If there was one axiom in the PC gaming world back in the 1990’s, it was that LucasArts produced incredible adventure games. So many went on to become cherised memories in the minds of gamers, such as The Secret of Monkey Island, Loom, and Day of the Tentacle, but also the subject of this edition of the Game of the Week: Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.
Fate of Atlantis was a superb Indiana Jones game because it featured all the aspects of an archetypal Indy adventure. To begin with, Indy fought and competed against Nazi. “Nazis. I hate these guys.” The best Indiana Jones stories cast Hitler’s ever-dangerous forces and sympathizers as the good professor’s main antagonists. After all, who doesn’t hate the Nazis? (I mean, besides extremist fringe political groups.) They’re the quintessential villains for the time period: efficient, brutal, and seemingly omnipresent. The second major aspect is the need for Indy to be on a quest for an artifact of extreme potency. Finding an object to match the mystery and sheer majesty of the Ark of the Covenant or the Cup of Christ required shifting the religious overtones from traditional sources to the New Age movement. Incorporating the alien, time-lost feel of the ultimate symbol of New Age mysticism, the lost city/continent of Atlantis, was a brilliant decision, and gave the game the same epic feel of the movies.
The man responsible for the Fate of Atlantis’ adherence to the Indy mythos was Hal Barwood. Barwood had a broad background working in the film industry, including being credited for writing Stephen Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express, co-producing the box office flop/cult classic Dragonslayer, and writing the Gregory Peck World War II movie, MacArthur. However, Barwood had a much more limited computer game background, having been involved in the production of a mere two titles (as “Special Guest Film Director” on The Secret of Monkey Island, and mysteriously credited as “Works like crazy!” on Monkey Island 2). Still, LucasArts needed someone who thought in cinematic terms, so regardless of his relative inexperience in PC game design, Barwood was given the Big Chair for their next Indiana Jones project.
Barwood showed his good judgment immediately upon receiving the script for the yet to be titled Indiana Jones game. The script was originally submitted as a potential movie script for a fourth Indiana Jones film, but had been rejected. Barwood realized that the rejection was sound, as he stated, “It was rejected for a reason, though, and I thought it was hopeless.” He and his co-designer, Noah Falstein, “marched down to George’s wonderful research library and started thumbing through Dark Mysteries of the Past -type coffee table books.” There they came across an artist’s rendition of Atlantis, and immediately realized its potential as a game setting. From there they decided that the game’s version of Atlantis needed to have some grounding in our reality, so they “decided to fasten on Plato’s reality to give the thing legitimacy.” And with that as the foundation, Barwood proceeded to write out the plot of the game, birthing a true gaming classic in the process.
In some ways Fate of Atlantis was a typical LucasArts adventure, but in other ways, atypical. The game used the SCUMM game engine (first used in Maniac Mansion, hence the abbreviation for Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion). It used 256-color VGA graphics, and had an outstanding audio score. (Later versions would include digitized voices, and an inspired Indiana Jones sound-alike performance by Doug Lee.) Further, players traveled throughout a vast game world (200+ locations) searching for objects that helped solve a variety of puzzles. Yet the differences Fate of Atlantis showed were remarkable. For instance, unlike games such as Loom or The Secret of Monkey Island, the wrong decision in Fate of Atlantis could result in Indy’s death. This was an interesting departure from the LucasArts Canon (detailed quite eloquently and yet most verbosely by Ron Gilbert in a 1989 missive, reprinted here).
Another key difference was that Fate of Atlantis included a multipath scenario for gameplay, which was originally envisioned by Noah Falstein, but left to Hal Barwood to implement. These paths had different playing styles, unique puzzles and situations, differing game world locations, and even alternate cutscenes. The game paths had titles which indicated their favored strategies: the Fists Path, containing plenty of fist-fighting and an emphasis on action; the Team Path, which involved Indy adventuring with the game’s female love interest, Sophia Hapgood, and treated her as a kind of in-game hint book; and the Wits Path, which de-emphasized the action in favor of more and more complex puzzles to solve. This was not a completely user-driven game world, however, as Fate of Atlantis always began and ended in the same way, with the option to select one of the three paths coming somewhat in the middle of the game.
Of course, even before Fate of Atlantis was released, Indiana Jones was already a cultural phenomenon. There had been three movies (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), and at the time of Fate of Atlantis’ release, a television series was in its first year of production (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles). Games based on the movies had been released on several platforms, including Indiana Jones in the Lost Kingdom in 1984 (C64), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1987 (Amiga, Apple II, Atari ST, C64, DOS), Indiana Jones in Revenge of the Ancients in 1987 (Apple II, DOS), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Action Game in 1989 (C64, DOS, Atari ST, Amiga), andIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure in 1989 (Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, Macintosh). In other words, this was a franchise with both a solid history and strong fan base.
Fate of Atlantis was released on several platforms, with versions for MS-DOS, Amiga, Macintosh, and FM Towns. As you can imagine, releasing the game on several gaming platforms ensured its best-seller status, selling over a 1 million copies (with the obvious caveat that the game was also good). Fate of Atlantis was not only a hit among the buying public – it garnered many accolades among game critics, including “Best Adventure Game of the Year” by Computer Game Review, a solid 90% game review from Amiga Power, and was even named #93 in the 150 Best Games of All Time list in 1996 by Computer Gaming World (CGW).
Ultimately, all the awards and positive reviews are meaningless if they don’t convince you to play the game – and enjoy it. Yes, the graphics are dated compared to today’s 3-D visual masterpieces with photo-realistic images, but if you’re a retrogamer, the graphics aren’t your chief concern, the gameplay is. And Fate of Atlantis delivers great gameplay with a professionally written story that immerses you into what could have easily been the fourth Indiana Jones movie script. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is highly recommended, and clearly deserving of its Game of the Week honor!