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George Lucas: A Conversation with the Emperor

On the set of the next 'Star Wars' movie, George Lucas discusses his other gold mine: video games

October 12, 2000
george lucas 2000
George Lucas in New York.
Arnaldo Magnani/Liaison

In the late seventies and early Eighties, George Lucas created Industrial Light & Magic and THX Sound to achieve the effects he was after in his films; in the process, he changed the technology of moviemaking. In 1982, when most video gaming involved shooting or chasing objects a few pixels high across a sparsely decorated screen, Lucas founded LucasArts Entertainment to produce electronic games with the personality, drama and technical excellence that would turn cold interactivity into emotional involvement.

In the next two decades, LucasArts produced a host of games based on its trademark Star Wars and Indiana Jones properties, along with landmark original games such as Loom, Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle. Currently, Lucas' day-to-day work with the company is limited as he prepares Star Wars: Episode II for a summer 2002 release. But his interest and involvement in the technologies of storytelling in all its forms remain high. In the following interview, conducted via e-mail as he wrapped principal photography on Episode II in Australia, Lucas talked about the past, present and future of interactive gaming.

LucasArts Entertainment started creating games in the early Eighties – about the same time that we were all amazed by Rescue on Fractalus and Ballblazer, games for the Atari 800. What do you think are the most significant changes in gaming in the last twenty years?
Nearly every technological advance in gaming has been significant. But it all boils down to using that technology to tell compelling stories. That's been my philosophy when it comes to filmmaking, and it's one I share with the game designers at LucasArts. Fortunately, we're finally at the point where technology allows them to create truly cinematic and immersive games.

It's really difficult to predict what the next decade holds. All technology is so interrelated. Advances in film will trickle down into games. I am looking forward to the next wave of video-game systems, like PlayStation2, because they'll give game designers so much more freedom. I also think the sense of an online community will play a large role in the future of interactive gaming. For instance, LucasArts is developing a game that will allow thousands of people from around the world to explore Tatooine and other Star Wars planets together. I think that's just amazing.

Do you think it's possible for an interactive entertainment to produce the same kind of deep emotional response as a traditional film?
Without a doubt, as long as you have a strong story with compelling characters. Games may in fact have an advantage over films in this area because they can be much more visceral – the story is happening to you.

You have a young son – we assume he's a pretty wired guy. Do you ever play games together? Are you concerned about the influence of computer and video games on children – or on adults, for that matter?
My son likes games. I sometimes play games with him. There is the issue of the influence of video games on children, but you also have to consider the issue of the influence of movies on children, the influence of school on children, and the influence of media of all kinds on children. They are important issues, but I don't know if you can really take just video games and decide what kind of an influence they have on kids.

I know that violent video games have an effect on children who are disturbed or have been abused. As a parent, I keep my son and all of my children away from certain video games that I think are violent. I keep them away from certain television shows, certain movies and certain parts of the news.

When we first started playing games, they were usually created by one guy, saved to a cassette tape and sold in a plastic baggie with photo-copied instructions. Today, the development of each game requires a large team and millions of dollars in production costs. As the digital tools improve, do you think we'll see a return to game creation as an individual endeavor, like writing a novel or painting a picture?
It's all about scope. There's no way I could make Episode II on my own, and I have access to the latest technology. But some guy sitting in a garage with the right tools could probably create a great animated film. In terms of games, it just takes too many people with different skills to build a complete and technologically advanced product. To make a game, you need programmers, artists and modelers, in the same way that I need actors, computer animators and hundreds of others to bring my story to the screen.

How do you think the experience of playing electronic games differs from traditional gaming?
At their core, they're exactly the same. Checkers is a good, simple game design: It's easy to learn, fun to play, and the outcome is different every time. LucasArts' pod-racing game has all the same design elements but in a much more sophisticated package. Computer games may be a bit more complex, but any game is successful as long as it has these basic qualities.

We've had literally dozens of Star Wars games, plus several Indiana Jones titles. Hasn't anyone ever proposed an American Graffiti game? Or a THX-1138?
Star Wars and Indiana Jones have a serial nature that's easy to expand upon. I don't think American Graffiti lends itself to a game, because it's more of a self-contained story. And THX-1138 is probably a bit too difficult to translate to the medium.

This story is from the October 12th, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.

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