In the wake of my reviews of Cognition and my own personal interest in adventure games, I was recently given the opportunity to submit a series of question to legendary game writer and director Jane Jensen. Being the huge fan that I am I obviously jumped at the chance, not just to find out about her up and coming game Moebius, but also get catch a glimpse into how she creates such interesting stories and truly compelling characters. For my own personal interests I wanted to know how her creative process worked, where she drew inspiration from and how she really felt about the direction gaming had gone and the hype around some of the characters she’d created, and she very kindly obliged me. Below are the questions I asked, her answers and a few extra added comments (in italics) that occurred to me while reading though it. I hope you find it as interesting as I have.
I know it’s a strange one to ask, mostly because the answer may be abstract, but what is your writing process? Do you jump awake at four in the morning suddenly bursting with an idea that if it doesn’t hit the page might disappear? Or do you think it out, let the idea grow in your mind and build the whole story before you start? Or do you take a more clinical approach, deciding “I think I want to write a comedy next,” then start researching it?
I generally get the ‘big idea’ first, something I know I want to turn into a story. And then I start sketching out ideas. Sometimes I get specific key scenes in my head, almost verbatim—like maybe a few significant moments and the ending. And then the trick is to fill out a plot around that, which is often more craft than inspiration. During the actual writing, I often go back and forth between working on the meta level (plotting) and writing actual dialogue (as it hits me I like to get it down before I lose it).
How did you get involved with Phoenix Online? I know that you helped with the story for Cognition and Raleigh did the voice acting for it, but how did you guys first connect?
They contacted me when they were still working on The Silver Lining and I met with a few of them. Then later, they asked me to consult on Cognition.
Again, for those who don’t know, Raleigh Holms is Jane’s step daughter, and the voice of Erika Reed in Cognition and is the lead singer of the Scarlet Furies, which her father composer Robert Holms is also in.
I know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hated Sherlock Holmes with a passion, but had to keep him going because of the fans and pressure from his publishers. What’s your relationship with Gabriel Knight? Obviously he’s got a huge following among the adventure crowd as a legend, but do you like him as much as everyone else does or would you rather people got as excited and connected to David Styles, Samantha Everett or Malachi Rector?
I would love to write more Gabriel. He’s a great character. But, yes, it would be great if people can connect as strongly to Malachi.
What put you onto Kickstarter? And by that I mean, what kinda gave you the push to say “I’m going to do this my way from now on and I need a way to do this, lets crowd fund.”
Robert and I were heading towards doing our own studio as early as two autumns ago when we started Lola and Lucy. But we hadn’t planned to crowd fund it, just grow it organically. But by January, when we saw how well other adventure games had done on Kickstarter, it seemed hopeful that we could have a successful campaign and jump into adventure games right away instead of having to work our way to that goal with smaller projects.
Do you enjoy playing your games as much as making them? Or after a long day at work can you not even look at a computer?
Playing my own games is a great thing to do for a living—and I enjoy that when I’m working. On my own time I like to get away from the computer and get outside for a bit—or read. I need that influx of inspiration.
How do you come up with names for you character? Where did Samantha Everett and Malachi Rector get their names?
For Sam, she’s a tough character and so I wanted a name that could be boyish and yet feminine too. Everett is the name of a city north of Seattle, where we lived at the time. The name Rector is an old German name and close to my mother’s maiden name (Rarick). Malachi’s father is German and his mother was Spanish. Then Malachi just struck me as rather old fashioned and unusual (and biblical) and suited to his sort of prophetic meta purpose in the story. His nickname is Kye (pronounced like ‘eye’), though he doesn’t let many people call him that.
With the success of The Walking Dead, companies like Wadjet Eye Games and, of course, the success of Cognition, how do you feel about this apparent resurgence of adventure games? And how much of that is because of crowd funding like Kickstarter?
We’ve yet to see the Kickstarter games really launch and play out, but I’m glad to see more openness again to the genre. I think the success of the casual game market has had a lot to do with it. I’m hopeful!
Well I’m definitely buying a copy, so that’s one guaranteed sale!
You made one of the first, if not the first game with a full voice cast. How do you cast for your characters? Do you have a specific voice in your head that you try to find? Or do you think of people who might be similar to the characters and let them find the voice?
We create casting sheets with some basic ideas and then listen to lots of auditions. I do often know what I want, and sometimes you find exactly that, but sometimes listening to the auditions change your mind. For Malachi, initially I wanted a South African accent, but we just couldn’t find the right actor who could do that and I loved Owen Thomas, who we ended up casting. He does more of a British accent.
So here’s a little about me, I’m South African born, Afrikaans mother, English Father, lived there until I was sixteen and then started travelling to different countries around the world, and I currently live in England… *Sigh*…
What are the chances you’re going to tell me what Mystery game X is about?
I’m afraid to ask this, because I’m scared you’ll say no, but Gabriel Knight 4? Something that is happening? Going to happen? Maybe?
I have hopes for the future. But it’s not easy given the fact that Activision holds the license.
I know people have asked you a few times about writing more novels, and you’ve said it take a lot of time and effort and that in comparison it not really as rewarding, you don’t get the same kind of feedback as you have with your games, but it makes me wonder how different writing a game is to writing a book?
Actually, I am more interested in writing pure fiction again. I’ve been messing with some short stories, just as a kind of stress reliever. So I’d like to do another novel in the next few years.
But to answer your question, a game is quite different because you have to structure it for a limited location budget and, of course, interactivity. It’s more like a screenplay too, because it’s all dialogue, not narrative description like a novel (and I like that, because dialogue is so much easier for me to write at this point). But the huge thing is that with a novel, it’s just you and, eventually, your editor. With a game, there’s a huge team involved and you’re working on a big group project. So the daily experience is totally different.
Now I don’t want to wreck the game for myself, as I’ve been looking forward to playing it for a while, but does Moebius have any kind of choice system affecting in game events? Does the way the player plays the game affect the story in any major way - different endings that kind of thing, or is it more about playing through a story and solving puzzles along the way?
There are areas of the game where you can make the wrong decisions and that leads to a less than desirable outcome and a reset point to go back and try again (though never so far back as to be a pain). I felt it was important to *allow* the user to make the wrong choices instead of just having Malachi go the right way automatically. So yes, there is more of that in this game than in my previous games.
For people who missed the Kickstarter and aren’t CSG members, where can they buy Moebius and Mystery Game X when they come out? Can they get it direct from Pinkerton Road, or will it be available in places like Amazon? Can we expect to see these games on shelves? And more specifically where can I get a boxed version of these games?
It will be available at retail, of course, both online and, hopefully, in stores. We’re still working out the distribution details, but yes, you will be able to buy the boxed game on Amazon.
With the current but hopefully changing trend for an endless parade of realistic shooters and MMOs, how do you feel about the way the game industry has changed since you got involved?
For me, I just would like to see there be a wider selection of games available in more genres, because not everyone likes to play the same thing. So the growth of casual games has been great as it’s reopened things like the puzzle genre and lite adventure. I think adventure games coming back (at least somewhat) is part of that acknowledgement that there are other types of gamers out there. For many years we were really stuck with a choice of shooter #1 or shooter #2.
How did you come up with the story of Moebius? Which is to say, what inspired the story for this game?
I was on a plane and I was trying to think of new concepts for ‘paranormal mystery’ type games to pitch to a publisher I was working with at the time. I had the idea for Moebius—which has to do with patterns repeating in time and various groups trying to catalogue and predict these patterns—and I just really liked it. I decided to keep the idea to myself (ha) and started fleshing it out. I’m sure it was inspired in part by the research work I did for my novel “Dante’s Equation”, which involved a lot of particle physics and mysticism. It’s just a different slant on what I did in Dante.
Thank you! Jane
No, thank YOU, Jane. Given that you wrote one of the archetypal heroes of my head, a character I connected with so completely that 20 years later I’m still trying to be a writer; I still drink more coffee than I perhaps should and dream of visiting New Orleans. Getting the chance to ask you some questions is a real honour for me, so again thank you.