Almost a year ago, LucasArts appointed former EA LA man Darrell Rodriguez as president. Yet since taking the role pverseeing the studioâ??s creative teams he has not given an interview â?? until now. As E3 starts, he spoke to Develop about LucasArtsâ?? new strategy around IP new and oldâ?¦

Lucas Smarts

You’ve been in the job for a year – how have the first 12 months been?
The first year has exceeded my expectations. I’m surrounded by some of the most creative people in the industry and although I made some tough decisions in the beginning, the company is now very healthy, on track with our plans and unlocking so much creativity. Being part of the Lucasfilm Family is a great advantage. There’s no other company that I know of who can claim to have such a wealth of creative talent, across a broad mix of entertainment platforms and mediums under the same roof.

Has there been any change in strategy to the way LucasArts operates in that time? Have you implemented any new approaches?

I can’t say that there has been major change in the strategy of the company, but more so how we implement those strategies.

LucasArts has always been about character and story and we challenge ourselves with the simple but ambitious goal of releasing entertainment experiences that continually surprise, amaze and inspire. In my first year, we’ve been driving on these core principles and unleashing all the creative juices on how to re-imagine the stories and characters fans know and love. The products we’re working on now – Star Wars Clone Wars: Republic Heroes, Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition and others – stay true to that core principal of strong storytelling.

We’ve also been able to put an IP pipeline in the works with a team dedicated to creating new IP and new ways to reinvigorate some of our favorite heritage products such as the recently announced Monkey Island franchise. What that team is doing with that beloved franchise is remarkable and I can’t wait for fans to get their hands on it! We are 100 per cent committed to making smart business decisions and working with the best talent to release world class products across the board.

And in the last 12 months the Singapore studio has launched its first product. How have things developed with the satellite studio so far?
Our Singapore studio is doing great. I’m particularly proud at the advancements they have made with our handheld titles. Last year they developed Star Wars Clone Wars Jedi Alliance which was a successful game for us as a company. Currently they are working on the Clone Wars Republic Heroes handheld game and it’s looking fantastic.

The Singapore games group is in a unique position as that they are physically working amongst the television series animation team, so are able to share assets and technology in true collaboration. That is the beauty of working at Lucas – just over the next cube is inspiration, innovation and the tools you need to do your best work.

The Clone Wars is a big deal for Lucas now, across all the divisions. How important is it to LucasArts specifically? And how do you plan to push that franchise further?
Clone Wars is a phenomenal brand and we are proud to be part of it. It is a gigantic project for the entire Lucas family involving multiple parts of the company – LucasFilm, Lucas Licensing, Lucas Animation, LucasArts Singapore and Skywalker Sound. It is the number one toy franchise for boys and is Cartoon Networks’ premiere property. It’s massive.

With the franchise, kids and parents can experience Star Wars in an all new way by watching the show on a weekly basis and then continue the Clone Wars experience on a gaming console all in their own living room. Clone Wars Republic Heroes has a great story that bridges seasons one and two, and the team is constantly working with the animated series team to share story and character ideas, voice and writing talent and of course animation assets. It’s definitely one of the top initiatives at our company.

On the Star Wars point: the MotionPlus is primed for a big showing at E3 – so surely that means the time is right for that long-demanded ‘Lightsaber Game’?
Although Star Wars Clone Wars Lightsaber Duels launched prior to MotionPlus and therefore did not support it, we are really pleased with how that game turned out. It’s a fun Star Wars experience which really delivered on the universal thrill of wielding lightsabers. Star Wars Clone Wars Republic Heroes launching this Fall features a different type of game play with a whole new Clone Wars story.

LucasArts has been at the forefront of merging the film/SFX and game production pipelines. How successful has this been so far? What is next for that production model?
That’s the beauty of being part of the Lucasfilm family. We are all under one roof, so working together is much easier for us than at other companies. We just have to walk down the hall! The Force Unleashed was the first game where both LucasArts and ILM worked together on sharing tech, tools and pipelines. They have now set the stage and what both teams can do together is unbelievable. We continue to work together to evolve and develop these pipelines in partnership with ILM and what the teams are doing is truly remarkable.

What kind of synergies have you discovered through that process? And conversely: What areas of game design/development and special effects don’t/shouldn’t mix?
It was definitely an educational period for both companies. ILM’s expertise is in film and ours is in games and although there are a lot of similarities, both teams were challenged equally throughout the whole Force Unleashed development process.

It took a little longer than we had anticipated as both teams had to learn the other’s tech and medium, but we learned a lot and the game turned out amazing. Ultimately it resulted in a phenomenal game that was a commercial success and a showcase example of the exciting possibilities of a collaborative approach between both companies. We can now employ this model for future projects.

In The Staff of Kings’ Fate of Atlantis unlockable and your new Monkey Island XBLA title, LucasArts’ old IP has been revived. Why now?
Why not now? Fate of Atlantis was a perfect fit for Indiana Jones Staff of Kings. We are so proud of our heritage and want to share it with fans. Monkey Island is core to what LucasArts is about – it has a great story, great characters and was innovative for its time. I find it inspirational and I know the team does as well. Our history of innovation and storytelling is something I want to bring to the forefront of LucasArts.

Is it worthwhile to rely on these well-known IPs during a credit crunch/recession? Or will they require re-marketing to the demographic explosion the industry has witnessed?
I think the time is better than ever now. It’s well known IP like Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Monkey Island that can stand up in hard times. As you noted, the demographic of active gamers is getting wider and wider. With our IP, we can reach out to older fans who, remember the games and franchises they grew up with as well as new fans discovering them for the first time

Will we see more of those old adventure properties resurface?
Monkey Island is one of a few going on right now. The classic game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is included in the new Wii version of Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings, which comes out on June 9th.

We’re looking at other opportunities to bring back the best of our heritage products to consumers. LucasArts has a rich history of storytelling and innovation and I’m excited to bring back Monkey Island and begin sharing it once again with today’s audience.

Those older IPs would seem like a perfect fit for DS, too – is that under consideration?
We’re always looking for more ways to deliver our titles to audiences, so you never know! As of now, we’ve only announced Monkey Island for the PC and Xbox. It might pop up other places too though so stay tuned!

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was massive last year. Why do you think it was such a success? What’s next for that franchise?
Building great games is a bit like alchemy. It requires a uniquely balanced combination of talented people, great story, solid technology and a touch of magic. The Force Unleashed was just that. The story and characters alone are the epitome of what Lucas companies represent. Haden Blackman and his team did a great job bringing these characters to life and really drawing the player to the story. In fact, he won both the ATAS award for story and the Writers Guild of America story for videogame writing on TFU. The innovative merging of the DMM, Havok and Euphoria took it to the next level and created an exceptional gaming experience that gamers adored. It worked on many levels and we’ve been expanding on the franchise with downloadable content to deliver even more awesome TFU experiences to fans.

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