Earlier today publisher Bethesda Softowrks announced that MachineGames, the developers of the recent Wolfenstein games, were working on a new Indiana Jones game. There’s not much more known about the game other than that it is quite a ways off, and so I am here to beg the developers now: please let Indy fall down a lot.
Indiana Jones is a well-known klutz. Where other action movie protagonists are suave, calm in the face of pressure, and preternaturally skilled, Indy is the ball in Rube Goldberg device. He triggers traps, mis-judges distances, wins fights through dumb luck, and generally makes a mess and runs away. This is what makes him lovable. And yet none of these traits are a natural fit for a videogame protagonist, but I’m begging this game’s developers: please find a way.
One game already did. The introduction to LucasArts adventure game Indiana Jones & The Fate Of Atlantis (pictured above) had Indy searching his university for a particular old relic. In between the onscreen credits, players clicked around the environment, exploring until they prompted Indy to take his next pratfall. It’s funny, beautifully animated, and it absolutely captures the spirit of the character.
Slapstick in videogames has come a long way since 1992, mostly due to the advance of physics simulations. This was always the real promise to me of the long-ago cancalled Indiana Jones game that aimed to use the Euphoria physics engine. It wasn’t the thought of punching goons and having ‘no two reactions be the same’. It was that it might allow Indy himself to roly-poly through his globe-trotting adventure.
MachineGames are known for making first-person shooters, which is a particularly difficult genre to include this kind of clumsiness into. The hope I’m clinging to is that the new game is executive produced by Todd Howard, best known as the creative lead on RPGs like the Elder Scrolls games. “Executive producer” can mean anything, but let’s imagine that it means this new Indy game is an RPG.
RPGs are pretty good at using stats and dice rolls to nudge the player towards an imperfect performance, and to live with that consequence of each failure. It’s unlikely that a new blockbuster Indiana Jones game is going to be as rich in failure as something niche like Disco Elysium, but Skyrim does let you cast a paralysis spell on yourself at the top of mountains and watch your ragdoll slide downhill.
I’m not suggesting that Indiana Jones is or should be bad at everything, but my biggest fear with any new videogame adaptation isn’t that they’ll turn him into a Nathan Drake-style killing machine. It’s that he’ll be too proficient. I will stomach any amount of nuclear fridges, crystal skulls, and pest-like sons, if only Indy can be a guy who muddles through an onslaught of unfortunate circumstances towards he a victory he can claim almost no responsibility for.