Indiana Jones and the Fountain of Youth: A Game Thirty-Two Years in the Making

June 7, 2018
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I am a child of the 80s and as such grew up with games as we were all just beginning to understand what they were and what they could be. One type of game incredibly prominent through that decade, and the early 90s also, was the point-and-click adventure game. LucasArts was the big developer here, creating many titles and characters which gamers across the world enjoyed for the story, the puzzles and often the irreverent humour of the narrative and the crazy creations therein.

Not all of LucasArts’ output required them to come up with new characters though. No, in 80s cinema they found perhaps the finest adventurer in all the lands — Indiana Jones (yes, he was named after the dog). Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade are wonderful movies (“X never, ever, marks the spot.”) but to many video game fans, the SCUMM-engine version of The Last Crusade, or its follow-up, Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis are perhaps even more loved. It’s sad then that we haven’t had many point-and-click games recently (aside from some delightful remasters) and very little of anything starring Indy since the trilogy of 3D games seen during the noughties.  

An example of early art from the game’s development

The point of all this then is that it’s not just me, nor indeed just you, who looks back on all of this fondly and wonders if we’ll ever again see something more. We will see another Indiana Jones adventure game if a team of game developers and fanatics have their say. You see, in production is a game called Indiana Jones and the Fountain of Youth. It’s a freeware point-and-click adventure game with a similar style to the classic previously mentioned, the Fate of Atlantis. That’s according to the game’s Facebook page. This page was founded in 2001 — which was before Facebook — so obviously that means the game has been in production since 2001. I remember happening across it back then, when I found the website which still exists, albeit with some outdated information.  

"It's Not the Years, Honey, It's the Mileage"

That’s a very long time for a game to be in development for. Seventeen (17) years and counting. In that time the team members have changed and the plans for the game have been designed and redesigned multiple times over. In trying to work out when we can actually play the final game (something I’d been checking on for many years thanks to the promise of the game itself) because of the interest and intrigue in watching and following this project full of love and passion and the small chance it would never happen, I found a Facebook post I’d missed. It suggested the game had been in development since 1986. Intrigued even more, I reached out to the dev team and was lucky enough to have a conversation with them about the game, the project, the present and the future.  

Fancy playing an Indiana Jones game on the ZX Spectrum?

Those of you whose brain is working will recognise that 1986 was before any of the LucasArts games had been released, so outside of the fact this would mean the game had been in development for thirty–two years something didn’t quite feel right. In fact according to Misja van Laatum, the game’s Lead Artist, it was all an April Fool’s joke, which they did in fact admit to on the game’s Facebook page after the fact. At the same time as sharing an in-browser ZX Spectrum version of what might one day become the full Fountain of Youth game.

“Yes, Fountain of Youth really has been around for quite some time. However, 17 years is a little misleading, as the project has been restarted several times with different teams. Its current configuration is the result of the 2014 reboot, when we decided to start game development from scratch.”

A location in its early form

It’s no wonder that those of us who have been looking out for this title over a great many years still haven’t been able to play it. It’s clear from talking with Misja, though, that every decision which has been made has been done for the right reasons and that one day, should we ever see the game released, it will be worth it. I believe it will be playable one day. “The team is smaller than before," says Misja, "but thanks to our passion and dedication, we’ve made some major progress in the last couple of years.” This is plain to see if you keep going back to the game’s Facebook or Twitter page, where all new information is shared when the team is ready to do so. “Perhaps we’ll celebrate our five-year anniversary.”

"You Know What a Cautious Fellow I Am"

I wanted to know why people are involved in this project, why it’s happening over so many years and why — or perhaps how — it’s still going after all this time. “It’s a love letter to all those great LucasArts point-and-click adventures I played in my youth,” Misja told us. Like myself and probably many of you reading this, Misja is a fan first and foremost of Indy and his adventures in film and games. “It’s also a tribute to the adventures of Indiana Jones — and those are two of my favourite things from the 80s and early 90s. So being able to work on a project like the Fountain of Youth is a kind of no-brainer. It’s unashamedly retro and nostalgic — even though we try to avoid the pitfalls you might find in early 90’s game design, but I just love working on it.”  

Take a look at that interface!

As part of the aforementioned change in development team Steven Woolfe, who joined the team as the game’s Lead Writer just under one year ago. “Pulp adventure is by far my favourite genre, and it doesn’t get much better than Indiana Jones,” Woolfe commented. It's something I’m inclined to agree with. A great Indiana Jones story is just totally joyful and rewatchable, or replayable. So it’s worth doing it right, no matter how long it takes. “I’ve always been a fan of the franchise,” he continued, “and the Fate of Atlantis was probably the game that got me interested in game design and writing. It’s very cool to be part of a project that combines all the things I love, and to be working with and for the people that share the same appreciation for Indiana Jones adventure games.”

A great Indiana Jones story is just totally joyful and rewatchable, or replayable. So it’s worth doing it right, no matter how long it takes.

Any project, be it fast-paced and well-funded, or something coming from a shared place of passion as is the case here, needs some structure to it in order to avoid stagnation. The 2014 reboot in this case provided an opportunity to put in place the right framework to ensure that one day, when ready, this game can finally be released to the patient public. “We’ve certainly hammered some more structure into the project, with a lot more progress as a result. Because the project — by necessity — needs to remain non-commercial, there’s no way for the team to raise a bunch of money and take time to work on this full time. We all have jobs and other projects to work on, so progress will always be in small — but deliberate — steps.”, Misja told me. It all sounds rather logical and sensible when you think about it, but from the outside looking in it’s good to be told this from the inside out. Without that transparency many will think negatively and doubt any suggestion the game will ever come — something which can be seen reading some comments on certain Facebook posts.  

‍Indy’s inventory is sorely lacking

Thankfully any comments suggesting it will never be released are rare, according to those making the game themselves. “Our fans are a loyal and supportive bunch,” said Misja, “Personally, I find the occasional ‘you will never finish this!’ comment kind of stimulating. It makes me just that bit more determined to keep pushing.” Steven, one of the newer team members, agrees. “Honestly, it doesn’t bother us all that much. Most of our fans are very supportive, so we don’t receive too many comments like that. Of course we understand that Fountain of Youth takes a long time to develop, but we wouldn’t want to release something we’re not proud of, or that our fans wouldn’t enjoy playing. Patience is key.”  

Some concept art aiding game development

The team as a whole ensures that all roles needed to ship a game are present and correct with Steven explaining that “as the current Fountain of Youth team has almost all the bases (art, programming, writing, animation) covered, we can handle the development more or less like a game studio would. It’s less about doubling down and more about making as much progress as possible within the limited time we have at our disposal.”

"We Have Top Men Working on It Right Now."

In the past we’ve seen requests for help when some more skill or resource has been needed. Right now however nothing is needed. One area augmented is the animation department, with Nacho Ayalo Rico rejoining the team after a couple of years away. It was noted in our conversations with Misja that “there are lots and lots of whip-cracking, fedora-grabbing, and desperate-leaping animations to be made!”. This is nice to hear, and for those of you who want more information and more detail, it may help you imagine what's going to be in the game — in part at least. “Our team right now is small and perfectly balanced,” Misja told us, except in the area of audio where there is a need and desire to get in contact with talented composers and voice actors. For anyone who doesn’t have those skills but either wants to help, or wants a clue as to the game’s release date, more information will be forthcoming. “QA testers will become an important aspect once we start nearing the Fountain of Youth’s completion,” Misja revealed. These are key areas of the game's development, so keep your eyes peeled in that regard.

Conceptuals really inspire the team to deliver the finished article

It’s incredibly reassuring as one of those fans, and as a fan of games in general, that the team is so level-headed and doing everything for the right reason: to make the best game they can, no matter what the outside world thinks. This is art and science combined and eventually, when we get to play the Fountain of Youth it should be the very best version of that game which its team was able to make, even if that does mean it takes another seventeen years.

It’s impossible, though, to have any kind of conversation with those behind the curtain without asking directly the most obvious question: when do you expect to share the game? It seems things have changed since the reboot in 2014. “We indeed had the idea of releasing Fountain of Youth in episodes back in 2013," said Misja, "but we’re now planning to release the game as a whole.” Coming back to the point above where any decision must enable the very best version of the game helps us to understand the team’s choice not to split the game into episodes. “We felt that the episodic approach complicated the way we wanted to tell our story to such an extent it would become a frustrating experience for both players, and us as developers.” Misja explained. It means that we have to wait longer for that one final game now as potential players, but as Misja said himself, “this way we’ll all get to enjoy the complete experience when it’s finished.”

"It’s Time to Ask Yourself What You Believe."

This looks like something with treasure...

That’s all well and good, but when will it be finished? When will it release? Staying with Misja he helped us understand the reality of the situation, which is that the team just doesn’t know the answer. “As far as release dates go, this is incredibly difficult to pinpoint, or even ballpark. Part-time game development is a very fluid process due to the sometimes unpredictable nature of our professional and personal lives, and we’d really hate to disappoint our fans by publicly setting a deadline we might not be able to make. So for now, we’ll maintain that Fountain of Youth will be done when it’s done.” In order to find out when it’s done, we as fans just need to follow the Facebook and Twitter pages which will share any firm dates once they’re decided upon.

Ultimately talking with Misja and Steven, and hearing about the current status of Indiana Jones and the Fountain of Youth — a game I’ve been looking forward to since the very start — was a delight from start to finish. It reassures me that yes, we will one day be in the fantastic position of being able to play the game, and this is perhaps more true now than at any time in its development history aside from the very beginning. I’m also convinced that we will get the very best Indiana Jones adventure game we could possibly hope for. Believing and knowing that makes the wait worth it.

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Luciano Howard

I've been gaming for 35+ years on the Commodore VIC-20 to the PlayStation 5 and pretty much everything in-between. I enjoy all kinds of games but if I had to pick a couple in particular, I'd say I adore Mario and love Dark Souls. I can talk about either an awful lot should you want to!