Chris Jones

Big Finish Games

Posted by Philip Jong.
First posted on 15 May 2012. Last updated on 21 May 2014.
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Chris Jones
Chris Jones is the cofounder of Access Software and Big Finish Games.

For more information, visit Project Fedora.

It has been more than a decade since Tex is last seen donning his fedora. For more than once, the charming, wisecracking, hard-boiled P.I. has managed to save the dystopian future San Francisco, populated by the Norms and the Mutants, from its own near destruction. It is a thankless job, though Tex has learned to take it in strides—as Tex says, "Danger's like jello, there's always room for more." Indeed, from 1989 to 1998, the popular Tex Murphy series has spawned a total of 5 games—Mean Street, Martian Memorandum, Under a Killing Moon, The Pandora Directive, and Tex Murphy: Overseer. It has even lead to an internet radio series—Tex Murphy Radio Theater. However, for many diehard Tex fans, the dream of seeing Tex back in action has never died down.

Now, Chris Jones, cofounder of Access Software who also plays the role of Tex in the games, is launching Project Fedora to try to bring Tex out of his premature retirement. The new project will be developed under Big Finish Games, a game production company founded by him and Aaron Conners in 2007 with a mission to create story-driven interactive games. Jones is launching the project at Kickstarter, in order to seek funding for his new game.

We are extremely privileged to have an opportunity to interview Chris Jones. In the interview, Jones speaks on the history of the Tex Murphy series, the future of the adventure game genre, his inspiration to use Kickstarter to launch Project Fedora, what fans can expect from the new Tex Murphy game, and what lies in the future for Big Finish Games.

Why is it now the right time to bring Tex out of his premature retirement after more than a decade?

It was our plan to do another Tex Murphy game 12-14 months after Overseer's dramatic Cliffhanger. However, our company was purchased by Microsoft - who wanted to make games for their Xbox console and Tex did not fit what type of game they wanted to do.

Over the past ten years, we have tried a number of times to start the next Tex Murphy adventure. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to get any publisher to support these interactive adventure games and we could never get all the pieces in place.

Recently, Kickstarter has created this opportunity for fans of the genre to help the developers bring these games back. This may turn out to be the perfect moment to bring Tex back.

How did you "reacquire" the rights to the Tex Murphy series?

We always had rights to the characters through different forms of broadcast media. After the studio was sold, we had acquired some additional rights and additional access to earlier footage. Basically, when Microsoft closed their studio we gained additional rights - enough to get a game together.

How dissatisfied are you with the current business model of game development and publishing of adventure games? What needs to be changed for the adventure game genre to survive in the current marketplace?

Traditionally, games of the past had no chance of getting published because software giants are only interested in the mega hits. Now we are seeing that change - where software companies can go outside the traditional studio model and find support for their product through the existent fan base. If this model works, all that's required is that we put out quality products that satisfy the desire of the people who purchased the game. This has created great opportunities for smaller to medium sized companies to work with non-traditional methods to reach their fan base and provide products that these people will support.

To what extent will you be able to recycle and reuse assets from previous Tex Murphy games for Project Fedora?

Whatever we need from earlier products is available to us and we will use it wherever it is deemed necessary. We will need to introduce new players to this world as well as refresh the memories of people who have played the games before.

Chances and Polarity have long been rumored to the names of the next sequels in the Tex Murphy series. In what ways will Project Fedora be related to them?

Chance and Polarity were game concepts that we had developed right after Overseer. There will be elements of those stories in this upcoming game. Due to the passage of time between Overseer and Project Fedora, we are going to shake it up a little bit and so we can explain why Tex is older and paint a little bit of a different picture than if we had done a game directly after Overseer. Many of the key concepts that were in these stories still apply.

Compared to the pledge goal for Project Fedora, how large were the production budgets of previous Tex Murphy games?

The past games had a much larger budget, but many things have changed since the previous Tex Murphy games. The tools we can use are much better and more efficient than in the past.

On the programming side, we'll be able to save money by combining original IP with off-the-shelf technology. Also, much of our assembled team has been working in this field since the original games and they have acquired quite a bit of experience which cuts the learning curve quite a bit.

What is Tex such an enduring character?

He's enduring because he's an everyman - anybody feels like they can step in to the role. There's a real human side to Tex, he's someone people can relate to. Tex is not the traditional video game hero in the sense that he's clumsy, maybe not the brightest guy in the world, and a little bit naive.

I also think people have really enjoyed Tex's humor. Tex can be both over-the-top or have subtle black dark humor.

Through it all, Tex sticks with the case until he is able to solve it. He often saves the world, despite himself.

What was your favorite moment playing as Tex? What part of acting the role did you find to be most challenging?

The favorite part for me has always been bringing in actors who have I've known and watched on screen - to be in the game. It was always a real treat to interact with them - on screen! It was just an incredible experience to just sit and watch actors like Michael York who really show you that acting is a craft and an artwork. I'm clearly the amateur in the room.

Big Finish Games, which you and Aaron Connors cofounded in 2007, had published a number of casual adventure games, including Three Cards to Midnight and Three Cards to Dead Time. In hindsight, how much was the development of the Three Card series handicapped by constraints in the production budgets? How different was the original vision of the series compared to what it had eventually become?

In my mind, the biggest problem with the 3 Cards series was trying to make it something we wanted that didn't exactly match the "casual" M.O.

When we started out - it had a lot of adventure game elements that we thought casual fans would be interested in and enjoy. However, casual and adventure games can be very different - for example, their audience base. Some of them appreciated our different take on the casual genre - others did not.

With our next game, we honed in more to what casual gaming fans would like with regard to the amount of dialogue and how the puzzles operated. We got closer to the "casual game" mark with 3 Cards to Dead Time.

We also did a game for PlayFirst - experts in the casual field. Working with PlayFirst really helped us get a better handle on what casual gamers were looking for.

By the time we came out with the Escape from Thunder Island and Rita James and the Race to Shangri La, they received excellent reviews. So, it's definitely been a learning process to understand the market better.

How much of the background development work has already been completed for Project Fedora? How will backers of the project be able to influence the development of the game?

Over the years, we have worked on multiple scenarios if Tex came back. We have a basic storyline we are working with, but it is taking that and determining funds for the game - which will determine how large this game will be.

We have designed a more modest Tex Murphy game if we only receive a small budget. However, if we were to get a full budget for a new game, we would incorporate multiple paths, recognizable actors, and other upgrades similar to the previous Tex games. Of course, we hope to be able to do the full on Tex Murphy game.

A number of prominent adventure game designers, including Tim Shaffer, Jane Jensen, and Al Lowe, have recently launched their own projects on Kickstarter. How worried are you that the gaming community is growing fatigued of repeated calls for pledges to develop admittedly high-risk game projects? To what extent do you see your own project to be in competition with these others projects?

I don't see it so much as competition as just a trend or a wave of people who are truly nostalgic for games they played - either when they were young or people who just want additional choices out in the gaming market. I think people are missing the experiences these games brought to the table. From my standpoint, I think it's great to see the success other adventure game companies have had.

For our Kickstarter campaign, we will have to tell our own story - we have to make a case of why we're integral into the family of gaming. When people see our Kickstarter video, we hope they will want to support us.

If the project gets funded, what will be the development schedule for Project Fedora? What lies in the future for Big Finish Games?

The schedule will be determined by the scale of the game. If we feel like we can do it the way we want, it's probably a full game development cycle (a year) to get the product out from the time of funding. Frankly, to do this - it will take all the resources that BFG has to pull this off. To a large degree, what we see in terms of interest people have in older classic games or adventure games in general, the trend would be for a company like BFG looks promising because the types of products we like to design, there seems to be genuine interest out there. If we can tap into that - we can make a viable product and produce a business model for our company.

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