GDC 2014 - Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition archived preview

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition preview
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition preview

Phoenix Online Studios really seem to be moving up in the adventure gaming world these days. Only a year ago, I was grabbing a spot on the well-traversed Moscone Center floor with Phoenix’s CEO César Bittar to look at their latest Erica Reed thriller. At this year’s GDC, with the studio now fully committed to being a publishing house as well, the team seems to have grown exponentially and even managed to find a little swankier spot to host the media. This time around I met with them in a posh – considering the San Francisco Bay Area’s astronomical rental rates – little loft a few blocks from the bustling Moscone.

While I waited for the elevator, I was warmly greeted by Phoenix’s general manager of publishing and development, Scott Steinberg, and found myself wondering when this small, nimble studio that was once famous only for their charming King’s Quest fan sequel, The Silver Lining, got to the point where they needed a publishing and development manager? Times certainly have changed – and I’m hoping this portends well not just for passionate studios like Phoenix, but perhaps for the entire adventure game market.

Of course, there’s one face in the back of the loft which is instantly familiar – and would be to any fan of the adventure genre. Perhaps the crown jewel in Phoenix Online’s rapid ascent is their partnership with one of the grandmasters of adventure gaming, Jane Jensen. It’s no surprise that Jensen chose Phoenix when she went looking for a studio to help remake her 1993 classic, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers and a publisher for Moebius: Empire Rising, her first new adventure game since 2010’s developmentally-troubled Gray Matter. The partnership runs both ways, as Jane provided invaluable assistance and artistic direction for Bittar and his team for their own Cognition series.

Although the newest trailer for her Gabriel Knight remake has just been released, I was eager to see and hear more about the game. As Moebius nears its April 15 release date, we’ve seen trailers, gameplay and plenty of teasers about her new paranormal thriller, but not much about the new-old Gabriel Knight.

We watched the first GK teaser trailer released to Pinkerton’s Kickstarter backers. It doesn’t reveal much, except for a few shots of the game, and the classic score, but so far, so good. Then Jane booted up the gameplay demo. To cut to the chase – Gabriel Knight fans, it’s uncanny how closely the game not only resembles the original, but also how diligently the Phoenix/Pinkerton teams have worked to maintain the classic’s aesthetic. “The word for this game is ‘more-ish,’” Jane said. “We put in additional Gabriel Knight-isms. It’s more of what it was. We kept all the content as a fan would do, we just added more of it in. We asked ourselves that, if we are going to redo Gabriel Knight, what can we do to make it even cooler?”

The demo begins inside Gabriel’s famous New Orleans antiquarian bookstore. Everything has been updated to contemporary PC resolutions, but the angle of the scene and the movements of the characters are eerily identical to the original. But it’s when the characters began to speak that I was really taken aback. Despite the fact that the voiceovers have been done with a completely new cast, I’m not sure – and I just played Sins of the Fathers only six months ago – that I could tell it apart from the original. Gabriel Knight fans have voiced their concerns with losing Tim Curry’s original performance of Knight but Jason Victor, who voiced King Graham in The Silver Lining, has done a remarkable job capturing the Schattenjäger’s iconic Cajun drawl. “I know there was a lot of concern about that – but there was just no way to get the original cast again, or any guarantee that they would sound the same, which they wouldn’t after 20 years,” Jane said.

The rest of the cast’s voices were supplied by Bay Area Sound, but Jane wasn’t happy with any of the actors they had auditioned for the role of Gabriel. In fact, it was the folks at Phoenix who eventually recommended that she hear Victor’s impression of Knight. “He was amazing. He knew the game so well! He knew where every line went – and what the vibe was. I think he’s more Gabriel than anyone has ever been,” Jane said.

In fact, if there is a criticism to make, it’s that Victor’s performance may border a bit too much on the side of being an actual impression than a more personal translation of the character, but it’s certainly true to the original game. The music has also been completely re-mastered by Jane’s husband (and fellow Sierra On-Line alum) Robert Holmes.

As for the gameplay, there are some changes in the way you’ll interact with Gabriel’s world – it’s been significantly (and in my opinion, thankfully) streamlined. When you hover over a hotspot in a scene, the cursor changes to show the different actions that are possible with each object. (You can also press a button to reveal every hotspot in a location.) “It was sort of a conundrum. What we decided was to take all the verbs that we used to have, and if there was something really interesting about that, then we left the icon,” Jane said. “We don’t have everything [in the remake], so you don’t have to cycle through every little thing. But if there was even just a silly response for an action that we thought was clever, we kept it.”

It is still possible to attempt to “pick up” Grace.

The myriad of dialog questions and responses are all in the remake and, just as in the original, when Gabriel initiates a conversation, a close-up of each of the talking characters’ faces appear. However, if a player doesn’t want to listen to every dialog topic, the game highlights which topic is absolutely necessary to hear in order to advance the story.

Minor changes have also been made to a few puzzles. Jane showed me how the infamous (small spoiler ahead) snake scale puzzle had been modified. Instead of pixel hunting for the original, nigh-invisible clue, Gabriel must now complete a mini-puzzle by following marks in the wet swamp sand to find the scale. In addition, the remake features an in-game hint system and a journal which keeps track of Gabriel’s progress through the adventure.

The remake will also feature a tab which allows players to access “special edition content” unique to particular scenes. This might include sketches of the original scene, an interview with one of the original artists, or even notes from Jane’s original design notebooks.

Jensen was vehement that nothing in the original that players fondly remember has been omitted, and that the core experience will remain the same, only with a few new surprises, including a number of new scenes and exterior shots. Obviously the game’s graphical level has been improved, although old fans may have different perspectives on the new, updated art styles in certain locations.

I asked Jane if today’s technology allowed her to add anything in the remake that wasn’t possible in 1993. “We’ve added a lot of detail – if you look at a book in the bookstore, an inset of the actual book is displayed,” Jane said. “One of the things I wanted to do with the remake was add a lot more of the New Orleans setting and flavor. I love the movie Angel Heart. It has such an incredible sense of location.”

Phoenix Online is still a relatively new studio – and the game’s modest budget means fans shouldn’t expect the remake to resemble a AAA title. The look of the Gabriel Knight remake is reminiscent of Phoenix’s own Cognition series and their work on Moebius, while also showing the maturation of the studio’s capabilities and talent, which have continued to evolve with each new project.

The inevitable final question was to ask what would be next for Gabriel after the Sins of the Fathers remake is released? Jane answered that additional remakes of Gabriel Knight 2 and 3 were extremely unlikely, considering the format of the originals (The Beast Within’s full motion video and Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned’s 3D worlds mean they would need to be almost entirely re-designed). “My goal is to do a new one, to kick off an entirely new game,” Jane said, before adding the caveat, “If we’re successful with this one. We only have the agreements to do this for now. Everything else will have to be ‘wait and see.’”

The 20th Anniversary Edition of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is due out by the end of 2014, and it seems that the franchise’s future may depend very much on how well this updated classic will be received once again by old fans and whether it will be welcomed by a new generation of adventure enthusiasts. As I said goodbye to Jane and headed out of Phoenix’s San Francisco loft space, I couldn’t help feeling that if there is still an audience for the old Schattenjäger, his fate may yet end up in very good hands.


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Comments

Detective Mosely Detective Mosely
Apr 7, 2014

After this game is released we should all hit Activision with all the mail and emails we can deliver, demanding a GK4.

Because I have no doubt that it would be profitable.  It’s just a question of if it’s profitable enough to make it worth doing for them.  If they get the impression of how many fans really want to see the series continued and would be very disappointed if it weren’t, that could be the thing that changes their mind.

Colster
Apr 7, 2014

Very interesting. This preview has me feeling even more excited than I was; I’m especially curious to hear the new voice of Gabriel. I wonder how he would handle a new script for a possible GK4.

I’m a PO Studios fan at this point. I loved playing Cognition - especially the 3rd episode - and Moebius seems strong so far. I’m fond of POS’s art direction, too – I find it very distinctive and appealing, despite the slightly rough execution of some animations (I do hope they’ll improve on that).

UPtimist UPtimist
Apr 7, 2014

Thanks for the preview! It’s good to hear more impressions on the game, and it seems it’s mainly positive. Hope one gets to hear more of the voices, soon…

zane
Apr 7, 2014

Interesting. Even more curious to hear the new gabe now. That voice actor did do a good job with graham in the silver lining.

I’m absolutely ecstatic about this. It’s a great game and deserves a remake. I think graphically it looks so much better now that I’ve seen it in motion. I’ll definitely buy it and hopefully everyone else will too and we can get a GK4 in the same style.

Randwulf83
Apr 7, 2014

I always had a feeling that Jane was familiar with—and maybe even inspired by—“Angel Heart.” Now I know for certain/

Panthera Panthera
Apr 7, 2014

I really liked the trailer, it felt really authentic and gave me the same feeling I get when playing GK1.

It’s interesting really. I’ve never played the GK series before (I tried GK3, gave up after getting the bike), I don’t like pixellated games (I find it hard to see the “depth” in the backgrounds, and I never recognize items), I hate being stuck on a puzzle or meet a dead-end (I play for story, so I play the old games with a walkthrough in hand), I hated the narrator, and wasn’t very fond of Gabriel during my first few hours with the game.

And yet, I realized last time I played (currently on Day 6) that the game really has drawn me in. I’m interested in the story, and I’ve started appreciating the beauty of the lighting and mood of the game design. I’ve even begin noticing the interesting camera angles and the object design.
Most of all I really appreciate Jensen’s writing, and how slowly she’s built up the story and characters. It took me some time to get there, but when I did, everything meant so much more.

From a starting point of “I should play this game just to have played it, since everyone loves it” (I started way before the GK1 remake was announced), I’m now thoroughly enjoying the experience, and want to continue on with the next game in the series.

I haven’t been particularly impressed or disappointed by the stills from the remake, but viewing the trailer I felt like I was right back in a play-session of GK1.

I’m looking forward to comparing the old with the new, as the old will be still fresh in my mind by the time the remake is released.

Orange Brat
Apr 8, 2014

GK2 and GK3 should be remade in this style one day. That way all 3 games and GK4 will all be consistent.

teme
Apr 8, 2014

Orange Brat, I totally agree. I would love to see the whole GK trilogy in a consistent style. Especially GK3 would be pretty amazing with all the Rennes-Le-Chateau & french countryside details in fully detailed high-definition 2D glory.

OttoT
Apr 8, 2014

This is looking very promising. It feels like the remake really delivers on the feeling I had about the game but translated to todays audio and visual fidelity. Take the amazing title tune, it’s the same but the sounds are so much richer then was possible then.

My only wish is this (and many other) adventure would come to PS4. I would love to play this on my big sceen tv on the couch with a controller.
Sony is making it very easy for independent studios to release on that system and the near PC hardware architecture wouldn’t make it to difficult to get the game running. With the success of Telltale adventures on consoles there is a lot of money to be earned there.

DrFrankenstein DrFrankenstein
Apr 8, 2014

The trailer looks fantastic. I am glad the folks at Phoenix Online are blasting ahead.

As for a complete GK2 remake… well, I somehow doubt that this is doable. My point: a lot of the charm and uniqueness of this game lies with the actors and their performance. One can, of course, do a Hollywood-style remake, but as we all know these very rarely have the charisma and magic of the originals. Probably the best thing to do is update the game engine so that it is easy to run on modern platforms and streamline the UI.

Now, GK3 is in bad need for a remake. It is a great game and story, but the technical execution is terrible, even for its time. It takes a lot of dedication and persistence to bear through it to see the plot unwind at the end. Before there is any work on GK4, I would hope that Jane turns her attention to GK3 as its presentation does grind a lot the momentum off the series.

Kazmajik Kazmajik
Apr 8, 2014

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a meet & greet that Phoenix Online did during the GDC and I got to play a little bit of this. As it’s my all-time favorite adventure game, the prospect of an expanded version is especially exciting and I’m really looking forward to discovering the new surprises and additions that are going into the game. The prospect of a new Gabriel Knight game has never seemed so possible before, and now that it is, I want to do anything I can to spread the word and help make this anniversary edition of GK1 as big a success as it deserves to be.

Lambonius Lambonius
Apr 8, 2014

Just FYI, Jane has already explicitly stated (in a recent interview) that remakes of GK2 and 3 won’t happen, as she feels the games would need to be too thoroughly redesigned from the ground up to make them work in the format of the GK1 remake.

Which is too bad, because they both have particularly obnoxious presentation/interface issues, but totally understandable from a development standpoint.

nightshade89
Apr 8, 2014

Just finished GK2 and starting GK1 now that I have some time. I think my favorite would still have to be GK3, sometimes when I’m bored I can spend hours just touring around the south of France, even if I’m not accomplishing anything. On a sidenote, If they ever remade GK2, I only hope they tone down the shrewishness of Grace, that’s like the #1 reason I don’t like playing it. Oh, and I hope to god in this one they have made the zombie maze easier, that thing took me like 2 hours to get thru.

syn syn
Apr 9, 2014

loving the appearance of this. if only hero-u went this route/art-style

Risingson
Apr 19, 2014

Really guys? The perspective is all wrong in the screenshots, and the character’s animation has that blob viscose quality present in the worse art direction.

rayvio rayvio
Apr 22, 2014

I’d rather have a GK4 than a remake but this does look interesting. not to mention renewed hope for a sequel

Nickian Duracell
Jun 10, 2014

Holy cow, totally surprised about this as well as the new Tex Murphy. Some advice from an adventurer (now action/adenturer). PS3 and X-Box are awesome and how great would it be to have this on those systems. Also, the behind-the-scenes stuff in the article, I played the new Monkey Island remakes and that stuff pulled me out of the game experience, maybe if that could be made seperately like the orignial Gabriel Knight behind the scenes video with the actors and stuff. My 2 Cents!!

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