LucasArts was founded in 1982 by George Lucas as “Lucasfilm Games,” which was a division of Lucasfilm and primarily developed games based on Lucasfilm properties. For the first decade, the company worked on titles for early home consoles such as the Atari and the Commodore 64. Lucasfilm Games was renamed LucasArts in 1990, a year that also marked the release of one of the company’s best known games, The Secret of Monkey Island.
Though LucasArts had released similar graphic adventure games, such as Maniac Mansion and the game adaptation of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Monkey Island series was the first to introduce the wit and humor that would become standard in the writing process. The Secret of Monkey Island was also far more forgiving than other previous adventure games, as players didn’t so often find themselves in “unwinnable” or “lock-out” situations that would have resulted in them needing to start the game over. Following the success of the first Monkey Island game followed several sequels, as well as other titles that played in a similar vein with a similar sense of humor, like Sam and Max and Day of the Tentacle.
All of these games were experienced in a flat, 2-D environment, and it wasn’t until the 1998 release of Grim Fandango that the adventure genre would move to the third dimension. Grim Fandango follows the exploits of Manny Calavera, a travel agent at the Department of Death in the Land of the Dead. Because of the setting, all of the characters are skeletal, based on Mexican “Calaca” figures that are used to celebrate the Day of the Dead – the angular designs took advantage of the limited 3-D rendering technology at the time. Though the game was widely praised and was well-received critically, it did not sell particularly well and led to the restructuring of LucasArts as a company and the general decline of the graphic adventure genre.
That’s not to say that LucasArts wouldn’t produce more quality games outside of the adventure genre, though. Many of the Star Wars titles they produced were critically acclaimed, especially the Battlefront series, as well as the collaboration with BioWare that resulted in Knights of the Old Republic.
However, in 2012, LucasArts was acquired by Disney through the acquisition of the Lucasfilm company as a whole, and in 2013, it was announced that LucasArts would cease operations as a video game company (though it still exists primarily for licensing purposes). Though future Star Wars titles will be produced by Electronic Arts, thanks to the efforts at Double Fine and similar productions, the golden age of LucasArts’ adventure titles will live on.