The computing devices we sit in front of are capable of great things, but it is incredible how the vast amount of time we use them for entertainment. As such, the high performing devices we use have become adept at creating complex simulations and stories, even from the early days of Personal Computing. In 1996, computer users got a perpetual taste of the pulp-action lifestyle of Indiana Jones in the Lucasarts P.C. title Indiana Jones and His Desktop Adventures.
Deep in 1930s Central America, we find Indy in a small village, Lucasio, whose location is not too far from ancient ruins. It is here is that Indy’s friend, Marcus Brody, has established an office there who usually sends the archaeologist on a quest. Adventure awaits as you, along with Nazis, bandits and of course Snakes. As you explore mystic temples, solve puzzles and overcome obstacles. A fresh new story lies in each new playthrough.
The game’s world is a grid of 10×10 sections, like a crossword puzzle. Some are not used, and you cannot explore. Others potentially contain a camp of bad guys, or dangerous animals, a fair few of these are key. These crucial sectors might contain a puzzle to solve, or a key item to acquire. You free to navigate in any cardinal direction you wish, and early on acquire a map to help you navigate. You can also tailor the game to use bigger or smaller maps for each subsequent playthrough. The hook of the game is that each of these “worlds” is procedurally generated, meaning to the player, no two are exactly alike. Of course, technological limitations and playability requirements hamper the possibilities. It does mean that some set pieces repeat themselves, and the game relies on similar narrative frameworks that in turn rely on the same puzzles and elements being present. However, the ultimate configuration including what items you must use will remain fresh for constant games.
The resource-efficient game is designed to be played while multitasking on the computer. This has led to some interesting design choices as to not demand too much from the computers of the time. The art is unique, with simplified cartoon looking characters with big heads, it helps them look distinct, and the game uses some simple but distinct sound effects to bring the escapade to life. Combat is also simple; you face at the thing you want to die and hit the spacebar until it does. You start up with Indy’s iconic whip but can pick up Lugers, that allows you to infinitely rain lead at the enemy. It is the kind of experience that would be perfect on the smartphone/ tablet ecosystem, and it is surprising how this style of gameplay has not been replicated there.
If you are waiting to further explore uncharted treasures with Indy, or just looking to kill some time, it makes fine sense to do so with Indiana Jones and his Desktop Adventures. They offer fun challenges that feel perfect to play over a moderate break. It is an engaging experience filled with puzzles, bandits and snakes, that feels unique each time you play it. Despite some technical and other limitations, this is one treasure of the past that should not be lost.
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