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Jane Jensen: Back Home on Pinkerton Road header image
interview: Jane Jensen: Back Home on Pinkerton Road

With newfound determination to return to her old-school adventuring roots, Jane Jensen is going home – quite literally. But home is no longer quite where she left it, as the acclaimed adventure designer is now stepping outside of her comfort zone to make her dream happen. After many years spent largely out of the limelight, preferring to keep a low profile even as she was being lauded as one of the finest interactive storytellers of all time, these days Jensen is more visible than ever as she kickstarts her own adventure game development studio.

The legendary designer behind such revered classics as King's Quest VI and the Gabriel Knight series needs no introduction in these parts, of course. Post-Sierra, her extensive work on titles like Deadtime Stories and the Women's Murder Club is perhaps less heralded in adventure circles, but no less influential in driving the casual game market ever towards more story-oriented experiences to broaden their appeal. Her latest full-fledged adventure game offered another exemplary Jane Jensen storyline, but Gray Matter was held back by delays and production issues that somewhat disappointed not only players, but Jensen herself.

Jane Jensen
Arriving at something of a crossroads in her career, Jensen knew that if she was to continue doing what she does best (namely: making quality adventure games), it was time to seize full control over the design process by forming her own development studio, based out of her farm on Pinkerton Road. Or perhaps not full control, opting instead for a public funding option called Community Supported Gaming to finance her initial project(s). Based on an agricultural model popular near her Pennsylvania home, CSG allows backers to support and participate in the creation of Jane's upcoming adventures. Already voted on by fans, first up will be Moebius, a "metaphysical sci-fi thriller" along the lines of Gabriel Knight, with the promise of more to come, including the newly-announced "Mystery Game X".

It's exciting times for Jane Jensen, then, though perhaps a little nail-biting until her fundraising campaign finally reaches its target goal. It's exciting times for her many fans, too, eager to see what the master storyteller will cook up without the constraints of publisher interference while returning to the 2D format that worked so well for her back in the genre's heyday. It's also a rare opportunity to delve more deeply into the mind of the developer herself, as she opens up publicly more than ever before. We recently had an in-depth chat with Jane, who had plenty to share about her design philosophies and personal experiences both past and present.

And stay tuned following the interview for a special treat of additional never-before-seen materials, including "design bible" samples, storyboards, blueprints, and concept sketches.


Adventure Gamers: Your Kickstarter page mentioned that you have a bunch of adventure game ideas that have been “floating around in your head for years.” How long ago did you start thinking about Moebius?

Jane Jensen: Moebius came to me last summer. I was on a flight and I was trying to think of new game series ideas as part of work I’d contracted to do for a company. But when Moebius came to me, it was like – wow! As a writer, you learn to really appreciate those ‘big ideas’ because they don’t come along very often. When I wrote up the idea for Moebius, I realized I didn’t want to give the IP to another company. So it ended up NOT being one of the games I submitted to them. I selfishly hung on to it.

AG: You’ve compared the game to Gabriel Knight as well as your novel, Dante’s Equation. Did you purposefully set out to create a GK-like game? How will the main character, Malachi Rector, and the world he lives in be different than GK’s?

Jane: I didn’t deliberately set out to create something like Gabriel Knight. But a lot of my work is in that “metaphysical thriller” category, like GK, Gray Matter, Millennium Rising and Dante’s Equation. Malachi Rector is more of a scholar than Gabriel, he’s a lot more urbane. He can be a flashy dresser. But he has some deep scars and problems, too. The universe is a touch more sci-fi. But it doesn’t have the kind of creatures, like werewolves, that the GK universe has.

AG: How much work had gone into Moebius before it was announced as part of the CSG?

Jane: I have a rough story outline, but in terms of production, it was just in concept phase, like the other two concepts we presented. So, not much!

AG: You’ve stated that the art will be 2D graphic novel-style, like an updated Sins of the Fathers. How did you decide on this? Was it entirely your vision that you took to an artist, or did the artist help you develop the art style?

Jane: The concept art was created according to my direction. I’ve been wanting to do a true 2D game again and I think Moebius is perfect for that. For one thing, I want to be able to have a lot of cinematic camera angles so simpler, more graphic backgrounds mean I can have more backgrounds in the same time/budget.

AG: Some concept art has been released – can you tell us how that came to be? What did you tell the artist you wanted, and how did the two of you get to the end result? Also, why did you choose that particular scene, of the girl running opposite an alternate reflection, to represent Moebius?

Jane's vision for Moebius concept art in development

Jane: When I’m working with an artist to create a piece, whether it’s a logo or concept art or a game screen, I prepare a spec, which is a kind of mind dump with visual reference images. [See PDF sample scene from Anglophile Adventure]. And then the artist will start sending me images, usually once a day, so I can see the progress and give suggestions and feedback throughout the process. For the Moebius concept piece, the reflection in the water hints at the main theme of the game, which I can’t reveal without spoiling it!

AG: One of your reasons for starting Pinkerton Road was to have more control over which games you get to make. In light of this, why did you allow people to vote on which game the studio would make first? How did it feel to put that decision in the hands of the fans?

Jane: Well, honestly I stacked the deck on that one. It was a Sam-like maneuver. Because I really want to do, and intend to do, all three games. [See PDF concept document for each CSG-nominated adventure.] We let people vote because we thought it would be a fun way to get buzz going around the campaign, and also it demonstrated one of our core ideas, that our CSG members will be our focus group, so to speak. I had a pretty good guess which concept would be voted for and I was right. But I was pleased that Anglophile Adventure actually did pretty well, too, because that’s a game I really want to make that I didn’t think my fans would be too excited about. It’s more of a departure. But it wasn’t right for our first title.

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