Gray Matter was announced once previously, back in 2003, with DreamCatcher as the game's publisher. But the latest project by acclaimed game designer Jane Jensen was later cancelled, and only recently revived by dtp/ANACONDA and Hungarian developer Tonuzaba Entertainment. The author of the Gabriel Knight series flew from the United States to Leipzig to personally show her new game to the public at the Games Convention. And while there wasn't enough new information for a detailed preview, we still want to share what we've seen and learned so far.
Let's establish the basics up front: Gray Matter is a traditional, mouse-controlled, 2D point-and-click adventure. Backgrounds are prerendered, while characters will be animated in real-time 3D. Unfortunately, there was not much to actually see of the game at the press conference. The game is still in its pre-production concept phase right now, so the material shown at the conference was limited to artwork and a simple storyboard movie, which covered the scenes from the introductory sequence.
What we did see looked like a mystery adventure in classic Jane Jensen style. The female protagonist, a street musician named Samantha Everett, is out of luck and travelling through Europe on her motorcycle. One rainy day, she becomes the assistant of Dr. David Styles, an eccentric neurobiologist who has lived in an old mansion since his wife's death. Players will control both Samantha and Styles throughout the game, taking turns chapter-by-chapter, like in the Gabriel Knight series.
Jensen promised a "fresh approach" to the mystery theme instead of the tired clichés of the '90s (like in the X-Files). She also indicated that the game will be quite extensive, claiming "I just can't write simple stories. This is not within my capacities."
The plot centers on the scientist and his strange ideas about the human mind, posing questions like: "What is reality?", "How do we perceive the world?", and "What powers lie in the human mind?" For answers, Sam must find six students as guinea pigs and bring them to the "Dread Hill" mansion as one of her first tasks. There Styles will perform several brainwave experiments on the subjects. The hypothesis behind the experiments is that just by thinking about a certain task, you can get the same results as carrying it out physically. The first part of the game will be mainly about these experiments. Later, Samantha will also try to discover the secrets concealed in this mansion by the crazy neurobiologist.
The game will play out in a semi-linear fashion using the "string of pearls" model that was common at Sierra in the early days. At the beginning of each chapter, there are many different tasks that can be solved in any order. When all tasks are solved, the end of the chapter will be triggered.
The puzzles will be quite classic, as inventory and logic puzzles will represent the main challenge of the adventure. The difficulty will be modest, so that genre newcomers should have a chance, too. There won't be any hard puzzles right at the beginning of the game, Jensen said, but there will be more complex puzzles later on, fully integrated into the storyline so that players will be motivated instead of discouraged. Thankfully, there won't be any gameplay annoyances like pixelhunting in Gray Matter.
Along with the puzzles, there will also be some minigames for the unique abilities of Sam and David that can be controlled via special menus. Sam can do several magic tricks while the neurobiologist is able to perform hypnosis. If there will be death sequences in the game, they will only occur in the finale.
There should also be good news for fans of the Gabriel Knight soundtracks. If all goes well, Robert Holmes, composer and husband of Jensen, will likely provide the music for Gray Matter.
Although a traditional adventure, the game is aimed at the mass market. Jensen emphasized that interactive storytelling has been neglected for a long time, but that a strong market does exist for it, especially in Europe. Better yet, the story will be open for sequels. Gray Matter is not an episodic adventure, but if the first part sells well enough, sequels will definitely be considered.
According to dtp, the targeted release date of Gray Matter is the fourth quarter of 2007.
This article first appeared in German on Adventure-Treff, and has been translated and reprinted with permission.