Gaming Guru Jane Jensen: There's a Yen for Adventure
There is an audience that's hungry for adventure gaming, says Jane Jensen, a pioneer in the genre. It consists of people like that 68-year-old lady sitting next to you on a plane, playing Word Spell on her tablet. If you asked her if she were a gamer, she'd likely say "No, I don't play computer games." Adventure games have a lot of appeal to that casual audience.
Adventure games, which play out much like an interactive story, have had an adventure in their own right. These games peaked in popularity during the late 1980s to the mid-1990s but in recent years have been in decline.
When action and online role-playing games gained mass market appeal, story became secondary in many cases.
However, story-driven adventures could be making a comeback.
Jane Jensen, game designer of the popular and critically acclaimed Gabriel Knight series in the 1990s, is back with Moebius: Empire Rising for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X platforms. It tells the story of antique dealer Malachi Rector, who becomes embroiled in a layered mystery that takes the player on a journey around the world.
Moebius: Empire Rising has been described as the spiritual successor to the Gabriel Knight series. Yet, while Gabriel Knight was developed and published by Sierra On-Line (now Sierra Entertainment), Jensen turned to Kickstarter to raise the funding to develop Moebius.
This release could help a new audience discover and take part in virtual exploits that involve more than running and gunning. In this podcast, Jensen tells TechNewsWorld how a new generation of gamers might be ready to take part in the adventure.
Listen to the podcast (20:02 minutes).
Here are some excerpts:
TechNewsWorld: Adventure gaming seems to be growing in Asia, but it hit its peak in the United States back in the 1990s. Is this at all odd to you, given that movies and TV shows are dominated by adventure-driven plotlines?
Jane Jensen: About 20 years ago, adventure games were the main game type on the PC. At that time, the processors on the PC were fairly slow, so you had the slower games on the PC, and then people who wanted to play action and sports games went to the arcade in the mall.
When the processors got fast enough to actually play action games on the PC, it just took over the market. It is unfortunate, mainly that we've just had such a limited variety in the gaming industry for the past 20 years. It's been very focused on a young male audience with action and RPGs.
Those are all great, but I think it would be nice if we had a wider variety; it is like if all the movies from Hollywood were The Terminator. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is nice to have some click flicks in the mix.
TNW: We're starting to see adventure gaming making a comeback. Are other mediums spurring interest in adventure games?
Jensen: I don't think so. What has helped lately is that the audience is asking for it. There have been some Kickstarter projects that have done very well.
TNW: Casual games are also really big. It is impossible to get on a plane without seeing someone playing Temple Run.
Jensen: That's right, and who is playing that game? It is the 68-year old lady next to you, who is probably playing Word Spell. If you ask them if they were a gamer, they'd say 'No, I don't play computer games.'
Adventure games have a lot of appeal to that casual audience.
TNW: Last year, you started your new independent Kickstarter-funded studio. Are the major studios just not seeing that adventure gaming is making a comeback?
Jensen: I think they are still pondering it. We did talk to a major publisher last year who was interested in sort of doing a casual game/hybrid, but they just aren't sure. The thing is that it is a really different market.
If you look at the major publishers, they are used to doing (US)$20 million, $50 million games. It is really kind of like go big or go home. The hidden-object market is $300,000, $400,000 per project.
TNW: A lot of shooters promise these big stories with these fantastic setups -- but they are mainly big on action but small on stories. It feels at times that the gamer is there for the ride. Do you think storytelling can find a way into that?
Jensen: Some of that is a prejudice within those companies. I worked for a while with a really big company -- I guess I shouldn't say who it was. I was basically hired to do a better story. I faced so much resistance from the team leader and the project manager -- literally hours worth of meetings where it would be 'I don't get it, why would we want a story?'
I ended up leaving that position because I felt I can't accomplish what it was here that I was supposed to accomplish. It was the first time I really saw that sort of 'People just want to shoot things, they want action, we don't want anything that will slow down the action.'
There is this sort of fear that people don't have this attention span. A lot of companies are afraid, I think, of anything that gets in the way of that.
TNW: Where does the next-generation technology fit in?
Jensen: We're doing a remake of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary and it is being done in Retina for iPad 3. Just looking at it is a little scary, as it is like looking at high-definition TV for the first time.
In terms of technology, I'm interested in the tablet market. I think is a good market for adventure games. It is very cross-genre -- unlike, say, consoles, which tend to be more owned by younger guys. Tablets are very cross-genre. There is a lot of potential there.
TNW: What is up next?
Jensen: We [recently released] our first big adventure game, Moebius, so that is really exciting. There is some good buzz out there, so I hope it does well.
It is a very beautiful and very cinematic game. There is a ton of cutscenes, and they are fully animated with cinematic cameras. I'm just really excited about that because it is something I didn't get to have when I worked on Gray Matter, the last big adventure game that I did.
The story is seven chapters, and it is kind of like peeling an onion as you go down into this mystery.