Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
The Escapist Interview: Jane Jensen

Paul Rice | 25 Sep 2007 12:18
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TE: But sometimes things that are simple for you end up being hard for others, right?

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JJ: One of the things Oberon Media does is play testing, where we go in and watch people play behind two-way glass. And it's amazing how long it takes people to get stuff. We had a jigsaw puzzle that was 12 pieces, so simple to put together, and people would spend 10 minutes on this thing! And they'd like it and feel rewarded when they were done, so it was a success, but ... that's what's really hard about being a game designer: I want to make things a lot harder than they probably should be. I always have to rein myself back in, and we end up adding hints and adding hints. The point is, it has to be intuitive and fun for most people or you've failed.

TE: You co-founded Oberon Media, a casual game company, in 2003.

JJ: I just finished Death On The Nile for them. It's a "seek and find" game, which are really big in the casual market. Basically, you have a scene, which is filled with objects, and you have a list of objects you're looking for, like three red lamps, or a mouse. When you find the items you click on them, they vanish and that item is crossed off your list. When you find everything on the list, you solve the room. It's really easy, but it's also compelling. People of all ages, you know, 65-year-olds get totally engaged, looking for those red lamps.

TE: Do you have fun designing casual games?

JJ: It's fun, and it's easy. We're talking dev cycles around three months, as opposed to 18 months or three years, and the amount of writing is minuscule compared to an adventure game. The design document is around 20 pages. And the casual market is good.

TE: Considering the market, would you rather focus on casual games?

JJ: Well, I'm not even getting royalties on the games. Of course, if the company ever goes public. ... But yes, I could make a good living just doing those.

TE: What about using them as promotional tools for your opuses, like Gray Matter?

JJ: The idea is that eventually all this stuff would merge. The more these games sell, the bigger their budgets can be, and then we can put more and more story in them to the point where they are a full-length adventure game. Story games do well on the casual market because the audience tends to be older, and they tend to be more than half female. That's a great demographic for adventure games: people who want to take the time to explore their environment, they don't want to feel panicked or rushed. They'll get engaged with the story.

Paul Rice is a freelance writer living in Seattle. He never solved one of Jensen's games without dialing 1-900-370-5853 at least once. Contact: paul.rice@gmail.com

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