Enlarge /. The loading screen of the browser-friendly version of Indiana Jones on Wenceslas Square, converted by Jaroslav Švelch and 8-bit veteran Martin Kouba. (Let's officially consider this canon via Crystal Skull.)
Indiana Jones is trapped behind the iron curtain. The global archaeologist in particular is located in the former Czechoslovakia, a Soviet satellite state. He fights violent communists, dodging water cannons, balancing on the edge of a crater and running away from exploding bombs – the usual Indiana Jones stuff. This time, however, there is no artifact. Instead, Dr. Jones, like many of the citizens who work under the discredited regime, simply escaped Czechoslovakia and returned to the US.
If you are familiar with the Indiana Jones tetralogy trilogy, you will know that the above situation did not come from the film canon. Instead, this Jones adventure takes place in a secret video game published anonymously and then copied from one audio cassette to another. In 1989, students and dissidents came to central Prague to protest against communism, only to be beaten and arrested by riot police, an incident that preceded the country's historic Velvet Revolution. Unable to defend themselves in real life, these people would later use their computers to fictitiously seek revenge. A Western hero, Indiana Jones, came to her rescue to teach a text-based lesson to her oppressors.
The adventures of Indiana Jones in Wenceslas Square in Prague on January 16, 1989 tell the famous archaeologist when and where the protests took place, tells me the video game historian Jaroslav Švelch, assistant professor at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. This and other titles created by Czechoslovak teenagers in the late 1980s became part of the “Activist Media Choir,” which included student works, rock songs, and samizdat – handwritten or typewritten versions of banned books and publications that were illegally distributed.
However, this Indiana Jones game is characterized by a cultural curiosity. And Švelch, an avid academic interested in the social aspects of gaming, recently translated it into English. After 30 years, people from all over the world were finally able to play and learn about this unique moment of early activism in video game history.
That year, Švelch worked with an 8-bit veteran, programmer Martin Kouba, to bring Indiana Jones back to life in Wenceslas Square in 2020. The original foreign language version was a typical text adventure of the 1980s that only contained words and no drawings. Švelch and Kouba wanted to immerse today's young players in the 1980s universe to accurately convert the game and just add a colorful opening screen with the fedora archaeologist. The result awaits avid gamers in a simple web browser.
If it sounds complicated to translate a decades-old text-based adventure and then turn it into a playable browser game, the story of how this game (and its 1980s Czechoslovak text-adventure counterparts) came about seems just as unlikely as finding the Ark Federation.
How Indiana Jones fascinated the Czechoslovaks
Czech and Slovak teenagers first heard about Indiana Jones in July 1985 when Raiders of the Lost Ark premiered in local theaters four years after its official US release. František Fuka, a 16-year-old boy with a Beatles haircut, loved American films. Capitalist productions were shown only a few times a year amid the flood of Soviet and local titles, and for the high schooler they were a breath of fresh air.
"I wanted to see them all," he tells me.
He didn't know about Indiana Jones before the premiere, but the professor with a whip made an impression. No matter how dire a situation could be, Indy was in control of it. His wit and the quick pace of his actions in trying to regain the Ark of the Covenant were amazing. None of the Soviet bloc productions Fuka had seen before could compete with Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark. For him, Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, was more than a hero. He was an exponent of the promised land: the West.
"I was blown away," he says.
At that point, Fuka already had four years of coding experience. He learned BASIC with his friends at the Union for Cooperation with the Army (Svazarm). Officially, this was a paramilitary organization that was supposed to train young people for possible roles in the military. However, it functioned more as a boy scout club, bringing together children interested in motorsports, amateur radio, model airplanes, electronics, and computers.
It was there that Fuka learned that making video games is cooler than just playing. As soon as he stepped out of the cinema in Prague, blinded by the stunts and theaters of Indy's battle against the Nazis, he knew he had to create an adventure around this hero. Copyright and intellectual property were elusive concepts in the Eastern Bloc, so the teenager saw no problem in designing something that would fall into the fanfiction category.
Fuka knew that many young people in his country had seen or would see Raiders of the Lost Ark, so there would be no need to retell the story. He decided instead to focus on the second film in the franchise, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The film had been released in the West, but no one knew when it would reach Czechoslovakia.
In the film, Harrison Ford's hero goes to India to hunt a mystical stone, smash a death cult and blow up a child slave ring. But Fuka couldn't see the film and instead searched magazines for clues about the plot.
"I've read very brief summaries," he tells me. “I mixed what the second film was about with elements from the first. I got it completely wrong! “(Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom would not be published in Czechoslovakia until a year later, in 1986.)
The game the teenager built was pretty simple. The opening screen showed an attempted drawing of Indiana Jones, a snake, a spider, and the Fuxoft logo (a name that combined its name "Fuka" and "soft" for software). Except for this loading screen, everything is text. Players see sentences that tell a story and have to enter commands to instruct the hero what to do. It's a typical text adventure known in Czechoslovakia as Textovka that unfolds like an interactive story.
In this game, Indy is in the Amazon rainforest in front of a large underground complex called the Temple of Doom. He must retrieve the sun god's golden mask while shaking off his pet hatred – poisonous snakes. The player enters predefined commands such as "Take Box" or "Jump Truck" to guide the hero.
Fuka began designing the game with pen and paper, drawing a map of all the places the character would go through. Then he wrote the code in BASIC on a UK Sinclair ZX Spectrum, a small 8-bit personal computer connected to a television set that he used as a screen. The PC has a rainbow band on the right and gray rubber buttons with BASIC commands. For example, if you press "W", the command "DRAW" is inserted. The ZX Spectrum was pretty affordable for a computer in the 1980s, which made it very popular in the UK and across Western Europe, where it was seen as a rival to the American Commodore 64.
But behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia, owning a Speccy, or even a local school clone known as Didactics, has been a challenge. These computers were rarely sold in stores; Instead, Fuka and most of his friends acquired them from the west. Fuka recalls that his friend's parents smuggled the teenager's Spectrum into the country in a diplomatic suitcase to avoid border controls. Others could wrap their PCs in chocolate boxes or wrap them in sandwich paper and hide them in the trunk of their Trabant or Skoda cars upon entry.