Interview mit Aaron Conners (Teil 1) Englische Version



Adventure Corner:
First of all, thanks a lot for your very kind and immediate will to do this interview. Most Tex Murphy fans probably know that the community is more than alive. For a lot of years an established community has grown on the Unofficial Tex Murphy Message Board. And in fact, you never stopped coming back to the site, telling people the current status of your projects, how everything else is going along, doing chats with the community, announcing your new game 'Three Cards To Midnight' etc. I can´t really think of any comparable exchange of thoughts, between fans and game creators like in this case. Especially if you consider, that your last (adventure) game 'Tex Murphy: Overseer' was released in 1998. Ain´t it a blast to see such an overwhelming response to your work, and to see that people still care about the characters you and Chris Jones introduced us to?

Aaron Conners:
It’s been really great. The Tex Murphy fans are the best, most loyal fans in the world! They’re one of the reasons why we’ve kept trying all these years to get a new game made. We wanted to reward their patience and support.

Adventure Corner:
There is no doubt, that Tex is one of the most remarkable adventure heroes of all time. You could say he is one of the biggest stars of our new classic section as well (referring to the superb grades the games got in our classic reviews). But for those that don´t know Tex, please describe the character a bit.

Aaron Conners:
Tex Murphy is a PI living in the 2040s, who wishes he’d been born 100 years earlier. He’s a bit of an anachronism and the people he interacts with usually find this either charming or annoying. Tex is no super hero – he makes his fair share of mistakes and bad decisions, but his good heart and (spotty) PI skills always seem to make things work out in the end.

Adventure Corner:
Do you have any personal highlights from the creation process of each Tex Murphy game you made?
Please give us some insights.


Aaron Conners:
'Under a Killing Moon' was the first game I worked on, so everything about it was a highlight. It was pretty exciting to be doing a CD-ROM game with full motion video and a fully 3d world! I’d done some writing before, but nothing with the size and scope of 'UKM', so it was definitely a learning experience. I’m proud of the game and the work I did on it, but I definitely had a lot of room for improvement as both a writer and game designer.
I think 'The Pandora Directive' was a HUGE leap over 'UKM' in every way. The story, characters, gameplay…everything was at a much higher level. It’s certainly my favorite game. One thing I remember about the 'PD development' was that I had come up with three different story ideas and Chris and I decided on the alien/Mayan/NSA plot. As we were creating the game, 'The X-Files' show kept having episodes that were really close to what we were doing, so we were a bit worried that people would think we were ripping them off. People forget that it takes years to develop a videogame, so the story ideas have to come early in the process.
Making 'Overseer' was very different from the other games. For one, we spent a lot more time on the FMV, especially in the casting and filming. To be honest, there was some disagreement about the direction of the story – I felt it was getting a bit too dramatic (it was still a GAME, after all), but it was an interesting process and I feel like the end result was excellent. I especially enjoyed working with Michael York and Henry Darrow, both AMAZING actors.

Adventure Corner:
I noticed that 'Tex Murphy: Overseer' had a certain melodramatic undertone added to the game (at times). I was quite overwhelmed by that fact, because it never got to a cheesy point, but added even more depth to the Tex Murphy universe.
The range of things your games delivered to the player is pretty wide in general. You´ve got the tension element, then there is humor and later on also the melodramatic aspect. It seems to me like a lot of current movies fail, trying to combine humour and tension elements, delivering the same old superficial product in the end. You on the other hand can combine these elements (even with the mentioned melodramatic touch in 'Overseer') and it works perfectly. Why do so many movies fail to combine these elements and when you do it, it seems as if it is the most natural thing in the world?


Aaron Conners:
As I said above, I was concerned that we were getting dangerously close to melodrama in 'Overseer'. I’m glad to hear you don’t think we went too far. :)
I don’t know how qualified I am to critique movies, but I think movies have the same problem as many video games: there are too many people involved in the creative process. As the saying goes, “No masterpiece was ever created by a committee.” Everyone has their own ideas of what’s good and what isn’t; if you have to incorporate multiple viewpoints, you end up with something that’s “patchwork”, watered down and, often, totally lacking focus.
Chris and I, jointly, made all the major creative decisions for the Tex Murphy games. We would bounce pretty much EVERY idea we had off each other and, almost invariably, the other guy would have a suggestion that would make the original idea better.

Adventure Corner:
Your games and 'Gabriel Knight II – The Beast Within' have proven what an enormous potential for great storytelling FMV games actually have.
Beside the positive examples, a lot of firms tried to make money out of the trend -that 'Under A Killing Moon' started -, making games of very low quality.
Do you think a big wave of bad FMV adventures has killed the good FMV games – back then- as well? Or was the demise of FMV, rather part of the demise of the whole adventure-genre back then?


Aaron Conners:
I think FMV killed FMV, separate from (though simultaneously with) the tragic fall of adventure games. Back in 1994, everyone was jazzed about FMV because they thought it would elevate video games to the level of TV, if not movies. The problem is, we didn’t have the writers, directors, producers, actors or – most importantly – experience to deliver a product that could compete. I really do think 'Pandora', 'Overseer' and 'GK2' were by far the best of the FMV games and there were so many stinkers, it was easy for people to dismiss ALL FMV games as junk. I really don’t blame them, either. Man, there were some terrible games.

Adventure Corner:
There is really something happening in the European adventure world. Beside the high number of adventure games being released in general, there are some games like 'A Vampyre Story' who are also associated with quite huge commercial expectations. It looks like things get moving in the adventure world, which brings me back to the situation of FMV. It seems that with the DVD, Blueray and HD technology the time would be perfect for new Full motion video games.
Is a new wave of FMV Adventures possible in your opinion, if this current trend is proven to be right, and the reputation of the adventure genre –in general- keeps growing again?


Aaron Conners:
Possibly, but I doubt it. I just don’t think the market’s ready for a return to FMV yet. Right now, no one’s talking about crossing over between games and movies; some IPs ('Halo', 'Women’s Murder Club', etc.) are being used in both games or TV/movies, but no one’s making a “movie-like” game. It seems like everyone’s more comfortable keeping them distinct and separate. And maybe that’s a good thing!

Adventure Corner:
A good FMV game- written by a really good author- could actually be appealing to a lot of people not familiar with computer games, if they would be supported by a good promotion outside of computer magazines etc..
What could be done to reach that potentially big group of people?


Aaron Conners:
My long experience in the videogame business has taught me one thing: the people who control the money do not like to take risks. I agree that FMV could be very appealing to new and casual gamers; the problem is, no one in the industry will put up the money to finance such a project until someone else does it and it’s a big success. The 'Myst' phenomenon was the closest thing to it and, sure enough, a ton of 'Myst' clones came out – none of which were hits.

Adventure Corner:
Considering adventure games you´ve seen and/or played throughout the years, FMV and non FMV- which adventures did you really like and which ones left an impression on you?

Aaron Conners:
I’m not much of a game player. I actually spend a lot of free time on different projects and, for relaxation, I prefer to read. I played more games back in the early 90s – I really enjoyed 'Loom', 'Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis', 'Sam and Max', and others. I kind of lost interest in other games when the adventure games died off. 'Grim Fandango' is amazing. I also enjoyed 'Half Life'.

Adventure Corner:
You always had a very good sense for hiring actors that have a name but are financially within the budget. I ´m still very impressed by Michael York as J. Saint Gideon for example, or Kevin Mc Carthy as Gordon Fitzpatrick (and there are more examples). How was it like to work with great actors like that, and what was their opinion on starring in a computergame?

Aaron Conners:
I’ve said before that Kevin McCarthy was my all-time favorite actor, both personally and to work with. Michael York was probably the most impressive, from an acting ability standpoint. I still can’t believe we got James Earl Jones to be in 'Killing Moon'!
It was really wonderful working with talented actors. Acting is what they do for a living – not something they dabble in or “want” to do. And when someone comes in and takes a script you wrote and adds a whole new layer to it, it’s pretty amazing. On the down side, it makes the less experienced/amateur actors look even worse than they are. :)
I think most of the big actors weren’t sure what they were getting into, but having a professional casting agent and, of course, the talented Hollywood veteran, Adrian Carr doing the directing, made them feel like they were just on a normal movie shoot – albeit against blue screen.

Adventure Corner:
If the day should come and you would be able to make a new Tex Murphy FMV adventure,
What actors ( that might be financiable) would you like to see in that game to follow Michael York, Kevin Mc Carthy, David Keith, Rebecca Broussard, Barry Corbin and the others?


Aaron Conners:
Wow. I’ve never been asked this question and never really considered it before. I can say there are a few actors I’ve always really liked and would love to work with: Alan Rickman, Kevin Kline, John Cusack, Paul Rudd, Diane Lane, Parker Posey…

Adventure Corner:
Aside of the big names Chris Jones really delivers a performance that is simply brilliant. He plays Tex in a way, that you can´t do anything else but to like his character and really care about what is happening to him. Where did Chris Jones learn to play Tex Murphy the way he does, or is he just a natural talent that did not have to learn anything?

Aaron Conners:
Both. Chris has a natural talent. You can’t teach people to be comfortable onscreen. But he’s also spent more time than he’ll admit to practicing and reading up on ways to become a better actor. Two things really helped: first, Tex’s personality is a little bit of me and a lot of Chris, mixed with some other influences. It’s not like he’s playing an Indonesian shark hunter, so he can find a nice comfort zone. Secondly, Adrian Carr, the director of Pandora and Overseer, did a lot to help Chris and coax the best performances possible out of him.

Adventure Corner
The Tex Murphy character was created before you joined Chris Jones (starring in the games 'Mean Streets and Martian Memorandum'), but since you are the writer, you are the one who added a lot to Tex´ character and also the two novels you wrote reveal a lot of insights about the character Tex Murphy- that came from your mind.
What would you say, how much of the character Tex Murphy is in real life within the person Aaron Conners and how much of Tex is within the person Chris Jones?

Aaron Conners:
It’s funny how my answers seem to keep foreshadowing your next questions! I’m the drinker, smoker, divorced part of Tex, while Chris is the tiny bit naïve, good-hearted – though a bit standoffish – idealist part. The obsession with film noir, jazz, hot women, and the smart-ass sense of humor are things we have in common.

Adventure Corner:
The 'Tex Murphy' games as well as your books have a lot of film noir references, or references to authors like Raymond Chandler. Which films of the film noir era left the most influence on you?

Aaron Conners:
Most of my favorite movies are from 1939-1959, including 'Casablanca' (my favorite), 'The Maltese Falcon', 'The Big Sleep', 'Kiss Me Deadly', 'Out of the Past', 'Double Indemnity', 'North by Northwest', and 'Touch of Evil'.

Adventure Corner:
What films in general and what authors and books would you consider as an inspiration?

Aaron Conners:
The only recent movie I can think of is 'The Usual Suspects'. I read a ton of books, though I don’t know how much they influence my writing (I’m sure they do, at least on a subconscious level). Some favorite authors: Lawrence Block, Tom Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut, Christopher Moore, Lee Child.

Adventure Corner:
In the Chandler adaption 'Farewell my Lovely' Robert Mitchum played a Phillip Marlowe, who was a lot older than in the book. Is there a chance that the fans get old together with Tex Murphy, or do you think at a certain age the character should have told his last story?

Aaron Conners:
Well, I think we would need to pick the story up where we left off. If we did another story/game after that, it might be cool to have a Tex adventure when he’s older.

Adventure Corner:
It is really great to see how close you and Chris Jones still are today. How did you first meet, and what was your first impression of each other after the first meeting?
Could you- at that point- even guess how long you and Chris would be working together and what close friendship would come out of that connection?


Aaron Conners:
Chris and I met shortly after I was hired at Access Software, where Chris was the CFO and co-owner. We didn’t have much of a connection for the first few months I worked there, but then Chris found out that I wrote interactive murder mysteries (for parties) and this got him curious. I showed him some of my stuff and he invited me to write a story for the game that became 'Under a Killing Moon'.
As soon as we started working together, we became friends. We were really surprised at how much we had in common, including music, movies, sports, etc. The first time Chris and his wife came to visit me and my girlfriend at my little apartment, his wife said “This is how our house would look if I let Chris decorate it.” Ever since then, we’ve been really good friends.

Adventure Corner:
This brings me right to my next question. The last years were pretty turbulent for you two. Could you give our readers a short description of what was going on from the release of 'Tex Murphy Overseer' until today?

Aaron Conners:
I could write a novel about the time period. :) Long story short, Chris and I were planning on doing 'Trance' right after 'The Pandora Directive', but then Intel asked us to do a quick game for them, which turned into 'Overseer'. If we’d just done 'Trance', I think we might still be doing 'Tex Murphy' games today! Unfortunately, the deal with Intel was a failure and Overseer, which sold less and wasn’t as well-reviewed as 'Pandora' or 'Killing Moon', seemed to indicate that the series was losing popularity. In reality, I think 'Trance' would have been bigger and better than 'Pandora'.Some people at Access were down on adventure games and wanted to try something different. Initially, we were going to do an action game, code name 'Robinson Crusoe on Mars', which Chris and I were going to do the story for. We were a few months into the project when Mark Hamill approached us about doing a game with him based on his 'Dark Horse' comic, 'The Black Pearl'. So, we decided to do that project instead.
It was at this time that Microsoft bought Access, and everything came to a screeching halt for about six months while the transition took place. When we got back to serious work, we met with some growing pains as we tried to fit into the MS structure. We also had some changes in management (not good ones) and the studio began its descent into oblivion. Soon, we were doing only Xbox titles and no one in management had any interest in doing an adventure game of any type.
I left the studio (which was renamed to Salt Lake Games Group) and went to work for a different department of MS. After a few years, during which Chris and I tried to get projects done, but with little success, Chris left the business. I left MS and went to work for Take Two when they bought the studio and turned it into Indie Built. As you know, I did 'Amped 3' and then went on to work for Ubisoft.

Adventure Corner:
Before we come to an the end, I´d like to ask you some writing related questions.
If I think of complex and intelligent storylines in adventures, games like the 'Gabriel Knight' series and 'The Pandora Directive' come to my mind. Of course such a complexity always contains the danger of losing the main story as a whole out of the eye, which did not happen to you. Is the hardest part of writing storylines as complex as yours, to not lose the focus on the story as a whole?


Aaron Conners:
Honestly, the story isn’t that complex. The reason why I think it’s effective is the way it’s told. It builds gradually and pieces that seem unrelated at first start to connect together. Most importantly, I tried not to “tell” the player what to think; instead, the player is using his or her imagination to connect the dots. And I’ve always said that the player’s (or reader’s or viewer’s) imagination is the most important tool in creating a great story experience.
And if you’re asking about how I maintained the structure, here are my key steps: (1) start out with a good, clear outline of the story progression, (2) create the structure based on the villain’s perspective, and (3) always try to look at the progression from the player’s perspective (not knowing what’s going to happen later).

Adventure Corner:
Did you actually ever plan to use your strengths in Hollywood?

Aaron Conners:
I’ve written six or seven movie screenplays. I had an agent in L.A. who passed along some positive feedback from some fairly big producers, so I was excited for awhile. Then I wrote a really good script and my agent told me that he could sell it if I just changed the ages of all the characters (made them younger, of course). In my opinion, the ages of characters were essential to the core of the story and decided not to make the changes. I guess I got to the point where it felt like Hollywood wasn’t worth the trouble, so I quit the scene about six years ago.

Adventure Corner:
Beside the writing you did on Tex´ future and the storyline for your new game- Did you write any stories or planned novels aside of that?

Aaron Conners:
I actually prefer writing novels to anything else. I can get a bit wordy sometimes, which I have to control in my game scripts, and is a big no-no in screenplays. In novels, you can take your time and describe things and let plot points develop gradually. I’m currently writing a new novel, which has nothing to do with any of the games or other projects I’ve worked on.


Again, thanks a lot for doing this Aaron. In the second part of our interview we will put the focus on your new game Three Cards to Midnight, which is scheduled for a November 2008 release. We´ll keep informing people about the game, wish you all the best for the rest of the production and will be waiting curiously for your insight-views on Three Cards To Midnight.


geschrieben am 10.09.2008, Ingmar Böke




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