Norway is the country for archaeologists, there is no doubt about this. Vikings, longships, stave churches and fortresses, and other cool stuff from the Middle Ages or even further back. You can hardly put a shovel in the ground without finding traces of it somethingand cultural heritage protection is strong within Norwegian law.
If you ask the archaeologists themselves what inspired them, the answer may be something else. Yes, Vikings and knights too, but our patron saint wears a brown fedora hat. We hear the trumpet fanfare of John Williams in the soul. For me, it did not start with the movies (as much as I love them), but with the game of LucasArts, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.
My dad is an old-fashioned nerd, and I grew up with his outdated PCs in the playroom. A 486 with Windows 3.1, but you had to go to MS-DOS to run the game from the disks that were in the box with Monkey Island 1 & 2 – and you must not lose the game manual, because there you found the code wheel with the anti-pirate code .
READ ALSO: A new Monkey Island game coming this year »
Nowadays, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is available on Steam and GOG for around fifty, and has also been embedded in various later game launches in the Indy franchise. The game still stands strong as an ideal from the height of the golden age for point-and-click adventure games, and seems to be able to stand up to competitors among today’s indie games (and Indy games).
Challenging and varied
The game can be difficult (especially for a kid of primary school age like I was), but not crushing. It’s just like an adventure game should be. It is meant to be a challenge, and the game is flexible enough that there are many ways to find the answer to each task. If everything else goes wrong, you can also go back to the start and choose another route, which gives you completely different problems to solve to reach Atlantis. It’s almost like you get three different games in one, and they are all exciting versions of Fate of Atlantis.
The plot is about the hunt for a few remnants of the mythical civilization that is rumored to be able to lead people to the ruins of the city of Atlantis itself, and in the best Indiana Jones spirit, of course, the Nazis are notched. The game is set just before the war, not long after the movies, so all parties are free to travel wherever they want, but with their full reputation well known. Indy joins Sophy Hapgood, a former assistant (but not a friend), as a reluctant helper.
We learn that Sophia left the field of archeology to become “psychic”, with lucrative lectures / theater performances in which she evokes the ghost of “Nur-Ab-Sal, the last king of Atlantis”, in front of an astonished audience. The performance is meant to be cheating, but thanks to Indy’s involvement, it turns out to be closer to the truth than expected.
This pulls us into the hunt for a lost book by the philosopher Plato, and three stone slabs that will give access to Atlantis. You get the choice whether you manage the game by solving the puzzles alone, go straight on with violent intentions (and a simple platformer-style combat system), or whether you let Sophia help you find a more diplomatic solution.
The game takes us to archeological excavations in Iceland and in Tikal, Guatemala, to the Azores archipelago and back to the artefact collection at Indy’s home, Barnett College in Fairfield, New York. Then we travel to Monte Carlo, Algeria and the Sahara Desert, the Minoan ruins of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete, and the island of Thera (today called Santorini), before ending up in Atlantis itself – but the order and problems to be solved come depending on which route you chose, which can give a completely different experience of the game. The game also has several endings, depending on how you choose to solve the last level.
In many ways, the game can seem like an early precursor to much of what we today associate with the role-playing game genre.
A “true” presentation of the myth
Needless to say, Atlantis is just a myth, and something as easy to document as this “lost civilization” in the game would be almost undeniably proven in our world. But I have to say the way it is presented is quite realistic, or at least the game covers many details and theories related to the “real” myth.
People have believed that a violent volcanic eruption that destroyed the island of Santorini (Thera) may have been the historical origin of the myth of “the island that disappeared”. And the tidal waves that swept through the Greek islands may have contributed to the destruction of Minoan civilization – a precursor to ancient Greek culture. The Minoan culture is in turn named after the myth of King Minos and the Minotaur, and was based in Knossos, Crete.
There have also been conspiracy theories that try to link the South American temple pyramids to the Mediterranean cultures, and then the idea of an advanced civilization in the middle of the Atlantic often arises, which can link the continents together in a common culture. Because the idea of building a huge monument that is thicker at the bottom so it does not tip over is obviously so difficult to comprehend that no one could have invented it at the same time as, but independently of, anyone else on the other side of the globe.
And it is well known that the Nazis actually hunted for important historical relics, even though it was more to use them as propaganda than because the myths were true. This has since been used as a plot in several modern media franchises, such as Indiana Jones, Hellboy, and Marvel’s Universe.
READ ALSO: The adventure game project ScummVM gives new life to 1000 games »
Impressive pixel graphics
The graphics were really impressive, given how extremely limited it may be, and it’s easy to let your imagination fill in anything that could just be hinted at. Although the resolution is painfully low, everything is superbly designed to take advantage of what is available, and LucasArts was not afraid to build up impressive images and sprite animations for each of the scenes. With just a dozen pixels, you can clearly see Harrison Ford in the lead role, if you give the game some well-deserved goodwill. But I have to admit that it sometimes seems like the graphics are made with Duplo blocks compared to what we would often expect from the poorest indie developer today.
The beautiful low-pixel front and background art is used to its full potential to provide rich images of a number of interesting places to explore, from jungles to desert landscapes, from city streets in Monte Carlo to back streets in Algeria, and through ruins and archeological excavations in the Mediterranean. All places are visually unique and clear to interpret, without suffering too much in the pixel fog. The situations we have to deal with are also no less colorful, whether we have to persuade a grumpy archaeological rival, sneak aboard Nazi German submarines, or chase down a fleeing car full of enemies in the best Pac-man style.
The game was originally released with only a fairly basic, low-fi sound – according to all the rules of the art for what was available up to 1992. Nevertheless, the sound is masterfully composed for the limited format, and can show why many who grew up with this still has a close relationship with the sounds that the old sound cards produced. Shortly afterwards, in 1993, the game received a new release on CD-ROM, which updated the soundtrack for better technology and included new digital sound effects.
It was just text dialogue in the original format, since the game could not support reproduction of human voices, but this is no longer an issue after we got a re-release shortly after, with a brand new, updated voiceover soundtrack. This is of course included in all modern versions of the game, although the quality is often variable (but entertainingly excessive).
Inspirational fairy tales about myths and Nazis
The game made me wonder what was out there in the world. What is Monte Carlo? Where are the Azores, Thera or Tikal? Is Knossos a real place? Is Atlantis? (I wonder what the lady at the university library was thinking when an 8-year-old boy came in to borrow translations of Plato’s Timaios and Kritias.)
I learned about adventurers and spies, about Nazis, about treasure hunters and cheating “spirit men”, and the best part was that I could control the story myself. I saw Indy running around, just like on film, but I was the one who decided. I was Indiana Jones.
Many years later I found myself sitting in the lecture hall at Blindern, as an archeology student at the University of Oslo, and yes, Vikings and knights are incredibly cool, the Stone Age is so much more than just stone, and Greek mythology is always epic. But a small part of me is waiting for the trumpet fanfare, and I hope to find my way back to the labyrinth under the sea and the lost Atlantis.
READ ALSO: This is what a point-and-click game about Seinfeld could look like »