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Interview with Chris Jones on Project Fedora
Developer:Big Finish Games
Article Posted:May 2012

The first time I heard about the Tex Murphy series was during a computer science class. Our instructor, no doubt a fan of the series, described Under a Killing Moon as an example of a game that was too large to ship on a single CD. The game offered so much full-motion video (FMV) and so many diverse locations to explore that it shipped on four CDs. At the time, FMV adventures were a new concept to me. I had never played a game where the characters were brought to life by real actors.

When I finally got a chance to play Under a Killing Moon, I knew that I was in for a real treat. There was far more to the game than using FMV. Under a Killing Moon had an incredibly strong atmosphere. The science fiction setting was realized remarkably well. The game was set in the San Francisco of 2042. It was a war-torn world where the skies had turned ruby red due to high levels of radiation. Many people had suffered horrible mutations. There was brewing conflict between the mutants and those that were naturally immune to the effects of radiation. Within minutes of starting the adventure, I felt as if I had really been transferred to a different world.

The game's main protagonist was similarly compelling. Players assumed the role of Tex Murphy, a down-on-his-luck detective that was desperate for a new client. There was something very charming about the struggling detective. He was deeply flawed, but he also had the determination and resourcefulness to get to the bottom of any case. Tex Murphy felt like a real person and not just a generic adventure-game hero.

By the time I finished Under a Killing Moon, I was thoroughly impressed with the depth of its story, the variety of its puzzles, and the complexity of its characters. The Pandora Directive and Overseer, the two sequels to Under a Killing Moon, offered similarly exceptional adventure-gaming experiences. These were games where the story truly mattered. The characters were fully-realized, the locations were detailed, and the overall experience was remarkably immersive. Years after playing them for the first time, Under a Killing Moon, Pandora Directive, and Overseer remain among my all-time favorite adventure games. I would readily recommend these three games to any adventure fan.

Overseer was never meant to be the last Tex Murphy game. Developers Chris Jones and Aaron Conners wanted to follow up Overseer with another sequel, resolving the cliffhanger from the Overseer's ending. Unfortunately, previous attempts to develop the sequel failed. Access, the company under which Tex Murphy was originally developed, was sold to Microsoft and the series went into limbo. However, more than a decade after the release of Overseer, we might finally get a chance to play another Tex Murphy game. Chris Jones and Aaron Conners are back at the helm and they are using a Kickstarter project to raise funding for a new Tex Murphy game.

As the Kickstarter project launches, Chris Jones kindly agreed to answer our questions about the initiative to bring back Tex. As a special treat, Mr. Jones, who plays Tex Murphy in Under a Killing Moon, Pandora Directive, and Overseer, agreed to let us record the interview and make the audio file available on our Web site. You can listen to the original audio recording of the interview using the flash player below. You can also find a full text transcription of the interview.

[Adventure Lantern]: It's been well over a decade since the release of Tex Murphy: Overseer. Can you tell us a little about the projects you worked on in the intervening time?

[Chris Jones]: Yeah. After we were sold to Microsoft, I worked there in the gaming department. We continued our work with Links. At that particular time, I was product planner for Links. We also worked on a snowboarding game called Amp. There was also a project based on Steven Spielberg's AI. We spent a lot of time actually working on an Xbox product for that particular property. But, at a certain point, we felt like our time was very poor on that, because AI had already come out and it was going to be a year before we had a game done. So that project was cancelled. We also had a baseball product out. There were a number of projects that as a product planner I was involved with for the Xbox.

After Access had been sold to Microsoft, one part of the company that Microsoft did not pick up on was golfing software to big simulator companies where you played with actual clubs. The company was called TruGolf. I went to work with TruGolf because there were a lot of Access people in that company, building golf software for bigger simulators. From 2005 until now, that's been part of what I do. We build golfing software, but we also build golfing simulators you can actually play on and that's part of the business known as TruGolf.

[AL]: What can you tell us about some of the earlier efforts to bring back Tex Murphy? What were some of the challenges you faced trying to make the sequel?

[CJ]: When we were initially sold to Microsoft, there was some interest in continuing the Tex Murphy line. So we had discussions there in terms of how to tailor the product to the audience of the Microsoft PC line. But within 12 months, everything was switched to Xbox. The whole attention of Microsoft in terms of games really turned to Xbox production. It was felt that Tex Murphy was not a good fit for console games. There was also a casual gaming department inside Microsoft. The guy who ran that department was a big Tex Murphy fan. We had discussions probably a year to a year and a half later, probably around 2002-2003, to bring Tex Murphy back more on their PC casual game side. We looked at that for a long time, but because of the different departments involved and the scope of the game, it really would not fit inside the casual game arm of Microsoft either.

After I left, we looked at doing Tex Murphy again as a product that we would develop through the TruGolf arm. We spent a lot of time working on CG characters. We felt like we needed to go to the CG side of this and do Tex Murphy as a computer-generated character. We spent some time on this, but wondered how we could market this product. At the time, adventure games really had completely tanked. We talked to a number of publishers and even showed them some prototypes, but we just couldn't get enough traction to go after this at the level we needed to go. It was a debate of how big of a game to build. Tex Murphy always been a fairly a substantial game. And to take it down and make it CG... After a while we felt this really wasn't the core of what we want to accomplish with this property. We talked to another publisher about it. They were really interested, but it was kind of the same thing. There were certain roadblocks we just couldn't seem to get clear of.

Then we started Big Finish Games in 2006-2007. We wanted to do Tex Murphy, but we wondered: "How are we going to take this. There are all these casual games out there. They are not going to be interested in a full-blown adventure game. We can maybe do Tex Murphy as more of a casual game. But let's test the water by designing these other products. Because Tex Murphy is a big game. We are going to have to think about how to tailor it to that particular market." So we came out with the Three Cards to Midnight series. It was really a hybrid between an adventure game and a casual game. We had limited success with those. I think a lot of people who are in the casual market are not interested in adventure games. They seem similar, but there really are some subtle differences that can make all the difference to people. Some people really did like it, but from our experience, we really felt like it was going to be a very difficult task to bring Tex Murphy to the casual gaming world. There was also the problem of doing it CG vs. doing it FMV. At the time, again, it just kind of fell apart.

After four, five, six different run ins, you kind of begin to wonder if this will ever come to fruition.

[AL]: Sure. I understand that. In general what was it like to work on those casual games? How does it differ from making a game like Tex Murphy?

[CJ]: Well, it differs in that Tex Murphy is so story-driven. There are lots of characters and a story arc. You really do want to make sure that the experience is more than solving puzzles and reaching the end of the story. You want to make it feel like a more immersive experience. That's a lot more work and takes a lot more development in terms of bringing all the elements together.
The casual game experience is more driven by people who like certain game mechanics or people who like puzzles per se, but they really do not want to get bogged down with the story too much. You can build a very light story to go along with it to tie the elements together, but at its core, they really just want to focus on either the puzzle aspect or that central game mechanic. They want to play in short bursts. It just is a different mindset. They may look similar on the surface, but a true casual game player is not much interested in what would be considered to be a true adventure genre product.

[AL]: That makes sense. This is kind of off topic maybe, but I wanted to ask: what kinds of games do you like to play?

[CJ]: I spent a lot of time over the past couple of years evaluating other products in the casual game market. I kind of enjoyed the Mystery Case Files. They had a little more of a story and a semi-3D feel. That was a little closer to my heart in terms of the games that were out there. I enjoyed Alan Wake and really liked the atmosphere and feel of that product. I tried L.A. Noir and didn't quite get into that as much as I thought I would. Honestly, I still love a game with a good story that's told well and creates a certain atmosphere, whether it's funny, it's dark, or it's scary. To me it's how well they created the atmosphere that goes with the gameplay itself.

[AL]: Sure. And going along with that, what do you think about the current state of adventure gaming?

[CJ]: I am very encouraged by the success that the old adventure guys had bringing products like Leisure Suite Larry, Jane Jensen... The Double Fine experience of how much money they raised for their product... I am actually encouraged. I hope that we come back and offer people a very intelligent alternative to the games that are out there right now. It just feels very sterile. If they don't fit into a certain bracket, games basically can't get made. They spend so much money that they can't really take any kind of a risk or a chance. So it just gets into franchises and sports game. The choices have become extremely limited in terms of what people can experience out there. I am hoping that we come back and we are smarter and we are faster and we are more entertaining that we were the first time through just because of being proven in technology and all the experience we gained. So that when people play these games and give it a try they are going to go "Wow. This is something new and fresh even though it is based on an old genre. This has been freshened up and I am excited about the opportunity to play these types of games."

[AL]: Sure. Bringing it back to Tex Murphy, first I wanted to ask what Tex Murphy means to you personally.

[CJ]: Well, the thing about Tex Murphy to me is that it's kind of a compilation of lots of different experiences. Obviously, the guy is close to my heart. I love the fact that he isn't some super-spy or superhero type character. He's got his own vulnerabilities. He's not the brightest guy in the world, and yet he is clever in his own way. He may be saying the wrong things in a certain social atmosphere, but at the core of it, he has a good heart and he is motivated for the right reasons to do what he does. I think that type of character a lot of people can relate to, certainly I can. I think that's why he's become kind of endearing over the years to people. "Here's somebody that's not that much different than me. And wow, look at these experiences. That could be me on this adventure." I think they relate to it that way, the same way that I do.

[AL]: Absolutely. And how did Project Fedora come about?

[CJ]: Well, it's something Aaron and I have been kicking around for years. Obviously, we didn't feel like Overseer was going to be the end of what we did. We did the radio theater. We looked for opportunities over the last several years to bring this product back. Every time something came up, we worked on concepts and ideas in terms of how we wanted the story to end or how we take the story arc and apply it to the circumstances that we might find ourselves in to finish the story. In the case of Project Fedora, we have certain elements that will be a continuation of what would have happened to Tex at the end of Overseer. As it is, those will have to be adjusted because time has passed and certain elements have changed. But at the core, the story we want to tell is still there albeit some of the circumstances may change.

[AL]: Sure. What are your overall goals with the project?

[CJ]: I think the goal is to finish the Tex story arc and also to see if we can build a smarter, faster, more entertaining product than what we have in the past based on the fact that technology has changed. Can we take the adventure genre and get people to put it back on their shelf again and actually consider it as part of the gaming family. Have them say "This is a genre that needs to be there. This is entertaining. This is fun. This is something I want to play with my kids. It should be part of the gaming family."

[AL]: How much funding do you need to make the project successful?

[CJ]: We haven't decided on the final number yet, we are still about a week away. But probably around half a million dollars.

[Editorial note:] This interview was conducted on May 8, several days before Mr. Jones finalized the Kickstarter campaign. The campaign went live as scheduled on May 15th and the target budget for the game is $450,000.

[AL]: And assuming the fundraising is successful, what kind of timeframe do you have in mind to finish the game?

[CJ]: Well, the timeframe will be around 12 months, maybe a little bit longer. We prototyped, we looked at technology. We built 3D engines here. We have a golf 3D engine. There may be some off-the-shelf answers that could work with some of the technology we have developed. It'll take some time to get those elements incorporated, but we certainly know what we need to do. We certainly know there are several options in order to reach that goal. But all of the things we want to accomplish are doable. It's just going to be a matter of dealing with those things on the front end and getting into a normal development cycle of about a year. We are probably 12-14 months away.

[AL]: That sounds great. We already touched on this a little bit, but what's your overall vision for the new game? Is it going to be a direct sequel to Overseer?

[CJ]:Yeah. All of the experiences Tex has had up until that point will play into where this adventure takes off from. Again, it's the timing. Tex is obviously older than he was when he was doing it. So there will be a certain passage of time that's involved. It's always going to come back to what actually happened on that night and what happened to the character and how he is going to piece by piece put that picture together.

[AL]: Are there any more story details you can give us at this point?

[CJ]: I don't want to give away too much, but once we get the funding and we are on our way, we will give out bits and pieces to give people a taste of what they are about to experience?

[AL]: And we already hinted at this a little, but are you planning to maintain the interactive movie format with live actors?

[CJ]: Yeah. You know, after years and years of looking at it and going back, we really want to do the FMV for a number of reasons. One is we think we do it better than anybody else. We think a lot of people got into this and didn't understand it, and maybe even soiled it to a large extent. But we feel because of the new technology that is out there, because of our experience, we can bring back something people can't get in other games. CG has served its purpose, you can get some emotion out of it, but a real emotional response, a real gut reaction that people viscerally feel has to be done through FMV. We felt like that's a huge part of why people love the Tex Murphy series. As we discussed it over the years, we realized that it's got to be done this way or it can't really be done. We can't recreate that feel in a CG environment, so we have to go after it.

[AL]: What about overall gameplay experience? In the previous games we had the 3D movement where you picked up items, solved puzzles, and whatnot. Then you had the scenes where you talked to the other characters. Is it going to be similar to that?

[CJ]: Yeah. That is the quintessential detective engine. You are thrown into an environment. You have to put things together. You have to be able to move around and look under desks, look in drawers, move mattresses. You have to be able to do things a detective would be doing. That's absolutely necessary to give them the feeling that they are in a detective novel or movie.

[AL]: Along similar lines, what kind of puzzles do you have in mind?

[CJ]: We'll have a lot of logic puzzles, lateral thinking puzzles. A lot of them are based on situational aspects. For instance, if you have to get inside a locked building, how are you going to deal with that? How are you going to put the elements together? How are you going to gather things and put them together in order to use them in certain situations?

Really, the puzzle style we established before we think works very well. The key to me is that the game has to keep moving. We want to have easily accessible hints so people do not get stopped and waste too much time on a particular puzzle and keep moving through the game.

[AL]: What can the fans do to support the project at this point?

[CJ]: I am hoping that they will see us up on Kickstarter and support the project to help raise the money we need. We think at the very least they are pre-ordering the game. Or they can take it to the next step and actually feel like they are participating in building this product by making sure we have the resources we need. We'll have opportunities to chat with the fans and have ways to find out certain moods and nuances they would like to see in the game and make sure we are taking this character in a direction they would like to see.

[AL]: What are some of the incentives you are planning to offer through Kickstarter?

[CJ]: We have games that Big Finish studios have done. We've got the older games: Overseer, Under a Killing Moon, Pandora Directive will be available as incentives. We got t-shirts. For a little higher level, we got producer credits, assistant-producer credits, novelty items from the games. I think if you are a Tex fan you'll find something to there you are really going to enjoy and give you a good reason to send us some money because that's what we are trying to do!

[AL]: Ok. Well, that all sounds excellent. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.

[CJ]: Thank you for giving me the opportunity. I appreciate it.

Once again, Adventure Lantern thanks Mr. Jones for answering our questions. I for one am tremendously excited at the prospect of playing another Tex Murphy adventure. It would be exciting to see where Chris Jones and Aaron Conners take the story and finally get some resolution to Overseer's cliffhanger ending.

If you enjoyed any of the previous Tex Murphy games, please consider contributing to the Kickstarter project. To find more about Project Fedora and make a contribution, please click here.

Disclaimer: While I personally chose to make a donation to the project, Adventure Lantern has no financial interest in the Tex Murphy series. This interview was conducted for the sole purpose of increasing awareness about the fund raising effort.