Aaron Conners Interview - Interview conducted by James LeMosy
January 6, 2000
A a r o n C o n n e r s I n t e r v i e w
Interview conducted by James LeMosy
On December 10, 1999, I sent a list of 12 questions to Aaron Conners, author of Under a Killing Moon, The Pandora Directive, and Overseer. On January 6, 2000, after a change of location and system re-start for Access Software, his replies came back, and he had quite a few interesting thigs to say...
At the moment, how likely is it that we'll see another Tex game? Has anything changed since the letter announcing the hiatus was released?
I wish I could say for certain that we'll do another Tex game. Lord knows, I've been sitting on the next story for almost three years and I'm pretty eager to get it out where people can enjoy it.
Chris and I are focused on "Black Pearl", which is slated to release in March 2001, but we often talk about Tex and hope that our next project will center around our good friend the detective. It all depends on the success of our current project. We believe that if BP does well, Microsoft will probably let us decide what we want to do next, and we all know what THAT would be. Keep your fingers crossed.
You've said that you and Chris Jones frequently talk about what it would take to bring Tex back in a new game. What conclusions have you reached so far?
Other than what I said in my answer to the previous question, there is the concern about the viability of "adventure" games. Chris and I both felt that Grim Fandango was one of the best games we'd seen in years. It won numerous awards, seemed to be well-marketed, etc., but still only sold something like 50,000 units, which is not a hell of a lot in the current marketplace.
It's a constant source of bewilderment for us how mediocre pieces can sell extraordinary amounts while quality pieces are ignored. But one indisputable fact is that good, innovative action games tend to sell better than almost any other category. I've attended several focus groups at Microsoft and gamers claim they want intelligent, story-driven, multi-pathed, character-based, single-player games. If that's the case, when one comes along, why doesn't it sell like Quake?
Our conclusion is this: If we do another Tex game, we will incorporate some new approaches. One, we would probably put a little more emphasis on action. This doesn't mean Tex 4 would be a "shooter", it just means the pacing would be a little faster (at the very least, we could design an "action style" option for those who prefer that genre, but we might also offer the traditional style of adventure gameplay for our old and loyal fans).
Secondly, we would try to design the game so everything stays "in engine", meaning that instead of shooting characters on blue screen, we would try to computer-generate the characters and map them with the actors' faces and bodies. If we could pull this off effectively, it would open new possibilities we couldn't dream of before (one thing would be the ability to "populate" our VR environments--up until now we've had to keep Tex's physical world fairly empty).
Of course, players would still be able to choose dialogue paths and enjoy Chris Jones' depiction of Tex. In fact, we would almost certainly make Tex 4 a "third-person" game, meaning that Tex would always be on-screen (instead of looking through his eyes while in the "investigative mode").
What are the positives of the Microsoft purchase of Access? Negatives? And what has been Microsoft's general feeling toward the Tex series?
Last question first: Microsoft seems to be more or less oblivious to Tex Murphy. They bought us primarily for Links, though Chris and I believe strongly that Tex could be just as, if not more successful than our golf game, given proper marketing and ample exposure. To this day I'm convinced that UKM and Pandora would have been big hits if only more people knew about them and/or tried them out.
If, somehow, we can get someone higher up to support a Tex Murphy revival, who knows what might happen? (And I'm working on it, trust me.)
As to the negatives of working for Microsoft, things are a lot more bureaucratic (meetings, reports, etc.), but other than that, we have no complaints. It's been, for the most part, business as usual.
There are many positives to working for Microsoft (personally, not particularly creatively). Having the world's best marketing, testing, technical support and advertising will certainly not hurt.
What's the current status of the new Tex novels? Who's going to publish them?
I've written outlines for each of the three novels. After completing the outlines, I went over them with Adrian Carr, who told me I should "screw the games" and turn them into movie screenplays. He felt that the individual stories (which combine to make up an "overall" story) were even better than Pandora, which I was happy to hear.
For now, I'll work on the novels while I have time, then see how Tex's future looks over the next year or so. I have no publisher lined up (Prima discontinued their line of fiction--they said Pandora was the only book that sold), but I'm leaning toward trying to sign on with a major firm. I'll keep you updated.
Incidentally, I'm looking into acquiring the rights to the UKM and Pandora novels. I get requests almost every week for them and I know they're now almost impossible to find.
What happened with the Tex movie that was mentioned a couple years ago? Is it still a going concern?
I thought the whole venture had gone south last year, but--lo and behold--someone called us about it a couple of weeks ago, saying they were hot for it. Who knows?
If there are future Tex games, how do you envision them? Will they stick with the Full-motion video, interactive movie format, or will they possibly go the route of Gabriel Knight 3, with a fully 3D presentation?
As I said in a previous response, I predict that we WILLl go 3D (though lord knows, we should do it a hell of a lot better than GK3 did). The thing is, I don't ever want to lose what made Tex Murphy Tex Murphy--meaning Chris Jones (and the other regulars). If we couldn't turn computer-generated characters into reasonable facsimiles of their human counterparts, I would rather wait for the technology to catch up and do Black Pearl 2 in the meantime. Talking to our artists, however, I think we could pull it off.
As for the game design, I really want to expand the concept of the "multi-pathed narrative". I believe there has to be a solid story to give integrity to the game, but there are many ways to "path" the narrative without losing the backbone of the story. In other words, I want the story to rock. But I also want subsequent times through the game to offer a significantly different experience and/or perspective. I think there should be lots of new locations and puzzles, but also completely new characters, scenarios, story threads, etc. Ideally, I would like to create a game that a player wouldn't feel like he or she had completely experienced until after the THIRD time they played it.
How many Tex products (novels, games, others) are "in the pipeline"? (Even if there is no firm commitment to release them on a certain date or at all)
Just the things I've already mentioned.
How is "The Black Pearl" coming along? What stage in the process is the production at?
Black Pearl is going very well, though we're at a critical stage where MS must pass off on what we've done and give us the green light (and the cash) to continue to the end of the development cycle.
The graphics (especially for an action game) look spectacular. Chris and I are adjusting to designing gameplay around motion and not intellectual (and traditional) puzzle-solving. Black Pearl's gameplay is focused on searching and stealth, with a lot of character interaction for an action game.
Once and for all, who is the mysterious red-headed woman that appears in the Faberge Egg during Tex's nightmare in Overseer?! :) Was she someone cut from the game, or will we see her in future installments?
Honestly, she was a gorgeous actress who couldn't act her way out of a paper bag. She had a really thick Eastern European accent (a la Schwarzanegger) and was pretty hard to understand, so she ended up on the cutting room floor. But when she accidentally ended up in the opening montage, it gave me a little idea (which, of course, I can't tell you about just yet...) :-)
Considering the state of Tex and Chelsee's relationship at the beginning of Overseer, what is considered the "true" ending of The Pandora Directive?
Well, obviously it wasn't any of the "dark" (C) path endings--especially seeing as how Tex never survived any of the dark endings.
And I also doubt it was the "happy" (A) ending. I always considered that to be a "dessert" ending for the really avid Tex fans who took the time to replay the game, specifically to get that ending (and it was definitely my favorite ending).
I think it was the B ending (with the Clark Gable hologram). I'd like to think that Chelsee got bored fairly quickly with a hologram, no matter how handsome. That's where the new novels will start, incidentally. Once she realized how unrealistic she was being, I think her attention would inevitably turn back to Tex.
Which Tex game is your personal favorite?
Pandora, no question. At that point in time, I think it was the most advanced game design, had the highest production quality, the best acting, etc. of any computer game ever made (though I may be biased). In fact, before starting work on Black Pearl, Chris and I spent two work days at a computer, replaying Pandora completely (all paths and endings). We were amazed at how much fun it was to play and how well it had held up after all this time.
I have a soft spot for Killing Moon--it was my first experience writing and designing a game. But, combined with the technical restrictions at that time, as well as our lack of experience with the new engine and using FMV, it's quite dated and rough around the edges. Still, I think it has some of the funniest stuff we've ever done.
Overseer was nuts. We did it--from start to finish--in less than a year (an insanely limited amount of time). But, on the bright side, I think there are sections of gameplay which are as good as anything we've ever come up with. The cast was excellent, I thought, and the calibre of acting (in the majority of cases) was as good, if not better, than Pandora's.
On the down side, the game was linear (even though I thought the "Tex telling Chelsee the story" device made it as interesting as we could make it), putting it a few notches below Pandora. Obviously, it was remake of Mean Streets (though I rewrote the entire thing--the original story was pretty bad), so the originality quotient was fairly small. I also found Adrian Carr's direction veering occasionally into melodrama. I used to argue with him and Chris that we were getting too serious. Chris now tends to agree. But my biggest problem with Overseer was that it was touted as a full game, a sequel to Pandora, when in reality it should have been a mini-game--a prequel to the series. We beefed it up to make it longer, but in the end, it just wasn't comparable to the games we'd already done (and certainly nowhere near what we'd envisioned for Trance). When you add in the technical problems we had with the DVD conversion, no one was very satisfied with the finished product. And, honestly, I think that "bad taste in our mouths" is one reason why we ended up doing Black Pearl instead of Trance.
How many stories do you have in mind for Tex, either in novel or game form, even if you have no plans to publish them?
Believe it or not, I have FIVE Tex Murphy stories outlined. When we started work on Pandora, I presented THREE different story ideas to Chris and we decided on the UFO/Mayan/Black Arrow Killer theme. Admittedly, the other stories were not quite as developed as Pandora, but they certainly have the potential. The other three stories are, of course, the Trilogy of "Chance", "Polarity" and "Trance".
I sincerely hope you and all the other Tex Murphy fans someday get an opportunity to enjoy these stories--'cause I know you would!
Added by dkbtf on
November 20, 2011