Join Chris as he starts his series, Star Wars in Gaming.
In 1977, an up and coming young director by the name of George Lucas had created a science fiction film in what was, at the time, widely considered a dying genre and through various deals at 20th Century Fox, gotten it published on thousands of screens across the country. Its success was considered a long shot but now, over three decades later, it is the single most successful film franchise in motion picture history with over $4.41 Billion in revenue from films alone with merchandise spanning from books, TV series, action figures and – of course – video games.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be going in depth to talk about the Star Wars franchise’s long history in video games in preparation for the upcoming release of Star Wars; The Old Republic, the long awaited MMORPG sequel to the Knights of the Old Republic, the critically lauded role playing game that has also been proclaimed by many as one of the finest RPGs of all time, to say nothing of it being widely considered to be the best Star Wars game.
Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by Star Wars. As early as Primary School, while other kids were playing sports or out on the jungle gym, I and my friends would be re-enacting our favorite scenes from the movies. As you can imagine, a young nerd like myself was absolutely thrilled to receive his first Star Wars video game. My family had skipped the Super Nintendo, so while I never got my hands on Super Star Wars – which is, by all accounts, amazing – I did have the tremendous pleasure to own a Nintendo 64 and one of the finest games the console had to offer: Star Wars: Episode I Podracer – a game so amazing that I often like to think that the prequel trilogy was nothing more than a failed film adaptation of the game.
Podracer, of course, was not the first Star Wars video game. No, that honor goes to the appropriately titled Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for the venerable Atari 2600. While it was before my time, I have nevertheless had the chance to play it first hand at a convention and I have to say that, for its time, it was pretty fun. It’s incredibly simple, a rendering of the Hoth Battle scene wherein you, playing as Luke Skywalker, fly in a Snowspeeder, fending off waves of Imperial AT-AT walkers.
Over the years, various Star Wars themed video games were released for arcades and home game consoles, but none of the games seemed to be able to actually tell the story of the films due to limitations in the technology of the age until 1991 when JVC released Star Wars on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Suddenly, a coherent story could be presented in game form with the player venturing around Tatooine in a landspeeder, collecting R2-D2 from Jawas all the way to destroying the Death Star! Coming back to the game years later presented a game that, while not particularly well aged, is still quite fun and something that I would have loved to have for my NES back in the day.
It was at about this time – the early 90s, that the PC began getting Star Wars games as well. In 1995, Star Wars: Dark Forces was released, beginning what is considered by many to be one of the greatest Star Wars sub series to date, the Jedi Knight series. The player assumed control of Kyle Katarn, a mercenary in the employ of the Rebel Alliance. Here was a game that combined first person shooter gameplay with cutting edge graphics and a deep and immersive plot. The series that was to follow has been hailed by fans and critics alike as a classic in both the shooting and hack-and-slash genres.