LucasArts tries to get back in the game

Looking to move beyond its reputation for Star Wars games, company has an upcoming title whose innovative weapon system brings new meaning to the term "turf battle."Images: The futuristic world of 'Fracture'
Written by Daniel Terdiman, Contributor
SAN FRANCISCO--If you've wondered what the future effects of massive global warming and science run amok might be, LucasArts has the answer.

At a press event Wednesday to unveil its new video game, Fracture, LucasArts--the video game arm of George Lucas' sprawling science fiction empire--explained that the long-term scenario, beyond terrifying earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and catastrophic floods, is an all-out war between east and west with an all-new kind of destructive weaponry.

The setting is the future, circa 2161. Players find themselves in a dried-out San Francisco Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge, in pitched battle between the so-called Atlantic Alliance--a consortium of eastern American states and several European nations--and the Republic of Pacifica, a teaming of western American states and several Asian nations.

The storyline is based on a central scientific disagreement over the future of the human race, said LucasArts President Jim Ward.

Images: The futuristic world of 'Fracture'

In the very late 21st century, scientists at MIT and Harvard create the first genetically engineered humans--"Humanity 2.0"--but within a few years, the new humans come down with diseases. The scientists, in disgrace, leave the East Coast and headed west, where they're received enthusiastically.

Over the next few decades, as global warming gets worse and the Earth is plagued with an increasingly horrid series of natural disasters, relations between the eastern states and the western states deteriorate until the formation of the two alliances.

In 2161, the story goes, the United States, led by the eastern alliance, outlaws genetic engineering. But the Pacifica Alliance chafes at the decree and secedes. It is the first challenge to the authority of the United States since the Civil War, and the national government doesn't take kindly to it. It launches all out war on the Pacificans.

Fracture is expected to be released in 2008 for Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. There will be both single- and multiplayer options.

A whole new kind of weapon
For LucasArts and its development partner on Fracture, Day 1 Studios, the game is an opportunity to explore an entirely new genre of first-person-shooter, as defined by a new weapon system the game introduces: terrain deformation.

This is a kind of weapon that allows players to either raise small hills that can be used as protective berms or to gain a height advantage over the enemy, to create giant caverns, or even to raise giant monoliths. How players use them will be based on their strategic interests.

"There are really cool ways to kill people," Ward said.

For LucasArts, meanwhile, Fracture is an opportunity to build an all-new franchise after being known largely for its Star Wars titles. It did have a hit new franchise with Mercenaries two years ago, as well as a successful new children's franchise, Thrillville, last year.

But with Fracture, it seems, LucasArts is attempting to make a name for itself by creating a whole new category of weapon.

"At the end of the day, we want to be known for more than the Star Wars games," Ward said.

In addition, he and other LucasArts executives talked throughout the presentation about how the company is intent on making Fracture stand out for its well-developed story line.

"As George (Lucas) says, 'Technology by itself without a story is a pretty boring thing,'" said Peter Hirschmann, LucasArts vice president of product development.

The problem was that though LucasArts is talking a good game about creating a great storyline for Fracture, it didn't have much of that narrative to show off. The executives said they didn't want to spoil the fun for when the game is launched next year, but it felt, to some extent, as if the story wasn't very well fleshed out yet, and LucasArts and Day 1 Studios were hoping that its invention of the terrain deformation weapons would be enough to carry the day.

That might well be, but with the presentation, LucasArts threw down the gauntlet for itself, setting a high standard that it will certainly be judged by.

Ward spelled out three major strategic goals for the company, including making sure its Star Wars games are as good as they can be and reinvigorating the Indiana Jones brand.

"Probably the most important is new (intellectual property) development," Ward said. "This company had quite a reputation in the mid-'90s around that, creating new IP, and we sort of lost it. And now we want to get back on that bandwagon."

To judge by the reaction of the presentation audience, most of whom were journalists for video game publication, LucasArts is off to a good start. But it has a long way to go to convince the world that it has created something lasting.

And with upcoming games like the much-anticipated Halo 3 from Microsoft's Bungie Studios, it's going to be an uphill battle for the hearts and minds of gamers.

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