greater chance of seeing more good, great, or even excellent Star Wars games (among other game franchises acquired) under Disney’s banner than from an administration that decided to sit on its thumbs.