LucasArts

In 1994, I picked up a copy of LucasArts’ Rebel Assault for my shiny new PowerPC-based Macintosh. Unfortunately, the game was written and optimized for the old 68000-based systems, and actually ran sluggishly under emulation on my newer machine.

Having had experience with hacking computer games back in my formative years, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and released a speed-up patch on the internet that made the game much nicer to play.

A little while later I received an email from Eric Johnston at LucasArts, who I later learned was responsible for all the previous Mac versions of their games. He very cordially congratulated me on the patch and asked if I might be interested in doing Mac ports.

Soon I found myself interviewing for my dream job, which I started in January 1995. I later learned that LucasArts had carefully weighed whether to sue me or hire me, so I guess I’m glad they chose the latter.

I spent the first year or so madly porting as many titles from DOS (later Windows) to the Mac. All in all I released 9 Mac games in one year, which was work that I was hugely proud of.

Feeling that my talents were being wasted on ports, the LucasArts brass decided that I should work on the games directly, so I switched over to work on Outlaws for the next couple of years, then served as lead programmer on the Jedi Knight expansion pack Mysteries of the Sith.

My tenure at LucasArts ended after I discovered emulation and realized that my only way forward in gaming was to work on or lead massive projects, which just didn’t interest me at all. I left in July 1998 and went to work for Connectix.

MacOS Ports

My first job at LucasArts was to port their upcoming game Dark Forces to the Macintosh. The biggest challenge was that Mac users expected us to double the screen resolution while at the same time reducing the memory footprint of the game to nearly half of DOS version’s 8MB.

As part of this porting effort, I got the chance to travel to Austin, TX for an Apple-sponsored PowerPC Games Kitchen, where I collaborated with Eric Traut from Apple on a highly-optimized pixel doubler. Through an interesting quirk of fate, my next job was working for Eric at Connectix.

While working on Dark Forces, I also began porting Full Throttle, which used the famous SCUMM adventure game engine. Since the same engine powered all the LucasArts adventure games, I also decided on my own to create Mac ports of Day of the Tentacle and Sam & Max Hit the Road.

Luckily, marketing agreed to release these unplanned games, which became my all-time favorites, and we gained a few fans along the way.

The next games I ported were Rebel Assault II and The Dig, both of which used game engines that I had already done most of the work for, so it was just a matter of incorporating new features and improvements to get them out the door.

By this time, I had begun to educate the other developers on how to write portable code, so my porting efforts got easier and easier. The Mac ports of Afterlife and Mortimer and the Riddles of the Medallion went quickly enough that I was semi-adopted by the Afterlife team to help do some last-minute optimizations.

My final porting effort was the casual game Indiana Jones and His Desktop Adventures. Unlike the other games, this one had been designed for Windows from the start, using MFC, and posed a number of challenges in bringing it over to the Mac. But I loved the concept so I persevered. Too bad I never got the chance to port the sequel, Yoda Stories.

Outlaws

Of all the games I worked on at LucasArts, Outlaws is probably the one I’m most proud of.

Outlaws was the first LucasArts game to run on Windows instead of DOS. At the time, Microsoft was pushing Windows 95 and their new DirectX libraries for games.

Unfortunately, we didn’t really trust Microsoft’s libraries: things were pretty unstable in those early days. So every major subsystem in Outlaws was designed around DLL plug-ins that allowed us to easily substitute non-Microsoft libraries for video, sound, etc.

One of the big challenges Outlaws faced was that the in-game cutscenes were significantly longer than in any other LucasArts game to date. This was a problem because the INSANE video playback engine would slowly de-sync the audio and video over time on some systems.

Even worse, the opening cutscene was almost 10 minutes long, and there was a bit at the end where a shovel is dramatically jammed into the ground. If there was any timing discrepancy between audio and video, the mismatch would be painfully obvious there.

To solve this, I came up with a mechanism to use the audio playback as a clock and time the video to that. I distinctly recall watching the full opening cutscene in a conference room with the top folks in the company holding their breath until the shovel scene played with perfect sync.

Outlaws was also LucasArts’ first multiplayer network game.  After discovering that the networking layer was just not holding together, I and co-worker taught ourselves a crash-course in dead reckoning and other network play techniques, and rewrote the networking system. In the end it held up admirably, regularly surviving 12–16-player games at work.

For the expansion pack, A Handful of Missions, I was heavily involved in porting the game engine to use hardware-rendered 3D graphics, supporting both Direct3D and 3dfx Glide via our plug-in system.

Windows Ports

To me, the quintessential LucasArts games are the SCUMM graphic adventures, from the original Maniac Mansion up through the last one, The Curse of Monkey Island. The problem is, with the notable exception of that last release, all of them were originally written for DOS.

In late 2001, having been away from LucasArts for 3 years, this was beginning to bother me more and more. I loved to fire up the games and play them from time to time, but getting them to run on modern Windows systems was getting increasingly difficult.

So I proposed an idea: how about we update all the games, dating back to Maniac Mansion, to run on top of Windows? It might sound like a lot of work, but recall that I had already ported a number of the games previously to run on the Macintosh.

As it turns out there actually was a bit of interest in building updated versions of the original games. So, armed with the original game sources, I went back and converted all the classic adventure games to run on top of a modern Windows system.

Unfortunately, they weren’t all released, but at least some got to see the light of day starting in 2003. Full Throttle and Sam & Max Hit the Road appeared on a couple of compilation CDs, and I heard that international partners might have picked up a larger set, though I never heard for sure what they were.

Things went dead for a while until 2009, when I was told that LucasArts were creating a special edition of The Secret of Monkey Island, and also prepping several of the old classics for release via Steam. In the end, I was happy to see the two Indiana Jones games released (Last Crusade and Fate of Atlantis), plus the “talkie” version of Loom, and The Dig.

Who knows? Maybe in the future, the rest of the games will make an appearance!