Gaming Guru Jane Jensen: There’s a Yen for Adventure

Adventure games, which play out much like an interactive story, havehad an adventure in their own right. These games peaked in popularityduring the late 1980s to the mid-1990s but in recent years have beenin decline.

When action and online role-playing games gained mass market appeal,story became secondary in many cases.

However, story-driven adventures could be making a comeback.

Jane Jensen, game designer of the popular and critically acclaimedGabriel Knight series in the 1990s, is back with Moebius:Empire Rising for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X platforms. It tells the story of antique dealer Malachi Rector, who becomes embroiled ina layered mystery that takes the player on a journey around the world.

Moebius:Empire Rising has been described as the spiritual successor to the Gabriel Knightseries. Yet, while Gabriel Knight was developed and published bySierra On-Line (now Sierra Entertainment), Jensen turned to Kickstarter toraise the funding to develop Moebius.

This release could help a new audience discover and take part invirtual exploits that involve more than running and gunning. In thispodcast, Jensen tells TechNewsWorld how a new generation of gamers might be ready totake part in the adventure.

Listen to the podcast (20:02 minutes).

Here are some excerpts:

TechNewsWorld: Adventure gaming seems to be growing in Asia, but ithit its peak in the United States back in the 1990s. Is this at all odd toyou, given that movies and TV shows are dominated by adventure-drivenplotlines?

Jane Jensen: About 20 years ago, adventure games were the main gametype on the PC. At that time, the processors on the PC were fairly slow,so you had the slower games on the PC, and then people who wanted toplay action and sports games went to the arcade in the mall.

When the processors got fast enough to actually play action games onthe PC, it just took over the market. It is unfortunate, mainly thatwe’ve just had such a limited variety in the gaming industry for thepast 20 years. It’s been very focused on a young male audience withaction and RPGs.

Those are all great, but I think it would be nice if we had a widervariety; it is like if all the movies from Hollywood were TheTerminator. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is nice to havesome click flicks in the mix.

TNW: We’re starting to see adventure gaming making a comeback. Areother mediums spurring interest in adventure games?

Jensen: I don’t think so. What has helped lately is that the audienceis asking for it. There have been some Kickstarter projects that have donevery well.

TNW: Casual games are also really big. It is impossible to get on aplane without seeing someone playing Temple Run.

Jensen: That’s right, and who is playing that game? It is the 68-yearold lady next to you, who is probably playing Word Spell. If you askthem if they were a gamer, they’d say ‘No, I don’t play computergames.’

Adventure games have a lot of appeal to that casual audience.

TNW: Last year, you started your new independent Kickstarter-fundedstudio. Are the major studios just not seeing that adventure gaming ismaking a comeback?

Jensen: I think they are still pondering it. We did talk to a majorpublisher last year who was interested in sort of doing a casualgame/hybrid, but they just aren’t sure. The thing is that it is areally different market.

If you look at the major publishers, they are used to doing (US)$20 million,$50 million games. It is really kind of like go big or go home. Thehidden-object market is $300,000, $400,000 per project.

TNW: A lot of shooters promise these big stories with these fantasticsetups — but they are mainly big on action but small on stories. Itfeels at times that the gamer is there for the ride. Do you thinkstorytelling can find a way into that?

Jensen: Some of that is a prejudice within those companies. I worked fora while with a really big company — I guess I shouldn’t say who itwas. I was basically hired to do a better story. I faced so muchresistance from the team leader and the project manager — literally hours worth of meetings where it would be ‘I don’t get it, why would we want a story?’

I ended up leaving that position because I felt I can’t accomplishwhat it was here that I was supposed to accomplish. It was the firsttime I really saw that sort of ‘People just want to shoot things, theywant action, we don’t want anything that will slow down the action.’

There is this sort of fear that people don’t have this attention span.A lot of companies are afraid, I think, of anything that gets in the wayof that.

TNW: Where does the next-generation technology fit in?

Jensen: We’re doing a remake of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers20th Anniversary and it is being done in Retina for iPad 3.Just looking at it is a little scary, as it is like looking at high-definition TV for the first time.

In terms of technology, I’m interested in the tablet market. I think is agood market for adventure games. It is very cross-genre — unlike, say,consoles, which tend to be more owned by younger guys. Tablets arevery cross-genre. There is a lot of potential there.

TNW: What is up next?

Jensen: We [recently released] our first big adventure game, Moebius, so that is really exciting. There is some good buzz out there, so I hopeit does well.

It is a very beautiful and very cinematic game. There is a ton ofcutscenes, and they are fully animated with cinematic cameras. I’mjust really excited about that because it is something I didn’t get tohave when I worked on Gray Matter, the last big adventure game that Idid.

The story is seven chapters, and it is kind of like peeling an onion asyou go down into this mystery.

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and fitness-related trends for more than a decade. His work has appeared in more than three dozen publications, and he is the co-author of Careers in the Computer Game Industry (Career in the New Economy series), a career guide aimed at high school students from Rosen Publishing. You can connect with Peter on Google+.

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