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Gamer Tuesday

May 21, 2013

Pap the Disney Gamer's Highlights: The Future of Star Wars Gaming

The first Star Wars Weekend at Disney's Hollywood Studios is now a distant memory, but that doesn't mean the fun will end as we have three more weekends to go! And I am very excited for it! I hope to attend my first Star Wars Weekend very soon, and because of that I have been engulfed in everything Star Wars, including discovering the original film trilogy. I went from being a casual fan to a fan as the stories and universes enthralled me in a way that made me realize why Star Wars has endured for so long and why it is such an important element of the entertainment industry. Which is why when news broke that Disney had obtained the rights to Star Wars in a historic franchise purchase last year, people went nuts in both excitement and fear. Fear because no one knows what to expect as they have grown knowing that Star Wars as its own entity that wasn't really owned by anyone, so now for Disney to be the exclusive rights holder, it is a very surreal feeling.

Star Wars logo

But there is far more excitement as they confirmed that they are working on Star Wars episodes VII, VIII and IX, with director J.J. Abrams (of 2009's Star Trek fame) on board to helm the first movie in this new trilogy. Add to that the idea of a possible whole Star Wars themed land to accompany their popular Star Tours ride at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and you can see why people seem to be more excited for the development of Star Wars at Disney. Add to this the fact that Disney also owns the Muppets, Pixar, and Marvel, and Disney has become an entertainment behemoth that knows that the best way to get to an audience's heart is to show them the past with the technology of today.

Obi-Wan Kenobi

Sadly, there is one part of the Star Wars fandom that is feeling very insecure about the news, and that is the gaming fandom. Since gaming's very early days, Star Wars has had a prominent presence in the video game industry. The original arcade games of the 80s already hosted several Star Wars games, and today we have everything from motion control games to massive online RPGs, and ALL of them expanded upon the already massive mythology that is Star Wars. New characters, new stories, and new planets to explore, they fueled the imaginations of many Star Wars fans, and often they introduced brand new video game concepts or launched an important video game console, such as Shadows of the Empire being the highlight of the Nintendo 64 launch in 1996. These games often took iconic scenes from the movie, like the thrilling space battles, and turned them into really captivating games. And there was one entity behind them all: LucasArts.

LucasArts

LucasArts was founded in 1982 by the creator of Star Wars himself, George Lucas. Originally known as Lucasfilms games, LucasArts was the video game firm that handled all the development and publishing of Star Wars themed games. Later in the 90s, it was restructured into the company we all know today. The firm was created so George Lucas could expand his entertainment empire into other forms of media, and video games, being a rising form of entertainment at the time, it made sense for Star Wars to sneak into that emerging industry. Star Wars was also known for its advancements in film and sound technology, so the unison of Star Wars with gaming also meant that the franchise would often be on top of the technological advancements gaming was experiencing. Needless to say, it was almost like a marriage made in a galaxy far, far away.

LucasArts, however, was also known for its wealth of original games. The company became synonymous with computer point and click adventure games (games which place focus on puzzle and mystery completion in order to unlock a part of the story) thanks to the successful releases of games like The Monkey Island series, Grim Fandango, Maniac Mansion, Sam and Max, and countless other computer games. Even Star Wars's franchise cousin, Indiana Jones, got in the video game action thanks to LucasArts. But of course, LucasArts would best be known for Star Wars, often creating their own titles, or publishing titles created by own developers. An example of this would be the LEGO Star Wars game series, developed by Telltale Games, but with LucasArts overseeing its creation.

LucasArts Games

Recently, though, a piece of news hit that made people question the integrity of the Disney purchase: on April 3, 2013, it was announced that LucasArts would cease function as a video game developer, with all video game development done by Disney's own interactive entertainment division, Disney Interactive, or through a licensed third party developer. This meant the layoff of over a hundred employees working in the game development sector of the company, leaving LucasArts to be just a game publishing division. As expected, this made people think about the ethical aspects of the Disney/Star Wars buyout as they were working with some of the most esteemed game developers in the industry. To some, Disney was messing with important video game history, all in the name of profit. To others, as long as Star Wars games were being made, it didn't matter.

So now, who will they pick to make new Star Wars games? Luckily, we didn't have to wait long for the answer. A few weeks ago, Disney announced that the game developer that would retain the Star Wars franchise was none other than Eletronic Arts. If the name sounds familiar, it is because the company is almost as old as LucasArts itself, working on all major video game consoles and computers since its inception. Primarily, they are known for their year sports games that feature updated rosters and tweaked game features. They are, however, also known for really popular original games like the Mass Effect series. In the announcement, they talked that three game developers within EA would be given the opportunity to develop brand new Star Wars games: Visceral Games, DICE and BioWare.

EA

If those names sound familiar as well, they are responsible for some of EA's modern day hits. Visceral Games, for example, are known for the Dead Space series. Dead Space is known for two things: how bloody violent and scary they are, and the fantastic execution of its gameplay. The series has seen multiple releases on various platforms, and shows no signs of slowing down. DICE, a Swedish game company, are known for their work on the Battlefield series, as well as the cult game classic Mirror's Edge. Lastly is BioWare, a role playing game company responsible for one of the biggest RPG sensations of the last few years: Mass Effect. Mass Effect has been hailed as one of the most expansive space operas ever, all thanks to great gameplay mechanics as well as dialogue trees that further expand on the complex narrative going on. Best of all, BioWare has worked with the Star Wars franchise before, in the form of the Knights of the Old Republic series.

Star Wars Old Republic

As you may see, the three companies chosen to work on future games are well known and have plenty of experience under their belts. However, that doesn't stop gamers from wondering if all of this was the right thing to do. For all their popularity, EA has been under fire for a lot of ethical issues regarding game development and business practices. In the past, they have been criticized for promotional stunts that many would see as childish and hurtful towards the game industry. And many see the shutdown of LucasArts' game development division as Disney trying to eliminate assets so they can cheaply work on brand new Star Wars games.

What do I think of it, though? It is clear that Disney has a vision for future Star Wars endeavors, and want to maximize it to the fullest. The fact that they hired J.J. Abrams to direct the seventh film and the writer of Toy Story 3 and Little Miss Sunshine to write the story shows that Disney wants to avoid the mistakes done on the Star Wars prequel trilogy. It is likely that as I write this Imagineers are looking forwards to further integrate the franchise onto the parks and make it more than just Star Tours. Finally, Disney hired EA, a massive game company with expertise on licensed games, to work and publish future Star Wars games, most likely based on the new trilogy. Even with all that promise, it is all uncertain where it may lead us and the franchise we all know and love. However, I like to imagine it as the end of Revenge of the Sith...

Anakin Skywalker has become Darth Vader, the Jedi Knights have been almost extinguished, Padme has died giving birth to Anakin's son and daughter, and the Empire has taken over the galaxy. And yet, there was hope that someone would come and bring back balance to the force. In the end of Revenge of the Sith, baby Luke Skywalker and Leia are seen as the hopeful saviors that we know will become, and despite a few lost battles and harsh truths revealed, in the end, Vader is redeemed and reunited with the force, Luke and friends are hailed as heroes, and the galaxy is finally as peace.

What I am getting at is that all these changes going on with Star Wars in all its assets are understandably worrying as it is taking on a modern day mythology that people truly love. The future will always be uncertain, but just as there is a lot to worry about, there is also a lot to be excited for. We don't know if Disney buying Star Wars was the best thing, but it certainly will be a blast to see what comes out of all of this. In the meantime, let's just enjoy Star Wars, and remember what the Jedi have always told us...

May the force be with you, always...

 

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