Adventure games have changed a lot over the past 20 years. And now, thanks largely to Tim Schafer's super-successful $US3.4-million Kickstarter, we're about to get a whole lot more of them.
Schafer isn't the only adventure game luminary getting into the Kickstarter business. Jane Jensen, the creator of the beloved 1990's occult adventure series Gabriel Knight, has also turned to the internet to fund a new game.
In fact, Jensen isn't stopping at a single game — she wants Kickstarter backers to help her studio, Pinkerton Road, to create adventure games for a year. That means that backers will have more creative say over each project than in some other Kickstarters. They've already made their first decision — a fan vote chose among three candidates, and the first game that Pinkerton Road will make will be Moebius.
From the Kickstarter page's description:
Malachi Rector is an antiquities dealer who hunts down artifacts all over the world. After his upscale Manhattan store is destroyed in a fire, he's hired by billionaire Amble Dexter to investigate a series of events and document them in his meticulous way.
Malachi Rector? Dude's name is Malachi Rector? Oh, man. If that doesn't scream "1990's adventure game" I don't know what does.
I spoke with Jensen on the phone this week about the game, which she described as having a bit of Gabriel Knight's vibe, but actually has more in common with her novel Dante's Equation.
"I had the core idea for Moebius on a flight," Jensen told me, which is where she usually has good ideas. "It's the kind of thing where I don't want to talk about it too much, that's kind of the big mystery. But there is this sort of core metaphysical concept [like Dante's Equation], kind of like The Matrix."
An adventure game with a Matrix-like hook, huh? Sounds good to me!
"It's more like a metaphysical, sci-fi thriller. I don't know that it's super Gabriel Knight-ish, but it's definitely in that family." Jensen laughed, "Though Malachi is a much more sophisticated guy than Gabriel was."
One of the notes on the Kickstarter page mentions that Moebius will feature two game modes — "casual" and "true adventure". I asked Jensen how that would work and whether it was a design challenge to design an adventure game to be both a throwback to the difficult games of yore and approachable for a casual audience.
"It's more about leading them through by taking them by the hand," Jensen said, rather than designing the puzzles two times. She was sure to point out that until they get to playtesting, most of what she thinks about the puzzles is conjecture.
How does Jensen think that adventure games have changed over the last 20 years? "Modern ones tend to be easier, and I think, a little less whimsical. Sierra and Lucasarts were a little whimsical, in terms of the puzzles — you think about the puzzles, and they were very funny and clever and whimsical. Think about the Monkey Island puzzles. It's hard to find things like that [these days]."
(It was at this point that I told Jensen about Botanicula, which I am going to take another opportunity to tell you about, too.)
Assuming her Kickstarter hits its goal, the backers will have a high level of involvement in the project. Jensen is full-bore on embracing an involved audience; she doesn't seem to have any worries about a potential backlash, should backers not be pleased with the game they helped fund.
"Having your customers really invested is considered a really good thing, even if at times they're angry," Jensen said. "I remember writing a letter to Sierra, I had just played King's Quest 5, and I'd loved King's Quest IV. And I played King's Quest V and I was so disappointed, and so angry, I must have written a four-page letter just ranting to them. But that means I was passionate.
"So I'm sure it's not going to always be easy to deal with our CSG members (those who pledge $US50 or more), but those are the people who really care. I mean, you should be so lucky as a company, to have people that invested!"
Jensen laughed. "I mean, that's the way I feel about it right now. If you ask me about it in a year, I might still not feel that way!"
The Pinkerton Road Kickstarter is 2/3rd of the way to its $US300,000 goal with 28 days left, so it's a safe bet that it'll hit its funding target. Which means that at some point in 2013, we're all gonna meet Malachai Rector and go on some dark, Matrix-y adventures. I'm looking forward to it.
Jane Jensen's Pinkerton Road [Kickstarter]