Aaron Conners and Chris Jones, from "Tex Murphy" to "Three Cards to Midnight

Παρασκευή, 29 Μαΐου 2009, Συντάκτης Dream Specialist, Elessar, Fallen Angel

Aaron Conners and Chris Jones, from "Tex Murphy" to "Three Cards to Midnight

Though most of our readers know perfectly well who you both are, would you like to introduce yourselves and tell us a bit of the men behind the games we all loved?

CJ: I'm Chris Jones and I'm a big fan of classic movies - Hitchcock, stuff like that. Also Philip Marlowe novels, etc. I've always been interested in making games with suspense, intrigue, mystery, and a little humor.

AC: I'm Aaron Conners and I agree with almost everything Chris just said.

Which is your favourite adventure game and which is your favourite Tex Murphy game? Also, do you like playing other game genres as well? If yes, which games do you single out from the non-adventure world?

AC: I like Parcheesi. And Settlers of Catan.

CJ: Honestly, we like our own games. We don't really play that many other games. Recently, we liked Return to Ravenhearst. As for classic adventure games - Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, some of the LucasArts games...

Supposedly, if dreams came true tomorrow and a large publisher stepped in and offered you unlimited funds and a 'card blanche' to create the video game of your dreams. What kind of game would that be and what elements would you put in it?

CJ: [to Aaron] What would we do?

AC: I don't think it wouldn't be that different from what we've already done. I guess we would spend more money on production and the cast of actors.

CJ: And we'd want it to be fully 3-D. We love the idea of creating a deep, realistic, immersive world.

Even if tomorrow is not dreams-granting-day, you have seen one of your dreams come true with the great success Tex Murphy had in the old days. Do you feel nostalgic for those days, the golden days of adventures?

AC: What we can remember of them.

CJ: In a way, we feel like things are coming back to that today. The games we did before had strong points and weak points and I think we could make even better games today. But things have changed as far as how much you can spend to produce a game and what the audience expects.

AC: I don't think we're nostalgic - we're always looking ahead and working on new ideas.

Some of the beloved adventure game protagonists of yore such as Larry Laffer, Guybrush Threepwood, Roger Wilco and of course Tex Murphy were anti-heroes, kind of 'flawed' characters if you want (down on their luck, clumsy, 'losers', etc). This doesn't seem to be the case nowadays with most of the main characters being either magazine-cover cool or just emphatically 'normal'. What do you think has changed for the genre and adventure gamers?

CJ: I'm not sure. In the past the games were longer and there was more time to develop the characters. If there's not a lot of story development, the character doesn't get to go anywhere. Like in the casual game space, what are going to do with "the Pancake Maker"? You're so busy running around making pancakes, how are you going to develop the character?

AC: I agree. It takes time to create a complex character and "flaws" are a big part of what turns a stereotype into something real.

In the credits of some of the Tex Murphy games you are both mentioned as co-writers. Do you, however, hold separate roles in the process? For instance, does one of you write the dialogues and the other one takes care of the story and the fictional universe?

CJ: Aaron's the writer. We collaborate on the big picture and scope of the story. When it gets down to the details, Aaron handles it.

AC: But I always bounce everything off Chris, and we continue to collaborate on the design and production all the way through. And Chris ad-libs a lot of great lines when he's playing Tex.

We have been always wondering: Chris, how did you decide to cast yourself as Tex back in the day? Was it a budget related decision or did you see it as the only way to have extended control over your creative vision of the game and the character?

CJ: The games were so simple early on - my character was just a bunch of pixels. As it got more complex, it just kind of evolved into me playing the character.

AC: And that's when his huge ego kicked in.

CJ: That's true - now I can't imagine who could possibly play the character with so much depth and mystique, beloved by millions...

The most popular source of info regarding Tex on the Internet is probably 'The Unofficial Tex Murphy Website'. What are your feelings about this fan site and the people who are supporting it ceaselessly?

CJ: Fantastico! Incredible! Amazing!

AC: We love our fans. They have been so loyal over the years. And James LeMosy, who built and runs the site, is the best. When it came time to create our new bigfinishgames.com website, we asked James if he would work his magic on it. And he did.

Overseer ended on a cliff-hanger. Do you consider the Overseer a case closed? Do you feel you have given closure through the radio episodes?

CJ: What do you mean "cliffhanger"? I don't remember any cliffhanger.

AC: It is far from closed. The cliffhanger was just... the BEGINNING...!

CJ: ...of the end, it turned out.

We all know there are a couple of Tex Murphy novels. What we don't know is what drove you to write them, Aaron. Was it your never-ending affection for this character or the fact that there were more things you wanted to tell people of this fictional world?

AC: I did it for the money. (Laugh) Actually, I just love to write and I'd never written a novel before, so I thought I'd give it a shot. That's how the Pandora novel came to be. Then I wrote the Killing Moon novel because my original story had been changed a lot in the game and I thought it would be fun to let people read the original concept.

After a long time of silence, you recently founded a company of your own, Big Finish Games. Give us a little insight on why was the company founded no sooner than now. Also, is it just us or there's more than meets the eye in the company's name?

CJ: Yes, we're from Finland. We started the company a few years ago, but it took us this long to finally get a game produced.

AC: We liked Big Finish because it has a nice Old Hollywood feel to it: "Now for the big finish!" Plus, we're both tall, so it's a little pun. Very little.

When and why did you decide to make a comeback with Three Cards to Midnight (TCM)?

CJ: Well, (A) we always wanted to work together, (B) we'd talked to some casual game publishers about doing a game for them and things didn't quite materialize, but we thought there was some serious potential in the game market, so we decided to just jump in and give it a try.

How did you come up with the idea of its story? Was it something you had in your minds a long time ago or an inspiration of the moment?

AC: I had an idea years ago and that's what we started with. It changed quite a bit from my original concept, though.

CJ: Once we determined the kind of game we were going to make, we sat down and started banging on it to figure out the best kind of story to tell and how to integrate it with gameplay.

We realize this is a somewhat depressing question, but should you had a significantly bigger budget, how different would TCM be?

AC: The graphic quality could have been much higher and we might have considered using live actors instead of rendered CGI characters.

CJ: I can't answer the question - we created the game for a specific market and audience, and with a limited budget and I don't think a bigger budget would have changed things that much. We're very happy with how it turned out, regardless.

How would you describe TCM? Is it an adventure game, a hidden-objects game, a puzzle game or all these styles combined together?

AC: We prefer the term "story game". Everything is built around the story, the way a lot of games are built around the gameplay or the main character.

CJ: First and foremost it is a story game, but it has both casual and adventure game elements. We really were trying to find a balance between the two and, personally, I think we did.

Which is your ambition regarding TCM? How well do you think it can accomplish in terms of sales and fans' acceptance and appreciation?

AC: This is our first game of this type, so we have no idea what the potential is. In general, the response to the game has been very positive; the only really negative responses come from people who were expecting something much more like our Tex Murphy games.

CJ: The feedback we're getting indicates that we're off to a good start. It's still very early, so we don't really have any numbers. The important thing is that we learned a lot about the process and the current market. There are some things we feel like we can bring in for the sequel that will improve it.

TCM's gameplay is very dependent on the English language and no localizations of the game will be available. Moreover, there are no subtitles in the game's cinematic sequences. How come you decided to go down that road? Aren't you afraid that non-native-speakers may have problems playing the game?

AC: When we chose the "English-based" gameplay, we were just looking for a style of gameplay that would be object-based AND offer a good mental challenge. At that point, we weren't even sure we would get the game finished, so we didn't consider the issue of localization. We're happy that the game turned out well enough that people want it to be localized, but it wasn't a high priority for us a year ago. Of course, the sequel will be tweaked so it can be localized (now that we know there is a pretty big international audience interested in the game). We're also considering a couple options for localizing Three Cards to Midnight. It may require downsizing the gameplay a bit, but at least people would be able to experience the story.

You have chosen to include difficulty levels in TCM; a wise choice indeed. Do you believe this is a feature all games should have?

AC: Absolutely! We offered it in our last two Tex Murphy games and we really believe in allowing players to customize the difficulty.

CJ: We don't want anyone to be frustrated playing our games... unless they want to be.

AC: So we'll always have a tougher level, as well as easier levels.

On TCM's website we read "the finale of the game will be dependent on how you played, making it unique for each player". Would you like to explain to us how this feature is going to work?

AC: Well, it isn't just the finale of the game that makes it unique for each player. The fact that you can unlock the memories throughout the game is many different sequences is what makes it unique for each player. For the finale, specifically, there are three possible endings. Which one you see is a direct consequence of how well you played the game and the choices you make at the end of the game.

We see you have put a lot in the audiovisual of TCM and you didn't put your money on the story alone. How important you believe the technical sector of a game is?

CJ: It's important for us to create atmosphere and suspension of disbelief. To pull that off, we need good music, voice talent, etc.

AC: Without a good story, the technology is worthless to us, but the look and feel of the game is important to keep people involved and immersed.

We also noticed there are several people working in TCM that you go way back together. Is that because you have kept in touch from back then or because you wanted to work with them again thanks to their professionalism?

CJ: Yes.

AC: These people are good friends and also very talented professionals. Mostly, though, they agreed to work on the game for little or no money. :)

Now, let's talk about the future. You have already announced a prequel to TCM. Would you like to share any information about that project with us? Will we see Jess as a child or it has to do with her parents?

AC: Actually, it's a sequel - it takes place immediately after Three Cards to Midnight.

Back in the 90s you developed a project called "The Black Pearl". We believe this project is now on ice or has been permanently terminated. Would you mind telling us how much of the game is completed and whether you consider dealing with it again in the future?

CJ: Black Pearl?! Yeah, it's canceled. We worked with Mark Hamill on it and we thought it could be a really interesting game, but Microsoft saw otherwise.

AC: We did a lot of work on it and we still have the script, recorded audio and other things, but I doubt the game will ever be completed.

Most gamers are having trouble getting the Tex Murphy games to run on their new computers using recent operating systems. Have you considered re-releasing the past Tex Murphy games (now that you have reclaimed the copyrights) and, even better, make them compatible with modern operating systems like Windows XP & Vista?

AC: We're actually working on that and we will let you know when and if the games become available for play on XP and Vista.

You seem to already have another game under development, one suspiciously named "Secret Project Fedora". So, here is the million dollar question: What does the future hold for Tex Murphy? Are we about to see him again?

CJ: Depends on what "about" means. That is the $64,000 question!

AC: Tex will ride again!

When -and if- the time comes for Tex's comeback, would you consider an experimental, episodic return or is a fully-fledged epic adventure the only way he is wearing the fedora again? And what about the game's format? Would it be in Full Motion Video again or you believe this format is either dead or too expensive to even consider it?

AC: We feel pretty strongly that any new Tex Murphy games should offer the same core experience as the old games. For us, that means 3D environments, exploration and puzzle solving, interactive conversations, inventory, etc. As for FMV, we would prefer to use it - we just need to figure out if it's practical. I think it would be much easier to do now than it was ten years ago.

CJ: The technology is such that we believe we could produce a game for a reasonable budget. We're looking at some different options and none of them are off the table.

Is there anything else you would like to tell Adventure Advocate's readers?

CJ: Thanks for taking the time to read this! Please buy our game!

AC: I would say something in Greek, but I only know profanity.

Thank you both for this fine interview. We wish you the very best for the future -either it includes another Tex game or not!

CJ: Thanks for playing! See you later!

AC: Thanks, advocates!

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