While pirates, tentacles, and a man with an exceptional fear of snakes all came to define and herald Lucasfilm Games Division in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the better part of the ’90s was all about Star Wars. In the midst of lightsabers and X-Wings, a single deviant popped out.
By 1990 Lucasfilm finally had the game license back to its Star Wars franchise. In 1993 the company, now LucasArts, released its first title bearing the Star Wars logo with its space combat flight simulator, Star Wars: X-Wing by Lawrence Holland. The game was very much a product of Hollands‘ earlier successful flight simulators, Battlehawk 1942, Their Finest Hour, and Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, all of which helped him and his team (what would become Totally Games) become a trusted entity within LucasArts. Holland’s X-Wing would go on to set the course for the majority of games published by LucasArts over the next two decades before the company was shuttered in 2013.
While it had been the adventure games in the ’80s and early ’90s that had heralded the company to praise and success, by the mid-’90s the genre was in rapid decline, giving way for games like id Software’s Doom and the numerous other games it inspired. The first-person shooter had indeed come to stay and in 1995 LucasArts jumped the bandwagon with the release of its own first-person shooter, Star Wars: Dark Forces.
For its foray into the FPS market, LucasArts with programmer, and Doom fan Ray Gresko at the helm, developed the Jedi-Engine, and by incorporating earlier Lucas technologies like its iMuse music system, the ability to look up and down, and having the possibility of multiple floor levels, it was, when development began in 1993, superior to that of the Doom engine.
When released, Dark Forces became very well-received, praised for its level design, went on to sell a million copies, and spawned the 1997 sequel Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II.
With technology fast advancing a new engine, the Sith-Engine was already being developed to benefit from the new dedicated 3D accelerated graphics cards like the Voodoo range from 3dfx. With the new Sith-Engine, the Jedi-Engine which only had been used in a single title was already obsolete and was put in the moth bag. That was until designer Daron Stinnett, and co-designer and lead programmer Stephen R. Shaw, inspired by classics ’60s Spaghetti Westerns such as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West, began work on Outlaws, a new first-person gun-slinging action game set in the old American West. Outlaws wanted a bite of the FPS cake but with added adventure game elements it wanted to be more than just another brainless shooter. The “aging” Jedi-Engine was pulled from retirement, dusted off, and updated.
LucasArts hired 2d animators to create the “hand-drawn” graphics produced for the extremely impressive cinematic intro and cutscenes. The 2D animations were all done on paper, scanned in, and composited with 3D where necessary, in the style of Full Throttle, and The Dig, both from 1995. A stylized art style was also opted for and used in-game.
Interesting characters, each with distinct personalities, were developed and a tall and skinny character design, inspired by MTV’s radical animated sci-fi television series Æon Flux, which aired from 1991 to 1995, was chosen.
A much deeper story, than your typical FPS, was developed to create a unique gun-blazing Wild West adventure.
With you playing as James Anderson, a retired U.S. Marshall whose quiet farm life with his family is shattered by railroad baron Bob Graham and his gang of six-shooters. With your wife dead and your daughter kidnapped there’s no other option than to find the outlaws, your daughter, and rightfully seek revenge. However, it’s not gonna be easy going up against the single largest group of desperadoes and flat-out bad guys to ever have gathered on this side of the Mississippi River.
The music for the game was scored by composer Clint Bajakian, who earlier had worked on Monkey Island 2, Fate of Atlantis, Day of the Tentacle, Full throttle, and The Dig, just to mention a few. Bajakain used a real orchestra with authentic instruments to create the perfect score for the Wild West setting. The 15 music tracks were recorded to the CD as audio-tracks and could be played back in a regular CD player. The tracklist was printed on the backside of the original jewel case, just like with normal music CDs. Bajakian’s music won numerous awards and the soundtrack is still to this day considered one of the great.
Seasoned actors along with veteran voice actors were used for the voice-work. TV and movie actor Jeff Osterhage voiced U.S. Marshall James Anderson.
The original US release from 1997
Alongside the development of Outlaws, Microsoft was developing its DirectX APIs for its Windows 95 operating system but with the team initially wanting a cross-platform game running on both Apple Macintosh’s and Microsoft Windows machines, they didn’t want to tie only to Microsoft technology. While they had a working copy on the Mac, the market simply was too small to pursue, and a final Mac version never materialized.
Microsoft had a year earlier, to get developers onboard the DirectX train, approached id Software’s John Carmack and offered to port Doom and Doom 2 from MS-DOS to Windows 95 and DirectX, free of charge, and with id Software retaining all publishing rights. id Software agreed and Doom 95, the first published DirectX game, was released in the late summer of 1996. The game was heavily promoted by Microsoft and with Bill Gates appearing in the ads.
In 1997, after little more than a year in development, Outlaws was released for Microsoft Windows. It was the first game to feature a sniper zoom and was one of the first with a reloading mechanism. Extensive work went into the multiplayer part, with the ability for multiple players to play head to head in Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Kill the Fool with the Chicken over modem, Internet, or Local Area Network.
The game’s superp cinematic intro really sets the tone and setting. This is the first time in over 20 years I’m playing this classic and it was a blast.
Gameplay starts at 8:40
A patch to version 1.1 was released fairly quickly to support multiple 3dfx based graphic accelerator cards alongside improved networking performance, bug fixes, and a couple of new features.
While the Outlaws team wanted to immediately start working on a sequel, resources at LucasArts soon was shifted towards a new Dark Forces II expansion, consequently, most of the team was assigned to the development of Mysteries of the Sith, released in 1998.
In 1998, LucasArts also released a new set of missions, rightfully called Handful of Missions, as it consisted of 4 single-player and 5 multiplayer missions, available to download, free of charge, from the official website and also released on promotional discs. None of the new missions were related to the game’s original story and each mission unrelated to the next.
An update in 2001 added Direct3D compatibility to the game.
The game was updated to utilize 3dfx 3D accelerator cards with version 1.1. Later on, a handful of new missions (4 new single-player and 5 new multiplayer missions) were added. The new missions were available free to download from the official website or on promotional discs.
A new retail version was released in 1998 and included the updates and the Handful of Missions (The bonus sticker being the only difference from the original retail box release)
While Outlaws didn’t become a commercial success and was outgunned by macho FPS games like Duke Nukem 3D, Doom, and Quake, it was praised for its unique charm, atmosphere, cinematic experience, and story – an often overlooked aspect of the genre. The use of hand-drawn artwork, distinctive characters, and the deeper story really set it apart. Unfortunately, with the aging Jedi-Engine, the game was already outdated when released.
A community slowly grew up around Outlaws, the development team intentionally left the datafiles easy to access and edit for people to customize and create new levels. Over the next 15 years over 1.500 custom multiplayer maps were created and the game gathered a cult following.
Sources: Wikipedia, LucasArts website (on the wayback machine), LucasArts Outlaws 20th Anniversary Developer Meetup,