Ask Developer a Question: Jane Jensen answers

Gabriel Knight origins, artistic inspirations of Jane, and Kickstarted future of adventure games--read all in our exclusive interview with Jane Jensen.
Jane Jensen is the designer behind the fantastic Gabriel Knight series of games (among others), and she now runs her own studio--Pinkerton Road--which is seeking funding through Kickstarter at the moment. If you’d like a slightly longer bio of her, you can look in our previous newspost where we asked you guys what questions you thought we should send along to her. She took some time out of her busy schedule to answer your questions below, and we’re glad she did. Let the questions begin!
Mathew Foster and Michał Łopatowski: What is the story behind GK? What motivated you to create it? How the idea about making such a great games series was born in your head?
The idea for the first GK came about around 1992. I was given a chance to do my own series at Sierra. I had the idea that it should be a mystery series because I loved mysteries and I thought the genre would translate well to puzzle design. And I wanted to do something paranormal. My first idea was to be a paranormal investigator, like a professor of parapsychology. But as I started to develop the New Orleans/Voodoo storyline, I had the idea that the main character had a family past he was uncovering that tied into the modern day case. And go my ‘professor’ evolved into the idea of the Schattenjagers or Shadow Hunter family.
QC: How much research went into designing the story of the original Gabriel Knight adventure, between inspiration and details for the murder cases, and the heavy Voodoo aspect that followed most of the game?
I really enjoy doing research so usually there is quite a bit that I do for each game. For GK1, I did read or watch everything I could find on Voodoo. There is a lot of accurate material in that game, but the voodoo murders themselves are fictional.
Sinizine: What was it like being such a prominent female game maker in those days? Given the social stigma that games had during the time, do you consider yourself a bit of a pioneer or was it just no big deal?
Before I became a game designer at Sierra, I has studied Computer Science in college and worked as an engineer at Hewlett Packard, so I was already used to being a ‘odd duck’ – a woman in a male profession. Actually at Sierra there were more women – Roberta Williams, Christy Marx, Lori Cole. So it really didn’t seem strange at the time.
Fred_DM: What does the future of the adventure game genre look like? Will it have to incorporate elements of other, more commercially successful genres in order to become competitive again on today's market? Or does it have to go back to its point and click roots in order to preserve its identity, as recent indie and Kickstarter projects are suggesting? Or does its future lie somewhere else entirely?
I wish I had a crystal ball and could tell you. I have never been a believer in the idea that adventure games had to incorporate more of action or RPG or sim genres. It has been tried and not with much success I think. The games I want to create I see as a mix of that old charm of Sierra and LucasArts games – in the story, the 3rd person characters, the more creative puzzles – with very modern graphics and cinematics.
mdqp and Ermhm: What's your favourite game, outside your own creations? Which games, movies or books fueled your imagination the most in the past?
My old favorites are Kings Quest IV, Manhunter: San Francisco, and the first Monkey Island. More recently I love the Mystery Case File games and some of the Telltale titles like Hector and Puzzle Agent. In TV I loved Downton Abbey and Great Expectations. I’m a sap for period English movies (I have 5 versions of Jane Eyre). But I also like gritty things like Inspector Lynley, True Blood, The Killing. I read a lot of non-fiction on history and religion. I love scary movies that aren’t slasher flicks but they’re few and far between. Let the Right One In (the original version) was brilliant.
Fred Reckling: What culture/setting would you like to explore in a game that you haven't had the chance to explore yet?
One of our game concepts, Anglophile Adventure, was set in Regency England. I would love to do a game in that period/place setting. Also perhaps Scotland, India, Japan... There are a lot of places!
Dick Fitzergood: Of all the things you have learned throughout your career, what is the most important piece of advice you could give to somebody looking to break into the industry?
Follow your passion – find the games you’re most interested in and who is making them and be prepared to work your way up. If you have the ability to get training as an artist, animator or programmer that can be a great way to get started at a game company.
Shawn Tankersley: Tell us more about Moebius. Can we expect this game concept to be a spiritual successor to the Gabriel Knight series?
A lot of the work that I’ve done can be classified as ‘metaphysical thrillers’, that is mystery/thrillers that have some paranormal or metaphysical element to them. And I like to work in real history and real life locations. Gabriel Knight was certainly the first and most successful of any stories I’ve done like that, and Moebius is in the same genre. It’s got great potential.
byrongrenades: What are the major differences in creative freedom between your past games, and the games currently in development with your new crowdfunding project on Kickstarter?
A lot, actually! The casual games I’ve been doing for the past 9 years or so were constrained by limited size/budget and also that they had to have, well, a lot of hidden object scenes in them. And we couldn’t have a 3rd person ego or much in the way of animation. So that was all very limited on how much of a story I could tell. Gray Matter was a little limited because I wasn’t able to be very involved with production. So really, Moebius will be the first time since the early GK days, when I’ve just been able to do a real adventure game soup to nuts, the way I want to. I’m stoked!
Big THANKS to all users who have submitted questions for Jane! We’ve actually selected more than six because there were so many great questions. Authors of selected questions should PM TheEnigmaticT to get their prize.
Jane Jensen began her career in the gaming industry in Sierra Online, co-writing and co-designing Police Quest III and King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow. Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was her first solo game and it was a debut worth the Computer Gaming World's "Adventure Game of the Year" title. The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery and Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned followed later and established her position as an acclaimed designer and writer. In 2012, Jane, along with her husband (composer Robert Holmes, who wrote the music for the Gabriel Knight series) formed a new game development studio Pinkerton Road.