Special Editions: Why Patrik Spacek’s Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis matters

Patrik Spacek has submitted a stalwart pitch to The Walt Disney Corporation to have his fabulous looking “special edition” of Hal Barwood’s and Noah Falstein’s legendary point-and-click adventure Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis officially sanctioned and supported. On the eve of what is certain be an important event,  a review of the common practice and history of “special editions” is in order. What does a product make “special” beyond the difference in pricing and packaging? Is it justifiable to attach such a powerful attribute to a word as mundane as “edition”?

The word “edit”, a scorch mark on our synapses as slaves to productive software and office suites, derives from the Latin “edictum”, a notification, a bill, a law or any type of text that is released in some form. One of the most famous “edicts” was released in Nantes, one of the most famous publications is John Heminge’s and Henry Condell’s “folio edition” of William Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1623. The former is a significant ruling in Europe history issued in Nantes by Henry IV of France granting Huegenots substantial rights in a largely Catholic country. The latter is the kind of “edict” that derserves our attention to lay the groundwork for the subsequent discussion, the first authoritative edition of 36 of William Shakespeare’s plays.

Shakespeare: Special Edition

This first collection of William Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies and histories were made possible by Heminge’s and Condell’s access to the bard’s hand-written scripts: “At last, readers would have the plays as they were actually performed”, notes the British Library. A whole new market was born as “complete” texts started to compete against “annotated” editions, each vying for attention. This veritable industry of warring versions of one and the same work, one sporting a Penguin the other emblazoned with a university press emblem, for instance, extended to other product categories rapidly. Regardless of the undeniable commercial viability of such endeavours, the practise of adding annotations, commentary and analyses to previously published material always adds valuable information and opinions furthering the readers’ understanding and appreciation of a text. In other words, a “special” edition augments the experience of the original merchandise, although commercialisation invariably corrupts the default connotation of especially added value.

All industries need revenue streams. These originate from the products and services they make and render. The particular challenge in building a lasting enterprise is plainy this: If a consumer has obtained a product dutifully, how is she or he motivated to re-purchase the same kind of merchandise such as a wristwatch? Swiss watch maker Swatch created a global craze based on their colourful range of wristwatches. As the company name sublimely suggests, their product is designed to be switched regularly to fit the wearer’s tastes, current disposition and occasion. Swatch gave consumers the gift of reinvention through a delicate wearable contraption. Per consequence, Swatch created many different “editions” of the same article to be revered and sought after like jewellery.

Kellogg’s Special Edition and the Attack of the Obi-Wan Clones

Consumables also started getting diversified. The Kellogg Company realised that people liked to add various flavours to their corn flakes product. Various sub-brands were consequently created, each reflecting not only a particular taste but a memorable image, such as the ice hockey-playing tiger of Frosties-fame. Consumers could bury their flakes underneath thick coats of sugar, but why should they bother if they got to be on the tiger’s hockey team by just enjoying sugar-coated corn flakes?

The Star Wars Prequels (1999-2005) more or less turned the concept of playing with plastic figures representing film characters on its head. Toy maker Hasbro was not satisfied releasing just one action figure per character as it used to during the Original Trilogy era. Rather than leaving the specifics of a character’s current state to children’s imagination, Hasbro chose to bolster earnings. The Prequel action figures of Obi-Wan Kenobi seemed to have been designed to super-charge sales as children and collectors got to buy a new edition of the same character almost on a scene-by-scene basis: Kenobi with and without Jedi robe, Obi-Wan with robe but the hood down, the Jedi Knight wearing the robe and cloaked by the hood, Kenobi with wet hair  and so and so forth. The actual value of each Kenobi variant, as opposed to different opinions on a singular text, was negligible from the consumers’ point of view. So a principally commendable process, the enhancement of an existing product for the benefit of the buyer, may suffer when outside motives are involved. Obi-Wan also plays a key role in the worlds of film and computer and video gaming with regards to “special editions”.

Special Edition: The Motion Picture

1997’s unbelievably successful Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition featured revamped visual effects and added scenes to bring George Lucas’ saga technically and visually in line with the then still mysterious Prequels. Regardless of the actual merits of the changes wrought upon the classic films (read Obi-Wandi’s Blog Spirits – Lessons in Franchise Management: 1997 for a discussion of the late 90ies reissue), people got to see spectacular films restored to their intended visual and aural glory. The success nonetheless triggered an avalanche of similarly branded “special editions”; from Grease, Das Boot to Dirty Dancing, the term “special edition” more commonly got exploited to trick people into believing they would be seeing an altogether refreshened movie. Originally, such augmented versions were part and parcel with the niche market of cinephiles delecting then razor-sharp images popping off laserdiscs. James Cameron’s 1990 “special edition” of his sensational Aliens is a prime example.

Having been pressured into making the sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien brief to allow for as many daily screenings as possible, Jim Cameron had to excise precious footage elaborating the main characters. When Aliens: Special Edition was released on laserdisc, the world finally got to see the nicely engineered and beautifully rounded-off character arcs, in particular Ripley’s and Hicks’. It is the version that Jim Cameron intends viewers to see nowadays; it does indeed improve an already great motion picture and deserves to be considered “special”.

Jim Cameron’s Aliens was also re-envisioned as two vastly different computer games in 1986. While the so-called “US Edition” retold the entire film narrative, cut-scenes and script excerpts included, the “UK Edition” was a highly effective first-person survival shooter. Publisher Activision had thus tangentially followed the then novel trend of re-releasing pre-sumably enhanced versions of popular games.

8-bit and 16-bit Special Editions: From Floppies to CD-ROMs

CRL launched an improved version of its Rocky Horror Picture Show for the Commodore 128 featuring more screens, sounds and animation frames. Firebird tapped the C128’s faster CPU to give players a much more fluid ELITE. 8- and 16-bit coding wizard Andrew Braybrook published a significantly spruced up Heavy Metal Paradroid, which had benefitted from additional development originally unavailable due to a demanding release schedule.

The trend of “special editions” continued with the advent of the CD-ROM, creating something of a mine-field for consumers: either a game stayed exactly the same as the floppy disk version bar the odd pre-rendered intro streaming off the CD or players were treated to vastly upgraded visuals complemented by in-game speech and additional contents. Most famously, dialogue-driven point-and-click adventures became veritable animated movies once the speech started warbling from the CD-ROM: LucasArts’s Loom, Day of the Tentacle and Sam and Max were noteable examples whilst Ron Gilbert’s The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge were surprising exceptions. Opportune anniversaries remedied this grievous CD-ROM oversight twenty years later.

2009 and 2010 saw the first two Monkey Island games re-released with state-of-the-art graphics and – for the first time ever – full speech. Add to the mix a brand-new orchestral score based on Michael Land’s beloved Monkey Island music and you have a seismic release that endeared the world with two of the greatest computer games ever created. Several classic point-and-clicks followed the example set by LucasArts.

Revolution Studios for instance released the “director’s cut” of the brilliant Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars that, much like Jim Cameron’s special edition of Aliens, textured the original game further through generous amounts of added narrative material, in particular an entirely new segment that gave players control of Nico, the investigative journalist that originally was but a non-playable side character.

Special Editions and the Preservation of Computer Games

These examples of computer game special editions underscore a vital point: preservation of game design greatness. Such re-issues are far from a greedy cash-in for they bring back to the fore narrative delights that had been forgotten or, even worse, entirely unknown to today’s gamers. The practice of releasing enhanced or updated editions of computer gaming classics rescues precious gems from the stark blackness of history. An all-time computer-gaming classic is about to be completely forgotten were it not for the brilliant Patrik Spacek.

Patrik Spacek has his hands full at the moment. Short of brandishing stubble, a fedora and a whip, the ingenious programmer has set himself the seemingly insurmountable task of developping a special edition of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, possibly the greatest point-and-click ever created. His development log reports remarkable progress on a project that promises to outdo LucasArts’ sizeable Monkey Island re-issue effort. Why is it so, well, “special” then?

Why Patrik Spacek’s Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis matters

  1. It’s a personal matter – Much like John Heminge and Henry Condell, Patrik Spacek, an individual, wants the world to enjoy the original seminal work instead of mediocre immitations. Personal commitment pays huge dividends in a world of virtual personas, of opinionated but untangible elements: Spacek’s heart is in this to ensure that he can re-experience this fundamental classic as it once was and shall always be.
  2. It’s a bona-fide classic – What makes Spacek’s well-intentioned crusade stand out is its subject matter, a quintessential entry in the lexicon of adventure gaming. It offers mouse-cable whipping players multiple gaming styles, multiple story threads and multiple endings, on top of a superbly fashioned tale of high adventure. Maybe the mighty Indiana Jones brand overshadowed the name of its inimitable creators, the great Hal Barwood and Noah Falstein, creators of the last, true sequel to the third film in George Lucas’ and Steven Spielberg’s legendary film series about bare-knuckled archaeology.
  3. It’s ahead of its timeIndiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis was a huge game at its time. Whoever replays it today will recognise that it still is, even remarkably in line with current releases, but must also wonder, inevitably, what could have been had Hal Barwood and Noah Falstein had current technology, in particular nearly unlimited amounts of storage, at their disposal? Patrik Spacek has given himself the opportunity to unleash the saga of a lost civilisation onto current gen technology for a richer presentation worthy of the narrative canvas.
  4. It’s the key to every gamers’ heart – and Walt Disney’s – Patrik Spacek’s ultimate goal is neither the Holy Grail nor financial aggrandisment. Having tasted the doom of vintage computer gamery (TM), Spacek puts the preservation of an essential adventure game at the center of his Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis: Special Edition. Spacek’s suggestion did not need to be based on market research because is the very voice developers commonly seek to minimise risks. And Walt Disney, the superhero cum Jedi Council empire, may package Marion Ravenwood together with Arielle and Belle as one of Disney’s princesses if they like, but should and must also realise that the very spark to lift Indiana Jones from the glum recesses of computer gaming history would be a mighty reiteration of Henry Jones’ possibly greatest adventure. And Patrik Spacek’s doing it for you!

Glossing over Patrik Spacek’s rapidly maturing Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis: Special Edition, the carefully updated graphics wistfully attract the contemporary gamepad-waving gamer as much as the mouse-button-prone connoisseur of vintage gaming. The fact that it is a member of the consumer base that mounts this gargantuan effort gives credence to this project’s importance – and commercial viability.

If adventure gaming has a name, it must also be Patrik Spacek.

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