Inside MachineGames’ Indiana Jones and the Great Circle Adventure
Jerk Gustafsson, game director at MachineGames, speaks to Lucasfilm.com.
Indiana Jones will soon embark on his next big adventure: starring in a current-generation video game. Teased in 2021 and fully unveiled today with a new trailer, Indiana Jones and the Great Circle arrives later this year on Xbox Series X|S, PC, and Xbox Game Pass; it’s the first Indy game in years, and as such has generated enough hype to fill the Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse.
Developed by Bethesda’s MachineGames studio, The Great Circle is set in 1937, between Raiders and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as nefarious forces look to harness the power connected to the mysterious Great Circle. And that’s where the Man With the Hat comes in. The game is a first-person action/adventure and, based on the trailer, will be a spider-crawling, whip-wielding, plane-hopping romp. To mark the trailer’s debut, Lucasfilm.com caught up with game director Jerk Gustafsson to discuss the “mind-blowing” opportunity to create The Great Circle, bringing Indy’s trademark weapon to gaming, and whether fans will encounter a certain reptile.
Lucasfilm.com: Fans have been asking for a new Indy game for years, and one that could take advantage of modern technology. Can you talk about getting the opportunity to create that game, and the challenge that comes with it?
Jerk Gustafsson: For many of us at MachineGames, Raiders of the Lost Ark was one of those major childhood moments that we will never forget. Taking part in that great adventure shaped a lot of our collective creative minds and has affected our creative output in a deeper way than I think even we understand. Which means that getting the opportunity to work on this game was mind-blowing. At first, it felt a bit terrifying, but as we started working on it, getting into that sense of wonder, excitement, and awe that we felt when watching Raiders for the first time, development began to flow naturally. One of our goals is to bring Indiana Jones to the high-quality gaming experience of today, while still maintaining the mood and style of the movies made back in the 1980s.
Lucasfilm.com: What can you tell us about the Great Circle?
Jerk Gustafsson: A “great circle” is any circle that divides a sphere in half. On Earth, the most well-known one is obviously the equator. But they can exist from any point really, and are used heavily in aviation when plotting your course. It turns out there is a very real and mysterious great circle that is not the equator, but one that connects many of history’s greatest historical sites such as Giza, Easter Island, Sukhothai, Nazca, and many more. Their connection has remained a mystery, and this provides the perfect adventure for our game.
Lucasfilm.com: How did you crack the story for the game? Did you work with Lucasfilm Games, or was it hatched entirely by Bethesda/MachineGames?
Jerk Gustafsson: We developed the story synopsis in-house at MachineGames in collaboration with Todd Howard, who had long nurtured the idea of doing a story-based game on the mysterious Great Circle. Of course, we wanted to be true to Indiana Jones’ character, because that is the most important thing for us, and be sure that where his story is at that point in time and be sure that this chapter fits into Indy’s story.
When we come into the story, it’s almost a year after Raiders, and we wanted to explore where Indy would be at this time, having just separated from Marion, being sort of lost again, adrift in his own obsessions with his work. For that we had enormous help from the team at Lucasfilm Games, in addition to vetting the story with them for creative feedback to make sure that we stayed true to the franchise.
Lucasfilm.com: The gameplay looks amazing. How did you approach bringing that Indy-esque sense of action and adventure into the video game form?
Jerk Gustafsson: We based our philosophy of the gameplay around the character of Indiana Jones. He is not a superhero, he is a very agile and tough archaeologist. When you overcome the numerous obstacles in your way, it takes a lot of effort and hard work, like a real human being. There is also a sense of dread, like you are just about to stumble over the precipice, or the branch you’re holding onto is about to break. Similarly, combat should feel grounded and heavy, with a lot of focus on hand-to-hand fighting, improvising by picking up a clay jar to throw on an enemy’s head, or using the whip to disarm someone pointing a gun at you. A third major component is, of course, the discovery of all these historical moments hidden in the earth, or in the sand. Feeling like you are an expert archaeologist out on an adventure is perhaps the most important part of shaping the experience of being Indiana Jones.
Lucasfilm.com: Seeing the world through Indy’s eyes is especially exciting. Did you always want the game to be first-person, or did you try third-person or other formats in the development process?
Jerk Gustafsson: First-person gameplay is part of MachineGames’ DNA, and we wanted to see how we could use this to create a really immersive experience around stepping into the shoes of the world’s most famous archaeologist. It also separates our game from many other action-adventure titles, making it a unique experience that you cannot find anywhere else. However, we still want to show Indy as much as possible, so we have a seamless flow between first-person gameplay and third-person actions, events, and cinematics.
Lucasfilm.com: The whip is obviously so iconic to Indy. What was the process in getting its feel and performance right in the game?
Jerk Gustafsson: Our main goal has been to make it as useful and versatile as possible. What usually comes to mind when thinking about the whip is as a traversal tool to make your way around the environment, swinging and climbing. But as we started working on it, we focused primarily on combat, as we knew that would be the most challenging part of the feature. Not only making it work well in combat, but also in combination with other important combat tools, like hand-to-hand and use of in-world items. We also decided to go for a fully simulated whip, which made it challenging from a technical perspective, but we gained that gritty and realistic feel to it that is so important to us.
Lucasfilm.com: Anything you want fans to know now that they have a bigger look at the game?
Jerk Gustafsson: First, I am immensely proud of the team and the work they are doing on this game. It’s a combined MachineGames experience and a classic Indiana Jones adventure in one, and we hope that when you play the game, it will feel like you are discovering an Indiana Jones story that sits perfectly in between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade.
Lucasfilm.com: Finally, are there snakes?
Jerk Gustafsson: Of course — we love snakes. We are game developers, not as easily scared as adventure heroes!
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