The lights are on
This year at GDC, I spoke with
famed game designer Jane Jensen, best known for the Gabriel Knight series.
Jensen was kind enough to demo her upcoming Kickstarter-funded game, Moebius:
Empire Rising (a spiritual successor to Gabriel Knight) and discuss what gamers
can expect from it.
For those unfamiliar with the
project, Moebius: Empire Rising is a third-person point-and-click paranormal
mystery game. You play as Malachi, an expert historian working with several
auction houses to investigate if their antiques are the real deal. This takes
him all over the globe, spotting contradictions and noticing when things are
askew. You must analyze everything around you, including people. Maybe they
will sport sweat on their forehead or hold a tight jaw, raising suspicions.
Deductions about them must be made via multiple choice, lending different
dialogue options. Make the correct inferences and you're rewarded with extra
tidbits about the case. You also analyze plenty of artifacts; because Malachi
has a photographic memory, you search it to compare what he's seen to what's in
front of you. A hint system is also available in case you can't figure out your
next move, and in the PC version I saw, pressing the spacebar reveals hotspots.
Along the way, branching choice
paths are present. In one scenario Jensen showed, you could end up at the job
alone or even die depending on previous actions. The $400,000 budget restricted
how often this could be done, but Jensen made sure to offer choices when they
felt necessary for the story. "There are several places where it's really key
to the story that the player makes the choice," Jensen said. "You know, 'I'm
choosing to be with you.' 'I'm choosing to keep you around' or 'I'm choosing to
be a loner.' There were just places where I felt it was just really critical to
who Malachi was as a character and to his fate that he make those choices."
Malachi isn't a brainy ascetic,
though, as he's not afraid to speak his mind. This makes for some interesting
interactions as you just never know how far he'll push people by being so
blunt. "He's an interesting character, but he does mellow more over the course
of the game," Jensen said. "It's more fun to write extreme characters because
normal characters are boring to write for and boring to play. I always like to
have a main character that's pretty extreme in some way. I mean, Gabriel's a
very extreme character and Malachi is definitely extreme. [He's] super
intelligent and doesn't have patience with ordinary people and doesn't trust
anyone, but he's kind of fascinating too in a way."
Although Malachi can be rather
brash, you also have some dialogue options, where you can decide what type of
attitude you want him to take during situations. "It's kind of fun because when
you're talking to somebody there's usually dialogue choices to either try to be
nice to them or just be really rude," Jensen said. "And of course, it's more
fun to be rude, but you know, you're playing the game and you want to get
somewhere, and usually if you're too rude, you have to end up apologizing to
get what you want."
As the game progresses, Malachi
forms a strong relationship with his security guard, David. The budding
bromance between Malachi and David is something Jensen thinks will be a little
different and exciting for those who know her work. "I think the historical
puzzles and the complex mixing of reality, history, and fiction is what people
would say makes [Moebius] one of my games," Jensen said. "I think what's
different is the emphasis on the relationship [of Malachi and David]. It's kind
of a romance in a way even though it's not. It's really a bromance, but in
terms of actual plotting there's a lot of that kind of element to it."
It was obvious from certain
scenes that something greater is going on than just Malachi investigating
artifacts. He starts to experience strange symptoms such as panic attacks and
nose bleeds, making me wonder if Malachi losing his grip on the past and the
present. The mystery definitely adds a good layer of tension and intrigue and
Jensen alluded to a deeper conspiracy going on when Malachi gets involved in a
Jensen is striving to balance out
the puzzles and the narrative, especially for players who didn't grow up with
her work or point-and-click adventures. "We tried not to make the puzzles super
hard," Jensen said. "To me, what I want is for people to experience like a page
turner where they keep playing through the next scene and next, and I don't
want anything that's going to be a big roadblock in the middle of the path that
makes them get frustrated, just give up, and walk away from it."
Jensen confirmed Moebius will
have more puzzles than what gamers might expect from one of Telltale's recent
games, but her goal is to strike a balance between gameplay and story. "It's
definitely not an interactive movie," she said. "There's a lot of gameplay. The
people we had test it recently from scratch that didn't know the game? It's
taken them around 20 hours. It's a long game with a lot of play in it, but
there are an awful lot of story moments."
I walked away from Moebius
intrigued. The characters' interactions all play out naturally and I like how
the gameplay intersects with its mystery thriller premise, letting me piece
together shady occurrences. The cinematics are particularly noteworthy; you're
not merely watching one static scene, it plays out in multiple camera angles
with different focuses. Jensen might have the best of both worlds in this game,
capturing enough of the nostalgic elements that made people fall in love with
adventure games in the first place intertwined with accessible gameplay and an
Before I left my meeting with
Jensen, I had to find out what's in the future for the Gabriel Knight series.
After all, Moebius is a spiritual successor to it and fans have been pining for
another Gabriel Knight game. Activision owns the rights to Gabriel Knight, but
seeing Jensen and Activision team up for the upcoming remake Gabriel Knight:
Sins of the Fathers for the series' 20th anniversary looks encouraging. So, does
this remake open up the door for a new Gabriel Knight? "Yeah, I hope so,"
Jensen said. "I hope that if we do a good job and the game is well-received
that Activision will be open to letting us do a number four. We discussed it
with them and they're like, 'Well, let's see how this does.'"
Email the author Kimberley Wallace, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
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