Most players know Aaron Conners as author of the "Tex Murphy" adventure series. Chris Jones was CFO of Access Software, that produced some adventure games like "Amazon: Guardian of Eden" oder "Countdown" besides Tex. Furthermore he plays also the role of the private detective himself. 2008 they started their own small business to release "Three Cards to Midnight" - a hybrid of adventure and casual games. We interviewed them about this project and about the future of Tex Murphy:
A.T.: Three Cards to Midnight is a game about the young girl Jess, who suddenly finds herself in a room with a man she's never seen before. He tells her that something has happened and that has caused her to block out the events of the past days or weeks since her last memory. The man claims he'd help her. Then it's the player's turn to find her missing past. Sounds a little bit like a "Twillight Zone" episode. How much of the story is mystery, how much is detective?
Chris: It's ALL detective as far as I'm concerned... since I play the detective. No, actually, it's a mystery story.
Aaron: I like "Psychological Thriller", but Mystery will do.
A.T.: The story reminds a little bit of the beginning of "Trance", the never-released sequel to one of your most famous series, Tex Murphy. But it's a story of it's own. You said the story was into your mind for a long time. What made you choose this particular idea for this project?
Aaron: The idea of lost memories has always been appealing to us. There's just something so scary about other people knowing things about you that you don't even know yourself.
Chris: Also, we wanted to try a story with a female protagonist - which we'd never done before. And it's scarier with a woman in peril than a man.
A.T.: Your website mainly tells the differences, but: If I like Tex Murphy, why would I still like "Three Cards to Midnight" as well?
Chris: You'd like it because it's a great story and the Tex Murphy games always had great stories. We want you on the edge of your seat and constantly striving to put the pieces together. Mysterious loations, rich, interesting locations, and all that stuff.
Aaron: There's already been a lot of debate about this. The game is SO different in every way EXCEPT the quality of the story. It really comes down to this: if you enjoy good stories and are open to a new type of gameplay, we think you'll really like it.
A.T.: Some people believe, the game won't be more than several puzzle pictures with hotspot searching, interrupted by small story sequences during the pictures. Can you give them an all-clear?
Chris: Yes. Hell, it's seven hours long! One thing this game ISN'T is small.
Aaron: Some people just won't enjoy the gameplay - the same way some people didn't like the gameplay in the Tex Murphy games! The fact is, the gameplay in Three Cards is very well suited to the story - the same way the gameplay in the Tex games suited those stories. There is plenty of challenge in this new game, it's just different.
A.T.: The homepage and the trailer already give a good impression of the scale of the soundtrack and the unconventional look & feel of the game. Can you tell us what your criterias arefor the audiovisual part of the game? How many people are working on the project at the moment?
Chris: We started out with a fairly small team, but as we went along, more and more of our old cohorts became interested in helping to realize our vision and take a modest genre and build a very rich and intriguing world with a story at a level people haven't seen before.
It really was our goal to take our experience in the adventure world and enter the casual realm and create a hybrid that would really appeal to both sides. If people are fair, I think they'll recognize that the story and standalone puzzles - and even the room searches, in theory - are truly adventure elements. But we also wanted casual gamers to enjoy the game.
Aaron: Our criteria for the audio portion of the game was to make it as good as in any other game. I would compare our music, sound, and voice acting to ANY game out there.
A.T.: Why did you decide to make this game with a new story instead of revivinig Tex Murphy?
Aaron: We knew from the beginning that we would need to reach a larger market, but we still wanted to deliver a game that our fans would enjoy. So, rather than start with an existing property - which has become more loved and popular over time - we decided to introduce a brand new world and story which would be custom-made for this experiment.
Chris: We wanted to take advantage of the casual market and we felt like having a female protagonist was fairly important. Tex might have had a strong appeal, but we were trying to avoid any possible risks. We believed that if we delivered a great new game, it might also increase the potential audience for a future Tex game.
A.T.: The reason why Tex Murphy didn't go on after Overseer is a pretty long and sad story and had mainly to do with Access Software, the company behind Tex, being bought by Microsoft without using the attached license. You said you had the script for the sequel ("Trance") finished and ready to go already back in the 90ies. If this version would finally be produced nowadays, would it differ from the original ideas? Would it still be a classical adventure and how much would it connect to the old series? What do you believe would be the best solution for this script today?
Aaron: We would NEVER do Tex as a casual game - not even as a hybrid, like Three Cards to Midnight. The exploration, character interaction and inventory are all essential elements of the Tex games. So, yes, it would still be a classical adventure. And, yes, it would definitely connect to the old series. I've known for a long time what would happen to Tex and I REALLY want to tell those stories!
A.T.:I know you probably have heard this questions one hundred times, but our readers would kill me if I didn't ask: Who owns the rights to Tex Murphy at the moment and how likely do you see another Tex game in the next 5 years?
Aaron: The ownership of the right has been resolved and is no longer an issue. Frankly, the only real issue is making a business case to justify development money. I think the odds of seeing a new Tex game in the next five years are probably about 72%.
A.T.: Besides your Tex Murphy games, you have also written two books about the P.I. and did one audio play based on "Trance". Are there any plans for a new Tex Murphy product besides a possible game?
Aaron: Not at the moment. If we don't end up being able to produce a classic adventure Tex Murphy game, then we'll look at other ways to tell his stories.
A.T.: Companies like Telltale started to buy-out well-known adventure assets like Sam & Max from the big companies and selling them as episodes over the internet. Do you think this is an option for you? What have happend to the plans of "Tex Murphy webisodes" mentioned several years ago?
Chris: Those got mixed in with Radio Theater. We considered doing Radio Theater with simple visuals, but it didn't pan out.
Aaron: We are considering the merits of episodic content. No one's succeeded with it except Telltale, though, so that's a concern.
A.T.: You were in search for publishers for your ideas for a long time. Are you financing your current project yourself at the moment?
Chris: Yes. Mostly through turning in recyclable bottles.
Aaron: And bake sales.
A.T.: FMV is called dead and as your products where probably the most defining Movie-Adventures of all time, you have expressed your doubts about FMV getting popular again soon. My question to this is: While it's true that FMV has been pretty expensive during the 90ies, making videos, bluebox effects, editing and compressing is much easier and cheaper nowadays. Even cheap cameras can get good results. If you are developing a small independet game for a very specific audience like "Three Cards to Midnight", what speaks against using FMV in this special interest segment just like it was done in the Tex Murphy series - with small, simple movie sequences popping up in windows. Especially if you have such a talented actor like Chris Jones on your project. Some would probably say: 'You can not meet up with the high industry standards of today with an independent game, but you can stand out from the masses of casual games with FMV sequences and appeal to your nostalgic community at the same time.' What would you answer be?
Chris: What was the question again?
Aaron: We love FMV... when it's done right. You make very good points and I think it's something we'll seriously explore.
Chris: We are actually looking into that option.
A.T.: And finally: Can you give us an insight of your plans for after "Three Cards to Midnight"?
Chris: This was a very good learning experience. I think there's a lot of opportunity in both casual games and also traditional adventure games. We're talking to several groups about various projects and we'll see what happens.
Aaron: I'm going to take a nap.
A.T.: Aaron and Chris, thanks a lot and sleep tight!
Check out more of Three Cards to Midnight and other projects of Chris Jones and Aaron Conners on the official website of Big Finish Games.