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Adam D. Bormann interview

With the supply of third-person adventures dwindling to nearly nothing last year, many placed much of their hopes and anticipation on Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned. Gabriel Knight fans all over the world rejoiced over its release late last year. Gabriel Knight 3 is the latest installment in Jane Jensen's award winning mystery-adventure series, and is the first Gabriel Knight to utilize real-time rendered, 3D graphics.

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing the Adam D. Bormann, Design Assistant on GK3. Here is what he had to tell us about the making of the game, the public reaction, and the possibility of another installment of Gabriel Knight.

What were your responsibilities as Design Assistant on Gabriel Knight 3?

I started at Sierra as the Sierra Studios webmaster (okay, it was Sierra Northwest at the time, but basically the same thing) and I was sitting with the GK team. I memorized the design backwards and forwards, and knew GK1 and 2 very well. So when someone on the team needed info about the design, or the previous games, or needed to find out what French currency looked like, or whatever, they would come to me. This part of my job continued throughout development. After a few months, I get a chance to move full-time onto the team as production assistant. I was originally hired to do "data wrangling," so I was setting up the room code, setting up cameras, hooking up messages to items in the rooms, etc. When we had most of that squared away, Jane was ready to start going through the dialogue and looking for things that were missing or places where dialogue was needed. So I moved into more of a design position and helped her with this. I wrote dialogue for a lot of the things that Gabriel or Grace "looked at" or "thought about." Jane later reviewed the dialogue and made changes, or left it if it worked. When that was done, Scott Bilas had the basics of his scripting language in place, so I started scripting sequences in the game, and hooking up more of the rooms as they were finished. I spent most of the rest of the production process scripting, or dealing with the different data files. I ended up coding (or recoding) all the HTML files for the SIDNEY search, writing the manual, assisting with one of the voice-over recording sessions, hooking up the points system, and hundreds of other tasks of this nature. Also, from my days as the webmaster, I knew all of the marketing people pretty well, so they would come to me for info on the game, or screenshots, or whatever they needed.

Gabriel Knight 3 is finally on the store shelves, so how does it feel? What do you plan to do the coming weeks?

It's a strange feeling. For me, everything was in the building of the game. The last two years have been the best years, and the hardest years, of my life. All I can really say is that I hope that people are enjoying the game. In the coming weeks, I'll be working on projects in my new position as Associate Producer with Sierra Attractions. Currently, I'm designing a new game and working on a few other projects.

What has the public response been to the controversial storyline involving Jesus Christ?

I have been surprised that the controversial subjects haven't really been brought up in many of the reviews. I have seen some mention of it on the message boards, but most people have been very accepting of the plotline. It's a work of fiction, and people seem to be accepting that and not dwelling the "controversy" of it. One person on the development team left the project, and another chose not to join the project, because of the plot. But as most people who have played the game have discovered, we treat the controversial elements with respect and care. GK3 is not meant to be shockingly objectionable or offensive, it's just meant to be an engaging and exciting story. Jane took an incredible real-life mystery and turned it into a brilliant work of fiction in the same way she did with The Beast Within and Millennium Rising.

Gabriel Knight 3 carries an enormous amount of pressure, as many critics point it as the last, best hope for the adventure genre. Will Gabriel Knight 3 really unleash a new wave of adventure games?

I really wish they wouldn't do that. When we started this project, no one was saying that adventure games were dead. We set out to make the best mystery game that we could. Mystery games are a sub-genre, just like mystery books. Not everyone is going to be interested in mystery adventure games. So why is the salvation of the genre forced onto a game that is not really meant for *everyone*? I'd love it if everyone enjoyed GK3, but it's like asking a movie like Barton Fink to save independent film. I love the movie, a lot of people love the movie. But it's not something that everyone across the board is going to enjoy, even if they are big fans of independent film.

One of the most striking characteristics of the game is its real-time 3D engine. Are you satisfied with the results graphics-wise?

I really like the look of the game. I also love the free-floating camera. It really gives the player the opportunity to see everything in a room. I was able to see the game at every point in it's production, so I saw the advances, fixes and changes. I think it looks great, because it's so much better than what we originally started with. It's hard for me to look at another real-time 3D game and compare the graphics to GK3, because I know what we went through, and all the issues that we tackled. The other games probably did the same thing, but with different priorities. Most real-time 3D games, like SWAT 3 or Quake, have a set of standard animations that are used everywhere in the game. We had thousands of unique animations, many that used only once in the entire game. It's the nature of telling a progressing story.

How have people responded to this 3D incarnation of Gabriel Knight?

Reviews (professional and player) have been mixed, but I think that the majority of people really enjoyed the game. Even some of the die-hard FMV/Dean Erickson fans have told me how much they loved GK3, and how surprised they were by how well we managed to make a great game in 3D. There are people who still wish we had done FMV, but they've been saying that for years now, so I didn't expect that we'd convert large numbers of that group. As long as they play the game, and enjoy it, I'm happy. At this point, if it were up to me (and it isn't), GK4 would probably be in 3D as well. Maybe we could do something similar to SWAT 3, where they have actual faces mapped onto 3D characters, and then we'd have FMV cutscenes or something. We'll talk more about this when Jane finishes Dante's Equation.

Were you forced to cut anything, or give up certain features?

There were a few things cut, but most of them were cut fairly early on. There was one room cut out of the end sequences, due to engine restrictions (it was just too big!). There was also one scene, which would have required two extra characters, that Jane rewrote so that the artists wouldn't have to build them.

Tell us more about the scripting language used to create the Gabriel Knight 3.

Scott Bilas joined the project in February of 98 as the Engine Architect. At that point, all the game was being hard-coded, which would have meant that to test something you would have had to reprogram it, recompile the whole program, test it, and then try again. The programmers looked at that and decided we really needed a scripting language if we were going to finish the game in a reasonable amount of time. So, Scott rewrote a lot of the front-end to the game, which included many incredible features, including the scripting language "Sheep." Scott and I worked together on many of the original features that would be included in the language, and later, Jessica Tams joined the team and led the scripting effort. We had a few other scripters on the project at various times, but most of the final game was scripted by Jessica and myself.

The language is similar to JavaScript, but with many functions specific to games of this type. Each scene where you have two characters talking back and forth, or a character performing an action, has been carefully scripted (and rescripted). The other place that the scripting language was used was in all the logic of the game (what topics are available when, what characters are in which rooms, etc). With it, we were able to script when a character said lines, what expression they had on their faces, what they were physically doing, what the other people in the room were doing, whether Larry was wearing his hat, what props were visible, when the music changed, cut to different cinematic cameras, change the score, walk characters around, set flags, etc.

What went into the design of the soundtrack for the latest Gabriel Knight?

David Henry did some incredible work on the soundtrack. Robert Holmes supplied David with some really great themes, and David wrote much of the music himself. Most of it is broken into chunks, a minute long or shorter. These chunks work together anyway you play them, so instead of endlessly looping the same music over and over, the soundtrack is always changing, always different. The soundtrack changes when specific things happen, and is all timed to the length of the action.

How did you feel when you found out you were to work on Gabriel Knight 3?

I was elated! The chance to work on a Gabriel Knight game was literally a dream come true, in many ways. Not only was I helping with design and writing on a computer game (my life's mission), I got to work on my favorite series of games, and I got to work with my favorite game designer. And I got a chance to work on a game with my college roommate (which we had been planning to do for years).

What was it like to work with Jane Jensen?

Jane was wonderful! I respected her a lot as a designer and writer before I worked with her, and I have even more respect for her now. She's intelligent, entertaining, and the gears of her mind are always turning. She's very detail oriented, and very energetic. I was always amazed at how she could keep all of the parts of her projects organized in her head. We didn't always see eye-to-eye on design issues or dialogue, but it's her game, and I understand the stress and responsibility of having your name on a product. I would work with her again in an instant.

Was Gabriel Knight 3 your first project?

Before I started on GK3, I was the webmaster for Sierra Studios, so I was working on the websites for projects that were currently in development such as Mask of Eternity, Leisure Suit Larry's Casino, and a few others that were canceled. I was working with the people working on those projects, and created/updated sites for them, but I wasn't really working on the games. Before that, like most aspiring designers, I spent much of my time working on game designs in my free time. I spent over three solid years designing my pride and joy. It was sitting on my shelf at work for 2 years, and actually helped get me a job as a writer on a game...two weeks before the project was canceled. But in answer to your question: Gabriel Knight 3 was my first published game project.

So how did you become interested in game design?

I started fairly young. When I was ..oh, say 9 years old, I used to redesign all of the arcade games I was played. I loved Zaxxon, and really wanted to design a sequel for it. So I would sit down and draw out levels and bad guys for my sequel to Zaxxon. When I was a little older I started, literally, dreaming computer games, and designing those. My parents brought home an Apple II when I was 11. A few weeks later, I started programming my own text adventure games in Apple Basic, most of my work concentrated on my masterpiece, "The Lost Unicorn." Of course, I'd get a little bit done, look around, and there was no one to show it to. So I stopped programming, and just started writing/sketching out designs in notebooks. This continued until high school, when I decided I was going to have to do it professionally, or go insane. During high school, I formed a "company" called "Morphware Associates," which consisted of around 10 other like-minded kids. Of course, we were missing one of the key components, a programmer. So, we would sit around discussing different game ideas, and then ended up playing games for "research." When I went to college, I formed a second company,"Black Tulip Entertainment," this time it was just me designing games . After college, my roommate and I actually started developing a game. We had a fairly detailed design, and he had started programming the tool set for the game. Of course, we both got jobs at game companies, bringing the BTE chapter to an end.

Gabriel Knight 3 has just been released and there is already talk of a Gabriel Knight 4 on the message boards. Will the fans ever be satisfied?

When you're dealing with an on-going story, like Jane is with Gabriel Knight, it's hard to satisfy people for long. If we do our job correctly, the fans will always want to know what happens next. In many ways, the end of GK3 sets up the beginning of the next story. It isn't surprising to me that people who have finished the game want to know what happens next; I want to know what happens next!

 

Community Comments

Latest comments (2 total)

“I wrote dialogue for a lot of the things that Gabriel or Grace “looked at” or “thought about.” Jane later reviewed the dialogue and made changes, or left it if it worked.”

Ah, so that’s the reason for a lot of those inane “thinking” comments made by Gabriel.  Frankly, I never felt they were an accurate reflection of Jane’s writings of the character we’ve all grown accustomed to.  Maybe they appeared humorous, with a dry wit, on paper… But, I suspect, ultimately, it was Tim Curry’s delivery of these lines that ruined the intended effect.

Apr 17, 2009

I’ve never read this interview before today. Great insight!

Jan 12, 2009
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