Chris Jones Talks Tex: Bringing Back Tex Murphy

By John Walker on May 22nd, 2012 at 2:00 pm.

Sans fedora. It's like Superman and Clark Kent.

As the current trend to Kickstart every adventure series I loved in the 90s continues, I jumped upon the opportunity to speak to Tex Murphy himself, Chris Jones. With the new FMV-driven noir science fiction adventure already well over halfway to its half-million goal, there’s cause to be optimistic for Big Finish Games’ project, Project Fedora, going ahead. And as Jones reveals, his team are putting in quarter of a million of their own money too. We talk about bringing Tex back, updating the genre for a modern audience, and why Jones believes FMV characters can connect to players in a way CG ones never can.

RPS: So how are things right now?

Chris Jones: Things are good. We had a good weekend. We’re over fifty percent. The great thing has been the fan support. For a game that’s been out of circulation for a while, for these people to come back and be so excited, and do so many things for us, has been incredible.

RPS: Were you surprised how quickly people have leapt on this one as something they wanted to see come back?

Chris Jones: I really was. We have several websites that are still active, but when we first put out the announcement video… I mean we had 35,000 hits in the first ten hours. I was just overwhelmed by that. Then to see these guys dig in and try to get us press, try to bring their friends on board, it’s really been fantastic, it’s just amazing.

RPS: How much do you think the previous games’ presence on GOG.com has been an influence on how popular the games still are?

Chris Jones: I think it’s been great. There have been instances where this being up on a website for years and years, people discover it and ask what the deal is with the Tex Murphy games, and people refer them quickly to GOG, and they’ve been able to get copies of the game and play them, and go, “Wow, I had no idea of the depth and how advanced the storytelling you guys had generated.” So GOG has been great for that. It’s been wonderful.

RPS: They were very well loved games in their time. Were they commercially successful?

Chris Jones: Yeah, they actually were. Under A Killing Moon was by far the biggest success that we had, and Pandora did quite well, and then Overseer fell off at that particular point in time. But I think a lot of was due to some of the feelings in the industry at FMV, and maybe some of the other games more-so than ours. We got lumped in together with them.

RPS: You really hit the crest of the CD-ROM game, you timed that perfectly.

Chris Jones: Yeah, I think so. From our standpoint we were looking for a big break in terms of the amount of data that could be stored, and when the CD-ROMs finally came out I think our timing was dead on.

RPS: Although you don’t seem to be mentioning Mean Streets and Martian Memorandum in this at all?

Chris Jones: Well… for those people who are familiar with that, that’s great. A lot of people really loved Mean Streets. It’s just it was such a change from the standpoint of how the games were done, that the early ones were of a different era for us. Under A Killing Moon started allowing us to develop the character in a much broader way.

RPS: I remember it had a huge impact on me, that weird, uncanniness of my PC doing video, but I was controlling video! It seemed impossible. You’d think that by now that would be really normal, but that still seems really abnormal to me, the idea of controlling video.

Chris Jones: Obviously we think that our products were well ahead of their time. I think that looking at what’s happened in the industry, FMV just faded off and died, but look at see what’s happened in the movie industry. That’s what all the big movies are any more: green screen with live actors, basically a lot of game elements that are inside the movie. I think bringing games around to having a lot of movie elements inside, so you can let the characters develop more so than just some tertiary things, I mean some really in-depth character development along with some solid acting that allows you to relate to the characters better than you could ever do with a CG character.

RPS: Do you think that’s true? Do you think there’s an extra level of connection with video?

Chris Jones: I think there is. I think CG characters are great in their way, but I don’t think you can get the depth of emotion that you can get when you’re dealing with real people. It’s the same thing with the Avengers. If those were CG characters it wouldn’t nearly be the same as it would if you’ve got a Robert Downey Jr, who’s executing the role of Iron Man perfectly, in a way you can relate to as a human being. So I think it makes a huge difference.

RPS: Why do you think more developers don’t do it for games?

Chris Jones: I think when it first game out it basically got a bad rap… Well, some of it was deserved.

RPS: [laughs] It sure was!

Chris Jones: [laughs] It was ahead of its time, but we were learning the craft. Then it faded away and I think a lot of people said, “Well, games are games, and movies are movies.” But really to me, no, that’s not necessarily true. You want an emotional connection with what you do, and I think developers have tried to do that in a CG way, and some of them have been quite successful. But the true human element, if you could truly relate to the characters, if it’s executed properly – and now I believe we have all the tools to do that – I think brings another dimension to the game. And again, my thing is, yes CG is great – it’s just like animation and what Pixar does – but I think to really let the story flourish you need FMV.

RPS: For how long have you wanted to be able to bring Tex back?

Chris Jones: Well, ever since we built a cliffhanger that… about twelve years ago! We’ve tried various times to bring this character back. When we were at Microsoft there were a couple of opportunities, but when Xbox took over they didn’t think the product was something that would work well on Xbox. As Big Finish games we’ve built some casual games, and we’ve thought, how can we bring more of the elements from adventure games into casual games, but they’re really kind of separate entities. We’ve talked to a couple of publishers, but it felt like it was going through a couple of committees, and going up a couple of levels, and then they would say, “No, there’s really no market for an adventure game any more.” So we couldn’t get any serious traction to bring it back.

RPS: Was it Kickstarter that made you realise?

Chris Jones: Well, we had started on prototyping some levels of Tex Murphy, we wanted to see what the tools could now do, and then obviously Tim Schafer had fantastic success. So, if there are people out there who really would want to see this product, and if they would support it, let’s give this a try. Let’s see if this is a viable way to bring the product back to market. Let’s find out if there’s any interest from a marketing standpoint, and if they can support it, great, let them be the publisher and let us answer to them in terms of the quality we put out there. And if they’re happy with it, well this is a great way to develop a product, because you’re dealing with the people who are the ultimate consumers.

RPS: Are you in touch with others who are doing this? Any of the old Sierra Online or LucasArts guys?

Chris Jones: We’ve talked to the Leisure Suit Larry guys – I loved that product in its day – and Jane Jensen, we’ve talked with her, and the SpaceVenture guys. It’s really the old guard.

RPS: This is my teenage years of gaming come back alive again!

Chris Jones: [laughs] It’s exciting! The whole point to this is, we are now answerable to those consumers. If we want to bring this back, we’ve got to do an excellent job. We’ve got to satisfy these people, and we’ve got to give them a reason for supporting it. If the publishers won’t do it, and we’ve got our second chance, we’ve got to deliver or this is a one-time shot.

RPS: So do you think this is something that could become ongoing if it’s successful?

Chris Jones: I really do. I think the reason so many people are supporting this just now is because the market has narrowed so much in terms of selection out there. You go, this is great, I love the shooters, I love the sports game, or whatever, but pretty soon you’re looking over shoulder and saying, “You know, there used to be more games that I could choose, and there used to be more variety,” and it seems that’s died out. So I think there is a certain longing for that. Now let’s just make sure that what we produce satisfies that longing so we’re a legitimate member of the family of games.

RPS: I’ve very pleased to play more Tex Murphy games. I loved those games back in the day. And I’m thrilled about new Space Quest, all these products coming back seems great. But I also worry that there’s a hook of nostalgia here, that will have that one-hit sense. “Oh yes, I remember loving those games then. It will be great to have a new one.” Do you think there’s a danger with you guys not developing new ideas as well?

Chris Jones: I think really the danger is – if they love the character they’re going to love this game – but you can’t rely on old technology, you can’t rely on how you did it before. You have to make it an enjoyable, slick experience. People’s attention spans are so much shorter than they used to be, so you need to gauge yourself to that and say, we’re dealing with a different type of consumer here, we’re all different types of consumers at this point, so don’t think that how you built a game fifteen years ago is going to satisfy these people. You have to bring these elements forward, and put them in a slick casing, so they go, “Wow! I’m enjoying this at the same level because they’ve got great characterisation, they’ve got a great story, the gameplay is fun, but if I’m going to stick with you you’ve got to make it easy and exciting, and basically a very slick package for me to play.”

RPS: How much was the budget on Under A Killing Moon?

Chris Jones: Under A Killing Moon was… two million dollars.

RPS: Okay, so this is going to be half a million, and it’s many years later. So how is that going to happen? How are you going to work within what is relatively a very tiny budget?

Chris Jones: Well, first of all the budget we’re getting from Kickstarter is not all the money we’re going to be using. We’ll have several hundred thousand dollars that we’ll commit to it as well. So you’re really talking a production that’s three quarters of a million. But when you look at the tools and how much they’ve improved… it used to be horrendous, the amount of work you’d have to go through to cut characters out and put them on the backgrounds, and give it the depth and the feel of them being in the environment. Now the tools are so slick, it’s so much easier than it used to be. Off the shelf technology that you can pull for the engine itself – I mean, we had to develop our own engine, our own tools, we had a very big programming staff – now you can do it with fewer programmers by far. And for the art team, you need a reasonably sized art team to pull this off, but it doesn’t need to be nearly as big either. When you combine all of these great tools that we have now, with people who have done it before, who completely understand the process – a lot of the guys are the exact same guys who worked on these games before – when we say in the video that we’re the pioneers, that’s really true. This is pretty much second nature to us.

RPS: So while you’ve only recently realised this is something you can do, what about the ideas going into the game? How long have they been around?

Chris Jones: We had a story arc that we were working toward. Obviously with Overseer we’d taken the story in a specific direction, that’s why we had the cliffhanger. I think the difference here is a lot of those elements are still going to be part of the game, it’s just that we’re pushing it out further. Obviously the characters are older, we don’t want to just say that they wake up the next morning and here we go, and oh – you guys look a little older, what happened?! We’re pushing it out a little further to make sense of where we are, and what’s happened to the characters, and I actually really like that. Developing the story it’s going to be, “What did happen on that night? What did happen to Tex’s girlfriend?” It really adds a lot of intrigue. I think people are really going to enjoy that.

RPS: Can you give us any hints about what themes we’ll be seeing in the new game?

Chris Jones: I think there obviously is a big story arc here. We’ve got the multi-paths again, so people can take it in different directions, based upon how they want to react emotionally and physically to a lot of the characters in the game. I think we do pathing pretty well. To see the relationships of the characters and where they’ve gone over the past seven or eight years will be very interesting to people. I think it’s going to be very intriguing to see elements of things Tex wasn’t even aware were happening to him in his world in Overseer, now really starting to blossom and come to fruition, as he’s pushed down the road just a little bit. I think people are going to be really excited about how all these elements have transitioned into something very, very big.

RPS: What about someone who never played any of the other games? How are they going to feel coming into it?

Chris Jones: Well, the really great thing about pathing is there are elements where if you want backstory you’re going to be able to find it. If you want to just move the story forward, you can just resolve things. But if you want to go back and play on a different path, you can do that. But anybody who is just hitting it fresh, we’re going to bring them up to spin really very quickly, and they’re going to be able to enjoy the story without worrying too much about what has happened – those elements will be there for them to discover.

RPS: Thank you for your time.

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25 Comments »

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  1. djbriandamage says:

    I really like all the Tex Murphy adventures but haven’t finished any of them. I’m gonna have to get on that as I treated myself to the whole series on GOG and have now backed the Kickstarter. I love the stories and the settings but some of the puzzles and the navigation really get in my way of enjoying the rest of the games.

    WASD please!

  2. Inigo says:

    So how well is the FMV going to mix with the gameplay this time? It wasn’t so bad with the previous games since half of it was made up of 2D sprites anyway, but it’s going to be more than a little glaring on a modern engine.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Overseer just avoided the problem entirely. If you went into somewhere with a character, you’d do the FMV bit and then be put into the empty room to explore.

    • Cerius says:

      Casebook (“modern” FMV game) allows you to walk around the room in FMV quality. It blurs out a bit though.

  3. Richard Cobbett says:

    “Obviously the characters are older, we don’t want to just say that they wake up the next morning and here we go, and oh – you guys look a little older, what happened?!”

    Especially since in the Radio Theatre continuation, that involved Tex waking up naked in the middle of more trouble. Even the biggest Friends of Tex can probably do without that…

  4. thesisko says:

    I’m glad these Kickstarters are finally putting an end to the “Rising costs of development”-bullshit that publishers have been feeding us as an explanation for the continuous dumbing down of classic franchises. It’s obvious to anyone with half a brain that the cost of making games has been consistently decreasing unless you insist on filling them with more and more cinematics and Hollywood voiceactors.

    • Shortwave says:

      Well spoken. Couldn’t be more true I do believe.

    • caddyB says:

      “Rising costs of marketing our bad games” is what they mean.

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      stahlwerk says:

      Well, subjectively I’d say that development cost roughly mirrored inflation and the playing public’s expectations.

      • thesisko says:

        Rising production values satisfy some expectations but usually carry consequences that let others down. I’d like to think that many gamers have expectations that transcend mere production values.

    • Red_Avatar says:

      The truth is that more and more money goes to marketing when looking at the complete budget, more money goes towards “presentation” as in voice actors and less money is spent on actually DEVELOPING games. Publishers just go for the mass market cash cow gamers and their marketing is the equivalent of shooting a very wide-angle shotgun at them hoping for enough bucks to find the target.

      Instead, they SHOULD use a sniping rifle and kill a niche dead on. You don’t need anywhere NEAR as much marketing money then, you don’t need to waste tons on presentation and you’d be pretty sure of sales. The problem is that they’re greedy fucks who aren’t happy getting a little over their money back and pleasing gamers at the same time.

      No, they fill the shelves with utter generic drivel and downright insulting games in the hope one will explode and become a huge success no matter how overrated it is. Because once people get hooked, no matter how crap the sequels are, they’ll still buy it. Eh, Mass Effect, Halo, etc. ?

  5. dazman76 says:

    I love to see/hear this kind of enthusiasm from game developers :) I actually never played the original games, so I should really head to GOG.com and fix that. I also really love this whole “Kickstarter resurrection” thing, where we have these great names from the industry returning to give players exactly what they want.

    While I don’t think it’s going to have EA or Ubilost running scared, I do hope that it at least gives them food for thought – and makes them realise that real quality can be achieved without their ridiculous budgets and ignorance towards the consumer. They’ve all been due a very, very big punch in the face for some time – and I find it very fitting that some “old hands” could be the ones responsible for teaching them a thing or two about the industry they’re abusing :)

    An excellent interview Mr. Walker :)

    • Shortwave says:

      While my opinion on kickstarters differs’ from yours.
      (I simply think it needs revision and better regulation at this point TBH)
      Your opinion on how it might effect the large companies rings true in my ear.
      That is most definitively an optimistic way of looking at it that I think is totally possible.
      And yea, it’s right cool how the old school devs might be the ones to do it.
      Something to think about for sure.

    • thesisko says:

      I don’t believe that publishers will take much notice. They are interesting mainly in funding games that are easily marketable to non-gamers and casual gamers. This is done by making sure they play well on consoles, have a lot of action and stuffing them full of cutscenes and scripted events that they can use in advertisements. Making a game that is supposed to be marketed directly to hardcore gamers and only by virtue of its gameplay elements is completely alien to them.

      • Shortwave says:

        Interesting point.
        But perhaps take into consideration…
        The idea that all these casual gamers which have been growing and growing over the past decade are slowly becoming “immune” almost to the casual experience and are wanting more complexity and challenge. I see it happening a lot. Tons of previously strictly console gamers asking me to help them build new computers for the mostly know games just “On pc because it’s better”. I’ve built at least 5 this year so far and that’s just inspired through simple conversation and general interest THEY were discussing. Think of how many casual gamers made the leap to PC with BF3. Or more recently Diablo 3.. Yes yes, HUGE titles I know but it’s the fact that people seem to identify themselves as “hardcore” more so once they move to PC, ha. But at that point the sky is the limit and they can often be found discovering a whole new world of games to enjoy. So I suppose that’s just an example of how casual gamers are slowly becoming more interested in new things, which to me makes it seem possible that the major companies might find it profitable to take a look. In the future anyways.
        Maybe not anytime soon, ha. Depends!

        • thesisko says:

          There is absolutely conversion going on from casual -> hardcore. But the thing is, the gamers I’m talking about aren’t necessary “casual” in that they only like simple games. Rather, they are casually interested in games, and don’t spend a lot of time and research when purchasing one. Thus they can only be reached with marketing. They will buy games that seem popular, even if their actual tastes favour something else.

          • Shortwave says:

            Ah yes, I understand now.
            True and must be considered in this equation. Ha.
            /me sips his morning tea and ponders

  6. rustybroomhandle says:

    Best CG – FMV integration I have ever seen was in Myst IV:Revelations

  7. Paul says:

    I own all Tex games on GOG, I have not played them yet, but I backed this anyway just because I really want to enjoy all those games and have its cliffhanger resolved.

  8. maladroid says:

    Man, The Pandora Directive was my introduction to Adventure games back in the day. Not the best game for that, I suppose, as it is quite complex and demanding in terms of navigating around and puzzle-solving but back then perseverance (and time) was aplenty. And it paid off in spades! The rest in the series are delightful in their own unique way (UAKM has more in the way of silly laughs and Overseer feels more like a proper thriller-movie with its somber ambiance) but I think Pandora hit the perfect balance between all the unlikely elements that make up Tex Murphy.

    Great interview John, really like the way some major issues are discussed and the additional insight into the funding of the game and their goals. Already went for the $115 tier, it wouldn’t feel right to get a new Tex Murphy in digital-only form :)

  9. PhantomBlade13 says:

    I just don’t understand why all the “big name” kickstarters are getting attention. Most of them don’t even have in-game footage yet. There are other projects with just as much traction, that could be spot lighted.

    I understand the larger names I guess creates more “security” that the project will release, but it would be nice to like spot light some of the projects not asking for 100k.

  10. thejobloshow says:

    Great interview and I loved what Chris said about variety in games! Besides this article, all the articles on your front page has a picture of some muscle bound meathead holding a large gun! Where is the variety indeed?

    Anyway, good job and I hope you guys give some exposure to the Two Guys from Andromeda’s SpaceVenture Kickstarter too. They’re going to need it.

    • Rapzid says:

      Yeah, awesome read! I would second wanting to see an interview with Scott and Mark about the Two Guys SpaceVenture campaign. Space Quest was pretty awesome in the day(SQ4’s writing and voice acting has held up surprisingly well) and I’m excited to hear some more about their reconciliation and new project.

  11. jimboton says:

    is no one else a little bit worried about this talk of ‘shorter attention spans’ and making it ‘easy and exciting’?