Gabriel Knight interview: Jane Jensen on the revival of her classic adventure game

Interview by Stefanie Fogel

Veteran game designer Jane Jensen and her indie studio, Pinkerton Road, have been working on a 20th anniversary remake of the classic Sierra point-and-click adventure Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers since last year. After co-designing King's Quest VI in 1992, Jensen got her first shoot at designing and directing her own project. That game was Gabriel Knight, the story of a New Orleans writer who investigates a series of ritualistic voodoo murders and discovers he's the descendant of a long line of monster hunters. Pinkerton Road plans to launch the Gabriel Knight remake in early fall.

Jane Jensen recently spoke to PC Gamer about what's changing in the Gabriel Knight remake, the revival of the Sierra brand, and her hopes for a new game starring everyone's favorite N'awlins Schattenjäger.

PC Gamer: Why did you decide to remake Gabriel Knight?

Jane Jensen, game designer, Pinkerton Road Studio: I don't own the license, and I've gone in to pitch various GK ideas probably three different times over the last 20 years. We just never got very far with it. And then, when we were doing our Kickstarter, I had somebody from Activision contact me. And this was a producer who was really interested in bringing back some of the Sierra titles. And so I met with them and discussed what would be good to do and I really thought if we wanted to kick off the GK series again it would be a good idea to redo the first one.

PCG: Why did Activision approach you? Did they tell you?

Jensen: Well, like any big company, it's really a matter of somebody in-house being passionate about something, and this producer was passionate about seeing some of the Sierra stuff, and I think, eventually, that morphed into them refreshing the whole Sierra brand, which they're just starting to do. But when I was first talking to them, that hadn't happened yet and he was still trying to feel out ways to bring some of these titles back.

PCG: How did you feel about the announcement that Sierra Entertainment's coming back?

Jensen: I think it's great. I think it's way past time that they did something with that wonderful franchise that has been passed around, and I'm happy to see somebody paying attention to it again and looking forward to hopefully lots of new titles.

PCG: So, what's changed in the remake?

Jensen: Well, it's high definition … it has all-new art, all-new music, new voices, and I tried to stay true to the original design for the most part, but we did some things. Initially in the game you could do all kinds of stuff on any day. So, really on Day One you could do half the game, practically. We wanted to space that out a little bit more, so that if we wanted to be able to sell per episode or per day on iPad we could. It was never intended to be episodic, but sometimes it works to have that kind of a sales model. So, all of the material is there, it's just that now it's a little bit more structured in terms of when you can do stuff and I think that works better for a modern audience too, because Day One isn't so overwhelming.

We added some new scenes and a few new puzzles just because we could. And one of the things I wanted to do with the new edition is really bring in a lot of New Orleans flavor. We added some exterior scenes so that we could show the French Quarter that wasn't in the original game. I also wanted to make the game a little scarier if possible, so there were a few puzzles that we changed, which were later in the game and were kind of on the funny side, that we decided to go with something a little bit scarier at that point in the story.

PCG: So is this your definitive edition of Gabriel Knight? Like George Lucas and Star Wars and his special editions?

Jensen: [laughs] It definitely is a special director's cut kind of edition, yeah.

PCG: You mentioned the voice acting was redone with a whole new cast. That's a shame because the original Gabriel Knight had such a great cast going for it. Tim Curry, Mark Hamill, Michael Dorn, Leah Remini…

Jensen: Yeah. It was amazing. It's just different times. You know, it was 20 years ago and we didn't have access to the original recordings. All we could have done is strip the game of its audio and that was very compressed because it had to be on CD-ROM and floppy at that time. It's 20 years, so a lot of those people either wouldn't have sounded the same or are retired or would have been incredibly expensive.

It just wasn't possible for us to get the same cast again for a variety of reasons and part of that is budget. It just would've been in the hundreds of thousands and there's no way we had a budget like that for voice-overs. So, we used [Bay Area Sound], which is a company we used on Moebius too, and they also do all the Telltale games. They've won awards for The Walking Dead and various games and I think they did an excellent job.

PCG: What was it like to work on Gabriel Knight back in the '90s before it first came out?

Jensen: It was really exciting. It was [the] first big project I was able to do by myself. I mean, that I was designing by myself, because I had worked with Roberta Williams on King's Quest VI and worked on EcoQuest with Gano Haine and Bill Davis and so it was—I was very, very ambitious. I was really passionate about adventure games and really wanted to be a designer and it was sort of my big shot. And so it was just a year where everything was about work. And the team was really motivated and really into it … we really kicked ass on it and it was probably one of the most intense projects I ever did.

At that time at Sierra, we had our offices where the team was and there was a factory warehouse in the back where they actually manufactured the boxes. And the whole team tromped down there and … outside of Johnny Williams' office, there was this little balcony where you could look down on the conveyor belt, basically where you saw the product coming off, and we were watching the very first boxes coming off and it was just such an amazing feeling of like, “Wow. I'm published as a designer. This is my first real game.”

PCG: That must have been a little bit intimidating too.

Jensen: It was. Especially at first, because I had come up with the Gabriel Knight idea, pitched it, and got approval to go ahead. But there were a number of, I would say, doubters at the company who weren't sure it was going to work, because it was a darker game and Sierra up to that point had pretty much just done humor and family-based products. So that sort of shook my own faith of like, “Am I really doing the right thing? This is my chance. Am I going to blow it?” But we just moved forward with it and fortunately it seemed to resonate with [players].

PCG: Why do you think the publishers were hesitant to touch horror games back in the day?

Jensen: I think part of it was the market. At that time, the PC game market ... really didn't have a fast enough processor to really run action-based games. Those were in the malls arcades in the big machines, and so really the audience for the PC games was more family and older hobbyist, not so much the younger male demographic at that time. So, I think up to that time Sierra had been successful doing humor—and also LucasArts, which was their biggest competitor, pretty much did humor—so it just wasn't a tested thing. It wasn't something people felt comfortable with knowing how it was going to pan out.

PCG: So now that you've had 20 years to look back on it, how do you feel about the Gabriel Knight games now?

Jensen: Well, I'm really proud of them. I think since then there have been so many games—not just games, but TV shows. After Gabriel Knight came out, there was The X-Files and then Supernatural, which I'd been watching, which is really similar in that they are hunters of evil monsters. So, there's been a lot that has been going on in pop culture since then that's maybe sort of moved past the original series. But I think that it's very beloved and I'm hoping that we can get the first game out and then hopefully start doing more games that are really kind of modern and really take the universe to a new place.

PCG: What are the chances, if this is successful, of seeing remakes of Gabriel Knight 2 and 3?

Jensen: That wouldn't be my first choice. I would rather do a GK 4. I think it would be really hard to redo GK 2 because of the fact that it was done with FMV. I think it would feel really so different … much more different than the new GK 1 does from the original GK 1, because they both were 2-D. So, I don't know. I'm not opposed to it, but it probably wouldn't be my first choice for a next project.

PCG: So, you already have plans for a Gabriel Knight 4?

Jensen: Nothing firm, but I think especially now since Activision has announced the new Sierra brand they're pretty open to it. I think we all want to wait to see how the GK 1 remake does and hopefully if that does pretty well we'll be able to move on to a GK 4.

PCG: Thanks, Jane!

Want to see Jane Jensen talking more about her classic games? Check out our PC Classic Commentary of King's Quest VI with Jane!

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