In the 1980s, the adventure genre was dominated by Sierra On-Line. In 1986 they earned a competitor: LucasArts. Forget what you know about the current company that is LucasArts – there was a time when they were actually a very innovative and respected developer. Unlike Sierra, which cranked out adventure games by the dozens on a series/franchise basis, LucasArts averaged about one a year. AdventureGamers.com maintains a “Top 20 Adventure Games” list and 8 of them are by LucasArts. That’s pretty dominant considering they only made 15 of them. I’m just getting into these games myself so I’m not an expert at all but here they are!
Part 1: The Labyrinth Era (1986)
LucasArts, then known as Lucasfilm Games, entered the adventure gaming market with an adaptation of the Jim Henson film, Labyrinth. In a Wizard of Oz move, the game begins strictly as a text-based game but when the main character enters the labyrinth it becomes a graphical adventure.
Part 2: The SCUMM Era (1987-1997)
This era makes up most of LucasArts’ adventuring career. SCUMM was the name of a very flexible game engine that allowed for other engines: audio, graphical, text, etc. to be inserted. LucasArts would use this engine for a decade. This era comprised a few short series and several stand-alone games. It began with Maniac Mansion and was soon followed by Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. These games established the LucasArts style of using quirky characters and cheesy (bad?) humor. Mansion was followed years later by Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle. Sam and Max Hit the Road, based on the comic of the same name by LucasArts artist Steve Purcell, continued in this vein in the early 90s.
LucasArts made more serious games, as well, starting with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a very well-received game that closely follows the plot of the movie. A few years later it was followed by Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. An original game, Loom, used an apocalyptic, fantasy setting and used music for all of its commands. In the mid-90s, The Dig feature a pan-planetary sci-fi adventure. Full Throttle featured MOTORCYCLEZ.
In 1990, the company released their biggest hit and the beginning of their only long-running adventure series with The Secret of Monkey Island, followed only a year later by Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. Several years later, the SCUMM engine was retired with the 3rd game, The Curse of Monkey Island.
Part 3: The GrimE Era (1998-2000)
In 1998, LucasArts decided to modernize and created a brand new, 3D engine, debuting with Grim Fandango, which has gone on to become perhaps the most critically acclaimed adventure game from LucasArts. It featured the “humor” they were best known for and dealth with themes of the AFTERLIFE. The imagery is heavily inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead. The entire adventuring journey came to an end with the release of Escape From Monkey Island. After that LucasArts began a new Sam and Max game but eventually cancelled it and fired all their employees and took a bath in Star Wars money.
Part 4: Legacy
Several LucasArts adventure developers eventually started a new company, Telltale Games. They have had surprising success, utilizing online distribution. Unfortunately, all of their games have used licenses, a couple of which are HORRIBLE licenses. For example, they have made two CSI games and have an upcoming Strongbad game in the works. Thankfully, they’ve also worked with a genuinely cool license: Jeff Smith’s Bone. They made games based on the first two books but have decided their current focus is on “episodic” content, which Bone is apparently not compatible with. In other words, they’re sellouts. Yes, I hope someone searches in Google for “Telltale are sellouts” or “Telltale Games are sellouts” so they can see this and cry over the horrid truth. Telltale is best known for their current revival of the Sam and Max series, which is released in “episodes”. Jeez.
LucasArts stalwart Tim Schaeffer went on to create the lauded and beloved platformer Psychonauts and he has a very cool-looking new game in the works featuring bikers and roadies, much like the LucasArts game Full Throttle.