The demise of LucasArts didn’t go totally unnoticed here at FFG, but we were a little busy with other things to do much more than post a brief note (and a link to a clip from the Spanish-language version of Monkey Island).

As it happens, though, around the time of the announcement, I did come across a history of the company in one of those discount bookshops that specialises in offering heavy reductions on celebrity hardbacks from a few years ago. So rather than rake up our old opinions about the favourites and put them in chronological order, I thought that reviewing the book might be a good way to look back at the LucasArts story.

While I was in the middle of doing that, I picked up an issue of Retro Gamer magazine, which also had its own retrospective, and I’ll bung a few thoughts on that in for good measure too. [And any aspirations of moving towards more highbrow territory by reviewing a book evaporated the moment you used the word ‘bung’. Well done, sir – a reader].

So, then, the book is called Rogue Leaders: The Story of LucasArts and it’s by someone called Rob Smith, who apparently was once the editor of the US-based version of PC Gamer magazine. While it’s a fairly hefty tome, and certainly not the sort of thing you want to be lugging round, say, Hemel Hempstead while, for example, awaiting confirmation that your distressingly-expensive car repairs have been completed, when you open it up you’ll find most that most of its 256 pages have been filled with pictures, screenshots and concept art, leaving little room for anything else.

It’s fair to say that anyone expecting an in-depth history is going to be disappointed here. There’s some good stuff on the early years at Lucasfilm Games – a licensing deal with Atari prevented the company from making Star Wars titles, although the design of what was to become Rescue on Fractalus! was influenced by the famous franchise – it was initially going to be called Rebel Rescue, with the implication being that the downed pilots rescued in the game were part of the Rebel Alliance, until it was made clear that even loose connections to the license were off-limits. The idea to include aliens disguised as pilots in the game as a surprise element apparently came from George Lucas following a playtest, and the specific effort made not to mention their presence in any of the game’s advertising or documentation, in order to maximise the shock for the player, is a nice detail.

But, when it comes to the company’s point-and-click heydey, the details all seem rather glossed over. Maniac Mansion, as the first of its type, gets some relatively significant coverage, but Monkey Island, Sam and Max et al get only around 25 pages in total between them. Later adventures, meanwhile, have to settle for the odd page here and there, as the focus increasingly shifts onto the ever-expanding library of Star Wars titles.

Of course, the Star Wars games have to be mentioned – I’m as big a fan of TIE Fighter as the next guy, and it’s a relief to note designer Larry Holland’s admission here that X-Wing was a little on the hard side – but there seems to be a disproportionate amount of space devoted to licensed titles, including some that weren’t even developed by LucasArts, and others that were cancelled altogether.

Rogue Leaders is an officially-sanctioned product, complete with a going-through-the-motions foreword by George himself, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the recent history of the company is given more prominence. As you might expect, this also means there’s very little juicy gossip – the troubled development of The Dig is mentioned but in rather bland and brief terms, as is the last-minute decision to make Obi-Wan an Xbox-only release. Less successful titles such as Star Wars: Supremacy/Rebellion and Force Commander are acknowledged, but shortly before a chapter detailing the company’s ‘renewed commitment to quality’.

There’s some nice artwork and the odd interesting tidbit – I’d forgotten simulations like PHM Pegasus and Battlehawks 1942 had been an important part of their early success, for example – but overall, you’re left wanting more. If one of the downsides of an official book is the fact you have to airbrush away less flattering details, you’d think that would be mitigated by access to some more exclusive material, but in general the impression is that, artwork aside, you could probably have found out most of what’s here for yourself.

The same can occasionally be said of Retro Gamer magazine, although for every, “Wow, guys, do you remember Super Soccer?” [double-page screenshot] moment, there’s an in-depth interview or a developer retrospective that makes it worth reading. The cover of issue 116 (May 2013) promises “A Celebration” of LucasArts with a 16-page retrospective. It’s rather a whistle-stop tour of the company’s history, although that’s far more understandable than with Rogue Leader given the space restrictions involved, and more prominence is given to the old adventures. There are one or two good snippets here though, my favourite being that Maniac Mansion’s famous line ‘Don’t be a tuna head!’ was supposed to be ‘Don’t be a shit head’:

“We argued with the head of the Lucasfilm Games Division and I’m sure we talked about our ‘artistic vision’ and other stuff. In the end our boss told [us] to go away and think about why we wanted to swear. If we came back with a good reason, we could keep it. But we couldn’t. It really me an important lesson about writing and how and why you choose the words you do.”

(Ron Gilbert, Retro Gamer 116, p. 25)

Elsewhere, there’s a top ten Star Wars games feature that controversially (or so it seems to me) includes Episode 1: Racer, Battlefront II and the original Atari version of Empire Strikes Back, as well as a brief interview with Ron Gilbert and one with composer Peter McConnell.

It’s not a massively substantial piece, but Retro Gamer is a monthly magazine that has to get out a reasonably timely acknowledgement of a company’s history and legacy and fit it into a small space. The sins perpetrated by Rogue Leaders are less forgivable, however, and I imagine anyone who paid the eye-watering cover price of $60 in expectation of something better would have been extremely cheesed off. At £10, buying it becomes a little more palatable – but only if expectations are lowered accordingly.