Aaron Conners and Chris Jones interview

Aaron Conners and Chris Jones
Aaron Conners and Chris Jones

By now we thought we'd be playing Three Cards to Midnight, the long (LONG!) awaited new game from Aaron Conners and Chris Jones. But the developers best known for their beloved Tex Murphy series have decided to make us wait a little longer than expected, and for good reason. Due in part to feedback on the preliminary version of the game (such as... say, our own preview), they decided to revisit key elements of the game's design in order to further enhance it in significant ways. We'll be taking a closer look at this new and improved version soon enough, but in the meantime, the delay gave us the perfect excuse to grab Conners and Jones for an in-depth discussion of their storied careers, both past, present, and soon-to-be-future.

Adventure Gamers: First of all, welcome back to the genre! It's been a long time since we've been able to talk about a new Chris Jones/Aaron Conners adventure. Which means we have a lot of ground to cover before we start pestering you for more info about the new game. So let's start with an easy one: what have you been up to since 1998? (Nothing quite like being asked to summarize a decade of your lives in a few short lines, is there?)

Chris Jones: You want to take this one, Aaron?

Aaron Conners: Let’s see…ten years in fifty words or less. [smile] Well, there was the whole “getting bought by Microsoft” thing. We worked with Mark Hamill on an ultimately unreleased game called “Black Pearl”, then another unreleased game, “Guardian”, which was tied into Steven Spielberg’s A.I. movie. Chris then left to run TruGolf, an offshoot of Access Software, making golf simulations, and I went to work for MS’s User Experience Group. In 2004, I joined Take Two as the Story Director for Amped 3. In 2006, I became a Creative Director at Ubisoft Montreal for the Shaun White Snowboarding game. Last year, I started my own consulting/design/writing business, WordPlay LLC, and my clients have included Ubisoft and Electronic Arts. Chris and I recently started the Big Finish production company to do our own new games.

AG: You’ve certainly both stayed busy in the industry since Overseer, then, but the last time many of our readers heard of you (literally) was in the six-episode Tex Murphy Radio Theater series. That was certainly an interesting concept, and a natural fit for Tex. You guys aren't old enough to have grown up on pre-TV radio shows, so how did that idea come about?

Chris: Well, we’d left some people hanging and for some reason they weren’t too happy about it. For the folks who were shocked and dismayed about Tex’s fate, we wanted to give them some comfort. Plus, it was fun for us to do and gave us an excuse to get back together with the actors and keep the possibility open of bringing them back in the future.

Aaron: At Microsoft, it was becoming apparent that we weren’t going to get an opportunity to do another Tex game in the foreseeable future. Chris and I are big fans of classic movies and TV and we felt like the Radio Theater concept would be a good fit for what we wanted to do. Plus, as long as we stuck to audio only, it was do-able.

AG: For those who haven't heard the episodes, the storyline is a continuation from the agonizing cliffhanger of Overseer but then managed to keep listeners hanging anyway, if not quite as dramatically. Were you good-naturedly toying with us, or was that a signal that you'd like to continue the tales of Tex and Chelsee at some point, either in game form or otherwise?

Aaron: There’s nothing we’d like more than to continue the tales of Tex and Chelsee! It was a blast going back into that world to do the TMRT episodes. As many of the fans have said, it was great just to hear Tex’s voice again. And to have the other characters back was fun. Plus, I’ve been sitting on the damn story since before we finished The Pandora Directive, so I was eager to spill some of the beans.

AG: If you do get the chance to continue, do you already have a plot outline in mind from the point you left off, or will you cross that bridge if you ever come to it?

Aaron: I don’t know about other writers, but I have so many ideas rattling around in my brain that most of my stories evolve right up until production. I always knew where Tex was headed, but the route to get there has changed a few times. Originally, the sequel to Pandora was going to be a game called “Trance”. Then, while working on Overseer, I came up some new ideas, so it expanded to a trilogy of games: “Chance”, “Polarity” and “Trance”.

Recently, though, we’ve started thinking about a new approach – maybe starting a Tex Murphy “series” of episodes, similar to what Telltale is doing with Sam & Max. Either way, we know where Tex is headed and how things will turn out in the end.

AG: I know there's a new game to talk about, but for the many Tex-starved fans, let's stick with the beloved PI for a while longer. The world of Tex Murphy is a refreshing blend of old and new, sci-fi and pulp noir, mystery and comedy. What influences contributed to the creation of this distinctive setting and style?

Aaron: Chris came up with the original setting. I think Martian Memorandum (which came before Under a Killing Moon) was set in 2036 or something. His vision was a lot more high-tech and sci-fi, though Tex’s office was always straight out of a noir film – definitely influenced a lot by Blade Runner. When I started collaborating with him on Killing Moon, I suggested adding a bit more of the classic detective elements, with the fedora, cigarettes, booze, ex-wife, etc. I always liked the Alphaville thing (the movie, not the ‘80s band). For the humor, we were both big fans of the Steve Martin noir comedy Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, so that was another big influence – more so for Killing Moon than the others.

Chris: There were two art forms that we loved: Sci-fi because you could take ideas and concepts and accept them as viable in the world you create, and the old Noir movies for their mood and atmosphere. Combining them gave us an interesting combination that was still believable, but gave us a lot of freedom to experiment.

Continued on the next page...

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Mar 18, 2009

The word casual bothers me… here is hoping for a NON DRM release!

Mar 19, 2009

The interview really raised my hopes again. I trust these two guys and the story they can create and, since it’s been months since the first announcement, now I really want the game!

Mar 19, 2009

I haven’t played any tex murphy games but I like that they mentioned how they’re focused on storyline. A good story is always fun and everybody likes it when the gameplay actually has something to do with the story.

Mar 19, 2009

I’m always disturbed when guys like these bash on the “frustrating” games of the past and call for easier games that are more about story. It seems to me they have it backwards. Adventure Games in the last 10 years have by and large been much easier, more hand-holding, yet haven’t resurged. Maybe gamers like the idea of a CHALLENGE, hence the term “game.” I can only speak for myself, but that was always what drew me to adventure games, the thought that I’d really be challenged to use my brain to solve problems. A good story and setting is obviously important, but I really think people are drawn to real challenge. Frustration can be fun, and makes it more rewarding when you figure it out. Games that don’t get me stuck at least once are the ones that I forget and never play again.

Jannik Jannik
Mar 19, 2009

The game market is bigger and more diverse than ever. In my opinion, there are definitely room for “challenging” games, “handholding” games, and everything in between Smile

Mar 22, 2009

Good interview. This game is a definite purchase for me since the Tex series is one of my favorites (dang Overseer won’t run on Vista though) and I have faith in their abilities.

Ingmar Ingmar
Mar 23, 2009

Thank you very much for another very interesting interview!  Always nice to hear that things are still in motion.  I´m still kind of curious though, when we can actually expect the release of Three Cards to Midnight, but anyways, i´m sure the waiting will be worth it .

Apr 21, 2009

Do my eyes deceive me, is this game not going to be awesome? I guess I’ll have to play it to find out for sure. I like the look of the puzzles, the graphics look nice.

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