(Designer and lead actor of the Tex Murphy series)
Interviewer: Ingmar Böke
Adventure game fans know Chris Jones as the lead actor and designer of the Tex Murphy series. In the early 80s, Jones and Bruce Carver founded Access Software which wasn't only popular for the Tex Murphy franchise, but also the Links golf series. After Microsoft bought Access in the late 90s Chris Jones worked for the company for a few more years until he left. A few years ago Chris Jones and Tex Murphy writer Aaron Conners teamed up again and founded Big Finish Games. With that company Chris Jones released a couple of casual games - including the storybased casual games Three Cards to Midnight and Three Cards to Dead Time. Right now Jones and Conners are planning a Kickstarter campaign to bring back Tex Murphy.
Adventure-Treff: Hello Chris, it’s a pleasure to welcome you here on Adventure-Treff. For those of our readers who haven't played any Tex Murphy game yet: Please introduce the character with your own words.
Chris Jones: Tex Murphy is a Private Investigator in the year 2043 in which the world has been ravaged by radiation poisoning. Although Tex lives in the dystopian future, he resembles the classic 1930’s, 1940’s Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum detectives – trench coat, fedora, and an acerbic wit. Tex Murphy is a very much a man out of time - A man who was born 100 years too late.
The world in which Tex lives has a divided population of “Mutants” and “Norms.” Mutants are those who have been affected by the radiation poisoning. Although Tex is a “norm” he lives on the "Poor" side of town among the downtrodden Mutants.
Tex would probably describes himself as a hardnosed P.I., but he’s actually very naïve and maybe even an idiot savant in his crime solving capabilities. At times, he appears to be stumbling around clueless, yet in the end - he has his own brilliance and puts the pieces together to solve diabolical crimes.
Chris Jones in Under a Killing Moon
A-T: Just when it seemed the adventure genre was dead, one exciting thing after the next is happening: The Kickstarter campaign from Double Fine, Jane Jensen coming up with Pinkerton Road, the return of Tex Murphy. How have you experienced all the new developments – especially the Double Fine campaign? Did you ever think that something like this might be possible?
Chris: I didn’t think this would ever happen in my wildest dreams. However, the fact that it did happen makes me optimistic for the Adventure Genre. It’s just incredible to watch people gather and support a common cause through Kickstarter or any other social media outlet. People can make things happen that they want to see happen. The enthusiasm and support for the adventure genre shows that people still want and enjoy these kinds of games that mainline producers have given up on.
A-T: The response to your Kickstarter campaign has been amazing (over 30.000 views on Youtube in less than one day). What exactly is your ambition for the campaign? What will be your official goal (in terms of money) for the campaign and how confident are you to achieve that goal?
Chris: We have been trying to bring Tex Murphy back for years since the last game “Overseer” ended with a cliffhanger. We've started and stopped a number of times because the elements never came together the way they needed to.
We had just decided that we were going to complete the story and make the next Tex Murphy game – albeit with a more modest budget and game design – when Double Fine Adventure & Wasteland 2 had their great success with Kickstarter. Our goal is to see if we can raise enough money to take this project to another level and give people a full of experience similar to what they got with the last three Tex Murphy games. We have yet to decide the number - we are still determining cost and what it will take to finish, but we should know within the next two weeks.
Chris Jones in the Pandora Directive
A-T: Obviously, we all hope that the Kickstarter campaign will be a great success, but if there should be a worst case scenario... will you bring back Tex Murphy back anyway and all the money from Kickstarter will just be used to create a longer game with more story, more gameplay, more actors etc. and in the worst case we would have to deal with a smaller game (which would be a LOT better than nothing)?
Chris: The other great thing about Kickstarter is that it will help us gauge what kind of interest is out there for the return of Tex Murphy. If we put out a Kickstarter page and we’re a long way off from reaching our goal, we will re-evaluate to see if it is a good decision to do the next game. We want to see what the desire is for a product like this and Kickstarter will be a good indicator.
A-T: Let’s move on to the actual game now. What can you tell us about the story? Is this the game you actually planned to do after The Pandora Directive?
Chris: This game will take place after Overseer… It will deal with Tex solving the mystery of what happened the night he and Chelsee were picked up by the stranger and literally took a bullet. Tex will discover who and why someone wanted Tex – or Chelsee – dead.
A-T: Can you already tell us which members of the old crew will be on board this time?
Chris: Much of the core crew will back to work on the next Tex game including director Adrian Carr, screenwriter Aaron Conners, Art Directors Brian Johnson & Doug Vandegrift, Video Integration designer Dave Brown, and many more of the key production people from the last three games.
Writer Aaron Conners
A-T: The Tex Murphy fans expect a certain type of gameplay from the new game. In how far is the gameplay in the new game similar to the old games? Is this totally old school or have you been looking at features of modern adventure games that you are planning to introduce?
Chris: The core of the game play will be the same including searching locations, combining objects, interviewing suspects, interacting with friends and not-so-friendly people, cinematic sequences and more. However, we hope to streamline the interface and make it more intuitive and easier to play.
A-T: What can you tell us about the new engine? Aaron told me you developed a new engine a while ago so please give us some insights about the new technology.
Chris: At this point, ... we're focused on making the overall experience better. It's part of our process right now. We haven't made the final decision which way we're going to go. but our technology may be integrated with other off the shelf tech.
A-T: We've heard that Kai Fiebig and the German voice-actors would again be available for another Tex Murphy project. If enough money will be raised with the campaign, do you consider localizations in other languages, probably even with localized voice-overs?
Chris: Yes, absolutely. The German market is certainly substantial enough that we feel localization would truly help the success of the product.
Adventure-Treff editor Ingmar and Kai Fiebig
A-T: You've said, you not only want to revive Tex but to revive the whole series. So, does this mean, you plan more than one Tex game, already? And do you also consider shorter episodes for the product, like Telltale is doing it?
Chris: Right now, the plan is to do a traditional, full Tex Murphy game. Down the road, if people are interested in the character moving forward, we would certainly consider doing episodic Tex Murphy adventures.
A-T: Let’s go back in time now and talk about the early days of Access Software. Please share your memories of the start of the company. How did the foundation of Access happen, how did you get involved and please also give us an overview of your activities in the early days.
Access Software started in the early 1980s as collaboration between Bruce Carver and me. Basically, Bruce and I were working at the same engineering firm when he got a Commadore 64 and he wanted to make software for it. He asked me if I wanted to start a company with him – so we pooled what little money we had and started working out of his basement at night while working at the engineering firm during the day.
Since it was a small company, we basically had to do everything by ourselves – I did the accounting, billing, duplicating discs, and boxing the product – that’s just how it is with small companies. However, when our company grew, I remained the CFO due to my business background from college.
Screenshot of Amazon: Guardians of Eden
The first game we made was Spritemaster. It was successful enough that we could work at Access Software full-time and quit our jobs at the engineering firm. We later developed the games Neutral Zone and Beach Head which were huge successes for us.
We also put together a golf game for the Commadore 64 called “Leaderboard” which was the start of the “Links” golf game series. Leaderboard did well and it basically set our golf franchise in motion.
Even though I liked golf, my interests and were more in movies. I wanted to find a way to incorporate movies into a computer gaming format so that’s where the games like “Mean Streets” “Amazon” and “Martian Memorandum” generated from.
Screenshot of Mean Streets
A-T: Quite a lot of people probably didn’t get confronted with Tex Murphy before Under A Killing Moon while Tex already starred in Mean Streets and Martian Memorandum. Please give us an idea of how the Tex Murphy character was originally born and share some memories from the creation of the first two Tex Murphy games.
Chris: While growing up - Doug Vandegrift, Dave Brown and I absolutely loved movies and we spent every weekend filming our own movies on Super 8. One of the characters we created was “Tex Mutant” – a ‘singing detective of the future.’ The character was akin to the singing cowboys of the 1930’s, but he lived in a future apocalyptic world where he lived comfortably singing songs on his guitar and solving crimes. It’s a bit off the wall, but it was fun. Eventually, this character evolved into the Tex Murphy character people know today.
Screenshot of Martian Memorandum
A-T: Under A Killing Moon was probably one of the most hyped and most talked about games on this planet before and around its release. Obviously, you guys did a lot of pioneer work with this game and it also meant quite a departure from the earlier work of Access. How would you describe the mood in the company at the time? Were you aware that you were about to create something that the gaming world hadn’t seen before and did you perhaps feel pressure because the expectations were so high at the time?
Chris: The great thing about that particular period of time is that technology seemed to grow geometrically every year that we were in the business. It went from Pong to Under a Killing Moon in what feels like 10 years. Every year, you got new tools and toys to play with to expand and achieve your vision. The thing that was so exciting about Under a Killing Moon was the new graphics, sound, and storage capabilities - you could create your own artistic medium. Before, video gaming seemed like it was just for kids – but we really wanted to bring a level of maturity to it and show that gaming was a serious medium, a true entertainment form for everyone.
Chris Jones and Suzanne Barnes in Under a Killing Moon
A-T: Speaking of Under A Killing Moon: Please give us an overview of the development of the game and share some anecdotes.
Chris: I think by the time the production for Under a Killing Moon was underway; games were starting to get viewed as a serious medium. By the early 1990’s – the video game industry was starting to look like a viable form of entertainment that could be handled in a mature way.
Aaron Conners started working for Access Software a little bit before the development of UAKM. He originally joined Access Software as tech support but as soon as we discovered that he was a very talented writer and also had a love for games - he joined the development team. What Aaron did was develop the Tex Murphy character and the dystopian world so it was much more interesting. He brought so many things to the table which expanded my view of what the this “Tex World” could be.
Under a Killing Moon was also the first time in our games where we had actors performing scenes (not just serve as models for characters). However, trying to hire actors was a bit tricky because many of them were still unfamiliar with the medium and they didn’t quite understand how everything would work. That is why a lot of characters in Under a Killing Moon were actually people who just worked at Access Software. It contributed a lot to the fun and over-the-top atmosphere of the game.
Chris Jones and David Keith in Under a Killing Moon
A-T: Now let’s move on to the game that many consider to be the best Tex Murphy game: The Pandora Directive. Again, please give us an overview of the development of the game and share some anecdotes.
Chris: After we had completed Under a Killing Moon, we wanted to see if we use the computer medium to create a unique storytelling experience where the narrative can branch into different directions depending on a person’s choices. After a couple of weeks of bouncing ideas around, we knew we wanted to avoid a simple choice at the end of the game which lead to a “A,B, or C” ending. We needed to have choices early on affect game play. We felt each of the particular story paths needed to have their own in-depth meaning and consistency to the character choices they had selected. Something significant needed to happen on each of the paths so that it was unique and powerful enough to have a real impact.
We also wanted it to be done in a way that someone can't go back and simply change one choice and their path would change for better or worse. They were creating the Tex Murphy character as they went and by the end of the game, Tex’s personality and his choices were determined by prior actions.
It was fun working with Kevin McCarthy who starred in one of my favorite science fiction movies of all time, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.Spoiler: We really enjoyed putting him in a role where instead of warning people about aliens (like he did in the classic sci-fi movie), he actually was the alien. Oh, *Spoiler Alert.*
John Agar is another person we really enjoyed working with. He was an actor during what I consider a Golden period for Hollywood and he was very supportive and excited to be working in this new medium.
Kevin McCarthy in the Pandora Directive
A-T: Now give us an overview of the development of Overseer and share some anecdotes.
Chris: “Overseer” was different because we were approached by Intel about releasing our game on DVD with their more powerful chip that was faster, had more storage capacity, higher quality video capabilities and more. However, they wanted the game done rather quickly which didn’t allow us to much time to create an all new story with multiple endings. It was decided that we would make Overseer about Tex’s first case – based on the first game in the Tex series Mean Streets. Many Tex fans joined the series with “Under a Killing Moon” so many hadn’t played Mean Streets, which gave us a chance to go back and retell the story in a new, fresh way.
By this time, our director Adrian Carr was much more familiar with how the cinematics and game play were integrated with our games. He was really comfortable with working on the Blue Screen and he took several steps forward in terms of getting the performances he wanted from the actors. With Overseer, we had a much bigger cast of professional actors from television and movies so I do think it improved the overall quality of acting in the game.
Chris Jones and Suzanne Barnes in Overseer
A-T: Most people say that Pandora was your best game and while I believe that it is one of THE best games of all time, my personal favorite has always been Overseer. The reason for that is that I loved the more serious tone and the drama elements (Spoiler: suicide of Gideon, death of Sonny etc.), especially for the reason that these elements demanded a lot more of you as an actor. I was a little disappointed when Aaron told me that he didn’t like these elements too much as he had the impression you were turning Tex into a soap opera. What is your opinion on the drama elements in Overseer? Is this something that you would like to continue in the new game or will you rather abbandon this side of Tex?
Chris: It depends on the circumstances - if it is necessary for the story. The great thing about a game with multiple endings is the chance for the player to decide the personality of Tex Murphy. If we had the chance to do a another full scale Tex Murphy adventure, we would make it possible for the player to basically create the character of Tex through the choices they make. They can choose to make Tex a lighthearted good guy, or a much darker, selfish anti-hero. That’s the benefit of interactive storytelling – allowing a player to chart their own journey.
Monique Lanier in Overseer
A-T: If you look back at the series as a whole, which elements of which games are elements that you are especially proud of in retrospective?
Chris: The interactive storytelling aspect was the most exciting for me. I believe it took the genre to the next level and made it unique against other entertainment mediums at the time.
A-T: Chris, you took over the leading role of the series without being a professional actor and obviously did a wonderful job at it. Can you remember your feelings when you were in front of the camera in the beginning, perhaps not being completely aware of what you were doing? Please share some thoughts about your “journey” as an actor from Under A Killing Moon to Overseer and give us an idea of your personal evolution as an actor.
Chris: The interesting part of all this was it was very gradual. It wasn’t an overnight “We need someone to play this part!” moment. Rather, I started just being a stand-in for Tex – just a picture on the screen. However, I’ve always enjoyed movies – particularly Humphrey Bogart detective movies – so it really was just fun to be able to do something like this. There wasn’t really hesitancy, just excitement – even for the unknown.
When we got to Under a Killing Moon, it was all experimental and we were learning as we were going. That’s part of the reason Under a Killing Moon is so over-the-top – I knew I could do over-the-top!
By the next game – The Pandora Directive – we needed someone with real experience to direct the game so they could take the cinematics to the next level. Adrian Carr was great because he could bring more nuanced performances out of the actors. Overseer capped everything we learned in Pandora. He took the performances to an even higher and more cinematic quality in Overseer.
Richard Norton in Overseer
A-T: While I don’t think that you and Aaron did a bad job with the direction of Under a Killing Moon, there was an enormous difference when Adrian Carr joined the crew. For you as an actor: How is it like to work with Adrian?
Chris: Adrian brought experience, education and a level of professionalism from a true filmmaker. Adrian was great to work with because he was excited for the project and he was able to get great performances from people. By the time we made Overseer, we were in full stride creating a cinematic experience for the game players.
Director Adrian Carr
A-T: Which actors of the series impressed you most on set? Please feel free to share some anecdotes of working together with some of these people.
Chris: Working with Michael York was absolutely mind blowing. He’s starred in major motion pictures and was a terrific Shakespearean actor. He really understood acting as a craft – so much so it was intimidating. He learned his lines so quickly, along with the emotions and movements. It was perfection every take – he could easily repeat everything whereas the rest of us struggled with being consistent. We often pushed actors from the standpoint of how much material we gave them in such a short amount of time to shoot the scenes – however, Michael York was a pro and did a magnificent job.
Michael York in Overseer
A-T: Speaking of actors: Which actors would you personally love to work with in the future if you could afford them?
Chris: There are lots of great actors I would love to work with. I love how there have been major CG (computer-generated) movies recently which I think raises the credibility of doing another Tex Murphy FMV (Full Motion Video) game. One person I was particularly impressed by was Mickey Rourke in Sin City. He was amazing in a completely CG rendered film noir world. It would be wonderful if we could do another game like this and got performances like that.
A-T: Thanks a lot for taking some time for us, Chris! We really appreciate it and we can’t wait for the Kickstarter campaign and Adventure-Treff will do everything we can to make people aware of the campaign. We can spoil that our readers will hear more from Aaron soon as we will publish a guest column by him when the Kickstarter campaign starts. Any last words for the moment?
Chris: We're very excited to do this reboot of Tex and we feel we have something we can bring to the game players that is fresh and exciting while keeping in the spirit of Tex.