A LucasArts Tribute: Fond Memories from a Former In-house Developer
I loved LucasArts. I got my start in the industry there. Many of my closest friends were made in the forge of those long hours working on Star Wars games. I can think of a thousand reasons why I'll miss LucasArts so much. I'll try to limit myself to just a handful here.
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I learned how to make video games at LucasArts. I was there from 2000-2003 and worked on games like Star Wars: Force Commander, Escape from Monkey Island, and Gladius. Surrounding me were some of the most talented and thoughtful people I'd ever met. Everyone was incredibly gracious and willing to share their insights into the game-making process. LucasArts had a reputation for fostering and nurturing talent, and many of my favorite designers and artists had made their way up the ranks. There was a great vibe at the studio and some people still jokingly refer to it as "Lucas High". I still remember how supportive everyone was and still am grateful to the manager who hired me (Dan Pettit) and the art manager who helped me along my career track (Karen Chelini). I remember many of the things they shared with me, particularly as this was my first real job and I had no understanding of how to exist in a corporate environment. Fortunately, there were many people patient enough to instruct me in the ways of corporate politics (I say this tongue in cheek because LucasArts was one of the least political environments I've worked in).
When I first got to LucasArts, I only knew a little bit about programming and photoshop. While I was there, I learned how to use Maya, how to use most of the Adobe packages, how to do programming for games, and even made a film with some of my closest friends. There used to be a place called the Scan Pit where they had computers set up that anyone could use. Everyday, after work, I'd go there and work till 2-3 in the morning, doing personal 3D projects. The most incredible part, and one I'm still so grateful for, is at any time, I could email any of the artists for feedback. Not only would they give suggestions, but they'd give tips for improvement, take time out to really help me to improve my understanding of 3D art, as well as remind me to also enjoy life and go out and see the sun every once in a while. If I had to thank all the artists who helped me during that time, I'd pretty much list the whole company. Seriously.
Social activities were a big part of the Lucas family. They used to have a 4th of July picnic up at Skywalker Ranch. There'd be screenings at ILM where some of my favorite directors would present their movies. I played ultimate frisbee and basketball at the local YMCA with many of my colleagues. We used to hit up an awesome Thai restaurant at the Novato Shopping Mall and talk about what upcoming films excited us. The first time I saw George Lucas was at an early screening for the trailer of Episode II. I actually arrived late and was standing in the back of the theater at Skywalker Ranch when I saw a small group enter. Standing right next to me was George Lucas. The inner geek inside of me swooned and could not be resuscitated.
I learned an incredible amount of Star Wars lore in my time there, but some of my favorite experiences were working on the non-Star Wars titles. At one point when things were slow in the development cycle, the company gave us about a month to play all the old LucasArts titles as R&D for upcoming adventure games. I not only got to replay Day of the Tentacle and the first three Monkey Island games, but I made my way through the world of the undead in Grim Fandango and biked my way with the biker gangs in Full Throttle. They used to have a huge PC library of PC games from all over the industry you could borrow from. Think of almost any PC game, and it was there. I really miss that library.
Two of my favorite Star Wars games that I played when I was younger were Super Return of the Jedi for SNES and Shadows of the Empire for N64. When I found out the director of both, Jon Knoles, was also going to be in charge of Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, I was ecstatic to join the team as a technical artist. He was an incredible leader, gracious, and possessed a deep understanding of how games worked. The technical artist team, Hans Winold, Jeremie Talbot, and Nathan Martz, were amazing. I can literally list everything I learned from that trio including how to paint weights to fake musculature, how to properly use MEL to build a more streamlined pipe integrated with the engine and Maya, and how to do detailed facial rigs and solve nearly any technical problem. Many of the fundamental lessons I learned about artistry and programming came from those guys, to whom I'm indebted as I now do computer graphics for movies.
LucasArts was all about giving opportunities. I fulfilled my dream of writing game manuals in several titles including Star Wars: Jedi Knight II - Jedi Outcast and Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter. My editor, Mollie Boero, was fantastic and it was so much fun playing those games, figuring out the controls, and then writing about them in a way that was easy to outline. I still remember thinking to myself that I would have worked for free on this stuff, and being all the more amazed that they were paying me to live out my dreams.
I will miss LucasArts. I will miss their games. I will miss what they came to represent for me. I will miss everything about them. I'm still good friends with many of the people who worked there. I reassure myself with the idea that as long as we maintain our community, the spirit of LucasArts will live on.
He has been working in film and games for over a decade. On his off time, he likes to travel the world. His short story collection, Watering Heaven, was just published by Signal 8 Press.
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