The Bulletin

Star Wars 1313

Suddenly Silenced

LucasArts closes its doors, Brock Samson plays poker, and more in Gameological’s weekly news roundup.

By Sam Barsanti • April 8, 2013

The Bulletin is a roundup of a few game-related news stories from the previous week.

Disney shoves LucasArts into a Sarlacc pit
Star Wars 1313

Since buying LucasFilm in October, Disney has been loudly reminding everyone about all of the exciting stuff it will be doing with the Star Wars movie series. But while we were all distracted by news about Harrison Ford coming back and J.J. Abrams directing Episode VII, Disney was quietly preparing to shut down LucasArts, the studio’s game development branch. Finally, last week (as reported by Kotaku), Disney closed the Lucas game operation and laid off its 150 or so employees.

Grim Fandango

While the majority of LucasArts’ releases were based around lightsabers, Jedi, and Jar Jars, the studio will probably be most fondly remembered for its critically acclaimed adventure games. Game Informer got comments from Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer (the creators of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, respectively), with both of them expressing their disappointment at the closing of such a storied developer.

The layoffs raise the question of what happens to the titles that LucasArts had been working on, most notably a third-person shooter announced last year called Star Wars 1313. It looked amazing in its one and only trailer, posted above. Wired says a rep told them that production had “ceased” on it, and a report from Kotaku suggests that the game might have never come out anyway. But we’re optimists here at The Gameological Society, so I choose to believe this Game Informer post that claims some other studio might come along and finish 1313 someday. After all, when has anyone had any reason to be disappointed in Star Wars?

Problems at Square Enix and High Moon Studios

Let’s keep the tragedy train charging through with some more sad news: Square Enix’s Los Angeles branch fired big chunks of its PR and marketing staff (this news comes via Joystiq), and Kotaku reports that High Moon Studios has laid off most of the people who were making an upcoming game based on Marvel’s Deadpool comic. While the former round of firings probably won’t have an obvious effect on the average player, the latter could, especially if you planned on picking up that Deadpool game. I’m not going to make any baseless assumptions, but as indicated by the “upcoming” I used up there, the Deadpool game isn’t out yet. Laying off most of the people who made it before it’s even on shelves doesn’t exactly sound like a vote of confidence, does it?

Telltale knows when to hold ’em and/or fold ’em, announces Poker Night 2
Poker Night 2

This week’s Bulletin has been a bit of a downer, so here’s some news that’s actually fun: Last week, Telltale announced Poker Night 2, a title that lets you sit down with an eclectic bunch of card sharps. As reported by IGN, the game will feature appearances from Borderlands’ Claptrap, Sam & Max’s Sam, Ash from the Evil Dead movies, GLaDOS from Portal, and, best of all, Brock fucking Samson from The Venture Bros. Maybe this is what he’s been doing in the two or three years since that show last aired a new episode? Poker Night 2 is slated for release on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 this month, with each platform getting some sort of unlockable extra (Team Fortress 2 stuff for PC, Avatar items for Xbox, and Premium Themes for PlayStation).

Video games help an immigrant earn U.S. residency
Xbox Live

It can seem Xbox Live doesn’t do much good in the world. We pay our $60 a year, and in exchange Microsoft gives us the privilege of being screamed at by kids in Call Of Duty and the ability to watch Netflix. That’s why it’s so surprising that, for what may be the first time ever, Xbox Live was able to improve someone’s life. As reported by Yahoo Games, a man named Jose Muñoz came to the United States illegally as a baby, so in order to be granted legal residency, he needed to prove that he has lived in the country since 2007 (thanks to a federal program called Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals). Muñoz chose to do this by offering up his Xbox Live account information, which showed his address, all of the games he had played, and everything else he had downloaded dating back to the day he got his Xbox, effectively confirming that he had been living in Sheboygan, Wis., as he claimed. That doesn’t sound like something worth lying about anyway.

Killer Instinct might come back someday…maybe
Killer Instinct

Fans of mid-’90s fighting games that looked cool back then but have not aged very well, rejoice! According to a post on the NeoGAF message boards, the trademark issues that have held back any new entries in the Killer Instinct series have now been cleared up, meaning original developer Rare is free to put out a sequel, assuming it wants to. The troubles basically boiled down to Microsoft (which purchased Rare from Nintendo in 2002) trying to renew the Killer Instinct trademark in 2012 and being denied because Fox aired a show of the same name in 2005. The whole saga is explained in this Game Informer post. Apparently, the patent office thought people might confuse a video game that few people remember with a police procedural that nobody remembers (though its description on Wikipedia makes it sound hilariously terrible). In any case, Fox and Microsoft were able to agree that fighting over these scraps was ridiculous. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a new Killer Instinct (or even a re-release of the original) is in the works, just that Microsoft is keen to keep its hands on it. Of course, it also doesn’t mean that a new Killer Instinct is not in the works, so…there you go, I guess.

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58 Responses to “Suddenly Silenced”

  1. Citric says:

    Maybe Killer Instinct can have a character from the show included, and everyone wins!

    • Sam_Barsanti says:

      I hope it’s Chi McBride’s Lieutenant Matt Cavanaugh, who judges whether or not a crime is “deviant” enough to be investigated by the Deviant Crimes Unit.WHAT?

      • Citric says:

        How does he decide whether or not a crime is deviant? Is there some kind of checklist perhaps?

        I keep imagining him deciding crimes aren’t deviant because he wants to go boating or something. “So this serial killer garrotes his victims and then puts a Sudoku grid on their chest, challenging to police to solve them in order to find clues for his next victim. On the other hand, I have a date with Lake Minnetoka, so I don’t think it’s very deviant at all! Later, losers.”

        • Sam_Barsanti says:

          and Chi McBride would NAIL that. I’m just assuming the show was terrible…maybe it was actually awesome?

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      Wasn’t Killer Instinct the game that started the horrendous “57-hit combo you instantly lose” trend of fighting games?  I hated that garbage.

      *inserts quarter*
      *gets ass handed to him within 15 seconds*
      *never plays again*

      • Yes indeed. And characters straight from the notebook of a fourteen-year-old boy.

        • Sam_Barsanti says:

          I barely remembered the series before writing this, so I had to look up some screenshots and YUUUUP. Skeleton pirate, werewolf, guy made of fire, robot guy with sword arms, mostly naked girls, it would be cool if it weren’t so very stupid. 

          It was also the origin of C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER, I believe, if you’re a fan of internet memes. 

  2. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    To my knowledge, Brock Samson is the only character in that screenshot that hasn’t been in a video game before. Then again, when I saw the design for Ash, I was wondering if I had missed some Telltale game based off of The Evil Dead.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      There was an Evil Dead video game that was also an “official” sequel IIRC, maybe his design is from that?

    • Whoops mean to reply to Aurora

      I think you mean the Playstation 2 hack’n’slash beat ’em up cross over masterpiece, Evil Dead: Fistful of Boomstick.

      You travel back in time to colonial times to shoot demons, but also sometimes you’re in regular times I think.  I don’t know, I was drinking a lot of Mountain Dew Code Red at that time in my life.

      • The_Helmaroc_King says:

        There was also an Evil Dead game that came out after that one; it had an undead midget. Naturally, you kicked him into things.

      • Girard says:

        That game was preceded by the PSX game Evil Dead: Hail to the King, which was pretty much a Resident Evil clone. But I beat it, and have never gotten through a RE game, so it must have done something right (even if that “something” was just hiring Bruce Campbell and having a “one-liner” button).

        It was also written to be a direct sequel to Army of Darkness.

      • Matt Kodner says:

        I was drinking so much Diet Mountain Dew Code Red: Caffeine Free (compliments of Wisconsin) that I don’t think I could ever find enough silver to travel back in time. But I had a hell of a time shooting up and shoveling up a storm. 

    • Vervack says:

       The irony is that, if they wanted a character from Venture Brothers that’s actually been in a video game, they could’ve just gone with ol’ Rusty himself.

      Then again, even if you could play poker with Dr. Venture, a greater question remains: why would want to?

  3. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

    If Brock Samson sits down at the table, I’m leaving.  Even if I win, crossing that dude never goes well.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I just started watching The Venture Brothers as it’s now available on Netflix, and yeow…Brock is pretty brutal.  And hilarious.  Gotta love Patrick Warburton.

      • His_Space_Holiness says:

        They hit me with a TRUCK.

      • George_Liquor says:

        As funny as Brock the Swedish Murder Machine is in season one, he’s much more interesting in subsequent seasons. His character gets fleshed out a lot as the show progresses, and he becomes integral to the storyline.

  4. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    I’m pretty disappointed that LucasArts was shut down, even though they haven’t produced much of anything original and non-Star Wars related lately.  (I thought The Force Unleashed was pretty great, and 1313 looked promising.)

    They had so many great games.  I loved Full Throttle as the first adventure game I played that threw out the endless inventory combo puzzles in favor of kicking down doors and beating people up.  I loved all of the Monkey Island games, even the inferior later ones.  And the Jedi Knight series (especially Outcast and Jedi Academy) were tons of fun.

    I still have yet to play Grim Fandango…at the time it came out the art style put me off, but I’ve heard so much praise since then I should really check it out.

    • lokimotive says:

      Once Lucasarts found their groove with adventure games, they were almost perfect up to the late nineties. They quickly sputtered out since then. You could probably trace an interesting historical path through the halcyon days of IP experimentation, and small design team auteurism up through the much more conservative design ethos of current AAA publishers using LucasArts as your through line. 

      Still, in 2009 they surprisingly came out with a largely failed experiment called Lucidity. It was a bizarre platformer that was, essentially a free-runner, except you placed random objects in front of a girl to help her traverse a level. It had a rather lovely visual design, and made an attempt to say something with its game design in terms of innocence and protection, but it was frustrating and essentially ill-conceived. Still it certainly wasn’t safe and it showed that somewhere in its hard calcified shell of Expanded Universe Star Wars crap, there existed a fluttering light of creativity.

      It’s sad that with all their history, they couldn’t fan that flame anymore. It’s also entirely ridiculous that they didn’t recognize the potential of just re-releasing their classic adventures on modern platforms. They teased everyone with some recent Steam releases of a sort of strange selection of adventure games, and the somewhat disappointing Monkey Island releases, but never followed through with Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Sam and Max and, most of all, Grim Fandango.

      Which brings me to anther important point, @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus , shut up, buy, steal, beg, or borrow Grim Fandango, shut off the Internet (so you’re not tempted by GameFaqs), get it running some how, and come back a more complete being.

      • Girard says:

        There was that brief window when it seemed like LucasArts was actually proud of its former reputation for innovation and quality, with talks of Monkey Island rereleases, and an experimental, aesthetically inventive downloadable game in the works.

        Then those remakes shat all over the originals, and that experimental game kind of sucked, which almost made it a relief when they shifted gears back to crapping out Star Wars games on the reg – at least they weren’t sullying their classic properties anymore!

        • lokimotive says:

          I wouldn’t necessarily say that the remakes shat all over the originals, though they certainly made some unfortunate decisions on them (like getting rid of iMuse in Monkey Island 2, which was very unfortunate; though not as unforgivable as not including the Lite version). The worst part of those for me was the voice acting which just reminded me of a certain experience in the pre-talkie era that can’t really be recaptured anymore. Those voices are not how I remember those games sounding.

          But, again, at least they were trying. Plus the commentaries were funny/interesting. I think my favorite part was when Guybrush triumphantly holds a bone up and his pants fall off, it was a joke that I’ve always loved because it’s so absurd, but the designers talked about how contentious it was because some of them just did not understand why it was funny.

          Anyway… it was short lived, and I think the worst part is the likelihood of those games being re-released in any form is pretty remote.

        • Girard says:

          @lokimotive:disqus : The voice acting was embarassing and killed a lot of the jokes, and the fucking top-notch Stever Purcell art direction was replaced with amateurish artwork that was not only aesthetically inappropriate and hideous, but also in many cases shoddily-done and unfinished. Getting rid of iMuse was a ‘shame.’ Every other decision LucasArts made w/r/t those re-releases was a a ‘travesty.’

          They took two of the absolute top-of-the-line exemplars of the medium and turned them into ugly, shoddy, cheap-looking and  -sounding  bargain titles. Totally shat all over. The commentaries in 2 were nice, but were pretty much the only decent outcome of that whole thing. I was very relieved when LucasArts changed directions and stopped “improving” their old games before they had a chance to ruin any other classics.

      • Simon Jones says:

         I would love to play Grim Fandango again. I even have the original discs.

        Unfortunately, the bastard will not work due to a mixture of being an old ass game and not being old ass enough.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar says:

       eh, 1313 really didn’t look like anything special. It looked more like Bioshock: Gears of Star Wars than anything new or interesting. I’m sure the gameplay is just running around dark industrial corridors shootin’ stuff like every game ever.

  5. Cloks says:

    How likely is it that we’ll see some sort of LucasArts collection encompassing those games that everybody wants to play again – Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango – now?

    • It’s tough to say. If an independant LucasArts didn’t make the effort to put them on Good Ol’ Games, I can’t see that Disney would make the effort.

      • Cloks says:

        Yeah, that’s true. Still, it’d probably be a minimal effort to cash ratio for them to just dump the games onto something like Steam or GoG at this point. It’s not like the Maniac Mansion license is generating them any money just sitting there.

      • Merve says:

        Disney is in general really bad at making its older titles available via download service. You still can’t get Tron 2.0 online, for instance.

    • George_Liquor says:

      I hope so. A good number of their older adventure are already on Steam, and I wouldn’t think Grim Fandango or Day Of The Tentacle would be difficult to port from a technical or licensing standpoint.

      In case you track down a copy of DOTT on CD or whatever, it runs quite well inside DOSBox or ScummVM.

      • Girard says:

        And Grim Fandango runs fine with ResidualVM, a ScummVM splinter project. (There’s also an alternative launcher called “Quick & Easy,” I believe, that lets you install and run Grim Fandango on a contemporary machine.)

    • Girard says:

      I almost feel like it’s more likely, now that LucasArts doesn’t exist, and there may be more openness to third parties doing old LEC properties justice. But I can also imagine a creatively bankrupt behemoth like Disney aping LucasArts’ “creatively bankrupt behemoth” period, and just licensing out Star Wars games until the end of time.

      • lokimotive says:

        I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going to happen. If LucasArts wasn’t going to invest any time or energy into those properties, I really don’t see why an even bigger company would.

    • uselessyss says:

      I hope with all my heart that they don’t just stick them in the “Disney vault.” Those games deserve to be played, dammit!

    • On the plus side, can you say “Maniac Mansion world in Kingdom Hearts 3?”

  6. KidvanDanzig says:

    By all accounts Lucasarts was headed down the same path as most all mid-level publishers (Midway, Sega, Atari), running so low on capital that they refused to bankroll none but their most reliable properties using the safest possible concepts, trying to outrun their doom clock. They even canceled Star Wars Battlefront 3, which was in development at Free Radical and looking pretty great (seamless space-battle-to-ground-fighting gameplay, etc), because they felt it was a good idea to put all their eggs in the Force Unleashed basket. The first was a modest hit, but the quickie sequel didn’t fare. Looks like 1313 was taking Star Wars down the same focus-tested “dark and stubbly white dude” path that FU did.

    Anyway let’s take a moment to revisit Killer Instinct’s enthusiastic and nigh-unintelligible announcer:

    • Vervack says:

       And on top of that, the decision to do Battlefront 3 on the cheap (and eventually cancel it) was probably the major factor that led to the death of Free Radical. There’s a big ol’ article over at Eurogamer about it, and it’s a pretty ugly story. By the end, LucasArts was basically holding Free Radical’s head under the water.

  7. RCIX says:

    It might be just me, but I personally dislike news summaries/bulletins. They always serve as chaff for me. If they were in a separate feed I could subscribe to individually, then I’d consider doing so, but otherwise…

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      you don’t have to read things, you know

      • RCIX says:

        It still reduces the signal to noise ratio on yet another feed =/

        • Girard says:

          At least they collect all their bulletins into a single, weekly, item. It’s not like you’re getting constantly deluged with stuff. Unlike, say, Polygon, where everything gets a post, and little blurbs about a one-month delay in a Kickstarter project’s release seems to get equal billing with an in-depth feature on a studio or a review of a new release. Their site is pretty cool, but that frontpage is a riot of confusing information of wildly variable relevance.

  8. Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

    “Let’s keep the tragedy train charging through with some more sad news: Square Enix’s Los Angeles branch fired big chunks of its PR and marketing staff”

    Still waiting for that sad news you promised, Sam.

    • Merve says:

      Yeah, these are the people who thought that making a rapey trailer for Tomb Raider was a good idea. I’m not shedding any tears.

    • Sam_Barsanti says:

      Well, uhh, you see…all of those people that got fired? Turns out they were…adorable puppies and kittens.

    • Simon Jones says:

      At this point, someone just needs to give Square Enix a successful AAA franchise out of pity.

      • Fluka says:

        Does the new Deus Ex count?  They seem to be doing okay there!

        • Sleverin says:

           Yeah, the new Deus Ex game was pretty good.  I especially like the cyberpunky setting and the multiple ways to finish missions.  FF14 is looking really good though, the new 2.0 in freaking beta form is thousands of times better than 1.0 ever was.  For some reason everyone is still hating on the game because of its mediocre release, because all MMOs apparently always run at optimal efficiency the first couple of months it comes out. 

          Also, Kingdom Hearts is one of their big franchises now, though I don’t think it’s the best thing in the world.  1,2 and Chain of Memories were fun, but there are way too many of them now for me to care.  I’m actually a bit more surprised that they haven’t tried to push The World Ends With you a bit more.  I love the hell outta that game and while they’ve done a couple of ipad/android adaptations, I’d like to see some expansion on the great ideas presented in the first game.

        • Simon Jones says:

           Oh yeah. But for a big company, they haven’t got a Assassins Creed or Modern Warfare or a Miscellanous Sports Franchise that can guarantee a constant revenue stream.

          Well, technically they do but it’s a Japanese revenue stream so it’s not exactly go mad money.

  9. coramo92 says:

    Star Wars: First Assault (Battlefront 3 “prototype”) is definitely dead now.

  10. CoRaMo says:

    Throw in a Spongebob character and you got yourselves a buyer,  Telltale.