Jane Jensen - the creator of the Gabriel Knight series - is back with an adventure aimed at an audience wider than the usual point-and-click fan.
"Monkey Island, King’s Quest - everything was very light and happy and comedic, and Gabriel Knight was really the first dark, serious, scary adventure game that came out."
Jane Jensen is back.
Jensen made her name on the 1993 point-and-click adventure Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, and as the adventure genre is resurging 20 years later she’s looking to use her new studio, Pinkerton Road, to keep that genre momentum going.
This year, in conjunction with Phoenix Online, Pinkerton Road will be putting out a from-the-ground-up remake of the first Gabriel Knight game as well as an original, modern third-person adventure called Moebius. Mobius was funded on Kickstarter in 2012 as much on the strength of Jensen’s name as on the promise of an adventure styled similarly to Telltale or David Cage titles, with sensibilities intended to satisfy long-time fans of the genre.
“I think I was fortunate to get a name when I made the Gabriel Knight games in the ‘90s, and one of the reasons why is the first Gabriel Knight was one of the first PC games that was scary and dark,” Jensen explains.
Previously - think about it, it’s like Monkey Island, King’s Quest - everything was very light and happy and comedic, and Gabriel Knight was really the first dark, serious, scary adventure game that came out. It was good timing, and that sorta made my initial reputation.”
That doesn’t mean that the path Jensen needed to take in order to make these new games - and while this Gabriel Knight is a remake it, like Lorne Lanning’s remake of the original Oddworld, is a new construction built in Unity and will be new in a lot of ways - was paved with gold or lined with venture capitalists throwing money at her.
But there is something unique about the present day that made this happen, Jensen says: Kickstarter.
“Really it was the Kickstarter movement that enabled us to say, ‘OK, we’re going to start our own studio and we’re going to do real adventure games again.’ ”
It was a long time coming. For a significant chunk of this millenium Jensen mostly worked on casual games, not the most glorious task for a name-developer but staying within game development culture was likely key for her to be able to do what she’s doing now.
Though the Gabriel Knight remake is a 3D render with a 2D playstyle, Moebius is more “modern” in the sense that it looks AAA. It’s not as if 2D is dead - Daedalic has pumped out plenty of 2D adventures in the past few years, and Double Fine has made a pretty significant splash with Broken Age - but Jensen and co. are not making Moebius exclusively for the folks who played and enjoyed adventure games 20 years ago. They want it to appeal to a broader audience than that, and making an adventure that has the type of aesthetics that will be familiar and welcoming to players more firmly rooted in today may help with that.
"Walking Dead has been so successful that I think it has helped the adventure genre overall to re-emerge."
This is, after all, something that Telltale Games has been doing for a while, and it seems to have worked out well for them.
“I think Telltale has done an amazing job the last five years of just sticking to the adventure genre and saying this is what we’re going to do as a business, and making it successful when nobody thought it could be done,” Jensen says, referencing that dead period for adventures in the mid-aughts when she was predominantly finding work in the casual space even while Telltale began producing new titles for the ‘90s-rooted Sam & Max franchise.
But while Telltale has been proving new adventures are possible for a decade, it’s more recently that they also proved them to be viable, and even desirable, enough for it to become a larger movement again.
“Walking Dead has been so successful that I think it has helped the adventure genre overall to re-emerge,” Jensen said. “We’re just launching our first couple of new projects, and Moebius I think, I hope, is going to be a game worth talking about.”
What Telltale has done with The Walking Dead and other recent efforts that has given them that broader appeal is to emphasize a balance. Telltale games have puzzles and story and you would expect, and on top of that a tangible level of player agency and active participation in character relationships and quick-time-event-based action - they’re fully formed interactive experiences moreso than just games in which you do a single action over and over. Pinkerton Road is looking to include that same type of variety and balance in Moebius, in service of building a game with appeal that isn’t based on monotony.
“It’s got a very thick story in terms of the things you keep uncovering, layer after layer,” Jensen explains. “There’s a lot of relationship stuff in the story. But it looks - it’s got a modern edge to it, and there’s some action in it.
“I hope that it can capture a cross-gender audience and a broader audience than just the hardcore adventure gamer.”