Today we publish another exclusive interview with the creator of one of your favorite classic franchises. Aaron Conners is the man behind the Tex Murphy series. If you haven't had a chance to read the first part of the Q&A. Now when we're sure you've read the first part, see below for the second round of question answering.
Once again, huge thanks goes to Aaron Conners for answering all those questions. Now enjoy your read.
The charm of the Tex Murphy games are most certainly the Full Motion Video sequences. Back in the 90s, FMV was considered a big "gimmick" but some people, such as myself, believe it to be a valuable story-telling device. Considering your experience with more recent video game technologies, do you believe that FMV could still be used in a valuable way today, despite the fact that major publishers are terrified to use it in any way (It's all about them 3D graphics today? In the same vein, if you were approached to work on another Tex Murphy game, would you require it to have some kind of FMV in it?
A: There were so many questions about FMV, I’ll try to address my feelings about it in this answer.
The biggest issue with FMV is that it isn’t compatible with the game environment; you really have to shift modes and today’s games are all about seamlessness. For some people, there’s also a disconnect between the graphic quality of FMV versus the CG world, though graphics are so much more realistic now, the gap isn’t quite as wide.
If we were to bring Tex back, I would want to use FMV – primarily because that’s the expectation and people are used to the modal shift. Doing FMV in a new game? Not too sure. That being said, I love well-done FMV and would enjoy seeing it done well in a contemporary game.
If you had to choose only one of the seven endings in Pandora Directive, what would that be and why?
A: Great question! The easy answer is the “happy” ending, where Tex has dinner with Chelsee at her apartment and she shows him “what she learned while she was in Phoenix”. I especially love the whip crack and Tex’s “Yee-haw!”
Which ending was the most fun to make and shoot in Pandora?
A: There were all fun. The clown scene is just hilarious to me, seeing Chris Jones in that makeup. And he and Suzanne Barnes (Chelsee) had a blast doing the “happy” ending.
I personlly get a kick out of the ending where Tex can’t get off the ship in time and has to make the “final ride” with Fitzpatrick. One part of it that I really love was made up while we were shooting the scene. It’s when Fitz says there are anti-hydrogen pods on board and Tex says “Pods?”, then Fitz nods: “Pods.” (For those who don’t get the reference, it’s to Kevin McCarthy’s starring role in the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, in which the aliens come to life out of pods.)
How it is to write a story for a game, with multiple endings and so on, compared to writing a linear story as you did with the Tex Murphy novels? What do you find the most challenging and what do you prefer?
A: Another great question. Unless you’ve tried it, you can’t imagine how different it is to write an interactive story versus a linear story. The advantage of the interactive style is that you can explore a ton of variations; the challenge is factoring in the player and maintaining a good balance between keeping the story on-track, while still giving the player a feeling of control. As a writer (and designer), I love working in an interactive medium and I find novel writing much more challenging.
By the way, for those who are interested in interactive writing, there’s a great book that goes into deep detail on the design of The Pandora Directive’s multi-pathed narrative (as well as other examples in other games). It’s called “Writing for Multimedia and the Web” by Timothy Garrand.
What is the ultimate answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything?
A: 42, of course!
What made you to start working for the casual game industry and give us mediocre hidden object games like 3 Cards to Midnight and 3 Cards to Dead Time ? What happened with your creativity ?
A: Having been in the “core” gaming industry for a long time, I was curious about the casual game market and, when I found myself between gigs, I decided to give it a try. I’m sorry you didn’t like the 3 Cards games, but considering that we made them for less than $200K each, with just a handful of people, I’m quite happy with how they turned out.
I realize that casual games aren’t for everyone – and they were not at all what our Tex Murphy fans were hoping for – but, as a designer and writer, I love trying new things. And I would argue that it takes a lot more creativity to do a new kind of game with very specific limitations than to do any game you want.
What can change the nature of a man?
A: Regret. ☺
What your take on the current trend of putting the story creation process in the players hands e.g. The Sims, Storybricks versus the traditional form where the script was all written and it was just the player's job to uncover the narrative?
A: An extremely relevant question, since I now work on the Sims games.
At first, it was really hard for me to appreciate the idea of “user-created stories”. I’ve always maintained that a “real” story has a pre-set narrative flow (even if there are multiple paths) with plot points, set-ups and payoffs, act structure, finale, etc. I think the Pandora Directive is a great example of what you can do with interactive story structure: there are many ways it can play out, but the core of the story is the same and the player has the freedom to choose and influence what “tone” that story will have.
As I’ve gotten into designing for the Sims, however, I’ve come to realize that many players just want the tools to tell their own stories. And, while those stories probably don’t compete with Casablanca or the Maltese Falcon, they’re very rewarding to the players who create and share them.
Of course, the Tex Murphy stories don’t fall into that category, but I’ve definitely expanded my definition of what makes a story.
One of my favorite parts of the Tex Murphy series were the novels associated with the games. My primary question is whether or not they ghostwritten - they seemed to have some subtle differences here and there - with a followup question being about their role in video game novelizations - do you think that these books helped forge the path that gives us a series of Halo and Starcraft novels?
A: I certainly can’t take any credit for the Halo or Starcraft novels, but it’s nice that these kinds of novels are out there.
I’m so glad you enjoyed my novels. I wrote both of them in a tiny basement apartment, sitting at my laptop from the time I got home from work until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Each one took me about three months, working nights and weekends, to finish.
When Prima offered me a contract to write the novels, they initially asked me to do a novelization of “Under a Killing Moon”, which had been released a few months earlier. I was definitely interested, but I was in the middle of writing the story for “The Pandora Directive” – which I was doing as a novel. I didn’t have time to write the novelization of UKM, so I asked if they would be interested in publishing a finished version of the Pandora novel. I sent them the first few chapters and they loved it, so we signed a deal.
The Pandora novel actually came out before the game was released and, since we used the story for the game, there aren’t too many huge differences. There were some scenes that didn’t make it into the game and a few novel passages where the action was more elaborate than we could pull off in the game, and (of course) I had to choose one path for the novel, whereas the game had three.
When I finished the first novel, I agreed to do the Killing Moon novelization. For that, I went back to my original story, which ended up getting seriously reworked and edited down. I was really excited to tell my original story in the novel, even though it was really different from the game.
What was it like working with Michael York (Overseer), Barry Corbin (Pandora) and Brian Keith (UAKM)?
A: Good actors are such a pleasure to work with (especially when we were accustomed to working mostly with amateurs). Brian Keith was great, but really grouchy! I don’t think he really understood what we were doing.
Barry Corbin was amazing – so charismatic and menacing onscreen, but really friendly and polite off-screen. As an actor, he seemed to focus more on creating his character than knowing the script inside and out; he didn’t always get his lines right, but he always stayed in character and never lost his focus during a scene.
Michael York, who was stage-trained, came in knowing the script word-for-word. He had a huge scene where he basically monologues for a couple minutes and he knew that scene perfectly. I was in awe.
Was your wife actually the waitress in Overseer?
A: Yup. She was also Sandra Collins (the dead girl in the opening scene of The Pandora Directive). And I was the Black Arrow Killer!
We all know that women are alien creatures, capable of great destruction but what dating tips can you offer those that like to live dangerously?
A: Nice reference!
In my experience, women like men who are confident, know how to listen, and dress well – especially good quality shoes. But do you really want to take dating advice from one of the guys that Tex Murphy is based on? ☺