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A day in studio with Jane Jensen and Gray Matter (Part 1)

Gray Matter recording session
Gray Matter recording session

As one of the many people eagerly anticipating the release of Gray Matter, the chance to spend some time recently in the recording studio with design legend Jane Jensen, Lorelei King (voice director) and Phillipa Alexander (voice of Samantha Everett) was an exciting prospect. The opportunity not only offered the chance to learn more about the game, but also to see what goes on behind the scenes, witnessing some of the dialogue for the game being recorded first-hand.

 

 
Ingmar, Claas, Mark getting caffeinated

The day started at 11am, in a coffee shop near the recording studio where I met with Claas Wolter, the PR Manager from dtp (publisher for Gray Matter) and Ingmar Boeke, a colleague from our fellow adventure site Adventure-Treff. We got to know each other as we woke up a little bit (Claas and Ingmar had flown over from Germany; I had slept on the train up to London). After a bit of discussion about our favourite adventure games, Claas got out his laptop, we cleared the table and got down to business. Part of what I saw was a presentation that will be shown again at a large press conference in a few weeks, which will include some previously unannounced details (my lips are sealed on those bits until then). But I did get plenty of information I can talk about freely, as well as see some new screenshots and some behind-the-scenes video of the motion capture used for the game.

The demonstration started with a recap, basically what is known already. Gray Matter is about young Samantha Everett, an American street magician travelling across Europe. Needing a place to spend the night, she stops at the house of Dr David Styles, who she learns is looking for an assistant. Styles is a neurobiologist conducting experiments on physical actions that can be achieved just by using the human mind, but Sam doesn’t know this and soon becomes involved by recruiting students for him to conduct tests on. The doctor’s experiments are tame at first but soon become more outlandish, and strange things start happening around Oxford. Dr Styles starts having visions of his wife, who tragically died in his troubled past, and it is soon revealed that each of his recruited subjects has a unique psychological characteristic of their own.

 

The incomparable Jane Jensen joins the party

At the start of each level, Sam will have a series of challenges she has to complete, which can be done in any order before the section is finished. One of the early challenges will be Sam trying to recruit the five students for Style’s experiments, but the game won’t just focus on her, as Styles is also a playable character. The storytelling looks to be classic Jane Jensen, mixing facts with sci-fi in a dark and original way. Better yet, at the risk of looking too far ahead, if all goes well, Gray Matter will be just the first in a new series by Jensen, though no further details were disclosed as to what any sequels might include

Next we were shown a series of screenshots in nearly finished form, giving a clear picture of what the game will look like, and all I have to say is “wow”. The new screens look amazing, and there were lots of them to see. Claas also demonstrated the difference between the original screenshots from the previous development team, Tonuzaba, and the new studio, Wizarbox. The difference is stunning, as not only are the graphics (especially the character depictions), much more lifelike with more atmospheric lighting, they also have a much more genuine English feel to them. As Claas put it, “the furniture doesn’t look like it’s from eastern European communist countries anymore.” And it’s definitely true. There were screens of Styles’ Oxford house, a local street and the gates of the university. There was also one very impressive panoramic shot of a large wood-panelled hall which was breathtaking. I’m finely attuned to games trying to depict a British location but getting it wrong, as they often do, but this game feels right, not simply sticking in a red phone box and saying “oh look, it’s British now.” We even got a peek at one of the puzzles, which involved digging for something in a flowerbed, but of course the slideshow presentation stopped before the soil-covered object was revealed.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to see anything playable, though we were informed that the logic foundation of the game is done, but some objects and of course the voice track (the reason we were all there in the first place) are still missing. Instead, Claas showed us some footage of an actor in a motion capture suit, reaching for things and performing other gestures that were indiscernible on their own, but provide an interesting glimpse into the attention to detail being given to even the finer character animations.

After the presentation was over, the recording studio was a short walk from the coffee shop. Heavy Entertainment has a reputation for being one of most successful recording studios for audio books in the UK, and as viewers of daytime television in Britain might appreciate, it was a weird moment when we passed Alan Titchmarsh (a well known TV presenter, for you outsiders) as we arrived. Once there, a security guard buzzed us in and we were shown into a room with some comfortable sofas and a small kitchen, and were introduced to Jane Jensen. As an admirer of her work it was a great moment for me, and far from being intimidating, she was very welcoming and friendly, and immediately put us at ease. After being introduced, we sat down and exchanged small talk, and posed for some pictures. There were so many questions we wanted to ask, but we had to wait a while longer, as they were ready to let us into the studio.

This was the first time I’d seen dialogue for a game being recorded, and I was seated next to Jane, watching Lorelei King direct Phillipa Alexander, who was reading Sam’s lines. We don’t know too much about Sam’s personality just yet, but it was clear that Phillipa is ideal for the role, portraying a character that’s both entirely believable and very likeable. Voice acting can make or break a character, and if this day is any indication, I think Sam is going to be a much-loved adventure gaming heroine. If so, it’ll be a well-earned accolade. Each line of dialogue was recorded several times until the right feel was captured, and then on to the next. Every time Phillipa read a line, Lorelei would give feedback, asking her to do it differently or say it was okay. All the lines were read from a huge binder holding the game’s 5,000 lines of dialogue.

Video interview: Phillipa Alexander, voice of Samantha Everett

 

The dialogue being recorded was for one of the game’s puzzles, though it was hard to tell what it's about, offering only one side of a conversation or other clues without much context there in the studio. We were told that one piece of the dialogue was from a conversation with Styles, and Phillipa read it several different ways: sarcastically, light-heartedly and finally distrustfully. It’ll be interesting to see which is chosen when decision time comes. After Phillipa was finished, we had a short time to interview her (the first of three interviews which we were privileged to film), in which we learned a bit more about her (for shampoo fans out there, she’s the voice of the L’oreal adverts as well) and her involvement in the game.

Following that interview it was time for lunch with Jane Jensen and Lorelei King in a restaurant just across the road from the studio. Over lunch, Jane talked about her influences, past games and of course Gray Matter. Claas and Ingmar got a chance to try some British food (I was the only local at the table; Jane and Lorelei are both American). We talked about other things as well, and it was a surprise to me that Lorelei knew the area where I lived (it’s always a surprise when anyone knows Devon, considering it took Claas and Ingmar less time to get from Germany to London than it did for me to get there). Jane’s stated influences, not surprisingly, related to the paranormal, with Carrie by Stephen King coming up, as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost.

Video interview: Lorelei King, Voice Director

 

When lunch was finished, it was back to the studio to interview Jane Jensen and Lorelei King. What transpired in the interviews you’ll see for yourselves in the videos, but with over half an hour work with, we managed to fit a lot in, covering not only the new game, but also Jane’s views on adventure gaming in general. And, of course, we couldn’t let the day go by without at least one question about Gabriel Knight.

Overall, it was a great afternoon. Just meeting Jane herself would have been a highlight in its own right, but spending some time in the studio and talking to the others added all the more to the day. Everyone was so friendly and gave us much more access than I’d imagined, leaving me even more eager to see the finished product. I’m sure many people reading wish they had the chance to share in the experience personally, but at the very least we are pleased to share the video evidence of this most memorable day.


Update: The second half of this feature is a three-part video interview with Jane Jensen, now posted here. Enjoy!


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Comments

AndreaDraco83
Oct 7, 2009

I’m beyond… happy. And intrigued. And satisfied. And eager to play the game. And confident that these talented people are doing a great job and doing justice of Jane’s superb writing. Oh, and I already love Philippa’s voice!

Oh, oh: one last thing… if you drip somewhere, don’t worry: it’s me drooling all over the page Grin

seanparkerfilms
Oct 7, 2009

Heh heh, I second that, Andrea. Absolutely looking forward to next week’s update.

Fien Fien
Oct 7, 2009

Wow! It’s actually going to happen, that’s absolutely marvelous. I’m eating all the nasty words I said about DTP and Wizarbox (and maybe even a few about Jane). Thanks Mark and AG, you clearly put a lot of work in it. Looking forward to the interview with Jane.

Kazmajik Kazmajik
Oct 7, 2009

Any news is great news in this case! It looks like things are rolling along smoothly, and March 2010 (or thereabouts) is sure to be a red-letter date in adventure game history!

tastebud
Oct 7, 2009

all seem like nice people. i hope the game lives up to the potential, eventhough i can’t really see it being as epic as the gabriel knight games. but i’m open to be surprised.

rtrooney rtrooney
Oct 7, 2009

And the release date is…....

Jackal Jackal
Oct 7, 2009

... in the info box in the upper right corner, or on the Release Dates list, where they always are. Wink

D.C. D.C.
Oct 7, 2009

This is all kinds of awesome, thank you Adventure Gamers! I agree with Andrea too, I really like her voice. I’m relieved we’re getting such quality voice acting.

3rdFloor
Oct 7, 2009

Guys, this is unbelievable! Considering how silent dtp has been in the past few years, this article is a true blessing. How you actually managed to get this gig is beyond me. Kudos to all of you at Adventure Gamers!

orient orient
Oct 8, 2009

Phillipa and Lorelei seem like great, talented people and I’m sure they will do an excellent job, but a part of me doesn’t like the idea of people working on video games, that have never really *played* video games. I know that’s just the reality of things, but surely a proper understanding of the medium isn’t too much to ask. Y’know, “Here’s some research - complete Monkey Island”, that sort of thing. Ah well :-P

Thanks a lot, AdventureGamers for the cool interviews. Can’t wait for Part 2.

dekaneas297 dekaneas297
Oct 8, 2009

Anyone got Phillipa’s phone number? Smile

seanparkerfilms
Oct 8, 2009

I see where you’re coming from, Orient, but I don’t quite agree—sure, it’d be one thing if they were part of the programming, puzzle design, or lead writing, but voice actors and casting directors is a different matter. If they approach it like a film, shouldn’t make a difference, considering how cinematic Jane’s games tend to be.

ssa
Oct 9, 2009

Good job Mark!

Thinking, it’ might be time to upgrade my graphics. Do you think an old gf6800 will be enough?

Also, could the different emphasis mean different respons options as in GK?

Kyosho
Oct 9, 2009

A week? Argh! Still, though. This is an awesome article.

orient orient
Oct 9, 2009

True Sean, but no matter how cinematic a game is, it’s still a game and not a film. I’m not saying it’s a huge deal, it’s just a shame really, that these people don’t know more about games in general.

DustyShinigami DustyShinigami
Oct 9, 2009

Great article and an interesting read. Can’t wait for the second part. It’s great that we finally have some more info about the game. Keep it coming! I’ll have to bear the release date in mind. :-)

And I’m also happy to know that the voice acting is being handled very professionally. If the voice acting does sound as good as Mark says, then we’ll certainly have some interesting/likeable characters to play with.

ozzie ozzie
Oct 9, 2009

I don’t think it’s a shame, orient.
Look at KQ5: everyone who was involved with the voice acting was also somehow involved in the game’s development. Now hear how that turned out…
...sure, you have to understand how games work. But then, Jane was there when the recording happened so she could have given her input.

LostQuixote LostQuixote
Oct 9, 2009

Glad you guys have enjoyed the interviews, it really was a great day:) I don’t think it should work your gfx card too hard, but I only saw screenshots so it’s hard to comment.

Cellardoor
Oct 11, 2009

That was great to read.

It’s interesting, by the way, that Marlies Somers, who did April Ryan’s voice for the Dutch version of the Longest Journey, also featured in L’Oreal adverts if I recall correctly. ;-)

emric emric
Oct 12, 2009

Thanks so much for this article and videos! It allows fans like us to share in your awesome experience of spending time with these talented creators. Looking forward to the next installment Smile

Kyosho
Oct 15, 2009

It’s been a week! Please give more! Feeeed my addiction! My Jane Addiction!

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