Jane Jensen, designer of the classic
Gabriel Knight adventure
series and the more recent adventure,
Gray Matter, has just
established a new game company: the
Pinkerton Road Studio. Together with
her husband, Robert Holmes -- who wrote the music for the games
mentioned above -- she is planning to release an adventure game or two
every year. Ms. Jensen will use her experience in designing adventure
games and casual games to provide us with adventures that contain
"...rich stories, gorgeous art and seamlessly fun play."
GB: Can you
tell us a little about your new game design studio: Pinkerton Road? How
did you come to create the studio, and why did you decide on Kickstarter
for its initial funding? Have you met the
Kickstarter funding goal yet?
Yes, we have met the funding goal! Pinkerton Road is a small creative
studio started by myself and my husband, composer Robert Holmes.
We’ll be focused on adventure games for the hardcore adventure game
market and the casual game market. We used Kickstarter because it’s a
great way to build a community around our studio and get players
involved. It also lets us raise the funds for the game we want to
make and not have to give away the IP (Intellectual Property) and
creative control to a publisher.
As part of the Pinkerton Road Kickstarter campaign, the early backers
were sent profiles of three possible adventure games:
Gray Matter 2,
Anglophile Adventure, and
They voted for their favorite among the three, and the clear winner was
Moebius. If you hadn't
asked for a vote, but had chosen the first game purely on your own,
would Moebius have been
the obvious choice? Can you tell us a bit more about the game?
Yes, I would have chosen Moebius
myself. I want to make Gray
Matter 2, but since our studio plans to make games for
tablets as well as PC, it would be nice to get
Gray Matter 1 on tablets
first. Anglophile is a
project near and dear to my heart – I love that game! But
realistically, I would not have chosen it for our first game. It’s a
bit too much of a departure from the games I’m known for, and a bit
Moebius, the main
character is Malachi Rector, a man who is part scholar and part
adventurer. He tracks down rare antiquities around the world and
writes dossiers on their history and sells them to very wealthy
collectors. He has an eye, almost a 6th sense, for
history. He’s hired by a billionaire to investigate and write reports
on a series of events. As Rector investigates he starts to realize
that the events are not what they seem to be on the surface, but have
deeper ties to history. The premise of the series is a bit sci-fi,
but I can’t say much more about it without giving spoilers…
Moebius is described as
having a "2D, graphic novel look and feel." Will it be animated, or is
it going to be a series of still shots, like a graphic novel? It's also
described as a "metaphysical thriller." Does this imply a dark, spooky
tale with preternatural occurrences?
Yes, of course, it will be animated like any adventure game, like
Gabriel Knight 1 or
Gray Matter. By 2D /
graphic novel I mean that the art style is 2D as opposed to real-time
3D so it looks more hand-drawn and cartoony. You have the definition
of “metaphysical thriller” exactly.
When I say ‘metaphysical’ I mean it has to do with bigger issues,
spiritual issues, which might be ‘paranormal’ or might not – usually
when people hear ‘paranormal’ they think werewolf, vampire.
characters (like Samantha Everett and Gabriel Knight) in your past
adventures spend lots of time solving mysteries, despite their lack of
background in crime detection or police work. Malachi Rector, the
protagonist in Moebius,
also belongs in this category. Is there a reason that you lean toward
"amateur" detectives as the protagonists in your games?
I never really thought of it like that. But I guess generally I
prefer mysteries that aren’t so much crime related – like ‘dead guy,
find killer’ but are more unusual, like the mystery in
and Gabriel Knight
A lot of players loved Gray Matter
(it came in seventh on the 2011 GameBoomers Annual Games List) and are
eager to see a sequel. Is this a possibility in the near future?
I hope so. Honestly, I’d love to get ahold of the first
Gray Matter and clean it
up and put it on tablet first. But that wouldn’t be cheap. Still,
it’s a worthy series and worth continuing. A lot can be done with
Gabriel Knight games
(released in 1993, 1995, and 1999) are recognized classics, beloved of
many adventure gamers. Has your more recent adventure game,
Gray Matter, suffered due to
comparisons with Gabriel Knight,
rather than being judged on its own merits?
I don’t think Gray Matter
suffered from comparisons to
Gabriel Knight, I think it just had a lot of technical
difficulties. And because I was not very involved in production, it
didn’t get fine-tuned the way I normally would have done.
GB: Is it true
that all the source material for the Sierra adventure games (including
eventually ended up in a dumpster? If so, why was it thrown out this
way? Why weren't adventure fans invited in for a dumpster dive/rescue
I’m sure, at the time, the new owners were just closing up the
building and didn’t realize or care about those old materials.
Gray Matter may want to
check out the question at the end of this interview -- the response
contains specific information about the game's characters. Be warned --
Adventure Games and
co-founded a casual games studio, Oberon Media, in 2003. Since that
time, casual games have become a big business. How would you compare the
size of the casual game market to the size of the adventure game market?
Why did you leave Oberon and casual game designing, to return to your
roots designing adventure games at Pinkerton Road?
I’m not sure about the size of the casual game market vs the adventure
game market, but it’s likely the same or a bit larger. I just really
wanted to tell a full-blown story again and do a bigger game. There
weren’t a lot of places I could do those things in casual games. I
guess, too, I’m nostalgic for adventure games.
GB: Earlier in
your career, you went from a situation at Sierra where you designed the
Gabriel Knight games --
and where you had many resources and years to develop an adventure game
-- to Oberon, where you were designing casual games that had much
tighter budgets and a much shorter development cycle. How will these
experiences affect the way you design future adventure games and how you
plan to run the Pinkerton Road studio?
Well, I have learned something about restraint and about making a lot
out of little. So hopefully when I have more to play with, I can make
it all give bang for the buck, as it were. In terms of how I plan to
run Pinkerton Road Studio, of course, I will have more latitude to
make my own decisions about what to prioritize, but we still will have
to work within our means.
expectations did you have about casual game trends when you first
started designing them? Have you encountered any surprises? For
instance, were you surprised at the transition from bright, cheerful
casual games to the recent surge in darker, spookier games? Did you
anticipate that Hidden Object Games would increasingly feature adventure
I had hoped and thought that casual games, and especially hidden
object games, could get more and more adventure like. I put adventure
elements into ours (for example, I think
Women’s Murder Club was
the first to have inventory – though I could be wrong). But it was
gratifying to see that it wasn’t just my games that did that, everyone
in the industry started doing it. So I guess I have been pleasantly
surprised, on the one hand, that I was correct… and yet it hasn’t gone
far enough for me!
factors distinguish an adventure game from a casual adventure/adventure-lite
I see the difference being that a regular adventure game is longer (gameplay-wise
and number of scenes) by 2 or 3 times or more. The puzzles are harder
and there usually is no hidden object in them. There’s more story and
more character dialogue.
GB: Do you
have any plans to continue designing casual games? Have you thought
about using the Pinkerton Road studio to create casual games in order to
fund the studio's adventure games?
It’s a possibility if we need to, but for now our plan is just to do
adventure games. However, we are planning to do the ‘casual
adventure’ path on our adventure games and market to the hidden object
Designing in General
GB: We hear
all the time about the importance of a game's atmosphere, or the ability
for a gamer to immerse himself/herself in a game. Are these factors that
you keep in mind when you are creating the overall game structure? Or is
atmosphere more a product of the graphics and the sound design,
implemented at a later stage?
I think atmosphere is certainly dependent on art and sound design, but
also on the story, the characters and the vision behind the game. For
example, if a designer writes a goth punk game, it will still
(hopefully!) be goth punk when the artists are done with it.
Have you ever
positioned an important clue about a character or part of the story in a
game -- and then nobody noticed? Have gamers come up with
interpretations of your games that were completely different than those
Well, normally people are obsessive and they do notice every little
thing, including things that don’t mean anything! But take, for
example, the things you asked me about
Gray Matter. Some people
might not have noticed those things, but inevitably they’re the ones
that get talked about on forums.
GB: Have you
heard complaints from some gamers that a game you designed is too hard
-- while at the same time other gamers say that it's too easy? How do
you design puzzles that can be solved by thousands of different people,
coming from different gaming backgrounds and having different
puzzle-solving experiences and abilities?
Yes, it’s very hard to please everyone. That’s one reason why we have
decided to have a “Casual adventure” path and a “Classic adventure”
path in our games, so that we can at least go for two basic approaches
– easier and ‘seamless’ vs challenging. Still, the best way to test
things is to beta test pretty widely with analytics so you can see
where, for example, 80% of people are not able to solve one particular
At what point in the production process does Robert Holmes begin writing
music for games? Is the chief inspiration the story or the characters or
the environments? Holmes' band, The Scarlet Furies, which provided
memorable music for Gray Matter
-- will they be providing music for
Yes, I hope they will! I love their music and it was great in
Gray Matter and
Dying for Daylight.
Robert usually begins to write the main theme when there is only a
story but then later develops character themes or scene themes more
around the art (and story).
Many of your games feature more than one player character. What effect
do multiple player characters have on a game's design? Does this
automatically add complexity?
Not if they are in different chapters. I like the POV (Point of View)
that a new character brings. This was key in
Gray Matter, where it
turned out that what David was up to was not at all what Sam saw or
Could you explain Pinkerton Road's concept of Community Supported
Our CSG members join or subscribe to the studio for a year. They get
all the games we do that ‘season’ but they also get a ‘virtual seat in
the studio’ where they will get monthly video updates of the latest
arts and design, get to do early playtests, see concept and production
materials and other behind-the-scenes goodies. That stuff will not
be available to people who just buy the game online or in the store.
Revolution Software has been adapting the classic
Broken Sword games for new
platforms like the Nintendo DS and the iPhone. Modern handheld gadgets
seem to have injected life into the adventure genre and have the
potential to reach a wide audience. Do you have any plans to port
Moebius and later games to
We definitely want to do iPad and Android. Not sure about other
platforms right now.
Spoiler Alert for Gray Matter!
Stop reading here if you don't want to see a Gray Matter Spoiler
Controversial plot enquiries re:
Gray Matter (these questions
are so spoilerish that hints, white lies and downright deceptions are
Is David Style's face
scarred under the mask? Was there a Bride of Frankenstein Grand Game
being played surreptitiously during the course of the story? Was one of
the students in David's experiment group in cahoots with another faculty
member? Is Samantha still hiding something about her past?
Yes, these are spoilers! So mark it well as such. The answers are:
no, maybe, no, I’m sure!