GRAY MATTER: Jane Jensen at the Leipzig conference with Anaconda
Transcript graciously provided by Almirena, webmaster of the GK4 campaign
Well, first I’d like to really thank you all for coming to this press conference. I know it’s very early days in this production, and I appreciate your interest in this game, so… thank you for coming. As you can see from the opening cut-scene, we are in the art concepting phase of this project, and also working on the engine. It is a rare opportunity to be able to start a brand new computer game series. In fact, I’ve only had that opportunity one other time in my career, which you’re probably familiar with. It probably follows that it would be a paranormal mystery series, since I can’t seem to get away from doing that, even when I write books. But almost 14 years after Gabriel Knight was first concepted, there have been many TV series about the paranormal, many movies about the paranormal, many game series about the paranormal. So the challenge was to try to figure out what would be a fresh approach, something new that you haven’t seen before on this theme. So Gray Matter really takes a much more philosophical point of view. It’s a much more subtle and realistic and scientific approach to the paranormal. It asks questions such as “What is the nature of reality?” “How do our perceptions and prejudices… how do they affect how we perceive the physical world?” and “What powers might lie untapped in the human mind?” It’s more… It says that it’s more Matrix than Van Helsing, so you won’t be chasing a lot of werewolves and vampires in this series.
One of the main characters is Samantha Everett (Sam), whom you saw in the opening sequence. She is a very talented stage musician, very adept at sleight-of-hand, and she’s been bumming around Europe for the last few years, getting by as a street performer. But at the opening of our story, she is out of money and out of luck, and stranded in the middle of nowhere, as you saw in that opening sequence.
She finds herself through a series of coincidences (or maybe they’re not coincidences) volunteering
to be the assistant for Doctor David Styles… This is a really rough really pre-model [in reference to
the image shown]. Styles is an Oxford neurobiologist and he had a brilliant career at one point, but
five years ago, there was a horrific car accident that killed his wife in the fire and disfigured him partially. Since that time he has been a recluse in his house, which is another character meaning Dread Hill House, conducting unknown experiments in his basement. It is possible that he’s half-crazy,
or so his peers think, because he’s developed some very strange ideas about the potential of the human body.
This first game in the series, and I want to make it clear that it’s not an episodic series as much as it is a planned continuing series, hopefully, just like Gabriel Knight… So this first game brings the characters together and gives you an introduction to the series’ themes. This first game is called Such stuff as dreams are made of, and in the game, Sam is challenged to find six students to volunteer for Doctor Styles’ new experiment – and this is your first quest, okay? And that’s quite a challenge, because he has a very unsavoury reputation on campus, to say the least. But Sam does manage, hopefully, if you’re playing correctly, to find six students to volunteer. The students are called the Lambs’ Club, as in “sacrificial”. And at first the experiment that Dr Styles has in mind seems harmless enough. The game will use real neurobiology in the way that CSI, the TV series, uses forensics, as a kind of grounding wire in reality. An experiment that he’s doing is to map the brain wave patterns of the students as they visualise various physical exercises, and this is actually a cutting-edge area of research in real-life neurobiology. It turns out that, if you visualise an exercise like jogging in great detail, your muscles and cardiovascular system get 60 to 70 percent of the benefit that they would if you actually went out [impossible to hear over the groan of the camera’s movements]… Talk about the powers of the mind. So this is the experiment that he’s running, and at first it seems like a pretty normal neurobiology experiment, but before long, there are bizarre events that start happening on campus that seem to mirror the exercises and visualisation that the students are performing every night.
Meanwhile, in another sub-plot, David is receiving visits in Dread Hill House from his late wife.
So as a player, you will need to uncover the mystery of exactly what is going on in the house and in the experiments on the Oxford campus.
As a player, you play as both Sam and David. A lot of the puzzles are traditional inventory / dialogue puzzles – inventory-based puzzles, logic puzzles, riddles. Sam is involved with a magic club called the Daedalus Club which has some really interesting scavenger-hunt type riddles in the game. In addition as Sam, she will have an interface to do sleight-of-hand magic, which she has a tendency to use to get her own way in just about any real-life situation. As David, you’ll have an opportunity to do some puzzles that are involved with neurobiology, such as hypnosis and memory recall.
And these are some additional early concept sketches for the game.
This is not final… with the art.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
What will Gray Matter be – a point and click adventure, or will it use 3D?
How will I [garbled], how will I see Gray Matter? Well, we did Gabriel Knight 3 in real-time 3D, and I think in general the adventure game audience does not enjoy navigating in real-time 3D. So for this game, we’re planning 2 ½ D, basically full 3D backgrounds that are pre-rendered, and then 3D characters on top of that. It will be mostly point-and-click, but there will be a context-sensitive cursor, and also in some instances, like when you’re doing the magic with Sam, there will be a small menu that pops up where you select your options.
A couple of years ago, Gray Matter had already been in development with another publisher.
Has the game changed in the last years… have your plans changed?
Yes, it was announced in 2003 that we would be publishing Gray Matter with Dreamcatcher. The game at that point did not have a developer, and we spent some months searching for the right development team, but in the end, Dreamcatcher would not come up with the funding for the game, so it was cancelled. So this is an opportunity for Gray Matter to finally find a realisation, and hopefully, I think we’re much farther along now than we were at the time of that [too soft to hear]. But the game itself, the game bible, is identical. [too soft to hear].
Question about puzzles :
Well, having worked in the casual game for the last few years, I think I’m… I’m definitely much more in favour of having a game that is very accessible to the mass market, and providing a very seamless entertainment experience with not a lot of road-blocks that come up, especially early in the game, where you’re not, you know, invested enough yet to not just give up and decide to play something else. So I think that there will definitely be some challenging puzzles in Gray Matter, and some, you know, I can’t resist writing riddles… some people find those very hard to solve. But in general, I’d like to make it more of a seamless flow… You can get into the story and not be too disrupted by very difficult puzzles.
Question about integrating action into the game, such as in Dreamfall:
I think it can be done successfully. Even the old Sierra games that I grew up on had action sequences and… in fact, Gabriel Knight has always had a little bit of that. I think it just makes a nice variety in gameplay, but there really isn’t actually much in Gray Matter because it didn’t really go with the theme. In general, I’m not in favour of sort-of hardcore action adventure with a big mix of fighting and adventure, because I think that these traditional adventure audiences really don’t like fighting, so i t’s sort-of an interesting mix.
I think it can work; it just depends on the game and if it can be incorporated really well into the story. As I said, be accessible enough to the adventure audience.
Can you die in Gray Matter?:
I think the only place that can happen is at the very end because, you know, some choices you can make that will lead to you, but not through most of the game. Again, there’s not really any… you’re not fighting rebels in this game, so there’s less opportunity for you to get hacked and slashed.
About the music:
No, but we’re in discussions with Robert Holmes, who happens to be my husband, so maybe I can persuade him to do some themes for us this time around.
About games Jane has liked over the last couple of years:
I really liked Syberia, and Longest Dream, quite a lot. Syberia in particular really impressed me with just how much of a seamless experience it was, and that it was very cinematic.
About adventure games and traditional story-telling finding its audience:
Well, I think what happened was, when I joined Sierra Online back in 1989, it really was a family game company, and at that time PCs were not fast enough, processors were not fast enough to run action and arcade games; those were reserved for the big machines in the malls. So we had a lot of adventure games at the time, and other games that were slower-paced kind of product, but once processors got fast enough to run action games well, then those essentially took over the market entirely, and I think that’s still the case in North America, unfortunately. I mean, there hasn’t been a big budget adventure game developed in North America really since Gabriel Knight 3, since 1999. So… I think it’s really unfortunate, because I think the industry has disenfranchised a lot of users who are just not attracted to that kind of product. And I’ve never been of the mind that there was ever anything really wrong with adventure games as they were done; I think that… that’s not to say that we can’t improve it, and, you know, that ten years later we’re not going to do things differently, as I said. I think that there are many things about the really old-school classic adventure games that don’t need to come back, like pixel-hunting or some of the really obscure, you know, bubble-gum on the horse-hair, you know, to pick a lock. I think some of that stuff is kind of passé at this point, but I still really believe in the idea of playing a character in a story and actually going through the story yourself manually as opposed to just reading it. And I think there is an audience for adventure games. I think the big challenge in North America has been to find that demographic, because what’s happened is that the perception of games has hardened into all these action games with big breasts and therefore they’re for my sixteen-year-old son and not for me. So people who might like adventure games tend to simply not go into computer game stores at all. So it has a role right now very much like the comic book industry where there’s just a very limited demographic that’s even going to try it, so… I think the challenge for us has always been to reach the people who would like this kind of game, and there are some things that we can do this that. One of them is to approach the online market, which is a much older demographic. And also, as we’ve seen, games have really come back in Europe, which… I think, even for Gabriel Knight, I used to get a lot of letters from Denmark and Germany and Austria and France. So I think there’s
always been more of a stronghold in Europe for intelligent story-based games.
Yeah, I would say 16 and up. I mean, you know, if you’re an intelligent 13 or 14-year-old… It’s not any more mature than Gabriel Knight, and there were certainly people in that younger age that played Gabriel Knight.
How long to play:
Well, you know, I can’t write a simple story; it’s just not within my capacity to do a 20-hour game, so… It’ll probably be about the same as Gabriel Knight, probably about 40 hours.
I have kind-of a love-hate affair with the word “linear”. I’m a storyteller, and I’m a big believer in the fact that there is “a” story… and… even when you write a story, you find as you slowly uncover it that you’re uncovering “a” story that has almost really existed long before you thought of it… With Gabriel Knight, we had two endings, and people would write to me, saying, “Well, I got the bad ending first, and then I found the right ending”, so I think people know when they’ve uncovered the right story, in a strange sort of way. The way I try to approach non-linearity in a game is that at the beginning of a chapter, there’s a story sequence, and I know exactly what the player knows, at that moment in time. But then, as the chapter progresses, there are a lot of things that you uncover in the story, and you can uncover those things in any order, and… as a designer it’s my job to make sure that if you talk to Mr Snowball before you’ve seen the red shoes and after you’ve gotten the green cloak, then you get the appropriate response. But… so it gets very broad in the middle of the chapter, but when eventually you’ve accomplished all the tasks, at the end of a chapter there’s another cut-scene that brings you back to a single point in the story. So that’s the way I try to approach non-linearity. There is in this particular game two possible endings, actually, because it just worked out thematically, but there won’t necessarily always be that… as it happens.
Would you be able to play Sam and David simultaneously or chapter by chapter?
It’s chapter by chapter in this story. I think it’s something I would really like to do and something I had planned to do for Gabriel Knight 4 is to be able to hop back and forth. But for this particular story, it just worked out better to play chapter by chapter.