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Indy Smoke & Mirrors

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Or: "dude, where's my game?" A calm and rational article about LucaArts by the clear-headed and always reasonable Chris "The Tingler" Capel.

Upon hearing the news from a LucasArts source that the latest Indiana Jones game has only just entered production, that the last five years were a pre-production period that yielded trailers but no title, that it won't be out until at least next year and that the show LucasArts put on back in 2006 was just smoke and mirrors, this was my response:

"[censored]!!!"

But is it really as bad as my expletive reaction suggested?

THE GOD OF DECEIT

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There's an attitude in this industry that says in order to make a great game, it takes whatever time it takes and it takes whatever money it takes, and that that's okay. Well it's not okay – it's wrong. It's not okay in other entertainment businesses. In other businesses it's big trouble.
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(Jim Ward, MCV interview June 2006)

This was hypocritical then, let alone now. Yes, LucasArts do have an Indiana Jones game coming out almost the same time as the film – Lego Indiana Jones. As cool as it might be, it's not quite the same thing as real Indiana Jones. This raises an interesting side point – why didn't LucasArts commission a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull game? Did they think they'd get Indy 2007 out this year and thought three Indiana Jones games in one year would be overkill?

Probably right, but now we're facing an Indy Summer where the only game is a celebration of the original films and not something new. I'm desperately trying not to diss Lego Indy because I know it'll be excellent, but it's not the same as full story-based original adventure where you are Indy.

LucasArts had a big showing in 2006. There were screenshots, trailers, a website, previews... and then nothing. Indy IV is released in two months and we still have nothing official. Why? Why the big publicity blitz if there was no game to show for it? How can you screw up an Indy game? (see here for the answer to that one)

Let us remind ourselves of a number of things. Firstly, being in pre-production for a long time is not necessarily a bad thing. All the key elements are laid out with the story, engine, graphics, design etc and the more pre-production time a game has, the easier and quicker the development will be. The more carefully you plot something, the more likely it is to succeed. Indy may like making things up as he goes along, but behind the camera the production team had to plan everything to perfection so that nothing went wrong and the film was set before the camera even rolled.

Secondly, the general rule in gaming is that More Development Time = Better Game. There are exceptions to this rule, such as Heart of Darkness or the infamous Daikatana, but in general it stands. As long as LucasArts don't rush the final stages or shove it out for a holiday release we could be in for something special.

The game has been slipping and slipping like mad, so that the statement "Indiana Jones is LucasArts' first internally developed project for PlayStation3 and Xbox 360" is no longer valid. Jim Ward himself promised the game for Summer 2007. So why is it taking so long? And I don't buy that "they wanted to concentrate on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed" excuse; they're a huge developer, they can develop more than one game at a time. If not, they can hire more people. If Traveller's Tales can make more than one game at a time, LucasArts certainly can!

MARDUK’S ADVOCATE

Okay, let's try and figure out why LucasArts seem to be letting Indy 2008 go. There are two possible results of releasing the game this year, in my opinion:

  1. It becomes part of the big Indy event of the year and is taken as the official Indy game of the film, just like how Clone Wars and Bounty Hunter became Attack of the Clones' unofficial tie-ins in the absence of a real game, so sells loads regardless of quality.
  2. It is either hurts Lego Indy's sales or vice versa as people choose one game over the other. With Kingdom of the Crystal Skull being the brand-new Indy adventure for this year, people don't care as much about the game as it has nothing to do with any of the movies. An original Indy story any other year is an event; in 2008 it's an also-ran.

Personally I veer towards the latter. I don't see how it could be released without paling in comparison to the new movie, or hurting/being hurt by Lego Indy.

Of course, we should also consider the other rumour, the one that makes just as much sense. That the game previously was in production, but the team weren't doing an acceptable job and so they were pulled off and the project has now started almost from scratch. Let's not forget how green the team at LucasArts are – this isn'r the studio that made Republic Commando, let alone Dark Forces. It's a brand new house with brand new people, who have yet to prove themselves. Maybe the long slip past 2007 was down to the team learning how to make good games rather than not being good enough.

Is it a bad thing if after so long in development the game was restarted? No. Historically, games that do that end up fantastic. Half-Life did it. Halo did it. If the reports are accurate, Psychonauts did it too. About the only game I can think of that had this exact situation and yet ended up atrocious was Superman Returns, but then that was rushed out for the DVD release.

Which would you prefer – the Indy 2009 game which LucasArts thought was rubbish but wanted money from so they released it anyway, or the Indy game that wasn't released until it was worthy of the name Indiana Jones? The latest rumour is that Jim was actually the one who decided to postpone LucasArts' games to improve them, which could well be true.

Yes, it sucks that we have to wait this long, and the least LucasArts could've done since 2006 is release screenshots, updates, or the sodding title. A vague release date would be nice too. If LucasArts learn from the mistakes of Emperor's Tomb we could possibly have the best Indy game on our hands. If development time is an indication of quality, then Indy 2006/7/8/9 will be the second best game ever, just after Duke Nukem Forever.

However, LucasArts must never forget that the land of perpetual development and deceitful rumours and comments has two names – in the movies it is Development Hell. In gaming it is Vapourware. You're walking on thin ice here LucasArts. You've already lost the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hype period, so make sure you concentrate on making the best Indiana Jones game you can, and ignore your ex-President's badly chosen words. It will be <i>Force Unleashed</i> that shows how great a game this new LucasArts can do, so let's hope for the best with that. But can we at least have that title please?

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