Q&A: Jane Jensen talks Gray Matter

Gabriel Knight creator says her next game will be the start of a new series of adventures which could go on for "many, many episodes"; possibility of a console port as well as a PC release.

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Jane Jensen has been nicknamed the "Queen of Adventure" for her atmospheric, paranormal-themed adventure games which focus heavily on storytelling. However, the last title in her first game series, Gabriel Knight, was released almost eight years ago, and for a while, as Jensen focused on casual games and writing novels, it looked as if the queen had set down her crown.

Not so. Her new project, originally code-named Project Jane-J, was first unveiled at 2003's Electronic Entertainment Expo. However, a year later, Jensen announced that the project had been put on hold. Nothing more was heard about it until German publisher DTP announced that the game was being resurrected.

Between epic adventures, Jensen has written a series of novels which continue to explore her interest in the paranormal. She also recently branched out into the casual market and designed several games for Oberon Media, including Inspector Parker and BeTrapped.

Gray Matter, Jane Jensen's latest project, is currently scheduled for a first-quarter 2008 release. The new epic adventure takes place in Oxford, UK, and is focused on two unusual characters who are both drawn to the paranormal. Samantha Everett is a street magician, whom the mysterious Dr. Styles hires as his assistant and tasks with finding test subjects for his bizarre experiments.

GameSpot had a chat with Jensen about her latest project, whether there will be another Gabriel Knight, and much more.

GameSpot UK: Will there be a Gabriel Knight 4?

Jane Jensen: That's in the hands of Vivendi. I would like to do one, but the property belongs to them. So perhaps, someday, when they are ready to do one it will happen. I have two different stories ready for GK4.

GSUK: There have been several rumours over the years that there will be a film based on the Gabriel Knight games and books. Are there any foundations to those rumours?

JJ: I've been contacted many times by people interested in doing a film, and I have passed them along to Vivendi. Unfortunately, nothing ever materialised. I'm not sure why, perhaps the queries never developed into legitimate opportunities.

GSUK: What are you personally proudest of out of all the projects you've worked on so far?

JJ: I'm really proud of the GK series. If pressed, I'd have to say Beast Within was my favourite of the three, because the story was very gothic and romantic, and the live actors brought so much to it. But I'm proud of GK1 and GK3 for different reasons. I'm also very, very happy with Gray Matter. It's a great story, and I feel really positive about meeting the challenge of creating a new series that is just as good as GK. I hope everyone agrees!

GSUK: Will there be more than one game?

JJ: Well, it's definitely structured to be a series. Like GK1, this first game is a kind of "origin story" for the characters, the story of how they meet and who they are. It could go on for many, many episodes.

GSUK: Can you tell us any more details at all about Gray Matter?

JJ: I talked about the story quite a bit at the launch at the Games Convention in Leipzig, Germany, at DTP's/Anaconda's press conference. There will be some more surprises I can't tell you about at this point of time. I can say that the art is looking exceptional, the locations in Oxford will be quite fun, and there are some great riddles in the game.

GSUK: Where did you get the ideas for the characters and inspiration from?

JJ: I guess the inspiration for the series came from some of the quantum physics/new age books I've read, particularly while researching Dante's Equation. I've been playing some time with the idea of getting much more realistic about the supernatural. There's a terrific book called The Conscious Universe by Dean Radin which talks about real-life experiments in "psi." And even though the results aren't huge, taken together they are very compelling.

GSUK: Why did you decide to move away from the 3D environments of Gabriel Knight 3 and go back to 2D?

JJ: That project took so long and was so art intensive and in the end I felt that while I played I didn't use the 3D enough to warrant all the extra work. I got the feeling that most fans were pretty ambivalent about it--or even found it to be an impediment. I also think 2D, or 2.5D, art can look better than 3D. I guess I've reached the conclusion that 3D doesn't necessarily benefit an adventure game.

GSUK: What other games do you think are good examples of great storytelling?

JJ: I liked the Syberia series a lot. A lot of its charm was about the art style, but I did enjoy the story. I still am in love with the older classics, particularly Monkey Island.

GSUK: You've also written novels. Which medium do you prefer?

JJ: I like the solitude of novels--the fact that it is just me, and the output is 100 percent mine. It's nice to stay at home and disappear into your own world. But I also really enjoy what the team brings to the game--seeing the story come alive with art, voice-over, and music. So I guess my ultimate would be to go back and forth between the two.

GSUK: Are there any other media that you haven't worked on yet that you are interested in working on?

JJ: I would love to see a story of mine made into film or TV. I'm not sure I feel compelled to write the screenplay myself, but it would be terrific to see something adapted.

GSUK: You've also worked on "casual" games like Inspector Parker and BeTrapped. Why did you decide to work on these kinds of projects that are so different from the normal, epic games that you're famous for?

JJ: The problem adventure games always had was in reaching the right audience. I felt that people who read mystery books or liked films would love GK, but they weren't the kind of people who bought and played games. So my foray into the casual gaming market has been an interest in reaching a new demographic and, hopefully, eventually introducing full-bore adventure games to that audience. The thing about that market is that so many "ordinary" people play those games. It could be my aunt or uncle or your grandmother. If they will play Bejeweled, why not Gabriel Knight? I think that will happen--it's just a matter of when. So, in sum, it's all a devious plot.

GSUK: How did you feel about the end results? Have you got plans for any more?

JJ: Yes, I'm working on a new casual game right now. It will be out at the end of March.

GSUK: In 2004 you told GameSpot that you were not optimistic for the future of the adventure game genre. What can make adventure games more financially viable, do you think?

JJ: I think it's just a matter of expanding the market. To be realistic, 17-year-old boys are not going to play Gray Matter when they can play Halo (generalising here--I know that's not always true). As games reach a wider age range of people (via casual games and just general expansion) I think there's a good opportunity for adventure games to gain prominence again.

GSUK: What do you think about the Nintendo Wii console and the DS handheld, which have been marketed specifically to interest women and other nontraditional gaming niches?

JJ: Honestly, I don't know much about those platforms. I know more about Microsoft's attempt to reach women and girls via the Windows Home Media Centre and Xbox Live. I think it's very difficult to convince a new demographic to do something they've never done before (that is, to "game" on a console in front of a TV), but I'm certainly happy that industry giants are putting money into trying to make it happen. The more it does happen, the better it will be for adventure games.

GSUK: Do you think you will ever do a console or a handheld game? If so, which appeals to you most?

JJ: Console games are beautiful and a natural platform for games like Gray Matter. I hope we get the opportunity to port the game next year.

GSUK: Thanks for your time.

Discussion

50 comments
Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

People think adventure games were not even the most popular genre in the 90's, but a 1996 Computer Gaming World magazine (in the U.S.) did a poll and the adventure genre came out on top! In the Top 50 games there were no less than 14 adventure games!

Hikiera
Hikiera

I missed the days of full throttle. :*) Back then we were bewildered by gameplay and the crappy graphics didnt matter. We didn't have better and we didnt care. We had our imaginations to fill the gaps, give us new ideas of our own, and the story and gameplay to keep us happy. I often feel game designers miss the plot and think the graphics means more than gameplay. Graphics makes the game well rounded but its the gameplay that makes you remember or want to play the game again.

fzd88
fzd88

i just re-installed SCUMMVM to play DOTT, the DIG, and Full-Throttle again. Man, forgot how great these adventure games were. I feel like a 15yr old...now where are those 1.44 floppies and my Pentium 33mhz PC? lol...

CountGrafOrlok
CountGrafOrlok

I'm a teenager all over again..... :) I can't wait. Yes, this gives a lot of hope. Hope that the fourth GK game will become an realization.

LeeTheAgent
LeeTheAgent

This discussion really brought back some memories... I've started playing Gabriel Knight 2 again! As great as I remembered... incredible acting!! mistergladstone , as far as the LSL3 speed problems go, there's a solution for everything... there are several programs that you can run with an old game to slow it down... check out Home of the Underdogs, they have a great FAQ there with tips on running all sorts of old games! :)

spelledarn
spelledarn

Gabriel Knight 2 was possibly the greatest old-school adventure game ever made. Except for that whole "click on every item in the castle" scene, that got old fast.

mistergladstone
mistergladstone

I would LOVE LOVE LOVE for some of the great games of the past (7th Guest, 11th Hour, DOTT, GK Series) to be put out with the needed adjustments for updated computer systems. I know that Leisure Suit Larry 3 is basically unfinishable since we made the pentium leap (due to several events in the game being tied to processor speed). It's time to recognize that some of the best games out there have already been made... and gamers that missed that chance to play them deserve another.

aronnyc
aronnyc

That's weird. I was just feeling nostagic about GK2 (watched some clips on YouTube). Adventure games might not be as popular as action games, shooters, or sports games, but I think they still have a big fan base, like Fatal Frame. Maybe it just needs a better blend between story, puzzle and action. I dunno. I loved the old-school Sierra adventure games, even the ones that sucked (i.e. Phantasmagoria 2).

mismajor99
mismajor99

Talk about a walk down memory lane, especially after reading everyone's messages. Such fond memories indeed. I'll never forget sneaking in a game of Leisure Suite Larry back in the day and having to answer I think it was three "adult" questions to get in the game. lol. All of the Sierra titles are what really got me into PC gaming back in the 80's, along with LucasArts of course. Anybody remember Loom? That was one of my favorites, along with the whole Police/Space/Kings Quest series.Also, anyone remember Mean Streets or Crime Wave? They had pretty much the best "graphics" back then you could find, plus really good stories. Now those were some cool games.....

LeeTheAgent
LeeTheAgent

Yeah, that old coot in the cabin! He cracked me up! As for the Tex Murphy games, Under a Killing Moon was one of them, the oldest ones were Mean Streets ( I think that was the name) and Martian Memorandum. MM came on like 4 or 5 floppies and had VOICE! :O The next two were great though... 3D adventure games with live video, great stories and humor. The one after that was Overseer, not as good I thought, but 3D accelerated. Look up on Wikipedia for Tex Murphy, you'd love the rest of them.

Autolycus
Autolycus

i totally forgot about return ot zork. yeah that was sweet. that old man on teh rocking chair? was it? i cant remember but it was still sweet. never played or heard of the tex murphy games... im buying em back damnit!!! as long as i dont need to load MSCDEX drivers or VESA drivers:)

LeeTheAgent
LeeTheAgent

I never finished Zork Nemesis, I did love Return to Zork though, great fun, I still remember the toast that guy did, "Here's to us! Who's like us? Damn few. And they're alllllll dead!" and of course, "Want some rye? Course ya do!" I loved the Quest for Glory games too... the third was one of my favorites., and the Tex Murphy games... remember speech on a floppy disk based game?!?!? :o As for the third GK game... personally, I loved that... the 3D was odd at first, but I eventually got into it, it was an interesting twist.

Autolycus
Autolycus

Zork Nemisis was freaking sweet....way ahead of its time..:)My biggies whereWorld of Xeen(clouds and darkside of xeen)Zork NemisisUnder a Killing Moon7th Guest & 11th HourPolice QuestKings QuestQuest for GlorySpace QuestBoy it takes me back...

uberkakis
uberkakis

Beast Within (along with Zork Nemesis and Battlezone) remain my favorite games of all time. Really looking forward to what she does next. As for the 3D vs. 2D, I always thought that there was no reason to go all 3D on the adventure genre. Japanese RPGs, not to mention Castlevania, are still made in 2D, and no one is complaining. In fact, I would argue that 3D is what made the third Gabriel Knight to be the worst of the series. It quite simply lacked atmosphere.

BloodMist
BloodMist

Yeeeup, the adventure genre was mostly what i played when i first got into computer games, and i still have plenty of fond memories of spending many hours enjoying the stories and characters of too many adventure games to count.I miss the time where they were being released almost constantly, and hope we can get more in the future.

LeeTheAgent
LeeTheAgent

Space Quest re-released?? Those were my first computer games (aside from Micky's Space Adventure, hey I was a kid)! I've got to get them again! And I never played the Police Quest series, I'd love to try those... and I never did finish a few of the King's Quest games... I can't wait! Now if only someone would release a patch to get the DVD version of the last Tex Murphy game working...

Autolycus
Autolycus

Humorguy_basic LeeTheAgent: Sierra HAVE released updated XP compatible versions of the Police Quest, Kings Quest and Space Quest series compilations. And they are only around $30 too! If we want more updated classics, we need to buy at least one of these updated series, I got the Police Quest one and have been having just as much fun all over again! -----Thanks for posting this, the second i get avail cash i purchasing Kings Quest, Police Quest, and some other goodies on found on Amazon.com Long live adventure games with story and enviroment detail!

zintarr
zintarr

I am SHOCKED!!! GS had a real article for once :)

flarisek
flarisek

She's a legend. I hope she continues bringing her enthralling storytelling and vision to videogames. Beast Within is still one of the most memorable games I've played.

Autolycus
Autolycus

i would purchase whatever this woman puts out. The art style and enviroments she creates are insane. Now if someone would just get back to adventure games like Under a Killing Moon and Kings Quest. Its going to take these type of games(with charming enviroments and great artwork and great stories) to revive PC gaming. Honestly, if they put it out on a console, and i could use a mouse, i would rather play in my living room where it is easier to set a mood for a title then having to load it on a PC....

cjcr_alexandru
cjcr_alexandru

Adventure games... Nowadays I only play casual adventure games, cause there hasn't been released any "serious" adventure game in the last... 6 months or more. Let's hope Gray Matter will fill that hole.

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

LeeTheAgent: Sierra HAVE released updated XP compatible versions of the Police Quest, Kings Quest and Space Quest series compilations. And they are only around $30 too! If we want more updated classics, we need to buy at least one of these updated series, I got the Police Quest one and have been having just as much fun all over again! :) Also, Jane's right, we need to expand the PC gaming market to bring in more genres and more different types of gamers, then adventure gaming and other lost genres are bound to make a comeback! :)

LeeTheAgent
LeeTheAgent

I had no idea she made Inspector Parker! That is one incredibly addicting game! And to think it was created by the designer of the GK series! Gabriel Knight 3 is one of my favorite games of all time... I remember I almost missed a plane trip cause I was almost at the end of it... that story blew me away! Here's hoping there will be more games like that and Grim Fandango. At least there are new adventures games coming out for the DS... hopefully one day Lucasarts or Sierra will make compilations of their old games for it.

Planeforger
Planeforger

I'm 17, and I'd much rather play Gray Matter than Halo :P. So... I guess a Wii version of this game is potentially possible (it's the most likely candidate, console-wise). If that happens, the adventure genre could very well be revived - the makers of the Sam and Max Episodes also mentioned that they wanted to port their games to the Wii, and we've already got games like Hotel Dusk popping up on the DS...

Stiler
Stiler

You should be able to play the GK series on XP (just google the name and XP shouldn't take too long). I had a chance to get Jane's autograph from Leipzig and a sweet Grey Matter post card. I can't wait to see what the game develops into. There are still quite a few good adventure games out there being made and developed. It is just that a lot of them don't get backed by huge publishers and thus don't get all the advertising of juggernaut AAA titles backed by the likes of EA or such. I'd suggest www.justadventure.com or mysterymanor.net for anyone looking to keep up with Adventure games these days. Like jane, Syberia was probally one of my favorite adventure games in the past few years, along with Fahrenheit which was released just last year or so.

GhaleonQ
GhaleonQ

*would easily take the dregs of Jensen's work in lieu of the Halo series*

YukoAsho
YukoAsho

Nice to see Ms. Jensen thinks Halo isn't as brainy as the point and click fare she produces. Here's an idea, Jensen, how about adding some, oh I don't know, GAMEPLAY to your games? That'll help'em sell.

TGammet
TGammet

The "tweaking" I had read about was far from doable for me anyway. I guess you can get them to run at an acceptable level, but I meant more along the lines of working out-of-the-box.

Tudio
Tudio

adventure games would be perfect for the Wii

anarchicgoth
anarchicgoth

could be cool- guess we will have to wait and see, hopefully it comes to Xbox 360!

Raeldor
Raeldor

GK was awesome... loved those games. Adventure gaming needs a good shot in the arm.

makemeweak
makemeweak

I never played the GK series, but we could use more adventure games on PC and consoles.

stinkybacon
stinkybacon

Gabriel Knight 1 and 2 were both amazing games ( I never had the chance to play 3), and they both do still play on Windows XP, they just need some tweaking. I was recently able to find copies of both on ebay. There's a lack of good adventure games these days. Definitely will be keeping tabs on this one.

viberooni
viberooni

Nice Q&A, looking forward to hearing more about Grey Matter. I'm surprised she hasn't considered DS development more. Those Gabriel Knight games all bring back great memories, GK2 in particular. Bavarian history, Wagner and lycanthropy - so good.

fattyxboxbutt
fattyxboxbutt

I think adventure games will make a comeback on consoles. The console market is trying very hard to get non-gamers interested in next-gen systems, but for the most part people who dont already play games are intimidated by a controller with 10 buttons combined with the complexity and speed of most action games today. An adventure game with a pace that moves only as fast as the player does along with a strong engrossing story is just the thing to get these people playing games and telling their friends that they're missing out on the great interactive stories of this genre. If you could siphon a quarter of the people obsessed with "Lost" into adventure games, the genre would explode.

gord_mose
gord_mose

I think Xbox Live Arcade would be a great place for a short adventure game.

1SleepyGit
1SleepyGit

Never got the chance to play GK2 or GK3 but GK1...gorgeous game, and loved the characters! And she's right, Monkey Island is a true classic! Played them as a teenager, but saw that most people my age prefered shooters and platformers, so I guess I was one of the exceptions that proved the rule. I really miss the age when PCs' main genre was the adventure game, now it all seems to be FPSes and RTSes, and the types of gamers who play on PC have changed. *sigh* I must be getting old...

TGammet
TGammet

I love Adventure games, but never played any of Jensen's. That's a real shame of mine! I really want to play them, but GK1 and GK2 don't work on XP machines as far as I know. I wish they would re-release them in updtated compatible versions like they have recently with their Quest games and like UbiSoft did with the 10th Anniversary of Myst & Riven. I want to play GK1 & 2 so badly, and they just won't work.

mistergladstone
mistergladstone

I miss the days when PCs were used mostly for adventure games... back before LucasArts became nothing but Star Wars games (anyone remember Day of the Tentacle?), and before Sierra became that company that did nothing but action action action! Halflife is swell and all, but I really miss the humor, and longevity of plot-based adventure titles. The Gabriel Knight games and Leisure Suit Larry games (pre-Magna Cum Laude) were what I grew up on, and I long for a valid return.

blacktorn
blacktorn

Never herd of it...i was a fan of adventure games,my fav is beneath a steel sky..nothing comes close to that game imo...

bysmitty
bysmitty

The GK series is very near and dear to my heart. Jane is a master storyteller. I'm very much looking forward to Grey Matter and all her future projects. Thank you for the interview Gamespot. ...bysmitty

Generic_Dude
Generic_Dude

Whoa, I haven't heard Gabriel Knight in a long time... it would definitely be nice to stroll through Nawlins and kick some vampire ass again.

nmandude
nmandude

meh, never played those games before...

madribub
madribub

Gabriel Knight...KQ6...classics.