In the early ’80s, the film industry was battling rising film production costs. The number of box office hits where on the decline, resulting in increasing ticket prices and consequently diminishing audiences. Studios were desperate to release the next big blockbuster success. In 1981 the competition was fierce with major scheduled releases like Superman II, Cannonball Run, Clash of the Titans, and George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. All in all that summer had over 60 scheduled releases. Standing out from the crowd and becoming an immediate success was vital. If a movie didn’t open to a big weekend, it was in danger of being quickly forgotten. The biggest profits were always made at the beginning of a film’s run when the reviews were fresh and the markets for toys, T-shirts, and television resale were new.
That summer, in 1981, one movie would come to stand above the rest. When the first installment in the Indiana Jones saga, Raiders of the Lost Ark, hit cinemas across the U.S it grossed over $8 million in its first week and became the biggest grossing movie of the year earning around $330 million worldwide. The movie plays an homage to the classic adventures of the 1930s and ’40s cinema and serials, capturing the spirit of action and excitement. Raiders of the Lost Ark took home five Oscars and its immense commercial and critical success came not only to redefine blockbuster cinema and influence almost all action-adventure films to come but also inspired the rapidly growing video game market. Numerous titles throughout the ’80s found their inspiration in Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of the first being Lost Tomb.
Iconic Pinball manufacturer Stern Electronics (Chicago Coin before being bought by Gary and Sam Stern) joined the video arcade game business in 1980 when they licensed Astro Invader from Konami. Later the same year the company had great success with its first original title Bezerk.
In January of 1982, Stern had found its footing in the video arcade business and released yet another original, Lost Tomb, an Indiana Jones-inspired multidirectional shooter written and designed by Dan Lee. Lost Tomb was one of the first to chip in on the Indiana Jones craze swiping across the world. Outfitted with a gun and whip, the player uses dual joystick controls, like in Robotron 2084, to explore the chambers of a South American pyramid looking for treasure and fighting off mummies and other nasties.
Lost Tomb was marketed by Stern as a conversion kit intended for use with earlier cabinets from the company. In essence, Stern would send a new marquee, cables, monitor glass, control panel, logic boards, everything needed to convert an exiting game cabinet into a completely new one. This meant arcade operators wouldn’t have to shell out for an entirely new cabinet, saving cost by retrofitting machines that have reached their end of life.
While Lost Tomb didn’t become a huge hit in the arcades it did gather a following and two years later it was released on home computers by Pat Ketchum’s Datasoft, Inc.
DataSoft had been in business since 1980 and in less than three years, Ketchum and his team of creative programmers, artists, and marketing wizards had built DataSoft into one of the most successful software companies in the home computer industry, employing around 50 people.
While Ketchum wasn’t a programmer he had exceptional marketing and people skills, skills which all lent to a lot of successful negotiation, acquiring licenses for famous movies, cartoons, TV shows, and video arcade games – one of those being Stern’s Lost Tomb.
In 1984, Datasoft published home ports of Lost Tomb for the Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, and for the IBM/PC as a PC-Booter.
The Commodore 64 port of Lost Tomb was published in 1984 alongside versions for the Apple II, Atari 8-bit and IBM/PC. The Commodore 64 version came on both floppy and cassette
Lost Tomb was, like Datasoft’s Pac-Man port published under its Premier Arcades Label. It was somewhat faithful to the arcade version but didn’t feature dual joystick controls (moving with one and shooting in the direction of the other). None of the different platform versions became commercial success stories and the title can be quite hard to come by today.
I have earlier written a bit about Rick Dangerous another, but newer game, which also took inspiration from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The home version of Stern’s Lost Tomb played quite well but came with notoriously bad collision detection.
Time was your biggest enemy. You very rarely would run out of bullets and you had three whips on each level, abling you to knock down walls and enemies in a nearby radius. On some levels you would spawn right next to nasties, killing you instantly
Lost Tomb was advertised in publications of the time, but never managed to become a commercial success story