Jane Jensen interviewed by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (30th November 2007)
Translation by Santi.
Jane Jensen's computer games are classics: she was made famous by the densely atmospherical mystery adventures of the award-winning "Gabriel Knight" series. In the FAZ Interview she speaks about Munich werewolves, neurobiology and her new plans.
FAZ: Jane, can the interviewer tell a story which has to do with you?
FAZ: Once in my life, I was drawn to Munich, in a city in which I'd just played the adventure of, that's right, "Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within". As Gabriel Knight, I had arrived dozens of times to the Marienplatz square from the subway, and this time I did it for real. Everything was so familiar to me. With a strange feeling I went down the Dienerstraße. A few houses further there should have been this mysterious Hunting Club, in which we encounter hiding werewolves. I found the house. Entered. And found myself in a china porcelain shop. Imagine my disappointment!
Jane: Very cool. I love these stories.FAZ: Are you often told stories like this? Get those often told? Somewhere on the Internet, I found people who claim that there was such a thing as adventure tourism: people who visit the places that they know from games. Do you believe it?
Jane: I get such letters. The favourite photo of a fan I have is from Neuschwanstein, where "The Beast Within" is also set. She's standing in front of the castle, pulling the shirt up and showing her Gabriel Knight tattoo.
FAZ: Have you ever visited places because of games, or because you read about them in literature?
Jane: Certainly. In fact, my interest is stimulated mostly through reading. For example, I have visited Rennes-le-Château as a part of the research for "Gabriel Knight 3", and started being interested in that stuff because of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" by Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent, and Richard Leigh. It is the book to which even Dan Brown's "sacrilege"refers.FAZ: What does Europe mean to you as a mystery writer? In "Gabriel Knight 2" you wrote in an inimitable way about Wagner, Ludwig II and werewolves in a story which featured even parts of a Wagner lost opera. For a German this feels as if we were, for you in America, a kind of Transylvania.
Jane: Haha. I guess we are all Transylvania for each other? It is probably interesting to see one's own home through the eyes of a stranger. I love Europe. It is so rich in history, especially dark history.
FAZ: If there were a Gabriel Knight 4, and it was set in the United States - which setting would you choose, and which historical background?
Jane: I do not know. I have different ideas for Gabriel Knight 4, but none of them in the United States. However, I have another book idea in the head, which takes place in South Dakota, the Lakota Sioux reservation. It's a great locality. The Black Hills are very magical; it is the seat of the Lakota ghosts.
FAZ: Will there ever a be a Gabriel Knight 4 - or not?
Jane: Vivendi Games has the rights, so the approval of a production of a new game is up to them. I think it is quite possible that one day Gabriel Knight will be revived.
FAZ: You had two highly acclaimed adventure stories of yours published as books. Why?
Jane: I made the novelisations of "Gabriel Knight 1: Sins of the Fathers" and "Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within" because I wished that the series would reach people who never had to do with a computer game in their lives. However, the books sold only to computer players, so the success was limited.
FAZ: What's more fun to write - a novel or a game?
Jane: Those are two very different processes, and I like both for different reasons. In a novel it's nice that everything broods within yourself, and the end result is entirely what comes out from your head. For a game one works in a team, and there is also a special satisfaction in watching the development of graphics, music and animations, seeing the story come to life. Both are very positive experiences.
FAZ: Will there be novels in two hundred years?
Jane: Oh yes. They exist since ancient Greece. They won't disappear so soon.
FAZ: Many Adventure fans say that "Gabriel Knight 1" was an unequaled experience, although it had really ancient 2-D pixel graphics. I myself will never forget the shock of my favourite character being unexpectedly kidnapped. How did you achieve that?
Jane: I do not know. I only told a story. Any good story has surprises and twists which the reader does not foresee. The astonishing fact is that a computer game works just like a novel or a film. I also think, on the other hand, that the reader can relate better to the characters when action is interactive. Even if they look very pixelated!
FAZ: Where did you learn to construct stories?
Jane: Presumably as a child. I have read tons. This way you get a feeling for things. But also, who helped me a lot is Robert McKee, the Storytelling-Seminar, and a standard work on script writing published. Those were the tools in my hand, it can be, if all fails - or inspiration to the final results of inspiration to improve.
FAZ: Do you play your own games?
Jane: Around one billion times before they come out on the market.
FAZ: What inspires you most: books, games, movies? Showers?
Jane: Books, I have to say. I have most of my story ideas from books. They also come from trips. When travelling, I also encountered Ludwig II.
FAZ: We've been waiting for your next adventure since 1999. Latest news says it is to come in 2008. What has delayed you so long, if I may ask?
Jane: The state of the game industry. North American companies have not developed any adventures since 1999.
FAZ: Where does the new game, "Gray Matter", take place? Can we assume that it is here in Europe?
Jane: It plays in the present, with Oxford as a home base.FAZ: What British scares await us - Frankenstein, ghosts or bad food?
Jane: Of course, there will be also some of that, but the basic approach is a little more recent. We go from neurobiological findings on the functioning of the brain, such as memory, to the linking of nerve cells in the brains of babies, the cooperation of the two hemispheres, mental illnesses, and so on.
FAZ: So it will be a basic course in neurology?
Jane: Almost. However, the game brings these concepts in a more theoretical and metaphysical realm. Professor David Styles, one of my main characters, has a theory that the physical brain can alter reality. This theory is based on developments in neurobiology in the last few years. Who we are physically, and how the material world we see depends, obviously, much more on the spirit and one's own perception than we previously thought. "Gray Matter" will cast such questions: What is reality? How are our perception of it and our wishes influenced? Are we, literally, what we think?
FAZ: Computer, sound and graphics cards are increasingly faster and more powerful. The games look photorealistic, the industry is growing and growing. Is all this an advantage for a story?
Jane: Yes and no. Of course, new tools are always fun. But adventures cannot afford them, they are too expensive in production, because they are not selling the enormous volume of action games. So it is better to keep the budget at a reasonable level.
FAZ: What technical innovation was for you the last real improvement for an adventure writer?
FAZ: So the use of spoken language. This must have been by the beginning of the 90s. And would you ever do novels, games or other virtual reality, which are not mysteries?
Jane: One day certainly. Love games would certainly be fun. Surely, should the market for story-based games be significantly healthier, I will appear.FAZ: As a mystery writer, you have basically a limited character park: werewolves, vampires, voodoo priests and so on. Would it not tempting, to create even a whole new classic character, as Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley did?
Jane: I rather try to find for every classical figure type a new screenplay. But I like your idea. I would not say that it's a dream or goal of mine - but when the inspiration strikes, I will certainly listen to it.
FAZ: Have you ever been in Munich?
Jane: Yes, I have lived there for nine months. That was before I started being a game designer. I found Munich great and was very interested in Bavarian history, so that later, of course, was used in a game. In fact Munich would almost have become the setting for the first Gabriel Knight game, but then it turned out to be New Orleans and Voodoo.
[Source (in German): Frankfurtere Allgemeine Zeitung]