A weekend with Jane Jensen

by on Mar.22, 2011, under news, tsl, Uncategorized

My friends used to kid with me that if I ever met Jane Jensen, I would have a heart attack. Well, I’m happy to say I’m still alive.

But let’s go back to the beginning…

Something big was happening in the offices of Sierra On-Line in 1993. A game that was about to explode onto the video game scene and make its mark in the history of the business. An original, unique, mature, and remarkable story that would mark the beginning of a whole sub-genre.

I remember the first time I saw the first ad for the project. It was a big fold-out ad showcasing four new games from Sierra: Police Quest 4, Leisure Suit Larry 6, Quest for Glory 4, and then there was this thing, oozing a dark mood, a certain sensual darkness that caught my eye immediately.

From that point on, I could not stop thinking about it and eagerly awaiting its release. And when the game finally landed in my hands, I had to beg my dad to upgrade my computer because it wouldn’t run on my 286 system.

It was called Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers.

Not only did the game not disappoint, it changed my view on video games as a whole. It made me relate to video game characters in a way that I had never experienced, and its story was so rich and well researched that I kept wondering how it hadn’t occurred to anyone before. But, it had to be Jane. Like Scott Murphy, creator of the Space Quest series, recently told me in a Facebook conversation: “Jane was the best we ever had. She’s a true writer. Some of us struggled through the crude jungle of adventure games in the crude years, throwing our bodies on the barbed wire so true pros like Jane could run past us and take it to the next level.”

And take it she did, with every new entry in the Gabriel Knight saga. The Beast Within is my absolute best experience in the medium to this day. In an era where Full Motion Video was being accused of taking interactivity out of the genre, Jane Jensen managed to create such a masterpiece that it won numerous awards and accolades, including Game of the Year.

Many of us were sad to see Grace leave at the end of Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, and many of us still wonder what that damn letter said. But just like Grace from Gabriel, Gabriel Knight was out of our lives, its true fate a mystery, still holding the place it deserved in our hearts.

Recently, Jane gave us another jewel by the name of Gray Matter, a game that I cannot recommend enough! The story between Samantha and David is a very beautiful one that is sure to touch your heart and give you chills at the same time.

But in more recent history, our weekend with Jane Jensen started with a simple phone call (which I’ve previously blogged about). As we talked more and more, a bond started to develop. Jane checked out the work that we were doing on The Silver Lining, and was very pleased by what she saw and learned about our team. She was impressed that we had managed to do such a large and cinematic game operating only with volunteers and no real funding, and how our fans worked to convince Activision to grant us a license to release it. As the friendship grew, the first moment of near heart-attack came: she invited us to her house to meet and hang out in person!

A week later, a group of the directors of Phoenix Online were pulling up to her farm to meet with her and her husband Robert (producer and composer for Gabriel Knight) over a weekend.

We had a great time together. We spent hours talking about her experiences at Sierra, and ours making The Silver Lining, and where adventure games are headed. Jane and Robert were very lovely hosts and Jane treated us to some great dinner and breakfast. We learned that Jane is very interested in a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, and she treated us to some very delicious fresh milk, yogurt, eggs, and other great food. We toured her incredible farm (if a creepy old barn ever pops up in a Phoenix Online game, you’ll know why!). I kept asking her where did she keep the Ritter Talisman, and let me tell you, her house has real passageways, the kind of those you find in Schloss Ritter!

One afternoon, we made our way to a fantastic family style Amish restaurant where they keep serving you food until you are completely stuffed, and traveled through more of the Amish country. It was all a great surrounding to discuss our dreams, our hopes for Phoenix Online, the gaming industry today and how adventures had changed, and great ideas of her endless imagination. As we heard her talking about these ideas, and stories, I had a thought in my mind: I kept thinking back to that time when my friends told me how I’d feel if I ever met her. At times, I just couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be here, the fanboy meeting his idol! I was happy. Incredibly and ridiculously happy.

At one point, while they were out taking the dogs for a walk, I sat at the piano and butchered the Gabriel Knight theme (sorry, Robert!). But the truth is, I did it on purpose because I wanted to get Robert to sit on that piano and treat us to some great music! And he did, and of course, blew my amateur attempts away. It was a real treat to hear the original composer of the GK theme play it for us!

We spent the night having fun with some hilarious videos we found from a Gabriel Knight fan on youtube. I was happy to hear Jane and Robert laugh so hard. Robert had mentioned at one point during our stay that sometimes he didn’t think that they had that much reach, because people today didn’t know of the work they had done. Well, I wanted to make sure that by the time that we left they knew there had been many fans they had reached and touched, and that their power was so real that we could never forget it. We are still here, right? Right?!!

The next morning Robert told me he had been inspired by the nostalgic evening, and Jane mentioned she was reawakened to the possibility of making games the way she did at Sierra.

We all left their place feeling good. For me, a child’s dream–really, a lifelong dream–had come true.

Cesar Bittar

6 Comments for this entry

  • akkratte

    I’ll be getting Gray Matter soon!

  • Jonathan

    Great post!

  • Remy_C

    Right on! I found this post inspirational and I’m not sure why. I’m glad you guys had the oppertunity to have that experience. I only played the Gabriel Knight trilogy a few years ago, and along with Tex Merphy and the Longest Journey series, it remains the highlight of my adventure gaming experience. If Jane ever did return to the series, I’d be a happy man indeed! Thank you for the post.

  • Klitos

    I don’t like you any more. That’s probably to do with my overwhelming jealousy after reading that. 🙂

  • candai

    So. Unbelievably. Jealous. Gabriel also remains the pinnacle of adventure gaming to me, and yes, “The Beast Within” changed my life as well — I’ve even been to Bavaria a couple times now to hunt down the stories and sights from the game. 🙂

  • marck29

    whens the next chapter out?