The Gray Matter of Adventure Gaming
The Gray Matter of Adventure Gaming
An Interview With Jane Jensen and Robert Holmes

October 25, 2011 By Stephen Meyerink and RPGFan Staff

Gray Matter If you're a fan of point-and-click adventure titles, chances are good that you're familiar with the Gabriel Knight series and its designer, Jane Jensen. Jensen has worked on a number of excellent titles over the years, including King's Quest VI, the aforementioned Gabriel Knight series, and more recently, Gray Matter. We recently had the opportunity to interview not only Jane herself, but also her husband, composer Robert Holmes, the man behind the music of many of Jane's games – including the outstanding Gray Matter OST, which we reviewed earlier this year on RPGFan. We discussed a number of topics, including the music of Gray Matter, what the duo has been up to recently, possible future projects, and more. Check out the full interview below to see what they had to say.

RPGFan: Can you please give us a little of your background? How did you become involved in developing adventure games? Jane, what led you to designing and writing them?

Jane: My college degree was in computer science, and I was working for Hewlett-Packard in Silicon Valley, but I really wanted to write novels. When I discovered my first Sierra game (King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella), I was totally hooked. I knew it would be a great merging of my skills and interests, so I wrote to Sierra and sent them a resume. A year later, they brought me in for a position as a staff writer.

Robert: I found myself in Oakhurst when my wife at that time was hired by them as a creative director. Once they found out about my musical and producing background, they were very gracious in asking me aboard as well.

RPGFan: Robert, what kind of musical background do you have?

Robert: I grew up in southern California and was playing in pro bands from a very early age. I then moved into studio and scoring work in Hollywood as a musician, engineer, and producer. This was all very helpful by the time I got to Sierra.

RPGFan: There are precious few married couples working together in the game industry, or even in creative endeavors in general. Clearly you are both very creative people and have your own independent projects. How do you remain together while balancing your passion for other projects?

Robert: We both love our creative work! We also have always enjoyed working on projects together from the very early days, when I was first assigned to be Jane's producer on Gabriel Knight 1. I think because we have great respect for each other creatively, we help bring the very best from each other. While we both have many independent projects, we always enjoy the opportunity to partner on something, and are fortunate to get the chance!

Jane: Bob's always been very supportive of anything I needed or wanted to do with my career, even if it meant a temporary separation. I try to do the same for him. It is fun when we can work on something together, too, but mainly it's about supporting what the other person is passionate about doing. We're very secure in our relationship and that's helpful.

RPGFan: Robert, would the Scarlet Furies (editor's note: Robert Holmes' band that also provided theme songs for Gray Matter) ever consider doing theme songs for another game title?

Robert: Absolutely! We even did one for one of Jane's casual games called Dying for Daylight. It was very well-received, and it brought us to a whole new audience, I think.

RPGFan: Robert, what did you have in mind as you wrote the music for Gray Matter? Was there a particular mood or style you were aiming for? Did you compose the music before or after you saw the game in action?

Robert: I always write the music while the game is in development, so it's often conceptual in nature, then we tweak as needed once the game actually exists. I wanted to provide Gray Matter with a very ambient feel, such as something from the film Gods and Monsters, while injecting almost another "character" to the story through the Scarlet Furies' music.

RPGFan: What sort of software and hardware do you both find most helpful in developing games like Gray Matter and its excellent soundtrack?

Robert: I do most of my scoring work in a hybrid studio where I have access to analog and software-based tools. My DAW of choice for game projects has been Digital Performer due to its diverse capabilities.

Jane: I'm a PC person, and I use Photoshop, Word, and Visio primarily for designing. Gabriel Knight

RPGFan: It's been a long time since the publication of some of the classics that you were both involved in (like Gabriel Knight and King's Quest VI). Was the timing of Gray Matter's development and release in response to the resurgence of graphic adventure gaming's popularity as a genre? If not, what led to the timing of Gray Matter's release?

Robert: I'll let Jane chime in more on this, but the timing was mostly the result of various development phases and teams. It's much more complex to do a game of that scope when various teams and entities are involved, versus one stable dynamic.

Jane: Yes, the resurgence of adventure games in Europe certainly helped me find a publisher for Gray matter. But, I had a German producer who put me together with the publisher and team, so his passion for the project really helped it come about. I had had the game design document completed for a few years and was busy on other things.

RPGFan: Were you both satisfied with the level of response to Gray Matter?

Robert: I felt very pleased with the way the music was received. It seems to have been perceived just as we intended. I think the game overall has not received the amount of attention it deserves – it really is a great game!

Jane: The reviews and fan response were good. I would have liked to have seen even better sales, of course!

RPGFan: Many independent games find considerable success on the Steam platform, like Frictional Games' Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Carpe Fulgur's Recettear. Was this ever considered for Gray Matter? If so, what caused it to miss a release on a digital service?

Jane: The publishing of the game was done by dtp, so I wasn't really involved in those decisions.

RPGFan: I know myself and many others consider King's Quest VI to be among the best in the genre, along with the Gabriel Knight games. What was it like working on those games?

Jane: King's Quest VI was a great experience. I was a very green designer, and it was a chance to work with Roberta Williams. She taught me a lot about what it meant to be a game designer – and I loved the KQ series, so it was a lot of fun to write for it!

RPGFan: The modern games industry is vastly different from the golden era of point-and-click adventure games. What was it like working on Gray Matter? What did you find challenging about it?

Robert: From a musical perspective, it was pretty painless. I always work the same way with Jane, working from the story and the characters, and then extending out to locations, etc. Since we had a remote team also doing music, it just required good communication and an openness to collaboration, which I really enjoyed!

Jane: The hardest thing was that I wasn't as involved in production as I am used to. The team was in Paris and the communication wasn't great. So I didn't have the creative control I was used to or the ability to affect the game the way I might have wanted to. I really prefer to be in the room with the team, day by day. But nevertheless, it was a good team and they put a lot of devotion into the game. Gray Matter

RPGFan: Where did the concept for Gray Matter come from? How long had you been considering the idea?

Jane: I specifically sat down to write a new series, something that would be a mystery series with paranormal overtones, but different from Gabriel Knight. The inspiration came from a number of places – The Matrix, as well as some non-fiction I had been reading about psi experiments and pop neurobiology books. The brain is rather the final frontier. It's a fascinating subject. I don't really understand much about it, but then no one does! That's a good opening to have as a fiction writer – anything is possible.

RPGFan: What were some of the biggest challenges related to creating and publishing Gray Matter? Do you think there's any way to get around those issues on a (hopefully!) future game? In other words, what might you do differently in the future?

Robert: I think any dynamic with multiple publishers and teams can become very complex. It would be great to see any future versions developed within a stable and single corporate environment.

RPGFan: Could we ever expect a follow-up to Gray Matter? It seems like there could be a lot more to explore in that world! On the subject of sequels, what kind of stars would have to align in order for us to see a new Gabriel Knight? For that matter, how do you both feel about sequels to your work?

Robert: We are always open to possibilities like this and look forward to the creative challenges that they might present. I personally love Gabriel Knight 2 the most of the series, and as a sequel I feel it did a great job of extending the story and characters. For older titles like GK, it's mainly an issue of who owns the license to the brand (as Sierra is no longer), and what they envision for it.

Jane: I hope there will be a Gray Matter sequel. It was written to be an ongoing series. As for Gabriel Knight, it is really in the hands of Activision since they control the license to the series. I say: never give up hope! King's Quest VI

RPGFan: Telltale Games has recently acquired the rights to produce new King's Quest titles. What do you think of that? What would you think of them developing new Gabriel Knight games? Would you be willing to collaborate with them or with any studio where Jane might not be the lead on the project?

Jane: I think it's fantastic. Telltale has done a great job bringing full-blown adventure games to the online audience. I wish them great success with King's Quest because, selfishly, I would love to see them do more Sierra titles. I would prefer to write any Gabriel Knight game that is done in the future myself – but it's certainly possible that it wouldn't work out that way. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

RPGFan: Can you please make a murder mystery set in Amish country?

Robert: Stranger things have happened! : )

Jane: Gee, what a good idea! ;-)

RPGFan: [While we were chatting prior to the interview] I recall you mentioning your "latest project–" a farm in Lancaster. Can you tell us a little about that?

Robert: Jane has had a long-term interest in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area, and we had made several trips here over the years as tourists. Last year we were fortunate enough to become the owners of a beautiful farm and are learning a lot about raising cows, chickens, and sustainable gardening!

Jane: Yes, I've always loved this area, and I am originally from Pennsylvania. I guess a few things drew us to this lifestyle: we are both animal lovers and we wanted to have more animals in our lives (we now have dogs, chickens, and dairy cows). Also, given the state of the world, I thought it prudent to become a little more self-sufficient – and we wanted to do something positive for the environment, also. We have twenty acres and are "homesteading," not farming for profit. We have fruits and veggies, chickens for eggs, and a milking dairy cow and her calf.

RPGFan would like to thank Robert Holmes and Jane Jensen for their responses to our questions and their time!