The story of the cancelled Indiana Jones And The Staff Of Kings

Harrison Ford as Indiana jones
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We take a look into two cancelled Indiana Jones projects – a video game and novel titled Indiana Jones And The Staff Of Kings.

Indiana Jones And The Staff Of Kings was a videogame published by LucasArts in 2009 for the Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Sony PlayStation 2 and the PlayStation Portable (PSP). Developers Behaviour Interactive and Amaze Entertainment brought the game to life on those aforementioned platforms, and the theory was it’d add something a little extra to the much-loved franchise.

Still, for many fans of the Indiana Jones franchise, the limited release came as a crushing disappointment – as the game had also been announced for Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox360. LucasArts own development team were responsible for those versions, and the release itself should have been a much bigger deal than what we ultimately got.

The tale begins at the 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles (or E3 for short), an industry organised trade show to promote upcoming video games. There, LucasArts announced it was working on a brand new Indiana Jones title.

As this was an early announcement, there wasn’t too much it could reveal. It had been in development for just a year at this point and it showcased concept art and renders of the playable environments that would feature in the game. The planned release date was sometime in 2007, we were told.

One year later, for E3 2006, LucasArts returned with a lot more to show from another year’s work, with an almost three minute long trailer. This one, in fact…

Whilst there were no story elements revealed or an official title (it was referred to as Indiana Jones 2007), the big push here was for the technology behind the game. LucasArts was showcasing what it called Bio-Mechanical A.I. in the form of the Euphoria game engine. This was a big change in the way games worked at the time.

Previously in a 3D game, if you wanted a character to fall over for example, then that particular action would have to be animated by hand. This animation could then be used whenever it was needed – but every time the character fell over, it would look the same. The Euphoria game engine eliminated the need for pre-prepared animation sequences. As shown in the trailer and demonstrated privately behind closed doors at the event (there’s a detailed write-up from IGN who saw this at the time), the game would calculate in real time what was needed.

For example, in the trailer they showcased that every time Indiana throws a thug into a parked car, the thugs body reacts differently upon every throw. The Euphoria game engine was calculating the realistic animation in real time. This would make for a more lifelike gaming experience.

Another interesting point revealed by IGN was that the game would also tie in to the upcoming fourth film in the franchise. LucasArts informed them that George Lucas had given them part of the film script to use. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull would begin filming the following year for release in 2008. Although, history has revealed there were many scripts in development for that particular movie, and it’s unknown which one the game was related to.

Unfortunately, Indiana Jones And The Staff Of Kings never arrived in 2007. According to an article on Fanbyte this was due to two major events that same year.

Firstly, as the game had missed its original release deadline, LucasArts removed the two lead game designers to work on another big gaming project, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Two new designers were bought in including God of War II level designers Chip Sbrogna and Michael Cheng, who had recently joined from Sony’s Santa Monica Studio. Rather than continuing the project, they decided to keep the game’s story but scrap everything else and start all over again.

Secondly, 2007 saw the release of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted for the Sony PlayStation 3. The game is essentially Indiana Jones under another name as the game’s protagonist, Nathan Drake, searches the world for lost treasure.

At first, the Indiana Jones team were flattered that another company had made their own version of, well, Indiana Jones. But upon playing it for themselves, they realised Uncharted had stolen their thunder and beaten them at their own game. Especially when it became a huge best seller.

For us fans on the outside, we had no idea what was happening to the game. The movie Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull was released in 2008 and we hoped the game would be released to tie in with that event – unless rumours were true and the game had been quietly cancelled.

In a July 2008 interview with Dailygame a LucasArts representative dismissed those rumours, stating that the game was “very deep into development,” and the team was “working very actively” to bring the game up to form and that “the game looks great.”

However, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull was released in cinemas, and later on home video, with no mention of a new game alongside it. The Staff Of Kings appeared to have, well, disappeared.

The cast of Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

In 2009, LucasArts made the decision to cancel Indiana Jones And The Staff Of Kings, a game that had been in development for five years by this point. A slight caveat: LucasArts would still release the completed games that had been developed by external development companies.

Brian Howell, a writer and designer on the game, told Fanbyte, “for me the thing that was the hardest to swallow was that we had this vision for Indy that was really on target… and it’s sad for me that instead of the world getting that, they got Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.” He was obviously not a fan of the film.

Out of the blue, with many fans believing the game to have been cancelled, a trailer for Indiana Jones And The Staff Of Kings was released online. Whilst it featured no gameplay, it was still exciting. That is, until the very end when the realisation sank in.

Along with the games title were the names and logos of the systems the game would be appearing on, notably absent were PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Several gaming websites reported that these versions were effectively cancelled (which was true) but that statement never officially arrived from LucasArts themselves.

Details of Indiana Jones And the Staff Of Kings’s storyline can obviously be gathered from the released versions, but the original synopsis can also be seen in the leaked design documents which read,

The story takes place in 1939. Indy is drawn into an adventure to discover the fate of Professor Charles Kingston, an old mentor believed to have been killed while searching for the biblical Staff of Moses. Indy encounters his graduate school nemesis, now a high-ranking Nazi party official Magnus Reil who has plans to take the Staff and use it powers to help the Third Reich win the war against the allies. Indy must stop the Nazis, save his friends, and discover the secret to one of the greatest artefacts in history.

This places the story just one year after the events of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. The aforementioned original design documents are well worth a look. Whilst only 10% of the original document is online, it still features information about the characters and locations, as well as plenty of beautiful concept art, design ideas for modes of gameplay and even the main menu design.

A nonexistent novelisation

Interestingly, the video game wasn’t the only piece of related media that was cancelled. Author Rob MacGregor had written several original Indiana Jones titles, and also adapted Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade into a novelisation. After unsuccessful attempts by his agent to win him the task of adapting Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull into a novel, Lucasfilm later approached him to adapt Staff Of Kings instead. Due to the developmental delays with the game, the book was scheduled to be published in June 2010.

However, when the Xbox 360/ PlayStation 3 game was cancelled in 2009 with the completed third parties’ variants released, the publisher said it had issues which prevented it releasing the book earlier than planned. Ultimately, it never released the book at all.

MacGregor questioned the publisher about this decision as the book was complete. He had submitted the work months before the deadline, and he publisher simply replied that there weren’t enough Indiana Jones fans to justify publishing another novel.

Having already been “paid quite well” for his work, MacGregor was confused rather than angry. Indiana Jones fans were left with nothing and the publisher was going to lose money.

When news of this became public, one fan asked about the book directly with Howard Roffman, the Lucas Licensing executive and interim LucasArts Entertainment Company president. Bizarrely, he replied there was no book because MacGregor’s manuscript was handed in too late. As already mentioned, this was blatantly not true and Roffman would later retract his answer.

MacGregor knew what the fans wanted and tried to release his novel as a free ebook. An Indy fan, Christian Guldager, created a beautiful cover for the book and MacGregor would have handled all the publishing details by himself. Unfortunately, the publisher refused permission.

However, all is not lost, over the course of 2021/22, MacGregor has been releasing a series of Indiana Jones And The Staff Of Kings audiobook podcasts via SoundCloud where we can finally hear his adaptation of the video game story.

Finally, for those of you who still clamour for a new Indiana Jones game, a brand-new original adventure is currently in development by Machine Games who created the Wolfenstein: The New Order series.

The following teaser video was released in January 2021 where it was mentioned the game is in the “very, very, very early stages of development.” For the time being, that is all we currently know. Well, that and it won’t be appearing on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3…

Meanwhile, the new, currently-untitled Indiana Jones 5 is due for release in cinemas in June 2023.

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