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BALLBLAZER and Rescue on Fractalus!
The Lucasfilm Computer Division Games Project is born
A very brief personal history
Peter Langston -- January, 2005

In May of 1982, The Computer Division of Lucasfilm Ltd. hires me (Peter Langston) to start a new project in electronic and computer games, and I move from New York City to Marin County, California, and I start hiring staff, and we sign a profitable licensing agreement with Atari, and I give a lot of interviews.

Rob Poor jumps ship from the laser film printer project and is my first employee. Being at Lucasfilm makes looking for people easy because they come to me. In that way I find David Fox and David Levine. Similarly, Eric Benson, Gary Winnick, and Charlie Kellner come beating down the door. And then there's Steve Arnold who takes a little convincing to leave Atari. And then Noah Falstein and then Douglas Crockford, but I'm getting way ahead of myself.

My small group and I (four or five of us) set about creating game development tools, picking a couple of "throwaway" games to use as test cases and proof of concept. The tools allow us to do our development on Unix workstations and download the binaries to the actual target hardware - unheard of! Meanwhile, the throwaway games get to be too good to throw away.

At the end of our first year the Games Group shows a profit (largely because of our agreement with Atari) - probably the only part of the Lucasfilm Computer Division to do so.

In 1983 we show early versions of our first two games to Atari (at that point the games are known as "BallBlaster" and "Rebel Rescue"). Atari is very impressed (and manages to hold onto copies of the games).

The bad news is that pirated copies of both games soon appear on BBoards all around the United States and the world. The good news is that even pirated copies of early versions of the games receive rave reviews.

Among our innovations in game design is an increased focus on sound and music, One example is the music score for BALLBLAZER which not only responds to game-play and provides vital status cues, but is also constantly improvised by an algorithmic composition scheme. This use of music that never repeats itself, responds to game-play, and carries information is a first in the industry (and even now is only challenged by Microsoft on the hugely more-powerful Xbox).

In May of 1984 we officially deliver the final versions of BALLBLAZER and Rescue on Fractalus! to Atari and we hold a big press conference to announce their release.

Atari holds back the disk/home computer version (Atari 800) to give the game machine version (Atari 5200) an exclusive. Then, they hold back the 800 version further to give the new 7800 (which is, of course, behind schedule) a share of the exclusivity.

Meanwhile, the games get great reviews in the mainstream press (e.g. Omni Magazine). And I give a lot more interviews, and we wait. At this point the only way to play the games on your home computer is to get the (free) pirated copies off the Internet.

Before Atari finally gets around to releasing the home computer version, Atari changes management (again) and, hoping to get more money from the deal, the new management decides to renegotiate the contract, thereby bringing the original Atari/Lucasfilm alliance to an end.

Atari, demonstrating that what goes up must come down (and having definitely gone up), comes down, having shipped very few of the games they worked so hard (and paid so much) to get.

The Games Group settles down to becoming a workaday games production shop, crafting games on a regular schedule, with deadlines, focus groups, and the like. Seduced by flattering job offers for blue-sky research positions from both Bell Labs and Bell Communications research (BellCore), I move back East and leave the management of Lucasfilm Games in the able hands of Steve Arnold. Sometime after this, Lucasfilm Games becomes LucasArts. (The LucasArts website incorrectly gives 1982 as the date of their inception.)

In 1986 BALLbLAZER and Rescue on Fractalus! are finally released on disk for home computers (by Epyx).

Some Images
(Click on any image for a larger version.)

Spring, 1984 (600x800, 119KB)

The cover of one of the independent Atari magazines
August, 1984 (612x800, 112KB)

About that cover...
(209x632, 47KB)

An interview and article in the San Jose Mercury News
May 9, 1984 (900x800, 246KB)

David Fox

l to r: Gary, Charlie, David L, Peter, Noah, & Loren

l to r: Peter, Loren, & Charlie

l to r: Charlie, Noah, Loren, Peter, David L, & Gary

l to r: Charlie Kellner, Loren Carpenter, David Levine, Peter Langston, Noah Falstein, & Gary Winnick

The Making of the Rescue on Fractalus! Manual   April 10, 1984

A pretty good article we wrote for that issue of the Atari Connection
Spring, 1984 (1608x1082, 431KB)

We handed out a glitzy (yet tres elegant) press kit at the press conference. It came in a sexy black box and included 8x10 glossies of game models, half a dozen press releases, fact sheets, and even a cassette tape of the Theme from BallBlazer, "Song of the Grid." More about the Press Kit here.

November, 1984 (587x800, 119KB)

Here's the authentic, original, genuine Masterblazer helmet worn in the photo on the left. It was handcrafted by the wizard prop-makers of Lucasfilm, ltd. back in the late 20th Century. Unfortunately, the ancient lore and components used in its making have been lost in the mists of time.
(655x646, 100KB)

It's really kind of pathetic...
May 21, 1984 (589x800, 178KB)

An interview and article in Newsweek's Access magazine
Fall, 1984 (875x1289, 312KB)



Rescue on Fractalus!

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