The name Tex Murphy can yield radically different responses from gamers in 2012. To old-school adventurers, the Tex games are at or near the pinnacle of revered genre classics (two top 25 finishes among the all-time greatest adventures don't lie!), blending superb storytelling, engaging characters, a memorable sci-fi setting, branching plot paths, player-driven choice-and-consequence, full 3D control before 3D was popular, varying difficulty levels, challenging puzzles, and the obligatory (but in this case entirely deserved) "much more". Whew! Outside of the hardcore adventure niche, however, especially among younger gamers, the reaction may often now be: Tex who??
There's a fairly obvious reason for that, of course. It's been 14 years since we last saw Tex, so a whole new generation of gamers has grown up without ever knowing the lovable, down-on-his-luck P.I. And when he did last appear, it was squarely in the midst of the short-lived FMV revolution, a popular format at the time that faded into obscurity as quickly as it rose to prominence. As time passed, these once-bold, innovative, and progressive-thinking detective adventures from Access Software eventually became antiquated relics of a bygone era, never to be heard from again.
Or so we thought these many long years. Though series creator (and Tex Murphy actor himself) Chris Jones made no secret about his desire to resurrect the series some day, a combination of publisher apathy, waning genre popularity, and high costs of game production made that prospect seem ever more unlikely with each passing year. Behind the scenes, however, Jones and fellow Tex Murphy collaborator Aaron Conners never lost faith, and quietly began scheming to revive the franchise independently if necessary. But would the adventure community embrace a scaled-down, corner-cutting sequel after all this time?
Well, hopefully we won't have to. Now operating under the name Big Finish Games, Jones and Conners are preparing to kickstart the series once again with a public funding campaign for "Project Fedora". Seeking a modest goal of $450,000 by June 16th, the new game promises to incorporate all the best classic Tex elements with a slick new modern presentation. It's a prospect we once thought impossible, but with a new Tex Murphy adventure now tantalizingly close, we jumped at the chance to speak with the two men responsible for making it all happen. And stay tuned following the interview for an exclusive peek behind the camera from Tex's glory years.
Project Fedora Kickstarter video
Adventure Gamers: It's been 14 years since you teased us with a shocking cliffhanger ending to Overseer. That's a lot of Tex withdrawal in the meantime. Why so long?
Aaron Conners: We’re sadistic bastards?
Actually, I don’t know if you ever heard this, but Chris and I seriously debated whether or not to add that cliffhanger to the end of Overseer. It was intended to be the opening scene of the next game, but Chris loved it so much, I reluctantly agreed to put it in as a teaser. Some teaser!
Chris Jones: Aaron is such a liar. It was all his idea – I warned him what would happen. I can't believe he's putting this on my shoulders!
Aaron: As for the 14-year delay, after Access Software was bought by Microsoft, we were hopeful for a while that they might give us a chance to continue the series, but adventure games had declined so much in popularity, it just wasn’t going to happen. After that, my and Chris’s paths diverged for a while and, when we reunited later, we just didn’t have the money.
Chris: We’ve always felt that we would need a decent budget to do Tex right and, until recently, we didn’t see a way to pull it off.
AG: And now the corollary to the first question: why now?
Aaron: Over the past few years, we’ve seen a renewed interest in adventure games. It’s also possible to make better games for much less money with all the available tools, engines, graphics programs and talented people. Back in the early 1990s, we had to do everything from scratch, work around low specs and deal with tons of compatibility issues. Making games is much simpler today from a technical standpoint. Everyone has access to the same tools, so it’s now more about the vision and execution.
AG: What do you make of this renewed interest in adventures? What's prompted this cultural shift back towards the genre?
Tex and Chelsee at the Chandler Avenue newsstand
Aaron: I think there are several reasons, but maybe the biggest – certainly the biggest reason for the recent Kickstarter successes – is the nostalgia factor. I would compare it to the 1980s revival in style in music and fashion. As someone who actually lived through the 1980s, I remember how reviled that decade was during the 1990s and 2000s. Time has passed, people have become less critical and now look back on it with fondness. But it's important to note that it's a "modernized" version of the 1980s – the way we want to remember it, not the way it really was. I see a similar pattern right now with classic adventure games. Hardly anyone makes those kinds of games these days and we all want to recapture the fun and excitement they gave us. But we, as the game designers, need to be mindful that times have changed; we shouldn't give them just the experience they had...we need to give them the experience they remember.
AG: For a while it seemed like Tex might be one of the (far too many) casualties of IP limbo. How did it all work out that the property ended back in your hands where it belongs?
Chris: We retained the right to the characters via other media (which Aaron had rights to with the novels). We got additional rights and access to previous games after Microsoft closed down the studio. Eventually, we got all the rights we needed to move forward with a new game.
AG: The Tex games were ahead of their time in many ways, but a lot has changed since 1998. How do you plan to make the series relevant to modern gamers, while still retaining the core elements that made the franchise so great?
Chris: There are several ways to really update the franchise. The first is with the technical and visual elements. The original engine was great for its time, but there are much better engines available to license now. The quality of graphics, frame rate, etc. will be infinitely improved. Secondly, faster pacing. We always allowed players to proceed at their own pace (and they always had the hint system to refer to if they got stuck), but today’s gamers have shorter attention spans. This is a tricky line to walk, but I believe good design will keep players moving forward without feeling like they’re not in control. Finally, the quality of the story, dialogue and acting has to be very high. There was a novelty factor to the early FMV games that quickly wore off and won’t be suffered lightly today.
Choosing Tex's dialogue attitude in The Pandora Directive
Aaron: One thing we did in The Pandora Directive was introduce deep and meaningful narrative pathing. I intended to continue this in the sequel, but then (for reasons most people are familiar with) we decided to do Overseer and retell the story of Tex’s first case. Since the Overseer story took place in Tex’s past, it didn’t really make sense to have pathing... plus it would have been a lot of extra work and we were on a tight schedule. For this new game, however, I’m very excited to bring back the narrative pathing. Adventure gamers, in particular, seem to understand and appreciate this element and it just hasn’t been done well or often enough.
I know the Tex Murphy games aren’t for everyone. If you’re not a fan of the detective genre, don’t care about stories, or don’t like puzzle-solving, you may not enjoy our games. As a P.I., you have to search for clues, solve puzzles, interview witnesses and suspects, confront bad guys, etc. You’ll do all these things – just like in our older games – but with better graphics, higher speed, faster pacing and improved cinematography and acting. Throw in a great mystery, lots of humor, tons of things to do and see in the 3D world, a great hint system and multiple story paths, and we believe our new game will be true to its roots while offering a great experience for modern gamers.Continued on the next page...