Tex Murphy: A Utah Original

Posted March 14, 2014 in
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Chris Jones and Aaron Conners of local gaming company Big Finish Games.

At SLUG, we’re all about the locals: local bands, local shops, local people and local gaming companies. Big Finish Games was founded by Chris Jones and Aaron Conners in 2007 here in Centerville—Jones had been in the business before as the CFO/co-founder of Access Software with Bruce Carver. It’s at Access Software that Tex Murphy came into being—he’s a private investigator in the city of New San Francisco after the third world war. He looks like he jumped out of a film noir from the 1940’s—he even dresses like the detectives in the movies, complete with a tailored trench coat and topped with a fedora. Tex is a big fan of film noir, so he adopts the look.

Jones was a big fan of detective movies, so they decided to go the gumshoe route when coming up with the first in the series. Tex’s first adventure, Mean Streets, was released in 1989, joining the adventure genre. As the industry progressed, so did the series. When CD-ROMS hit the market, Access saw an opportunity. They could finally do full motion video (FMV) and have a 3D world (that you could explore as a real-life detective would)—the crowning achievement for Killing Moon. After Killing Moon, Access introduced the branching storyline where your decisions affect the ending you receive, giving a more interactive movie experience. Tex appeared in five games before Access was sold to Microsoft, which Chris says, “…was the time that Microsoft was Xbox-centric, and they didn’t think Tex would do well on Xbox, and adventure games were fading at the time, so it was a double-whammy to wipe out the Tex Murphy franchise.”

That didn’t stop Tex Murphy fans, though. A $450,000 Kickstarter called Project Fedora, not only funded in a month, but went almost $200,000 over. Chris says, “There was always a hardcore group that really supported Tex, and they would send us emails asking whether he was coming back. We tried to bring back the franchise and we could never quite get over the hurdle. Kickstarter was an opportunity to bring it back with the crowd support, and the fan base came through with flying colors.” It makes you wonder, what is so awesome about this detective? His surroundings would lure in any sci-fi geek, but that much love is usually about the characters. Jones believes “the appeal of it is that the hero of the game isn’t infallible; the hero is more human and does a lot of stupid things. There’s a lot of comedy in the game, and I think because we’re using real people, you relate to the characters—there’s a different level of emotion,” he says.

The main motivator for the return of Tex Murphy was for it to finally reach Jones’ vision for the games. “[My] dream was always to incorporate movie aspects into the gaming world. When we started out the technology wasn’t strong enough to do the movie aspects the way I would’ve liked,” says Chris. Games have come a long way since the game was released in 1998. The really big advances that are helping Jones achieve his vision are computing power for graphics and the accessible tools that are out there. “With the Unity engine, you get a great engine you can work with right off the bat. With the Bink tool we’re able to get it out in 2K, which means the graphics are incredibly clear and the frame rate is great. From that standpoint, it’s the look that you want and some of the scenes are definitely movie quality and you’re blown away by how good it looks. It’s just stunning,” says Chris.

Ryan Jones, responsible for business development, chimes in: “I think one of things that helped is that our 3D engine, Unity, was an off-the-shelf engine—we didn’t have to build it. You’re also talking about digital filming so you don’t have to cut actual film—even all the green screen stuff we had to build by hand before is readily available. So the manpower needed to make a game like this is far reduced and can be done with a fraction of the team size,” he says.

After their amazing Kickstarter campaign, it came time to figure out how to get their new game to as many people as possible. Ryan Jones tells me a bit their publisher, Atlus: “We took it upon ourselves to go out and start calling up publishers and shopping the game around. Atlus saw it and was a big believer in it, and they’ve been great. They have the press contacts, relationships with Steam and Amazon, and they’re giving us additional support in beta testing and project management. It’s going to make a huge difference in the final quality of the game since we’ve had other people go through it with a fine-tooth comb. We’re really quite a small team and they’re basically giving us another six guys during the final push.” Chris added, “Atlus has been an excellent group to work with, and they pretty much allow us to do whatever we want in terms of what we want in the vision. Their experience in marketing and QC is going to be huge in terms of bringing something to the market that’s much better than what we could’ve done ourselves.”

It looks like it’s paying off, too. The trailers and screenshots look amazing, and the environments I got to see at the studio look awesome. The guys that are working on the game have been fans of the series for a long time, and it’s labor of love for them. They’re stoked to bring this to the world. For Jones, “It’s just satisfying that the series reached the level I wanted it to. At the core, ours was always a game, but we also wanted to build it in such a way that real storytelling shines,” he says.

For more information on the brand new Tex Murphy adventure, Tesla Effect, including trailers and screenshots of the game, visit TexMurphy.com. And to find out more on Big Finish Games, including other titles and upcoming projects, check them out at BigFinishGames.com.