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Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix, exhumed

12 Jul, 2016, 15:48 | Posted by: Jason

Here at Mojo, we’ve always been particularly interested in the near-misses, the might-have-beens, the ones that didn’t make it. After all, we cheekily referred to all the released LucasArts adventure games as “Secret History,” so you can imagine how piqued the cancelled games must get us. And the loss of Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix, the would-be follow-up to the seminal Fate of Atlantis, probably registers second only to Sam & Max 2 on the Gnashing-Of-Teeth-O-Meter.

The game isn’t completely unknown, thanks to a comic adaptation, a few stray details and a much-circulated Anson Jew animation of Hitler’s face blowing up. But what this doomed title always lacked in my eyes was a definitive chronicle. And if Mojo wasn't going to do it, who the heck would?

Thus I reached out to all members of the team who were willing to share their memories (oh, and design documents) of the game, from its conception to its collapse. I do believe you’ll find the big honking article I pieced together from the results of minor interest.

Huge thanks go to Aric Wilmunder, who unearthed the materials that made this article possible and offered to time their release with our publication. Remi, as always, bailed me out with the header image. Enjoy!

What does everyone else think about this?

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  • Avatar
    Comment by: Jennifer | Posted 23 Aug, 2016, 23:17 | Quote

    Vainamoinen

    Barwood probably comes closest to the truth when he says the info from the German distributor ("vendor"?) was just "the last nail in the coffin", with dozens of others coming way before. Either Barwood misremembers, was searching for an excuse to finally bury this project for good, maybe he was actually fed misinformation from his German distributor, or big beardy Mr. L head honcho's final command was family friendlyness all the way (Young Indy and the Star Wars 'prequels', anyone?).


    The fact that they didn't have the ability to sell the game in Germany was actually likely true, if you look at the state of the industry at the time. Sure, the game wouldn't have been banned there - but that doesn't mean that LucasArts would have been able to sell it there (at least not with the contacts they had at the time).

    This was in the days before E3 (1994 at the latest, as the Dark Horse adaptation came out that year), when the gaming industry didn't have their own event and all of the latest games were shown at the Consumer Electronics Show, and the developers made their connections for distribution through that show (in those days, very often the distributors would be the game shops themselves - like how Sierra used to sell their games directly to Radio Shack, etc. It's very likely that vendor in this sense was quite literal - that they got the news that the German game vendor that they were pitching the game to said that the game wouldn't be able to be sold in their shop. It's quite possible too that this was true as well - since as you said - the indexed games were hard to get and often had to go through mail order.

    LucasArts didn't actually have a distributor in Europe until Activision in 1998 - everything before that was handled through contacts at trade shows.
  • Avatar
    Comment by: Call me Squinky | Posted 08 Aug, 2016, 05:44 | Quote
    This is an impressive article! :D As a Canadian myself let me assure you that we are not all chain-smoking time-wasters. xD
  • Avatar
    Comment by: ThunderPeel2001 | Posted 22 Jul, 2016, 17:06 | Quote
    Great article! We finally know what happened! Thanks so much!
  • Avatar
    Comment by: Vainamoinen | Posted 22 Jul, 2016, 14:59 | Quote
    I love how the project is chronicled and the concept art, wonderful!

    It's just, well, the ending to the story is reliably bogus. Yes, we do prohibit Nazi symbols in some contexts still, but the resurrection of Hitler wouldn't have been a problem to show, particularly not in the second half of the 1990s. No one cut The Last Crusade game when Hitler appeared, and no one cut Command & Conquer Red Alert. Quite literally, the release of this game wouldn't have been much of a problem in Germany.

    Yes, the swastikas would have had to be removed, big deal.

    The scarecrow that the game could be indexed (indexed, not banned) had by then ceased to be bothersome: The early Resident Evil games, all swiftly indexed, still were a raging success in Germany, mostly due to mail-order game services that only asked for a copy of your ID to confirm that you're an adult, and due to video rental stores that were only accessible to adults anyway. In fact, the added hurdle in retrieving the game made a lot of indexed games MORE successsful, as they had that irresistable slight whiff of the prohibited.

    Barwood probably comes closest to the truth when he says the info from the German distributor ("vendor"?) was just "the last nail in the coffin", with dozens of others coming way before. Either Barwood misremembers, was searching for an excuse to finally bury this project for good, maybe he was actually fed misinformation from his German distributor, or big beardy Mr. L head honcho's final command was family friendlyness all the way (Young Indy and the Star Wars 'prequels', anyone?).

    "German censorship killed Iron Phoenix" is becoming a somewhat bothersome urban myth, and I assure you again, there can only be the slightest shred of truth to it.
  • Avatar
    Comment by: elTee | Posted 15 Jul, 2016, 17:05 | Quote
    Great work Jason! I loved this. It actually sounds like Phoenix could have been better than Atlantis.

    I also agree that The Dig was "un-cancellable". A lot of wasted time went into it that could have been better spent. I love The Dig, but maybe I'd prefer to have Forge and Iron Phoenix instead? Hard to say.
  • Avatar
    Comment by: MaaS | Posted 14 Jul, 2016, 09:14 | Quote
    Thank you for this great in-deep article.

    Being Fate of Atlantis my favorite adventure game (which is the truly and only Indy 4), and reading the article... I think I would have really enjoyed The Iron Phoenix. It seems it would have everything for being successful... even modified for the german market. It's a pity.

    Having Lucasfilm Indy, Starwars and the best adventure games... I never understood why they didn't continue with this (or even make a starwars adventure)... I love what they did with every other new franchise (like Full Throttle or The Dig)... But you would think that any Indiana Jones game would be first priority like the Starwars games.

    *sigh* Maybe with the next movie ... although it'll be some kind of Uncharted+Tomb Raider ...again :/
  • Avatar
    Comment by: Jason | Posted 13 Jul, 2016, 14:46 | Quote
    Thanks everybody for the kind words.

    Something I was trying to figure out when writing this is if Iron Phoenix died so that The Dig might live. I'm sure it's far less simple than that, but I do think The Dig was a privileged project simply due to the "Based on a story by Steven Spielberg" factor. Any other game might have been cancelled after the first collapse, but management kept that one alive for six years despite its constant problems. Iron Phoenix had its own problems, sure, but had The Dig not been artificially considered Too Big To Fail, who knows where it might have stood when deciding which project had to be cut loose?

    I'd also be fascinated to know if The Dig really did turn a profit. We know it was the studio's best-selling adventure game (300,000 units, I've heard), but did that really recoup the cumulative development costs from 1989-1995?
  • Avatar
    Comment by: Kolzig | Posted 13 Jul, 2016, 06:37 | Quote
    This is really great! Thank you for this article.

    I always hoped Iron Phoenix would've got released instead of getting axed. It would've been awesome to get a kind of sequel to Fate of the Atlantis.
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    Comment by: Rip | Posted 13 Jul, 2016, 00:04 | Quote
    That was great. Thank you for taking the time to write it.
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    Comment by: bgbennyboy | Posted 12 Jul, 2016, 17:33 | Quote
    Excellent! Good job Jason.
  • Avatar
    Comment by: Jason | Posted 12 Jul, 2016, 16:20 | Quote

    MrManager

    Best Mojo article since the illustrious Secret History articles. Good job, Jason, you've earned your paycheque this month.



    You realize no one actually buys that you really spell paycheck that way. You've been fully Americanized. Quit fighting it.
  • Avatar
    Comment by: Remi | Posted 12 Jul, 2016, 16:03 | Quote
    Best Mojo article since the illustrious Secret History articles. Good job, Jason, you've earned your paycheque this month.

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