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Q&A w/ Jane Jensen


Recently I had an interview where I had to remind myself ahead of time not to not be a fanboy during it and this isn’t something I take lightly. The reason I felt this way was besides playing Nintendo games as a kid when it was possible, Sierra PC games were my first foray into the world of PC gaming that consisted of something more than jumping over a barrel or pit, or shooting straight lines at an object. So Sierra is directly connected to my original love for PC games and adventure games in general. One of those games, Gabriel Knight, was designed by Jane Jensen and not only did it win Adventure Game of the Year but it was an instant classic to me. So being given the opportunity to interview Jane Jensen about her upcoming game, Moebius, was surreal and it felt like my gaming experience came full circle. Moebius is an upcoming adventure game featuring Malachi Rector, a genius with an ability to size up people and objects instantly, and even though it has helped him become incredibly rich it gets him in trouble as well as he can tell what’s real from what’s fake and that’s problematic for many worldwide, especially in worlds of antiques and art. But when a secret government agency called F.I.S.T. (Future Intelligence Science & Technology) enlists him to help with an unusual project that requires him to look into the life of a dead woman his life changes in ways he never imagined. So this is definitely a game I’m looking forward to as it has the potential for great storytelling, interesting puzzles, and superb action coming together to create a truly immersive experience. So I could definitely put those childhood gaming experiences aside to find out more about Moebius.

Me: I played the original Gabriel Knight with one of my sisters when we were kids and it was an amazing experience. And even now we can reflect on it and laugh at the good memories that we had. Since I’m not the only one who has told you this, when you hear people tell you similar stories about how they played Gabriel Knight and they loved it, is it motivational knowing you had a positive impact or does it add a little bit more pressure on you when developing games now?

Jane: Well, first it makes me feel old (laughs) because I usually get these very grown up, large people saying “I remember playing that game when I was six.” It’s wonderful. I’ve certainly have had tons of authors, books and movies that have influenced me that I’m a big fan of so it’s amazing to feel like I’m on the other side of that equation with something like Gabriel Knight where people have very fond memories of experiencing that when they were young.

Me: Prior to Gray Matter there was a period of time where you didn’t develop a game of this scope so what was the motivation after all these years to go back to developing games on this level. Was it the desire to tell a story or the love for developing games?

Jane: Well, after 2003 I wrote books for a couple of years and then I really wanted to get back into gaming and really the only opportunity that made sense at that time was to do casual games. I was co-founder of a casual game company and did a lot of hidden object games for a number of years and I really wanted to do a full adventure game. And I had the opportunity to work with a German publisher on that. In that game I pretty much just provided the game design document and they created the game. I wasn’t that involved in production. And then more recently with Moebius, which we did a kickstarter for a little under 2 years ago, just looking at what my options were I really kind of was tired of doing casual games and I really wanted to get back into doing bigger adventure games again and with kickstarter it seemed like we had the opportunity to do that.


Me: What has been the most challenging aspect of getting back into developing games today as opposed to developing games years ago?

Jane: The most challenging thing for me in the last couple of years (was) first the process of doing the kickstarter. That was really challenging and sort of frightening and having to just be a lot more public than I’m used to. Worrying about whether or not we were gonna make our goal and just fulfilling promises to everybody. That’s been very stressful and just the business side of running our own little studio and having to deal with contracts and finances and production matters. Before I was just a designer so I never had to deal with that stuff. So that’s been really challenging for me personally and a lot more than the actual game production.

Me: You founded your own development company called Pinkerton Road in 2012 with your husband and as you just mentioned the Kickstarter campaign was announced as well. So did Kickstarter play a huge role in the decision to start your own development company or did it just become a means to an end after that decision was made?

Jane: It was really the latter. We had been working on a little project called Lola and Lucy’s Big Adventure for iPad, which we planned to self-publish and were self-developing. So we had been planning to do our own studio but it was gonna be a slower process. And when we decided to do the kickstarter it just bumped the timeline up a bit.

Me: Moebius is the first series from your development company, which will be released on April 15th featuring a character by the name of Malachi Rector, and I’m already wondering if there’s a special meaning to that name. Tell me a little bit more about this series and how many parts will it be?

Jane: Well I don’t know how many parts it will be. I have 3 for sure in my mind but it’s a series that could go on indefinitely if that makes sense to do. So the other question about his name…well he’s half-Spanish and half-German, he’s father was German and his mother was Spanish. So I wanted a good, strong German last name and picked that one out of the air really. And then I just liked the first name as something that had biblical significance kind of like Gabriel did but was unique and not a common name.

Me: Gabriel Knight was and is an iconic character in ways, so did you approach Moebius by wanting to create an iconic character first, or do you focus on telling a great story first?

Jane: Well I’ve done a lot of stories and a lot of books besides Gabriel Knight and developing a good character is something that you have to do in any form of story, even short stories. And it goes hand in hand with the plot to me. So it’s just all part of  crafting that initial story. But the fact that I wanted this to be an ongoing series it does affect the concept behind the story and how much of the story you tell in the first game and things like that.


Me: Will choices we make during the game affect the story line, and if so to what extent? Different endings?

Jane: There are several places in the game, especially in chapter 2, where you have to make a decision that can really affect the outcome. Now we had a very limited budget on this game. We got about $435,000 from the kickstarter and when you subtract fees it’s really just under $400,000 that we have to spend. And I think the game looks fabulous and we’ve been told (that) and it’s a pretty big game too. So for each chapter we had to work within constraints of wanting to have no more than 6 or 7 rooms per new chapter and a limited number of characters. So we didn’t have the budget to do 3 completely divergent story lines and lots of locations that some people never saw, for example. Or multiple endings or multiple ending cutscenes and things like that. So there are a couple of places where you make a choice that really affects the way the story diverges and by the end of that chapter if you didn’t go the way you really needed to go it resets you back and you have a chance to try the other path. So we did do some of that and I would have liked to have done more of it. We probably will do more of it with Moebius 2 but again we had some hardcore constraints on budget. And I wanted to have everybody who played the game to be able to experience everything we had to put into it and not have too many divergent paths that some people never saw.

Me: If I’m not mistaken, you were a voice actor in the Dagger of Amon Ra so will you be a voice actor in any of the Moebius games?

Jane: No I’m not, I’m not (doing any) voice acting. We have a really good voice studio that we’re using, BA Sounds, they did the Walking Dead for example. And they use professional union actors. So I wasn’t really qualified to voice any roles.

Me: I read a Moebius comic book and it had somewhat of an origin story for Malachi Reactor so will there be other comics released between the other Moebius games or was that a one-shot deal?

Jane: Well maybe. I can see us doing one for Moebius 2 but I haven’t really thought that far ahead.

Me: An announcement was made by Phoenix Online Publishing that they’ll be your publishing company for Moebius. Was it your experience working as a story consultant on the Cognition series that influenced your decision?

Jane: Well Phoenix has been the developer on Moebius so I was actually much more involved with them for the last 2 years on the Moebius project than I was on Cognition so they’ve basically been my team and now we work together every day. I just feel confident that they really knew and understood Moebius and they have a lot of stake in it. They almost have as much at stake in it as I do in terms of wanting it to be successful and being a title that will really help their company. So it made more sense for me to go with them since they’re starting up this really interesting new publishing branch than to go with a bigger publisher who might have 100s of titles and Moebius wouldn’t be that important or special to them.


Me: Do you have any other series planned or do you have any ideas for other series that you’re currently working on or will you consider that once the Moebius series is done?

Jane: Well we’re currently working on the Gabriel Knight Sins of the Fathers remake and I’m working on that with Phoenix. And that’s supposed to come out July or August. And after that it’ll probably be Moebius 2 or possibly a Gabriel Knight game if we can get the rights to do that. But yes, I hope to keep working with them in the future.

Me:  Gabriel Knight to me is an all-time classic. So how do you balancing updating it for today while also maintaining the aspects that made the original so enjoyable?

Jane: Well, you know, I think you just can’t get too concerned about it. I heard an interview with Mark Gatiss and (Steven) Moffat about making Sherlock Holmes and you just can’t think about it, you can’t think about what the expectations are, everything that’s come before and what the fans are gonna think. You can kind of get wallowing in that and be so frightened that you never accomplish anything. So I went in with my own goals, I wanted to bring the art up to date and I wanted to bring in more New Orleans flavor, more scary (elements) since we had more resolution and more tools to play with. I wanted all the original content to be there but to also add some new things. And so we’re just doing the best we can with it and hopefully the fans really like it. And so far my CSG has really liked all the art that we’ve released to them.

Me: Yes I saw the screenshots and it looks excellent to me. I was a huge Sierra fan back in the day and I wasn’t 6, I was a little bit older. But to me it was pretty much whatever Sierra came out with I wanted to play it because I knew it would be a certain quality. Do you think the market is ripe for that resurgence of adventure games?

Jane: I hope so. I think Telltale (Games) has done a really good job of being a strong studio and helping adventure games come back. And now we have several other new studios cropping up to focus on that genre. And I hope that Moebius is a game that people feel moves the genre forward a little bit. You know we’ll see. It really depends on how this round goes with everything from Double Fine, to my game, and the new Cole game (Corey and Lori Cole’s Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption). And we have to see how these games go, how well they sell to really see what kind of opportunities there are for this in the future. It’s gonna be a really interesting year.

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  1. Pingback: On Puzzle Design | The Mental Attic

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