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LucasArts' Secret History: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Developer reflections and forerunners

22 Apr, 2008

Noah Falstein on Last Crusade

The following interview was conducted in 2003 by "ThunderPeel2001," who has kindly allowed us to publish it here for the first time.

What was your involvement with Last Crusade? What areas did you work on?

I was the first person on the project. I had it for about a month, with the task of coming out with the game when the movie was released, which would have been only about 7 months later. I quickly realized I had no chance to make it on my own, and Steve Arnold, the head of the division, assigned Ron [Gilbert] and David [Fox] to it too. The three of us were the most experienced project leaders in the company at the time, so it was our own little "dream team" to get it done fast.

We ended up working very well together. Ron and David did most of the programming – Ron had invented the SCUMM system and used it for Maniac Mansion, then David had used it for Zak McCracken, so I was the newcomer there, although I did code several locations like the library in Venice, and worked on the tailgunner sequence. Ron was the master programmer of the group, David was more of the organizational expert who kept it all together, and I handled more of the external tasks (talking to marketing, working on the Grail Diary). My brother, who is a freelance writer, wrote the Grail Diary included with the game that serves both as copy protection, hint book, and enhancement to the game. But Ron, David, and I frequently switched tasks at times, we had a very equal involvement.

Who invented the famous "I.Q." system?

I'm fairly certain it was I. It was one aspect of the multi-path concept, providing a reason for the avid, expert gamers to enjoy playing it many times through, without simply making the game too hard for beginners.

Who was responsible for the innovative 'multi-path' design?

Also me, although Ron and David were very enthusiastic backers of it. A lot of the concepts were created jointly – I think Ron had been a proponent of multiple solutions to puzzles, but I was the one who came up with the idea of making them correspond to different types of game play, an idea I carried further in Fate of Atlantis.

What changes, if any, did George Lucas and Steven Spielberg request to the games design during its progress?

Pretty much none. George was not a game player, and Steven wasn't around during most of the development. But he did enjoy the game when it was done, and called in frequently to ask for hints. I remember him calling me once with his son Max on his lap as he played the game, and he made sure Max thanked me for my help. It was very flattering for us, since Steven was such an idol for all three of us. Later when I was in meetings with him on The Dig, and when I went to Dreamworks Interactive I saw even more of what a game enthusiast he is.

Is it true that there are many references to Harrison Ford movies throughout the game (I have spotted two; "Regarding Henry" and "Robert Falfa"!)? If so, how many can you remember cramming in there and whose idea was it?

Well, that wasn't me. I suspect maybe David, he's very fond of in-jokes. I was the pun guy, you can blame me for most of those.

Are there any hidden things in the games that you think people have not found yet?

I'm pretty sure Sam and Max are hidden in the artwork somewhere. And one thing isn't exactly hidden, but is hard to notice. Although the three of us worked very well together, always resolving differences, the final scene of the game was one of the last things we did, and we were pretty tired and burnt-out. I wrote the first pass, playing it seriously because I didn't want the player to feel trivialized. Ron looked at that, changed all my dialog to make it funny. I wanted to change it back, Ron thought my take was too dull, and David, usually able to help resolve any differences, was split. So we finally agreed to pick the responses randomly (and I checked over Ron's code to make sure he hadn't cheated!)

I've mentioned this in other interviews, but there were parts cut from the movie that were in the original screenplay, and accordingly in the game as well. For instance, the scene near the beginning of the game where Indy has a run-in with another professor – if you look closely in the movie credits, the other guy is mentioned even though his scene was cut. And there was a sequence on the dirigible not unlike what we portray in the game, with Indy going to knock out the radio operator and smash the radio. In the movie you see him steal a waiter's uniform and disappear, but the only other reference is as they get into the biplane, where Indy shouts, "I thought it would take longer to fix the radio" to his Dad.

What areas are you most proud of in the game? Is there anything you would like to have changed?

I kind of liked the boxing mini-game, that I blatantly stole from Sid Meier's Pirates game (the swordfighting sequence). In fact, when Ron went on to do the first Monkey Island game he told me he was planning to use the boxing game but adapt it to pirate swordfighting, I had to tell him where I got the idea. But that helped us come up with the insult swordfighting in the Monkey Island games, which was a much better fit (and my proudest contribution to that game).

I can't think of anything I'd change, not because it was perfect but because in the light of what I've learned since then, I'd probably change almost everything.

Where did running joke of saying "Hi Chuck!" to the plant in Henry's house come from (first seen in Maniac Mansion)?

I think that was Ron, but David worked on Maniac as well, so I guess it might have been him. It's Ron's type of humor though.

What is your fondest memory of working on Last Crusade?

My fondest memory of most games is the brainstorming process. Ron is probably the single best brainstorming partner I've ever worked with, and David is also very good, and better than Ron or I at staying calm in the face of conflict. We got into many heated but exhilarating arguments about the creative process, and probably just as often as not, one person would convince the other two of his point.

I think one of my favorite memories was getting to see the movie a month or so before it was released.

You have been described by Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman as one of the greatest game designers in the business. In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of a game (particularly for an adventure)? Also, how do you go about designing an adventure game, do the puzzles come first or is it more important to have a good story?

Ron and Dave are very kind. But the topic of designing an adventure game is a huge one. I'd refer you to my web site for at least some information about it – www.theinspiracy.com . In my opinion, you can't do either the puzzles or the story in isolation – with experience, you learn which kinds of stories and settings lend themselves to a good game, and which puzzles can work well with specific characters or storylines. Indy was fun in part because in the movies he embodies all three of the paths we emphasized – the brash fistfighting adventurer, the calculating scientist, the charming and persuasive rogue.

If you were given the chance to work on another Indiana Jones adventure would you like to do it? If so, what direction do think the adventure genre needs to move in, in order to stay alive?

That's a tough question. I probably would, partly for the challenge, but I would have to be able to put a new twist on things to keep it interesting.

I think the adventure genre needs to move away from puzzles. I'd say more, but it would violate some of the non-disclosures I've signed...

Do you still keep in contact with David Fox or Ron Gilbert?

David has remained a close friend, and we've alternately hired each other for jobs from time to time. He and I go to action movies together that our wives don't like. And I've done quite a bit of work for Ron with his new companies, and always have a great time with that. He and Dave Grossman (Day of the Tentacle) and I did a great three-day marathon brainstorm on a game idea that never took off a few years ago, but the process was just wonderful. We're all getting together in October along with many other story game designers at a workshop/conference that I've organized with Bob Bates (of Infocom and Legend Entertainment) and Steve Meretzky (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Leather Goddesses of Phobos designer). It's a chance to compare notes with other people who have designed games with strong story components.

What question do you wish you'd been asked?

I guess I'd like to acknowledge how lucky I've been to work with such great people. I think that Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts in the late 80's was the best place in the games industry to be. Besides the people I worked on Indy with, we had great people like Dave Grossman (Monkey Island I&II, Day of the Tentacle), Tim Schafer (MI I&II, DoTT, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango), Larry Holland (X-Wing and Tie Fighter), Brian Moriarty (Loom, and some great Infocom games), and many others. The impromptu discussions we'd have in the courtyard of our building at Skywalker Ranch, or in front of one of the big fireplaces in the winter, were just amazing, and helped shape so much of what made those games fun.

Last but not least, would you like to tell us about any projects you are currently working on that we might see in the future?

Well, now I'm a freelance designer working on a lot of interesting things that I'm not supposed to talk about. But I'll say that one of the most exciting ones involves a new form of interactive storytelling on the Internet, and another is connected with a new rock music label and an online world to go with it. I'm also doing some fun stuff with games on cell phones.

A humungous Thank You for taking the time to do this!!

No problem!

A couple of interesting things about Indy:

  1. I was in the middle of the Monkey Island design when the opportunity to make this game came up. The game needed to be done very quickly due to the movie's release, so they asked Noah, David Fox and myself to do it. If not for this game, Monkey Island might have come out a year earlier.
  2. Indy was where the SCUMM system really because a true cross-game development system. Before that the SCUMM system was riddled with special case code for the specific game. With Indy we had other SCUMM games in development (LOOM I think) so them system had to be completely divorced from the game. Ron

An interview with David Fox.

Hi David, thanks for taking the time to do this interview! I have tried not to repeat any questions from your previous online interviews, so hopefully they will be more interesting for you to answer and for fans to read. Thanks!

First, I want to apologize for not remembering as much as I'd like to. Our work on Last Crusade was about 13 years ago, and a lot of things have blurred into the past.

That's ok! What was your involvement with Last Crusade? What areas did you work on specifically? What about the others?

My official title was "game designer", as was Noah's [Falstein] and Ron's [Gilbert]. I think Noah was also officially titled "project leader", but in practical terms, the three of us shared that role too. Noah was on the project a month or two before Ron or I was. When we looked at how tight the production schedule was going to be to finish the game in time for a simultaneous release with the film, Ron and I were added to the team as equal partners.

We all brainstormed on the design together. Noah did more of the writing puzzles (conversation trees), and came up with most of the puns in the library. Ron did more of the core support coding, I probably did more of the overall game wiring and puzzle coding.

How do you go about designing an adventure game? Which areas do you concentrate on first; story, puzzles, etc? Which do you think is the most important aspect of an adventure game?

Story generally comes first, then puzzles, then more story, etc. I think both are critical, and should both enhance and support each other. If the story is poor, there's little motivation to solve the puzzles to get more of it. If the puzzles are poor, people get frustrated or irritated with them, and give up before getting all of the story.

It's also important to incorporate the puzzles into the story, and not have them feel "tacked on." Kind of like watching a musical where the story stops dead in its tracks in order to deliver a song. Puzzles should enhance the story and grow naturally out of it, not be barriers to it or mechanisms to extend game play time.

With the Last Crusade's storyline being based on a pre-existing script instead of an original storyline that could be changed, how did that affect how the game was designed? Did it make it easier or more difficult to put together?

Probably both easier and more difficult. Easier in that we had a well established character that everyone already knew very well. We all knew how Indy would respond in various situations, what the tone of the game would be, who the bad guys were, art direction, etc. Harder in that we didn't want to give a big advantage to those who saw the movie over those who didn't (though we assumed 95% of those who played the game would have seen it already). We wanted to take certain scenes and expand them. If the movie was a 2 hour experience, and the game was going to be a 20-30 hour experience, we had to think about all those things Indy must have done to get from one scene in the film to another (for example, how did he manage to find his way around the Nazi castle?). We also wanted to allow for different play styles and provide some alternative parallel paths.

We also had the script to work from. As a result, we had a few game elements that were ultimately cut from the film (for example, extended scenes with the radio operator on the zeppelin).

What changes, if any, did George Lucas and Steven Spielberg request to the games design during its progress?

None. They weren't really involved with the game at all once it kicked off. We did have an initial meeting with George, Steven, and the three of us. We asked whether there were any constraints on what we could create, for example, we were allowed to let Indy die during the game (we were). Steven imagined something much broader than the film, having Indy traipsing across the globe getting caught up in a bunch of mini-adventures. Well, that wasn't going to happen, considering the already tight schedule. But it did let us know we could take liberties and add new scenes.

Do you think your experiences designing Zak McKraken and Maniac Mansion helped you design Last Crusade?

Absolutely! We built Indy on the previous experience of all our previous games.

Who invented the famous "I.Q." system?

I remember when that came up in a brainstorming meeting, but I'm not sure who's idea it was. I.Q. stood for "Indy Quotient" and was a way to let you know how well you did in the game (compared to Indy). We'd assign points to each solved puzzle and accomplishment. It was also a way to extend game play time. Someone could finish the game with a medium IQ, and then go back and try alternative paths to increase their overall score (since it was cumulative across multiple games).

Who was responsible for the innovative 'multi-path' design?

Again, I don't remember who came up with it. The good thing about an effective brainstorm meeting is that the idea often pops into everyone's head at the same time, and one person gets to verbalize while everyone else builds on it.

Is it true that there are many references to Harrison Ford movies throughout the game (I have spotted two; "Regarding Henry" and "Robert Falfa" (American Graffiti)!) If so, how many can you remember cramming in there and whose idea was it?

This is probably something Noah added. I don't remember adding these myself.

Did you know that Noah Falstein "heavily borrowed" the boxing mini-game idea from Sid Meier's Pirates? (I've only just found out!)

Probably... but I don't remember much about that.

Are there any hidden things in the game that you think people might not have found yet?

No idea. Since we were on a tight schedule, there wasn't time for a lot of Easter Eggs... I'd guess that most of what we hid has been discovered by someone.

What areas are you most proud of in the game? Is there anything you would like to have changed?

Overall, I'm happy with the attention to detail... notes on the message board in the college, links to previous Indy movies in Indy's office... And that it captures the feeling of the movie, yet worked fine as a stand-alone game.

I probably would have fewer mazes than we did. Again, due to a lack of time, we ended up with both the catacombs and the Nazi castle being more difficult than necessary... especially the castle.

Noah has discussed the random "alternate" dialogue at the end of the game before, did you have a preference? Whose idea was it to keep both but to leave it to chance?

I remember this one well. The three of us were meeting in my office. This was near the end of the project, and we were all pretty burned out. Ron had already coded the funny/irreverent version of the ending – I think he actually started out writing it as a place-holder, but liked how it turned out. Noah felt it was too far off base from the film, and that people would be left with something that didn't feel like it belonged, and he wanted an ending that was more true to the film. I agreed with both of them to some degree... I thought Ron's ending was hilarious, but could see how the true Indy fan might be offended by its irreverent style. So I suggested keeping them both and using a random number generator to decide which one would be played out. Ron and Noah thought that was brilliant, so we got to keep both.

We did a similar thing in the beginning of the game when the railroad car with our names appears... we randomized the order in which our names appear so no one would always get top billing!

Where did running joke of saying "Hi Chuck!" to the plant in Henry's house come from (first seen in Maniac Mansion)?

I think Ron originally named the plant Chuck in Maniac Mansion... but since I did a lot of the scripting in that game, I probably brought the plant over to Indy.

What is your fondest memory of working on Last Crusade?

Working closely with Ron and Noah, and those great brainstorming sessions. Also, our trip down to LA to the Paramount Studio where we got to see an early screening about a month or so before the film came out.

Did you play Fate of Atlantis or Infernal Machine when they came out? If so what did you think of them and the way they expanded on the ideas of Last Crusade?

I did play both games, but never finished them. Brilliant job on both, and a nice evolution of the previous games.

Do you still keep in contact with Rob Gilbert or Noah Falstein or anyone else from LFG/LEC?

I'm in touch with Noah quite often – we're still really good friends, and live in the same area. I'm in touch with Ron much less frequently. I usually get to see him at game conferences. I know that Noah is in touch with Ron more often, helping Ron on some of his game projects.

If you were given the chance to work on another Indiana Jones adventure would you like to do it? If so, what direction do think the adventure genre needs to move in, in order to stay alive?

I don't think so. I think my days of working on adventure games are over.

Do you ever visit any adventure game fan sites, if so what do you think of them?

I've seen a few. I especially like the [a href="http://zak2.adventuregamer.com/"]Zak McKracken II site[/a].

Zak is probably my favorite of the graphic adventures I've worked on.

What question do you wish you'd been asked?

What's your favorite color?

(blue)

Last but not least, would you like to tell us about any projects you are currently working on that we might see in the future?

I've been working at Xulu Entertainment since January 2001. Check it out at [a href="http://www.xulu.com"]xulu.com[/a]. We're working on a fully immersive gaming experience initially for out of the home (location-based entertainment), but also for in the home over the Internet. Pretty exciting!

A gigantic Thank You for taking the time to do this!

You're very welcome!

Not gone, but come before...

Raiders of the Lost Arc

The first ever Indiana Jones videogame is set entirely in Cairo, and bears no resemblance to the film, reality or anything bar a hallucinogenic experience. If it wasn't called Raiders of the Lost Ark we'd have never known it was an Indy game rather than just a random Atari game that makes a few nods to the films. Like the player's character wearing a hat. It's even got aliens in it – although that's no longer anti-Indy any more, admittedly.

It is a surprisingly playable game. Apart from being the first Indy game, what's mostly of interest though is that the game so impressed Steven Spielberg that he hired the designer to make a game based on E.T. The Extra-Terrestial. Yes, the so-called Worst Game of All Time.

Indiana Jones and the Lost Kingdom (1984)

This game was developed by Mindscape and has a stunning six different screens, as proudly boasted on the game's box! Wow. There seemed to be an Indiana Jones videogame rivalry developing between the companies Atari and Mindscape. Atari's games obviously only appeared on Atari consoles, whereas Mindscape's went to the Commodore 64 and the Spectrum. This would continue until LucasArts took the license away from them both.

Lost Kingdom has devious puzzles that have Indy racing to find treasures and beat monsters (what is this, Infernal Machine?) ahead of his rival Erik Peters. Belloq's dead by this point, presumably.

Temple of Doom

Combining all the different attempts to replicate Temple of Doom by Atari and Mindscape, the best is probably the Arcade version, as these were the good ol' days when the best videogame technology was only available if you were prepared to stand up and have a lot of change in your pocket. The Arcade Game has actual voice samples from the film, several music tracks, and pretty detailed graphics really. Indy's even got one shirt-sleeve missing! It was fun, fast, and playable.

The home versions understandably didn't look quite as good. Of course the best version is the PC version, which is still true for all games today. The Spectrum version was black and white and was the worst. The Sega Master System got a version too, but the only one that didn't copy The Arcade Game was the version for the up-and-coming Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

Unlike most Nintendo versions of games, this one was pretty rubbish. I mean, how many games have a default jumping direction of downwards? The graphics would give players eye-strain too.

Revenge of the Ancients (1987)

Indiana Jones and The Revenge of the Ancients was released in 1987 and was the first Indy adventure game – pre-dating Fate of Atlantis by six years. It was not however made by LucasArts (which is why you won't see it on Mojo's database) but instead was developed by Angelsoft, who also made adventures based on James Bond and, um, Rambo. Unlike Last Crusade however, it was not a graphic adventure – it was (gulp) a text adventure! It was also a damn hard one.

Searching for a mysterious Power Key that "controls the Earth's pulse" (oooh, exciting and not at all baffling) while outwitting Nazis as per usual is the crux of the game's story. In a pleasant surprise, Marion also accompanies Indy for the ride, although this further reinforces the lack of imagination Angelsoft seemed to have. The box art's a clue. Most people won't get far enough to see Marion or the Nazis, as I personally gave up after dying on the first screen.

The Last Crusade: The Action Game

Basically a platform game, unlike the isometric travesty that was Fate of Atlantis: The Action Game, this version had the potential to be quite good. It wasn't. It controls badly, is hard to play, and get this – you can't use the whip indefinitely. Indy has to pick up 'whip points' to use it. For all intents and purposes, they gave the whip AMMO. Leaving Indy with his slow-moving fists, which if you consider that a lot of enemies have guns makes the game a little unfair.

And Indy can be damaged by hitting his head on the ceiling. Forget this game. Please.

The Last Crusade

Combining a platform game, a racing game, a Tetris game and a memory game all in one, this game is certainly varied if nothing else! The Venice level is mostly puzzles for example, then the motorcycle chase has an overhead view, then the tank chase has a side view, then it's a platformer with even dodgier controls than the Last Crusade Action Game....

It is also extremely short and dull. Oh, and the whip is pretty much useless. Another one to leave on the graveyard.

In short, stick to The Graphic Adventure.

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