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.

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