LucasArts returns to its roots to serve up a new portion of some of its earliest hits
Walking through the studios of LucasArts provides a real sense of déjà vu. Sort of. If you don’t count the admittedly progressive Star Wars: Galaxies and Knights of the Old Republic, its hallways are fairly dripping with nostalgia. It turns out that three of its other premier titles are, surprisingly, adventure games—one marginally so, and two traditionally.
Indy Whips it Out. Again
When action-adventure hybrids became all the rage, LucasArts’ Indiana Jones games moved away from its adventure game origins and joined the Tomb Raider crowd. The latest Indy product, Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb is no exception. Initially, the company was looking for an even balance between action and puzzle elements, but changed its mind early in development. “We watched Indy movies for inspiration, and decided that we really wanted to go for the movie experience,” says Jim Tso, the game’s Producer. As a result, the game is all about action. There are of course some traps and puzzle elements, but acrobatics and saloon-style combat are the stars of the game. Indy can use his whip to swing to and from ledges, disarm enemies, and tantalize the ladies. But he also has his share of firearms and pretty much anything else you can pick up. Knowing when to use what item is no problem since a helpful “action icon” appears in the corner of the screen to prompt you. The game is generally in third-person perspective, but it does contain some “mini-games” that put you into first-person as you ride a gondola, or rickshaw, or other trendy form of transportation.
While developer The Collective came up with the original concept and story, LucasArts provided all the sound and music (this is the company’s first game to use a full live orchestra), as well as the voice casting, directing, and a lot of script revision. The game is already out on the Xbox, which was its primary platform, but the gameplay will be the same on all platforms.
“My main focus for the PC version is to make the mouse and keyboard scheme work well,” says Tso. “We designed the game for the Xbox controller, so definitely if you hook up a gamepad to the PC it’ll be very easy to configure. But the mouse and keyboard, well, they’re the real issues.” The developers are making an effort to keep everything as simple as possible. “After all, it’s a fighting game, and normally I don’t think of playing a fighting game on a PC because you have all those really complicated combos.”
Not-So-Gentle-Ben is Back
In 1995, when DOS was still king, LucasArts gave birth to the biker adventure, Full Throttle. While Tim Schafer designed the original, Sean Clark is heading up the sequel. Clark most recently collaborated with Mike Stemmle on Escape from Monkey Island.
As the game is very early in development, it isn’t giving away not too many specifics. Unlike the whimsical if not downright silly Monkey Island games, Full Throttle focused on delivering a cinematic storyline that had grit and guts to go with its tongue-in-cheek take on the Hell’s Angels phenomenon. The new title will take the same basic tack, and will once again star Ben, the burly biker from the first game. Biker gangs will return, as will the lovely Maureen, Ben’s grease monkey of choice. Ben’s own gang, The Polecats, will come back in a big way, playing a much more significant role than in the first game. “We can put more characters on the screen now,” says Clark. “There’s a few characters that come back and reprise their roles, and then there’s a bunch of new characters as well, and a New Bad Thing going on that Ben sort of accidentally gets wrapped up into and has to overcome.” Two of the new characters are hooligan thugs Gank and Kickdown. They’re petty and dumb, and somehow they always seem to appear when you least expect them.
As it turns out, the game is a very loose sequel to the first Full Throttle, but not so much of a sequel that people who haven’t played the original will get lost. “New players will be able to jump right in,” says Clark, “but there are little pieces of crumbs left behind for people who have played the first one.”
“One gameplay difference is that there’s more of an emphasis on action than the other game,” says Geist. “In the other game, you could do some bike riding but it was pretty much a graphic adventure.” They chose to make it more action focused because they want you to feel from the get-go that you are Ben, not only in the plot line and the dialogue but also in the motorcycle riding and fighting. “The action is supposed to be fun and entertaining, but not necessarily really difficult or heavily skill based, like Tekken or anything like that.” Also, it’s not a driving sim, so when you first climb on that motorcycle, you’re already pretty good at it. You don’t have to master an elaborate control scheme, but the bike itself will do some realistic things like skidding, and leaning during turns.
They’re basing most of the action elements on confrontation with other characters. Rival gangs, for instance, don’t necessarily feel very warm and fuzzy about Ben. So while you can generally walk up to any character and start a conversation, it might sometimes be more beneficial to walk up and punch his lights out instead.
While the game takes most of its inspiration from the decidedly Mad Max-ian original title, it will have a lot of elements of film noir. “The idea that popped into my head was, “Raymond Chandler? Ben? Very interesting…” As in a noir story, you don’t find out what the main objective is right away. It will try to reel you in little by little with something that may seem to be a minor distraction actually foreshadowing a significant part of the drama.
Clark is adamant that this is not a cartoon game, not wacky, not madcap, but thinks it will portray things that hit home. ”They have to be kind of based on things we’ve experienced. And even though these guys are way beyond the kind of people we have experienced, somehow there’s a kind of grand truth to them.”
“Ever Seen a Baboon’s Butt? Gruesome!”
Way atop many adventure gamers’ list of favorites is Sam & Max Hit the Road. The two leads are a dog (a six-foot-tall canine gumshoe) and a naked bunny (a three-foot-tall hyperkinetic rabbity thing). All they ask out of life is a boat of a car, mounds of junk food, and the chance to indulge in mindless violence in the name of law enforcement. Their debut in a comic book series by Steve Purcell gained them some fan support, and they enjoyed cameo appearances in several of LucasArts’ previous releases, including the first two Monkey Island games and Day of the Tentacle before finally starring in their own graphic adventure in 1993. Resurrected once again, they will star in Sam & Max 2 (working title), which will release at some nebulous time in 2004.
Director Mike Stemmle is one of LucasArts’ most veteran designers. He’s also delightfully wacko and bizarre, with a wickedly dry sense of humor, making him a perfect candidate to head up this title. He kind of mumbles out of the corner of his mouth in a very understated, low-key manner. “There is no game yet,” he says. “There’s just a lot of writing, and a lot of sketches, and a lot of phony screenshots…so you might as well just go away now.”
He’s not kidding. After The Secret of Monkey Island, he was forced (Producer Dan Connors prefers the term “conscripted”) into coming up very quickly with a script for Jedi Outcast, his first Star Wars title ever. Then he sat on his…muse…for a while, trying to figure out how to “solve” the innate problems of traditional adventure games. “I’ve got a long leash,” he jokes. And then, he had a brainstorm. He placed his “uber concept” into a game world with Zak McKracken until Lucas regained the rights to Sam & Max. When that happened, he was thrilled. “I was like, ‘Hey, that’s even more perfect for what I want to do here.’”
This will be the first totally 3D traditional adventure from LucasArts. Here are some of the locations, characters and situations you’ll encounter: First, there’s the obvious office from which the duo conducts business. Private eye Flint Paper ("I pummeled them senseless on Friday and now I’m hucking them out like yesterday’s chicken necks!") is back in town, and will have a much more prominent role this time around. “We’re thinking sort of a cross between Bogie and Bruce Campbell—yeah, Campbell. He’s always who you think of casting in adventures,” says Stemmle.
You’ll see the duo in a gymnasium for a high school dance at William Henry Harrison high school, where it just so happens that none of the students actually stay for four years. Then there’s the Foobaya December Fest. Except it takes place in July. At this event, you’ll meet one of the game’s most notorious villains. She’s runner up for the winter in summer beauty pageant, and they’re currently trying to figure out what to name her. “Miss Frost…Snow Tzarina…” Stemmle thinks hard. “It’s a real hard one to get… all the names are taken. Frost will probably come into it, but I’m not sure how.” Of all the villains, this character will probably be the one most steeped in comic-book-ness. And she has a “strange snow gimmick.” Kinky. Perhaps her chattering teeth prevented her from winning the contest, but at least she was voted in as an unlikely Miss Congeniality.
You’ll meet El Gato Grande, an immense feline that has “issues” with babies. Perhaps he smothers them in their sleep. But whatever those issues are, the Rubber Pants Commandos are on the job. They’re one of the few recurring groups of characters from Purcell’s comics. They are two heavily armed babies and a baboon who sometimes show up to perform absurd deus ex machina rescues. “It’s the Rubber Pants commandos!”
“Yip yip yip!” say the babes with arms.
“HOOOoo,” says the Baboon.
“They’re my favorite,” says Max.
“There’s an international space station that was built by some second rate temptress who needs corporate sponsorship in order to get everything up there in shape,” reveals Stemmle. “At the moment it’s held together with spit and baling wire, and it’s plagued by many problems.” Not the least of which is that it serves as the game’s storehouse of clichés that make fun of European nations.
Steve Purcell is very heavily involved in this project, and apparently Stemmle is as zany as Alan Greenspan compared to Purcell. “It’s very interesting that I’m the one who’s reining in the weirdness quotient on this project,” says Stemmle, because normally I’m the one who’s out there screaming ‘I wanna do a musical! Let’s go!’ But Steve…well, I’ve often said that Steve always knows exactly the wrong adjective to drop in the right place. We really, really have to reel him in. He’s been heavily involved in story discussions and definitely in the character concept art, and he’ll be collaborating in editing script writing, which is starting right….umm…today, actually. We’re starting cutscene scripts.” “You’d better be,” warns Connors. Maybe Stemmle’s leash isn’t as long as all that.
At any rate, if you’re a Sam & Max lover, you’ll probably find it an eternity before this game sees the light of day. Until then, you’ll just have to close your eyes and imagine:
Sam: “I think we learned a valuable lesson from all this.”
Max: “More twinklies!!! More twinklies!!”
This article originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #150