Review: Rogue Leaders: The Story of LucasArts

Over the past decade, LucasArts has effectively gone from one of the leading forces in original video game development to a tragic shell relying solely on Lucasfilm’s most successful product – Star Wars. Most of us like to think of LucasArts as the company that brought us hits such as Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road, Grim Fandango, TIE Fighter and Jedi Knight.

A new(ish) book Rogue Leaders: The Story of LucasArts (ISBN: 9780811861847) gives us an opportunity to relive those glory days. Author Rob Smith, who used to be the editor of numerous Future Publishing rags such as PC Gamer, Official Xbox Magazine and PlayStation: The Official Magazine, tells the story of the development studio from its humble beginnings in the early 80s, right through to the current day hysteria of The Force Unleashed.

Rogue Leaders is laid out like an elaborate coffee table book with high quality paper, tons of pictures of pre-production art, in-game screenshots and game packaging surrounding the text. The cover even features a 4 picture lenticular piece which cycles between Guybrush Threepwood, LEGO Indiana Jones, Darth Vader and the Purple Tentacle.

The book begins with a rather bemusing foreword from George Lucas which relates little to the text which follows it. The history of the company is then split up into eight chapters charting the heating up and cooling off the company has undergone, while providing in depth coverage of the games that were developed along the way.
The early chapters tell an enlightening tale of the formation of the company and how technological advancement defined their early titles, before a keen sense to build a brand identity of their own propelled the then Lucasfilm Games into creating some of the best adventure titles the industry has ever seen.

To one’s amusement, the book reaches its peak around the same time the company does. The 90s era gets the best coverage and rightfully so, since it was arguably LucasArts’ finest hour. It’s really interesting to read about the caution, love and care which went into the first Star Wars and Indiana Jones games the company got to produce, not to mention the awesome adventure games that continued to strike gold.

Rogue Leaders coverage begins to wane in the post Grim Fandango-era. In the early chapters of the book, Smith goes into great detail about the production of each game LucasArts produced, but he seems in a rush to finish the book in its latter half. Where early LucasArts games get a minimum of two pages in the first half of the book, some receive a paragraph or, worse, no mention at all. The quality of the text takes a downward turn, while the number of pictures starts to increase in dramatic fashion. Almost everything developed outside of LucasArts gets a minor footnote, regardless of its success. We’ll never know what led to the creation of fantastic Star Wars games like Masters of the Teras Kasi, Demolition and Super Bombad Racing. It is particularly irritating when one considers the fact that LucasArts was producing exactly the same number of games in these years as they were in the earlier ones.

The weakest aspect of the book stems from Smith’s near refusal to be negative about anything that went on in the last decade at the company. Quality of LucasArts’ later output barely registers a mention, and issues like the regrettable rushed release of Knights of the Old Replubic II are entirely omitted. The book treads into seriously depressing territory when it starts discuss games which were cancelled in recent years. There are many titles referred to that were previously unknown entities, and I challenge you to know be distraught when seeing what they cancelled with the knowledge that they released sparkling gems like Fracture and the Clone Wars games.

Rogue Leaders: The Story of LucasArts is the type of book about the video games industry that needs to be replicated. There are many stories like this to be told, and although this one is far from perfect, it achieves what it sets out to do. The book provides an enjoyable, if not slightly depressing and somewhat biased, trip through the history of one of the most groundbreaking companies in the industry.