Gabriel Knight designer launches Pinkerton Road

Jane Jensen opens new studio on her farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Kickstarter campaign for PC/tablet point-and-click adventure game goes live.

by

Jane Jensen is back. The famed Gabriel Knight and Gray Matter designer has opened a new studio--Pinkerton Road--on her farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with her husband, composer Robert Holmes.

Jane Jensen is back in action.

Following Tim Schafer, Brian Fargo, and others, Jensen will seek to fund Pinkerton Road's ambitions through crowd-funding site Kickstarter. Jensen has a number of point-and-click adventure game concepts on her mind, and fans will have a say in which she proceeds with if the campaign's $300,000 goal is reached by May 19.

Pinkerton Road will operate through a development process Jensen is calling "Community Supported Gaming." She likened the system to Community Supported Agriculture, whereby consumers support independent organic farms in exchange for regular orders of produce and a close relationship with the people who grow their food.

In the case of Pinkerton Road, Jensen and Holmes plan to establish a similar relationship throughout the development and distribution of their titles. The studio will offer backers video development diaries, and even the option to visit the farm.

More information can be found on Pinkerton Road's just-launched Kickstarter page.

Jensen and Holmes will operate Pinkerton Road from the farm in Pennsylvania, with outside development on the projects handled by Phoenix Online Studios and Signus Labs.

GameSpot caught up with the longtime developer and picked her brain concerning a range of topics, including her ambitions for the new studio, the value of a close relationship with users, the Mass Effect 3 end-game controversy, and more.

GameSpot: Where did the name Pinkerton Road come from?

Jane Jensen: It's the name of the farm.

GS: Why did you feel you needed to open a studio of your own?

JJ: It's been a perfect storm of things converging to make me decide to do this. I was involved with Oberon Media for a lot of years. I was cofounder of that company, but I wasn't too involved on the business side. I stuck with that for a long time, and it was a really formative experience. I was able to make some products there that I think helped advance the adventure game cause. But ultimately, I never quite got to do what I wanted to do there.

New leadership came in [and] decided that they wanted to completely focus on distribution and not do any of their own games anymore. I could have stayed on, but I'm a game designer, so it wasn't very interesting for me. At that point, I'm looking around, and I thought that this was just a great time to start an adventure game company. First of all, Telltale has developed a really successful model; they've managed to do very well, bringing back kind of the LucasArts style of games.

"What's really interesting to me is the tablet market. This is an emerging device that just has a huge reach and a lot of people buy those because they like to read books on them."

And there's been a resurgence of PC retail adventure games with a lot of European companies. There's Tim Schafer's campaign, which proves there's a lot of interest out there. But what's really interesting to me is the tablet market. This is an emerging device that just has a huge reach and a lot of people buy those because they like to read books on them. So that's a great market for adventure games.

GS: You now own and operate your own studio. How do you feel about the risks of being independent?

JJ: That's a risk I've avoided for a long time. And I've just come to a point in my life where, I'm 49, I probably have another 15 years at most in this business, and I feel like it's just time for me to do what I really believe in doing. For years I've been a team player, and I did what was needed, but at this point, I felt like I'm ready to do my own thing and do the games I know I really want to do and try to make a go of that. We plan to stay really small as a studio, and will work primarily with outsourced teams.

GS: Working on your own farm in Pennsylvania reminds me of the Skywalker Ranch in California; Why work where you live instead of buying a studio space?

JJ: The farm is just so beautiful, and it's just like you get here and you never want to leave. There's so much potential here. We have a number of out-buildings that could be converted to sound rooms or office space. And I think people would love working here. I'd love working here [laughs].

GS: There's you and your husband so far. How many more staffers do you plan to add?

JJ: For the first year we're probably just going to be working with outsourced teams. I've got two good dev teams I've worked with in the past. We aren't planning to add any of our own developers initially, but it depends on how things go, and how the games do. If we feel we need to ramp up we may add some personnel here.

GS: Your husband composed the music for the Gabriel Knight games; can we expect music from him to be a big part of new games?

"I'm 49, I probably have another 15 years at most in this business, and I feel like it's just time for me to do what I really believe in doing."

JJ: Yes. I would say you could. That's his area, he's really passionate about that. My husband actually has a band--and they did a couple tracks for us for [Gray Matter] and people really liked that, so I'm hoping we can do that with our new games.

GS: Your business model sounds a lot like that of Telltale Games'. Is this accurate?

JJ: I think on tablet it will be something where it's a free game, and you get to play so much of it and then there's a purchase moment, kind of like when you get an e-book. It's not been completely decided, but that's what I'm thinking at the moment.

GS: What tablets are you targeting? iOS? Android? Both?

JJ: Probably both.

GS: The model for your Kickstarter is "Community Supported Gaming," which I understand is like Community Supported Agriculture. Why is establishing a connection with the community important to you?

JJ: It's very, very core to me. It's kind of like the heart of the business. I've gotten so many great emails from fans in the past, and they tell me what they like. Over the years those kinds of letters have really helped me to understand what sticks with people in my games. And I see that as a big part of this new studio. I just want to have that kind of one-to-one relationship with the player, where we can get that early beta test feedback. I think that's critical for us as a studio and hopefully that stuff will be really fun for the fans, too.

GS: Your Kickstarter is aiming for $300,000. But what happens if you don't get it?

"If it doesn't work out, then we will probably be talking to some angel investors, and proceed anyway. Hopefully we can show everybody what we can do."

JJ: Well I put a sack over my head, and I hide in the bathroom for three months [laughs]. If it doesn't work out, then we will probably be talking to some angel investors, and proceed anyway. Hopefully we can show everybody what we can do.

GS: Is $300,000 enough in 2012 enough money to make a bona fide adventure game?

JJ: The game that I have scoped out is about the size of Gabriel Knight 1, which is about 60 rooms. So it's not as vast and sprawling as something like Gabriel Knight 3 or Gray Matter was. Having done this a long time and having done everything from 2D to [full motion video] to real time 3D, you reach a point where you find out what is really important and critical and what is superfluous. The game we're looking to do would more realistically cost around $600,000, but we're putting in some money. The dev team is working at a discount, through [revenue] share. So we're supplementing half of that budget basically.

GS: Tim Schafer and Double Fine made quite a splash with their Kickstarter campaign. What have you learned from watching that process unfold?

JJ: First of all, it was really intimidating. It was so amazingly successful, and it was wonderful to see that it was so successful based on that it was an unknown adventure game. But Tim is a god and he's done so many great things. We were planning to do this before that happened, and we were like 'Do we really want to proceed because we're never gonna be like that.' Kickstarter is not a one trick pony. It's not a flash in the pan. What's really intriguing about it is that it's a great way for small developers and artists to connect with the public. Certainly we watched that campaign and we tried to pick up what people were responding to.

GS: You haven't decided which concept to run with yet, but some ideas you're cooking up are Moebius, Anglophile Adventure, and Gray Matter 2. What are these?

Concept art for Moebius.

JJ: At the end of April, assuming our campaign is a success, we will send out an update to the CSG members and give them more information on the project, and help us decide which one. I would love to do all three of them. And hopefully we will be able to do all three of them eventually. One of the concepts is Gray Matter 2. The character is nanobiologist, and another character is a skeptical street magician, and they research different cases of people possibily having unique abilities like telekinesis or future viewing and out of body experiences. Kind of like a CSI for neurobiology.

The Moebius concept is totally new. It's been something that I've wanted to produce, and of the three, it's the most Gabriel Knight-like. It plays a lot with history, like the way [Gabriel Knight 3] did with the bloodline of Christ. It has a lot of bending of history, and it's set in modern times. It has a lot of exotic real life locations. There's a big mystery going on and I think it has a really interesting concept hook. I don't want to talk about why yet, but you can see it has a more graphic novel style to it.

And then the third one, Anglophile Adventure is what we're calling it. I'm just a huge Anglophile. I love to go walking in the Cotswolds every few years, and I did a trip where we walked across England. And I just love that place, and I'm a big fan of Downton Abbey. So I'm really anxious to do a game set in Regency England.

Jensen is an admitted Anglophile, and thus the inspiration for Anglophile Adventure.

GS: What kinds of ideas do you have for Gray Matter 2?

JJ: Gray Matter was always written to be a continuing series, just like a TV show like LOST or C.S.I.. So if we did Gray Matter 2, it would be one story in that sequence, and it could definitely continue.

GS: What are your thoughts concerning Gray Matter 1?

JJ: It was a different kind of process for me. I had the script for that game. And basically it was developed by a German publisher, and the development team was originally Czech, and then it moved to Paris. And I was working full time at Oberon at the time, so I had a limited amount of time to really spend on that project. And towards the end, they kind of ran out of time and money and were just trying to get the game out. I'm very proud of that game; I think it's a good game, but part of the impetus behind this new studio is I want to make sure I have control over the production. And that I can make sure the games have the quality that I really want to see them have. So the story is not sort of marred by production flaws. I didn't have as much oversight on the project as I would have liked to have had.

GS: You created Gabriel Knight, but no longer have a say in the series. How attached to it can you still be knowing that the rights holder might never touch it again, or possibily worse, bring it back in a form you don't agree with?

"I'm hopeful that we have our own studio and we can show some success, that we'll be able to talk to them about getting the rights to it to do a Gabriel Knight 4."

JJ: That's another reason why I want to do my own studio. Because [let's] say Moebius is a big success and people want more of it, we intend fully to hang on to that IP so we can do whatever we want to do with that. Gabriel Knight has certainly been a lesson in what happens when that isn't the case. You never know who is going to get sold to whom four or five times, and something's buried in the basement. It would be a shame. It's their property, and they can do anything they'd like with it. But I would hope that whatever they would do with it they would have great success with. I think ideally, if it was brought back, it should be as an adventure game. I think they've probably realized that. I'm hopeful that we have our own studio and we can show some success, that we'll be able to talk to them about getting the rights to it to do a Gabriel Knight 4.

GS: What do you consider to be an example of strong adventure writing, whether it be film, books, TV, games, or something else?

Gray Matter 2 could look like this.

JJ: I just recently read a book called Robopocalypse, which was really fun. In adventure games, I just downloaded Hector and Puzzle Agent from Telltale. Those are obviously not dramatic writing games, but they are fun games. I think Hector is very well written. TV shows like LOST did such a great job of building a mystery. I think that would have been a fun game concept.

GS: What about specific examples. How does a developer hook a player through writing?

JJ: I think you want to have really dramatic and intriguing cutscenes. Like for the introduction and for the end of the chapter, where it's just beautiful and dramatic, and maybe scary. You know. Mysterious. And they really want to make you feel like 'What happens next?' And then during gameplay, I think the mystery format is so perfect for adventure games because basically what a detective does, whether it's a murder mystery or somebody like Dan Brown's symbologist characters, they're trying to track down clues to find out what's going on and they gradually uncover more info that points to this or that and there might be red herrings or plot twists. And all that stuff works great as gameplay because that's what you're doing as a player: going around and uncovering clues.

The Pinkerton Road farm.

GS: Storytelling is clearly important to you, so what is your take on the Mass Effect 3 ending drama? Is BioWare right to possibly change the game's ending based on player feedback?

JJ Were that to happen, I think it would depend on how strongly I felt about the ending. You think about some of the great works of art--I was just watching a show about whaling in America--and they were talking about how badly received Moby Dick was at the time it came out and now everyone considers that a classic. It would depend for me on how deeply I felt 'No, this is right.' If I was really, completely confident that that was the right ending then I think I would stick with it. If I was on the fence about it, then I think there is a lot of value in listening to customer feedback.

GS: Thank you for the time.

Discussion

42 comments
Omikron1
Omikron1

I got so excited when I saw this article, I said in my head YES a new Gabriel Knight. And then as I read through it my heart kept sinking coz there was no mention of Gabriel Knight. And then I saw it about mid-way and I got excited again and then it totally sank when I read that it's not in Jane Jensen's control to make another one. Although she does mention about trying to get one in the works if the company has success. That would be brilliant! Here's hoping! *Heads to Kickstarter to fund this*

kukumav
kukumav

Just supported Jane...Good luck with your new studio, we really need your creativity and intelligence in the genre these days.

silent_hill_dev
silent_hill_dev

I would love to see another Gabriel Knight: one of the best adventures I've ever played. Good luck to them, and I hope these guys get finally the GK rights, right where they belong.

SunSpot
SunSpot

I love this!!! Gabriel knight was such an amazing experience, that I can do nothing else then support this.

shanethewolf
shanethewolf

Gray Matter was one of the most absorbing, intelligent and enjoyable games I've played for many years, so it's great to hear Jensen will be planning and overseeing future project. In fact, I'm more enthusiastic about this than any of the huge blockbusters planned for this year.

RobertBowen
RobertBowen

I hope this goes well for them, because I'd like to see more great adventure games on PC. I'll have to check my funds to see if I can back this one, though. When it comes to Kickstarter, I view it in a different way to some people. I'm looking at some of these games and now new game studios as a 'cottage industry' of gaming. They are low key and need a certain amount of funding to get them going - and from small acorns can grow might oak trees. Most of the big developers/publishers we see today started off small like this. We went through a period in the 1980s/90s where really small teams were producing some of the most innovative games, and even creating entirely new genres of gaming. The big publishers today aren't remotely interested in that. They just want to push CoD rehash #34 to the masses to make a quick buck. In a choice between supporting fat cat cash-in publishers and supporting low key innovative game developers directly, I know where I'll be spending my money.

jojocoolio
jojocoolio

You have my financial support! The onslaught of first person shooter type games has turned me off gaming almost completely. I reminisce of my King's Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Ring World, The Longest Journey and Lucas Arts days with fondness. Oh how I miss those games :(

Vojtass
Vojtass

@Stiler I would give more green thumbs, if I could. Gabriel Knight 1 is one of my favourite games ever. I played it 4 or 5 times... Story, dialogues, voice-over, mysterious atmosphere... These are brilliant. I'm not asking for GK (unfortunately Activision has this IP), but I'm asking for good adventure game. And I gladly support ambitious developers, who don't want to meet corporate salesmen again. Cheers

Stiler
Stiler

Also for some of you, I don't think this is a "fad" at all. It is a new way for developers to reach out to fans for publishing, instead of going through a publisher themselves. No one is forcing you to fund this project or others, it's your choice and that's the beauty of it. On top of all of this, they aren't asking for a ton of money up front, Hell most of these kickstarters are selling the game they make as the LOWEST tier reward (usually 10-15). The way I see it, I'd GLADLY kickstart many projects just because 1. I'm a fan of classic adventure games, rpgs, etc. 2. I love being able to show publishers that they aren't the know it alls and there IS A market for such games. I have already put my hat in the ring with Double Fine's adventure, Wasteland 2, Takedown, Leisure suit larry, Shadowrun, and now this one. No to mention later this month they are starting one for Tex Murphy.

Stiler
Stiler

This is the ONE kickstarter I'm going to shell out 100+ for. The Gabriel Knight series meant so much to me as an adventure fan in the 90's. I really hope this is a huge success for her and the game sells well enough (I'm going to vote for Moebius for sure) that she can get the rights to Gabriel Knight back.

Madball357
Madball357

@supertom221 She didn't disappear, man, not at all. She's been involved in the design process of boatloads of adventures, but only actually writing in Gray Matter. She's been as active as Fargo and Schafer, if not more.

ebookerd1
ebookerd1

I miss LNC County... I wish I was in college again I would ask to intern there.

Vojtass
Vojtass

@supertom221 Actually she wrote a script for Gray Matter (game is great, I played it twice) - you don't know how many publishers she talked to, and how many companies refused her. She clearly didn't want to make Corporate Products for money. She's not only developer, she's a writer. It's a really tough industry, and adventure genre is even tougher, because it's a niche. It's very easy to judge stranger, But you don't have to like this. She deserves a money for games development, because her games are always exceptional. 'Nuff said.

supertom221
supertom221

@Madball357 Nope. I just don't think her games were that good and prromising. Where was she all those years? Fargo and Schafer were actively trying to find someone to fund them. People in the industry took Schafer and Fargo seriously, but their ideas were always something publishers did not see eye-to-eye with unless it was going to be a sellout shooter of some kind. Jensen dissapeared and now she comes back because Kickstarter gives her the easy way? I'm not liking this.

Vojtass
Vojtass

Great, another adventure games legend comes back! News of the week.

snxx
snxx

Lots of people are calling this Kickstarter trend "a fad". Myself? I'm a proud backer of six different projects. As long as established and amazing game designers like Jane Jansen and Jordan Weisman come up with great, often-overlooked-by-big-publishers, projects, I'm in!

aj_marquez
aj_marquez

Point & click + Touchscreen sounds like a great combination, to be honest.

SecularSage
SecularSage

*Sigh* I had a feeling this would happen. Very quickly, we're reaching a "peak Kickstarter" number of developers trying to use Kickstarter for a limited genre (adventure gaming). They really need to space these campaigns out. What's already happening is that people are losing interest and failing to support some of the more recently-launched campaigns. The Gabriel Knight games are fantastic. But I forsee this being a Kickstarter that's challenged to raise interest and awareness on the same level as some of the other projects. I also think this may be one of the many "me-too!" casualties of the fad.

Madball357
Madball357

@supertom221 Are you saying Jensen didn't prove her 'prowess' in the adventure gaming sector? You crazy??

DbzJohno
DbzJohno

It would be great to see another Gabriel Knight Game:)

DrAmazinDood
DrAmazinDood

@Ovirew Sure I also think it's great that she wants to give people a beta, if people like her game who am I to stop them from helping out, I just hope this kickstarter thing doesn't get out of hand p.s.: Easy on hate guys, my last comment was out of concern for every gamer, just sayin' :P

Savoritias
Savoritias

point and click adventures are my favorite genre. And the genre needs some good games.

Ovirew
Ovirew

@DrAmazinDood You know, I think you actually have a point there. It would suck if game companies just started thinking, "Well, if we can get generous donators to fund this big project, and then turn around and get profit off of game sales, we'll be making out big-time! Who wouldn't want another (insert popular game franchise name here)?" But I think, like they said in this article, kickstarter games don't always turn out nearly as successful as Double-Fine's did. For some people, it's just another way of going about getting a project off the ground. And Jane Jensen says that she wants people to get a chance to play some sort of beta and give feedback, so she does want to know what her fans want also.

Ovirew
Ovirew

Sounds intriguing. I hope the kickstarter project goes well, because it sounds like Jensen has a lot of experience with adventure games and has some ideas in mind for these new games. I've never played Gabriel Knight, but I've always been a fan of games like King's Quest. I'd be interested in seeing more modern takes on point-and-click adventures.

Maxor127
Maxor127

If people are going to be reviving old adventure games with remakes and sequels, what I'd really like is HD remakes of Quest for Glory series. Get the Coles on that.

pidow
pidow

I will have to check this out.

Mega_Loser
Mega_Loser

ive been playing GK1 in the past two days. coincidence? i think not.

EliOli
EliOli

Been a Jane Jensen fan from way back in the Kings Quest days. When the first Gabriel Knight game came out, I was blown away by the quality of the story and well fleshed out characters. I've gotten all her games since, including Gray Matter which I enjoyed very much. I'm on board for what ever she does next That's a given.

Raeldor
Raeldor

Man, I loved Gabriel Knight. This may be my first kickstarter contribution.

mhaed
mhaed

Like others have said, Kickstarter is optional and nobody has to donate anything. I've noticed that most Kickstarter projects have been attempted by developers that make point-and-click adventure games. These games are dying nowadays and no big-name developers or publishers are going to want to spend the resources developing these types of games, so the people who want to make them are asking fans for funding. Nothing wrong with that.

y3ivan
y3ivan

Someone kickstart Vampire: The Masquerade !!!

jamejame
jamejame

I love how an increase in Kickstarter's popularity has people backlashing at them. Just goes to show people will strive to hold the antithesis of whatever's catching on.

Rottenwood
Rottenwood

Not entirely sure what people's problem with Kickstarter is - if you're not into it, you're free to never use it. I think it's excellent: gaming studios are getting less and less creative each year, hoping to use familiar formulas to make the same games over and over to please the suits. 'Cause God knows we need 6 Assassin's Creed games in as many years. I'm probably not gonna sponsor this one, as I didn't care for the Gabriel Knight series after the first one - all that FMV stuff was awful. But I wish Jensen luck.

sasami_adachi
sasami_adachi

@buckxn Yes. The first two installments in the series were quite good.

buckxn
buckxn

wasnt gabriel knight that old Sierra-OnLine game?

RedWave247
RedWave247

@supertom221 While I agree that the Kickstarter thing is starting to get out of hand, Jane Jensen created the Gabriel Knight series, the first of which is still one of my favourite games of all time. I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, along with others like Shafer.

supertom221
supertom221

"What's really interesting to me is the tablet market. This is an emerging device that just has a huge reach and a lot of people buy those because they like to read books on them." Ahah..... No. Find another funder. This Kickstarter is getting out of control. We don't work for you, developers, you work for US. We pay you for a product, not funding it. When a game developer who has proved his prowess like Fargo and Schafer are in dire need of a funder and rather avoid the evil clutches of the big publishers, it makes sense to use KickStarter. That, and when small indie developers looknig to prove their skills and bring something new, it's also acceptable. But Kickstarter was not meant to fund everybody looking for a way to make his game ideas. This isn't charity.

mhaed
mhaed

Jane Jensen is worth supporting in my opinion. She's always helped create some neat stuff.

DrAmazinDood
DrAmazinDood

Great...another kickstarter, if this is how games are gonna start being made then ask us what games we want instead of asking us money to make YOUR games -_-