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The Inventory interviews Jane Jensen

The Past

The Inventory: Although you had worked for Eco Quest before, the first adventure you were widely credited for was King's Quest VI, which you co-designed with Roberta Williams. Many King's Quest fans believe that King's Quest VI is the best one of the whole series. How did you split work with Roberta? Which parts of the game did you do yourself?
Jane: We sat down at her house with a huge pad of paper - that was her method of design. She already knew the game would be about King Graham's son, Alexander, and his quest to the Green Isles to meet and save Cassima. Most of the rest was brainstormed between us. I would say I can claim responsibility for the Cliffs of Logic, though. That's definitely my kind of puzzle.

The Inventory: Was the co-operation between you and Roberta easy?
Jane: It wasn't always easy at the time. She knew exactly what she wanted and I needed to bow to her sensibility of what King's Quest was and wasn't. She really understood her audience. My natural inclinations were to go a bit edgier and more adult, but she kept me in line. I learned a tremendous amount from her. It was one of the most important and beneficial training grounds I ever could have had and I respect her enormously.

The Inventory: Do you believe that the success of King's Quest VI played an important role for your career? Did you start working on Gabriel Knight after you finished developing King's Quest VI or was the game already planned before that?
Jane: It wasn't the commercial success of King's Quest VI that meant anything to me. What happened was that I showed, to Sierra, that I could carry and complete an adventure game, and that was what gave me the opportunity. Basically I did a good job so they gave me a shot at my own title.

The Inventory: Having played all Gabriel Knight games a numerous of times each, the first thing that comes to mind is how much research you must have carried out for the purposes of the games. Did you travel yourself to New Orleans, Munich and Rennes Le Chateau? How much time did you spend 'on location' and how much time did you spend solely on research for each one of the games?
Jane: I've never been to New Orleans - still! But I did take research trips to Munich and Rennes-le-Château. In fact, I recently got back from one for the new game. I don't spend a lot of time on location, just a week or so. I tend to do a great deal of research on a location before I ever go there and the trip is to get the fine details (and photos) you won't find in books. Most of my research is actually in other areas, such as into the Rennes-le-Château mystery with GK3. I spend about 5 months on a design bible and about 2 of that is research.

The Inventory: I know all three of the GK games must feel like your own children to you, but if the world would come to an end tomorrow and you could play only one of them, which one would it be? Which Gabriel Knight was the best one in your opinion?
Jane: They have different strengths and weaknesses. I think GK3 was probably the most sophisticated game design, especially in the area of puzzles. But GK2 is no doubt the best story and most people's favourite. I guess mine too. The actors brought another dimension to it.

The Inventory: Let's  talk about each game separately now and let's start with Gabriel Knight 1, which was published in 1993. In an age when adventures targeted to adults were uncommon and sparse, you decided to start an adventure series focused on a mature audience, featuring a main hero who is not your typical society idol, a voodoo cult and a good dose of crime, eroticism and foul language. Were you ever uncertain about how would the adventure community react to Gabriel Knight's mature contents or were you always confident that this was something that the gaming world needed at the time?
Jane: I wasn't always confident. I had days when I worried it would be a flop. But you have to go with your instinct. At the time I was basing the mature edge of the title on some of my favourite graphic novels like Sandman and Hellblazer and I figured if comics could be cool with more mature stories, why not adventure games? Probably more to the point, it was just the kind of writing I do, and I was lucky that people were receptive to it.

The Inventory: How long did it take to develop Gabriel Knight 1?
Jane: One year from proposal to ship. Those were the days!

The Inventory: On the advertisement of Gabriel Knight 1 in Sierra's Interaction magazine it was  written 'The Darkest Knight Is Still Ahead'. Does the name Gabriel Knight symbolize something? It does not sound as it was picked randomly. How did you come up with it?
Jane: Of course, both 'Gabriel' and 'Knight' have a meaning. Gabriel is the archangel that fought against Lucifer's rebellion - and my Gabriel is a Schattenjäger, a fighter of darkness. Knight is just the classic sense of a noble warrior. I won't claim any subtlety there. (smiley)

The Inventory: Many issues of Gabriel Knight 1 make sense only after playing all three games. One has to wonder if you had planned the whole series from the very beginning. So did you already have in mind what would happen in the sequels when you were making Gabriel Knight 1?
Jane: Hmmm. Which issues are those? No, I had some idea what GK2 would be about when I wrote GK1, but only on a general level. Just as in TV series, there are ways to interwrap things. For example, when I did research on Ludwig in Germany for GK2, I found that he was at one time the supreme honcho of the Knights of St. George. That wasn't something I knew when I made St. George patron saint of the Schattenjägers in GK1. But once I found it, I put it in GK2 and it just looked as if I'd planned it all ahead of time. The truth is, these weird connections happen all the time and you just need to be prepared to exploit the hell out of 'em.

The Inventory: The cast of the CD version included some famous actors, i.e. Tim Curry as Gabriel and Mark Hammil as Mosely. Did the actors get to play the game, and if so what did they think of it?
Jane: I never heard of any of the actors who played the games. They will say that their kids play or, when we worked with Tim Curry again on GK3, that he'd had many people tell him they enjoyed GK1. But, in my experience, most actors are not big on computer game playing.

The Inventory: The year is 1995 and the second instalment of Gabriel Knight, called The Beast Within is out in the stores. This time however the game has undergone radical changes. It features full motion video and live actors! It is quite evident that the development of the second game  has little to do with the development of the first one. Was it more difficult to develop The Beast Within? Was it more expensive as well? How long did it take to develop it?
Jane: It was probably twice the time and twice the money of GK1. But at the time, FMV was the hot new thing, and you always have to try to follow, or be ahead of, the technology. It was hard - because, honestly, we really didn't know what we were doing. None of us on the development team knew anything about filmmaking. But we eventually got into gear and hired the right people and it was ultimately a fun, fun project to work on. The actors were a blast and it was so fulfilling to see the scenes being played out by real people.

The Inventory: Was it you who took the decision to make an FMV game or was it something Sierra decided?
Jane: Sierra. But I was all for it.

The Inventory: What did you think of the final outcome? Did you think that the decision to use FMV was finally a wise one?
Jane: It was a great product. In fact, I wish FMV had not completely evaporated. There's something about live actors, particularly for a more dramatic piece like Gabriel Knight, that's just difficult to pull off with animated characters.

The Inventory: How did you get to know about Ludwig II's story and legends? Had you read about him anywhere by luck? Or were you specifically looking for legends and myths in Germany with the intention of sending Gabriel there in the second part?
Jane: I lived in Germany for about 9 months prior to joining Sierra and I had been to Ludwig.s castles and, yeah, found his story fascinating. I wanted to set GK2 in Germany, though, just because I really missed Germany at the time and had a deep sentiment for it. Ludwig was just a part of the area's history that I knew from my tourist days and could easily pull in. As it happened, the more I researched him while writing the design, the more his story brought to Gabe's story and to the game. It was a perfect fit.

The Inventory: The resemblance of Dean Erickson with Gabriel's face in Gabriel Knight 1 is just amazing! I was practically wondering if you cloned the guy!!! How did you find Dean anyway? Did his physical resemblance to the hero play a decisive role in your choice to hire him as the lead? Was there any tough competition for Dean, I mean were there any other actors who were close to winning the leading role?
Jane: No. In fact, we'd looked for a Gabriel for some time and I was thinking we'd never find one. No one was right. To be honest, I didn't even like Dean when I saw his audition on videotape. But our director, Will Binder, had seen him in person and felt he could do it. He convinced me to meet with Dean and I knew as soon as I saw him that he was Gabriel.

The Inventory: One of the famous characters of the Gabriel Knight saga was missing from Gabriel Knight 2. Detective Mosely. If you could choose any actor you would like to, without thinking about money, which actor would you have chosen for Mosely's role?
Jane: Hmmm, physically? Maybe Randy Quaid.

The Inventory: You wrote and designed The Beast Within, but the film direction was done by Will Binder. Were you present during the shootings and did you oversee the work done there? Did you change something you were not satisfied with?
Jane: I was on the set for the really big scenes, such as the Hunt Club scenes. But a lot of the day-to-day filming work is pretty boring actually - Gabriel opening doors, Grace mailing a letter. And Will was great at what he did in managing it all. I had other responsibilities working with the team to get the logic and structure of the game itself in place. When I went on the set it was mostly for my own enjoyment. The thing is, the game script was massive and Will had to crank through 30 or so pages a day, so mostly everyone just worked their butts off on the set.

The Inventory: Were there any funny or peculiar behind-the-scenes stories that you still remember today?
Jane: I remember what a pleasure it was sitting around and gabbing with the crew and actors during lunch breaks and how we all felt a real sense of excitement and ambition about what we were doing. But, mostly, it was a lot of work! Probably one of the more enjoyable things to film was the opera sequence, which was filmed here in Seattle. It was incredible to work with real opera singers and to take over an entire theatre like that - one of those amazing experiences that game designers sometimes get. In truth, there were many moments like that on all three games.

The Inventory: In the second part of Gabriel Knight we got to play as Grace also for the first time. What led you to that choice? What are the advantages of controlling two different characters in a game?
Jane: She was such a strong character in GK1 that I wanted to use her more. Also, the Ludwig plotline was becoming so large in the GK2 story. I needed Grace to takeover that plotline because Gabriel was too involved with the hunt club to be worrying about Ludwig! Using her enabled me to tell two stories at once.

The Inventory: Did you form a concrete opinion about Ludwig II after your research on him? Do you think he was really mad? Or do you think that this is just what his adversaries made him look like in the eyes of the public?
Jane: I think he was mad in a Michael Jackson kind of way. He was pretty bizarre, very much in his own fantasy world. There's no arguing with that when you realize some of the things he did - most of which I made symptoms of werewolfry in the game. Maybe he was a werewolf!

The Inventory: You even wrote an opera libretto for the purposes of the game!!! Did you have any experience in that before or was it something you tried for the first time? What are main differences between writing a libretto for an opera and writing a normal story?
Jane: 'Libretto' is a fancy word. What I did was write a short description of what the story of the opera was about, then I wrote lyrics for the short few songs we showed on the film. It was by no means a complete libretto. I enjoy writing lyrics, though I don't do it often. They're basically poetry, which I try to use in the games whenever possible. My poetry more often shows up as riddles. There's a bit of that in the new game, too.

The Inventory: Sometime after Gabriel Knight 2 was released, rumours had it that you were working on a new adventure called Millennium. You even talked about it in an older interview of yours with Games Domain. Finally this adventure never made it to development, but you did write a book called Millennium Rising. Why did you not develop the adventure Millennium after all?
Jane: What typically happens for me is that I end up picking up some book or seeing a program that gets me interested in a particular topic - in this case it was apocalyptic prophecy. I knew I wanted to do a project about it and I took it to Sierra, but we really wanted to do it as FMV and it would have been a large budget. We couldn't work it out so it ended up as a novel instead.

The Inventory: Gabriel Knight 3 came in 1999, in an age when the infamous 'adventures are dead' statement did not really help the genre's popularity. This time Gabriel is in 3D and your (once more) excellent work became proof that an adventure can be a great  game regardless of the representation style (2D, 3D, FMV). Was it your decision to use 3D graphics or was it something that Sierra decided for you?
Jane: Sierra would only do it in real-time 3D. That's just the way the industry works. No publisher will invest a lot of money into a game that isn't competitive in its technology because it is unlikely to sell.

The Inventory: Seeing Gabriel Knight 3 in retrospect, do you think it was a wise choice to go 3D with the game? Do you think it put off some of the older Gabriel Knight fans? Were you satisfied with the game's graphics yourself?
Jane: I'm very proud of GK3 and I think the real-time 3D adds a lot to it. It would have been a totally different game in another format. A lot of the puzzles and story revolve around the fact that it is real-time 3D. So it is hard to imagine it any other way. Yes, I think it was the right decision at the time. Sure, some fans of GK2 wanted FMV and so they didn't play the new game. But that tends to occur with every game. There are fans of GK1 that wouldn't touch GK2 with a ten-foot pole because it's FMV. Each game ends up winning new converts to the series as well, as long as it's a good title in its own right.

The Inventory: If someone visits Rennes-le-Château or sees pictures of the place on the net, he/she will realise that the game recreated even the smallest details of this mysterious French village. What process did you follow to achieve such a high-level of recreation and why was it so important to you that almost everything looked like they do in real life?
Jane: We took a lot of photos. Seriously. It was important to be exact because the story and the puzzles in the game were based on the real Rennes-le-Château mystery, and the real-life mystery is based entirely on the landscape, geography and details of that place. For example, many clues to the real-life mystery are supposed to be hidden in the art and architecture of the church. For this reason - not only because the real-life place is so cool and had such great, mysterious 'vibes', but also because I almost wanted people to be able to solve the real-life mystery while playing the game - we did try to reproduce things exactly. With another story, such as the new game I'm working on, it's much less critical that things be exact and there's more creative flexibility.

The Inventory: Do you think there is really any treasure buried under the grounds of Rennes-le-Château?
Jane: I don't know if whatever it was is still there. It may have been moved or lost in Saunière's time. But there's definitely something real behind all the myths and legends.

The Inventory: The game featured one of the best (if not the best) puzzles ever seen in adventure games, Le Serpent Rouge. I was fascinated and surprised at the same time when I learned that the document of the Le Serpent Rouge enigma really exists! Did you get hold of a copy of the document? Did you come up with the solution featured in the game all by yourself or did you base it on possible solutions given by people who have tried to solve it before?
Jane: I'm glad someone besides me liked that puzzle. (smiley) I spent probably 3-4 weeks just on that puzzle alone. It is the backbone of GK3. Le Serpent Rouge is a real poem and I got a copy of it in one of my research books. I tried to follow the logic of several other researcher's attempts at deciphering it, and I used what I could, but in the end it had to be a workable puzzle that people could actually solve, so I ended up rewriting big chunks of the poem and making up a solution. I did try to base everything on features in the RLC landscape and mystery and make it feel as close to a 'real' solution as possible. The goal of that whole sequence was to put the player in the position of being an RLC researcher and of actually solving the mystery and finding the treasure. Wouldn't that be exciting?

The Inventory: Another puzzle of GK3 was not equally appreciated however. I am talking about the puzzle where Gabriel has to disguise himself as Mosely and in order to do that he has to take some fur from a cat and use it as a moustache. What is your opinion on that puzzle?
Jane: Yeah, yeah. It made sense at the time.

The Inventory: Another new feature in Gabriel Knight 3 was the computer Sidney, a valuable tool for any schattenjäger! To tell you the truth when I first heard about it before the game's release, I was quite sceptical, because I thought it would take away the immersion factor for some minutes. How wrong I was! It turned out to be an excellent tool for building up certain parts of the game's story. What inspired you to incorporate Sidney in Gabriel Knight 3?
Jane: I really needed it for some of the puzzles I wanted to do, like Le Serpent Rouge and analyzing fingerprints. Once we had it, we had to let you do various things with it so it kind of grew from there.

The Inventory: How long did it take to develop Gabriel Knight 3?
Jane: The design and script took about the same as the other 2 GK games. But GK3 was in production for 3+ years.


Last update: October 24, 2007

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