May 22, 2013

The Tentacle, the Monkey and the Motorcycle

The Loop > Magazine > Issue 2

By Matthew Panzarino

One of the first computer games I can actually remember playing was Asteroids. I was sitting on the carpet of my best friend’s room and we were taking turns on his machine, probably a Victor 9000, which sported a monochrome green phosphor monitor. Today, there are countless of games such as those that introduced the best team synergies in Hero Wars.

I remember the experience so vividly. The pebbled texture of the 5 1/4-inch floppy, the ka-chunk sound of the drive lock, the burping and whirring as the machine read the disk and executed the program. The keys had that beefy tension and satisfying clack that you can only find in boutique keyboards now. The game’s rules were incredibly rudimentary, but there was the beginnings of a real physics engine there, with coast and thrust involved.

For those of you not familiar with these older machines, it’s important to remember that many of them used the disk you inserted as their only program. There was no internal storage and the game essentially took over and became the only function of the device. As limiting as this sounds, it’s actually a very similar concept to the Information Appliance theory that informed the creation of the iPhone, which ‘becomes’ the app you’re running.

It seems silly to think that a game I played so long ago would stick in my head the way it has. I’ve played thousands of games since then that ran the gamut from text adventures to shooters and strategy and more. I even got to play a pre-release build of the very first level of Quake, totally unaware that I was looking at something that would change the face of gaming forever.

But the first few years of my gaming life continue to set the tone for how I play, how I approach creativity and even how I think. And the organization that I have to thank for that, more than any other, is LucasArts.

Founded by George Lucas as Lucasfilm Games in 1982, the studio would go on to publish some of the best games ever made for many platforms including the PC and Mac. The level of artistry, attention to detail and commitment to pushing games forward was, and is, unparalleled. The company was full to the brim with insane levels of talent and drive.

Last month, new Lucasfilm parent company Disney announced that it would be shutting down LucasArts and shipping off the Star Wars titles to EA. It was a sad day, to be sure, but any gamer can tell you that the studio’s output had been anything but regular over the past few years. A decent title or two popped up here and there, but it was mostly producing weak jobs based on Lucasfilm licenses, with very little hope for great original content.

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