That isn't to say Lucasfilm game developers steered clear of films and special effects entirely. In company-wide meetings during the 1980s, in which each team would show off their projects, Lucas' special effects outfit Industrial Light & Magic would precede games with their glossy film work. "Inevitably, ILM would go before us," said Lucasfilm programmer and producer Noah Falstein, now a game designer at Google. "It was kinda humiliating at the time, but we were interactive, and we were able to show people a little glimpse at the future."
The future would involve several modern projects, including a Commodore game called Habitat, in which a whopping 10,000 (!) players would interact with each other in a virtual world, thanks to 300-baud (!!) modems. "We didn't know you couldn't do that, so we just went and did it and it worked," said another panel member, Chip Morningstar.
Left to Right: Noah Falstein, Chip Morningstar and Ron Gilbert
According to Morningstar, programmer on Habitat
and co-creator of the SCUMM engine, the Lucasfilm Games team was "the source of a lot of jealousy in other parts of the company." In other domains, he said, "creative people were forced to march to George's vision."
Meanwhile, Steve Arnold, who was General Manager for Lucasfilm Games, recalled a simpler mandate from George Lucas. "When I first met with George, he said stay small, be the best, and don't lose any money."
"The good news about that is it was an incredibly liberating mandate," he said. Arnold likened Lucasfilm Games to "an indie film company" that pitched game ideas to external partners, essentially convincing "someone else to pay for it." With costs couched with companies like Atari, "we invented a lot of different things, because we had permission to do that."
Permission to Star Wars (verb) came later, of course, but by then Lucasfilm's game division had become a place for games like Habitat
, Maniac Mansion
and Rescue on Fractalus
. You know, that Star Wars
This article initially suggested Habitat
never made it out of beta. It was never released as a commercial product, according to Steve Arnold, but did make it out to many players. Chip Morningstar has stated that it ran for years with "tens of thousands of happy users."]