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Star Wars Computer Games - A History of Star Wars Computer Games

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The Star Wars IP has a long history of quality video games mostly due to the series continuing popularity. Unlike other properties, these games have not had to be released to coincide with a movie: The first Star Wars computer game wasn’t released until 1983, the same year as “Return of the Jedi” while the next movie, “The Phantom Menace,” didn’t come out until sixteen years later. Companies working on Star Wars releases could rely on the popularity of the IP without having to rush to meet release dates to coincide with other parts of the property. Over ninety Star Wars games have been released over the past thirty years and while many were conversions of other popular games more than a few can be considered classics.

The first Star Wars video game was released in 1982. “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” let Atari 2600 and Intellivision owners fight AT-AT on Hoth. The following year saw the release of the classic “Star Wars” in arcades. Players experienced a vector graphics rendering of the Death Star battle complete with voice recordings from the first movie. Parker Bros, who released the “Empire Strikes Back” game, ported the arcade game to the Commodore 64 and Atari 8-bit systems making it the first Star Wars computer game.

While the video game crash in late 1983 shifted gaming from consoles to computers, companies were hesitant to spend money on the industry. Lucasfilm Games, now known as LucasArts, was created in 1984 to develop original titles and games based on Lucas IPs, yet Star Wars was noticeably absent from their releases.

1991 saw the return of Star Wars to consoles with a set of movie-based side-scrollers developed by JVC. Originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, they were ported to the Super Nintendo the following year as “Super Star Wars.” Plans were in the works to bring these games to PC but development was stopped just short of release.

In 1993 LucasArts released their first in-house Star Wars game and the first major Star Wars computer title in a decade, “X-Wing.” Space combat sims had already been made popular with “Wing Commander” but “X-Wing” took it to a new level by adding a 3-D graphics engine and story elements from the movies. The Empire-based follow-up “Tie Fighter” improved on the formula to become the best game in its genre. IGN named it the third best computer game of all time while Gamespot gave it a spot on their “Greatest Games of All Time” list.

1995 saw Star Wars join the first person shooter market with Dark Forces, the first expanded universe game. Like the many Star Wars novels, this game took place outside of the movies giving the developers much greater creative freedom. The series saw several sequels, evolving into the Jedi Knight series.

In 1996 LucasArts pushed forward the expanded universe with the release of “Shadows of the Empire.” The game and book tie-ins take place between “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” It was the first time the space between movies had been addressed by any media. Originally released on the new Nintendo 64 it was ported to the PC the following year.

LucasArts teamed with Everquest developer Sony Online Entertainment to create the Star Wars-based MMO Galaxies: An Empire Divided. Commonly known as “Star Wars Galaxies,” the 2003 release was popular but didn’t quite meet sales expectations. To boost the game’s popularity the “New Game Enhancements” update was released in late 2005. This simplified gameplay mechanics and made the Jedi class available at the start of the game. Users balked at the changes and subscriptions fell of sharply.

That same year Bioware released “Knights of the Old Republic” on PC and Xbox. The RPG, set several thousand years before the movies, received rave reviews for its complexity and character interaction. Despite being followed by a flawed sequel, Bioware is developing a new MMO based on this time period titled “Star Wars: The Old Republic.”

The surprise 2005 hit “Lego Star Wars” would start another gaming legacy. Initially the game had high sales because it contained story elements from “Revenge of the Sith” which wasn’t released until two weeks after the game debuted. Buyers were surprised to find a fun, approachable game and the game became the start of a series covering everything from Indiana Jones to Batman. Originally released for PS2 and PC, it has since been ported to every major system. With sales of over 3.5 million copies it’s the best selling Star Wars game of all time.

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