Interview with Chris Jones and Aaron Conners of Big Finish Games

Interview with Chris Jones and Aaron Conners of Big Finish Games

Be still our collective hearts -- Chris, Aaron & Tex are back, & Ray Ivey's got 'em!

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Recently I was able to catch up with Chris Jones and Aaron Conners of Big Finish Games to find out the skinny on what’s coming up for Tex Murphy!

RAY:  All Tex Murphy fans will be thrilled that the cliffhanger at the end of Overseer will finally be addressed.  Can you tell us whether the story of the new game will begin immediately after the cliffhanger ending or will any significant have passed?

CHRIS: Trust me, Aaron and I will be just as thrilled to address that #$&*% cliffhanger as the Tex Murphy fans will be! Though, if we hadn’t left things that way, maybe there wouldn’t have been as much motivation to bring Tex back…so maybe it was a good thing. The original plan was to pick things up more or less where they left off in Overseer, which is what we did with the story in the Tex Murphy Radio Theater episodes we recorded a few years back.  But that was all audio and one of the potential downsides of FMV is that it’s, well, video. If we stayed with FMV – and that has always been our plan – there was no feasible way to continue where the story ended.

AARON: Fortunately, our story already had elements in it that provided a perfect scenario to bridge the elapsed time. I hope I’m not giving away too much but, when the game begins, Tex (and the players) will think their date with Chelsee was last night…but it wasn’t. A considerable amount of time has passed and for some reason Tex doesn’t have any memory of anything that happened between the night he and Chelsee were abducted and “today.” Finding out the cause of the lost memory and uncovering the events behind the abduction and ensuing period of time will be one of the core threads of the story. I really like this scenario because it puts Tex and the player into the same frame of mind: a bit disoriented, trying to figure things out, learning as you go. It gives everyone a chance to adjust to the new setting together.


RAY:  Besides Mr. Jones, will any actors from the old series return?

CHRIS: Yes! Louie, Rook and Clint will all return, played by the same actors. We’ll also have some other characters, but we can’t mention names without giving too much away. But I think our fans will be very pleased.

RAY:  You have said that the new game will be shorter and faster-paced than the older games.  Are you thinking in terms of episodics?  They’ve become pretty popular with new adventures these days.

CHRIS: If we get funding through Kickstarter to do Project Fedora, it will be a full game. It may not be quite as massive as the old games, but we want to capture the same “epic” feel. Part of that will come from having multiple, well-developed narrative paths so players can replay the game and see a whole different perspective of events. If we get to do this game – and if it’s successful enough to merit a sequel – I think we might discuss the possibility of doing episodic content. It would be fun to put out new game releases every few months instead once every year or two.

RAY:  Okay, this one is going to sound like ass-kissing but I swear it’s not.  When I was watching (and enjoying) Stolen Life, it occurred to me that, all things being equal, Mr. Jones was an excellent actor.  (The actors in that piece ended up making me care about characters which were, let’s face it, primitively-animated 3D robots.)  Any plans for hiring yourself out as a hired gun for acting or voice work?

CHRIS: Uh…

AARON: I think Chris is really underrated as an actor. It’s too easy to criticize our games (or any FMV games) as “cheesy”, but Chris was always very funny and charming on-screen and, especially in Overseer, I think he showed an impressive range of dramatic acting as well. He certainly held his own with accomplished actors such as Michael York and Henry Darrow. But he’s a pretty humble guy – at least about his acting skills.
    
CHRIS: I was happy to do voice acting for Stolen Life, but it was kind of hard for me to believe they really wanted me to do it. I really don’t think of myself as an “actor,” but, sure, I’d open to doing other acting if the situation was right. By the way, Aaron’s done a bit acting himself.

AARON: Not that I could ever compete with Chris, but I’ve had a small cameo in all our games and I did a lot of voice acting for Amped 3, which I was also the Story Director for. For those who’ve played Amped 3, you’ll know what I’m talking about: it was a snowboarding game, but GameSpot actually nominated it for Best Story of the Year. A bunch of friends and I recorded all the audio as “placeholder” – so that the artists could animate to it…the plan being to bring in professional voice actors to re-record everything after the animation was finished – but after we recorded the “real” audio (at great expense), everyone on the project agreed that our amateur recordings were much better, so that’s what we used in the game.

RAY:  The “rebirth” of any popular series gives the creators a chance to reevaluate.  Can you talk a bit about what features of the old games you’re eager to bring back, and which features you look forward to having the opportunity to fix, update, eliminate, or otherwise change?

AARON: Overall, we think the older games have held up pretty well. If the graphics were at today’s standards, we think they could hold their own. Our biggest problem was always the interface and we’ll definitely address that in the new game. Features such as the interactive conversations, inventory, puzzles and hint system will all be very similar to the older games.

RAY:  Wouldn’t it be great if I could play Mean Streets and the Martian Memorandum on my Nintendo DS, PlayStation Vita or iPad?  (I realize Overseer is a remake of MM, but still!)  If GOG has them, why not consider some handheld ports?

CHRIS: It’s an intriguing idea. The biggest issue is the up-front cost of porting the games. They were pretty UI-heavy and that would probably have to get a complete overhaul – as would the graphics, to be honest. But if someone came along and said: Hey, we’ll do all the work and share the revenue with you, we’d be all over it.

RAY:  For that matter, can you see the new game(s) on any of the other “full-sized” consoles other than PC?

CHRIS: Possibly, but it would have to be a port of the PC version and, again, there’s a significant cost to that process. We don’t have a ton of money and whatever we have – plus whatever we can get through our Kickstarter campaign – will go into making the best game possible for the PC.

RAY:  A long-winded question about your thoughts on the adventure genre in general:  Like Broadway, the adventure genre seems to be a corpse we’ve been dancing on for a while now, but it won’t really die.  In the last few years, I have gotten the feeling that two developments:  the rise of casual gaming and the growing popularity of mobile gaming – could breathe new life in the genre.  Some of the best adventures I’ve played in recent years were on the DS, and I’m not talking about ports or remakes.  As far as casual PC gaming, I know it’s created opportunities for new games for classic adventure designers like you, Jane Jensen and Tim Schafer.  Am I just whistling in the dark here, or do you agree that these new trends could help recreate the adventure game, both in terms of development and audience?

AARON: I think it’s entirely possible. The DS has had some great adventure games recently and I’ve thought – or maybe “hoped” is a better word – that casual gamers would embrace more traditional adventure games and give the genre a much-needed shot in the arm. The biggest problem seems to be funding, which is why people like Tim and Jane and Al Lowe are turning to Kickstarter to help get their games made. People can argue about the definitions of “adventure game”, but there hasn’t been a big hit adventure game in the vein of Grim Fandango, Gabriel Knight or Tex Murphy in a long, long time. And for the people who control the purse strings, that’s all the really matters. All we can do is hope that someone has a breakthrough title that creates a new wave of interest – and financial support – for true adventure games.

RAY:  Where will the voice casting and recording be done for the new game?

CHRIS: Big Finish Games, in Salt Lake City, Utah, has the facilities and talent to do what we need. The FMV filming will take place in a local film studio.

So.  Don’t we wish your pal Steven Spielberg would fast track a big budget Tex Murphy film?

CHRIS: Hell, yes.

RAY:  Anything else you would like to tell us that I was too lame to ask you about?

AARON: We really want to thank our loyal fans who’ve stuck with us and never lost hope over the past fourteen years. We’re bringing Tex back for them, and for the other adventure game fans who, like us, long for the golden era of adventure games. It’s pretty exciting to know that new games will be out in the next year or so from not only us, but Jane Jensen, Tim Schafer and Al Lowe!

RAY:  BEST OF LUCK with the game and thanks, Mr. Conners and Mr. Jones for your time!

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