Underground 1989 Czech computer game Indiana Jones in Wenceslas Square now online in English

Fictional archaeologist Indian Jones was a staple of text-only games made by Czech teenagers in the 1980s

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 30.10.2020 15:05:00 (updated on 30.10.2020) Reading time: 3 minutes

You can now play the classic underground computer game The Adventures of Indiana Jones in Wenceslas Square in Prague on January 16, 1989.

The original Czech version was clandestinely circulated among protesters around the time of the Velvet Revolution. The text-only game is now available for free online and newly translated into English.

Click on this link to play the game.

While underground books, magazines and music from the late 1980s are well-known, there were also underground computer games, which have been largely forgotten.

The Adventures of Indiana Jones in Wenceslas Square in Prague on January 16, 1989 is certainly a relic of its time. People used to fast-scrolling rendered 3D images and noisy action will likely find the game, which uses only typed commands from a short list, a bit quaint. To play the games, people had to take notes to keep track of what items they had picked up, and make maps with pen and paper.

Intro image to the game
Intro image to the game / via primitivedesigns

The goal of the game is simple. Indiana Jones has to escape from the police on Wenceslas Square and make it back home to the United States.

The makers of the new online version even jazzed the original up a bit with a retro-style into screen and some colored text — so it looks more like eight-bit computer games from the West from around the same time. The new version is also more user-friendly, with an expanded vocabulary of commands that accepts more synonyms.

Clicking on a question mark in the corner of the online game screen give a bit of context; “This satirical game was released anonymously in 1989 as a response to police brutality during the Palach Week protests. In January 1989, several opposition groups organized demonstrations to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the self-immolation of Jan Palach. … On January 15, thousands of people gathered on Wenceslas Square, a traditional site of public events,” the intro states.

“Citizens’ efforts to pay respects to Palach and protest the oppressive regime were met with a disproportionate police response, including the use of tear gas and water cannons against peaceful protesters and curious bystanders. Undeterred by the police, people continued to gather for the following four days. The game takes place on the second day of the protests,” it adds.

The into goes on to explain that Indiana Jones had become a popular character in unlicensed Czechoslovak text adventure games, with several by programmer František Fuka, the same person whose name often still appears on Czech subtitles as the translator.

Jones’ popularity led him to be included in this game, which was credited to the fictitious game author Zuzan Znovuzrozený of Zero Unpleasant Street, Zilch City, Nowhereland. The actual author is still unknown.

Intro text to the game / via Opening text to the game / via primitivedesigns
Intro text to the game / via Opening text to the game / via primitivedesigns

Computers in Czechoslovakia were quite primitive at the time. The original Czech version circulated on cassette tapes, which were used for data storage even in the West before floppy disks became available. Home computers were also unknown, but some Czechoslovak teenagers had access to computers through military groups to train young people in programming, as that was seen as the wave of the future.

The tech website Ars Technica pointed out the translation and gave a bit of history. “This title and others created by Czechoslovak teenagers in the late 1980s became part of the ‘chorus of activist media’ that included student papers, rock songs, and samizdat—handwritten or typewritten versions of banned books and publications that circulated illegally,” Andrada Fiscutean wrote in Ars Technica.

“This Indiana Jones game, however, stands apart as a cultural curiosity. … After 30 years, people from all over the world could finally play and learn about this unique moment of early activism in video game history,” Fiscutean added.

Computer experts Jaroslav Švelch and Martin Kouba had to work backwards from the finished product to create the online version, as the original source code has been lost. Jana “Yuffie” Kilianová created the retro pixel art.

A Czech version appeared in 2019 for the exhibition November 1989: The Road to Democracy, organized by the Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences.  

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