Gabriel Knight 3: Sangue Profano
Cendant's Jane Jensen is an optimistic woman. It's no secret that the adventure game genre is dying, we've been saying that for ages in features and reviews. You've been saying so by voting with your pockets in favour of realtime strategy games or Quake-style action-fests. Even prominent developers within the adventure genre have been saying it, although not publicly and strictly off the record. Jane Jensen doesn't believe in giving up though, and if she has to reinvent the wheel to survive, that's what she's going to do. "I think I became convinced when I went to CES last year and I walked around the show looking at all these titles that were the new big things, and not one screen had full-motion video. It was all 3D. I realised that if we wanted anyone to look at the game it had to be in 3D."
Jensen is talking about Gabriel Knight III, the third in her popular adventure series. Fans of the previous two games know full well about change. The first, released in 1993, was a then typical animated adventure with a very strong (and mature) story set in the world of voodoo folklore. The second, The Beast Within, changed tack completely, with a video-based environment and a tale of occultism, werewolves and German mythology.
"When we shipped Beast in 1995, everyone seemed really happy with it, and I certainly thought we'd be doing video again," she remembers. "The reason there wasn't a Gabriel Knight project for over a year after that was really that Sierra wasn't sure about what kind of technology they wanted to use. Phantasmagoria, Beast and Phantasmagoria 2 all went considerably over budget - by far the worst was Phantasmagoria 2 - so Sierra just said no more video. Plus, by that time it was really falling out of favour with the industry."
If You Can T Beat'em...
Gabriel Knight III employs a brand new, custom-built engine that Sierra are hoping will take the adventure game genre to a new level. It's a fully immersive 3D world, somewhat akin to Quake II (but, thanks to Voodoo technology of the 3Dfx kind, with better textures). The difference is that you don't directly control a single character, but rather the camera.
You are free to roam around at will, looking around desks, under tables, behind other characters, while issuing commands to either Gabe or his assistant Grace (depending on which chapter of the game you're currently playing). And in practice it works surprisingly well. "This game is actually structured very differently to the other two," says Jensen. "When I saw the engine prototype, I felt that 1 was kind of like in this little dolls house and I had my Gabe doll and the other characters, and it was kind of cool. And I was thinking, 'What if you could cut away the world? What would all these people be doing?' So I thought it would be really cool if they could all have their own agendas."
Which is the other difference in the game. Unlike most adventures that have very static characters until you interact with them, GKIII has free-roaming, independent NPCs, all milling about to their own tunes regardless of your own actions.
Experiments in real-time adventure characters are nothing new, of course. The ground-breaking Lure Of The Temptress, for instance, had some superb examples, as did Delphine's Cruise For A Corpse. Most, however, produced mixed results. But Jensen has high hopes for her own characters."During each of the game's time blocks, the other characters in the game will be moving around. So they'll be having lunch one time, then they'll sit in the lounge, then they'll be upstairs. You can listen at anybody's door or spy through keyholes to see if they're there, talking on the phone, writing or whatever. Some of these things are very complicated to script out because there's so much stuff that everybody's doing. And because they're all involved in the treasure hunt, sometimes they'll be out at their locations in the valley, digging or whatever."
Here Lies God, Died Peacefully In His Sleep
The treasure hunt in question is actually far deeper than it sounds. The game is based in the small (and very real) French village of Rennes-le-Chateau, home to one of the most intriguing mysteries ever known. It is rumoured that somewhere in the village lies the actual tomb of one Jesus of Nazareth. The area has been surrounded by mystery for centuries, and is linked with such secret societies as the Scottish Freemasons and perennial computer game favourites the Knights Templar.
The game's plot revolves around this religious mystery, but throws in all sorts of sub-plots to keep you guessing along the way. Supernatural events are plaguing a friend of Gabe, who is asked to help investigate. Shortly after arriving, the friend's son is kidnapped and Gabe and Grace are plunged into the Rennes-le-Chatcau mystery proper. "It takes me about five months to write a plot, and a lot of that is reading and getting ideas," says jensen. "Because I'm working with so many different elements, I'll end up reading a book about Rcnnes-le-Chateau and it will say something about sacred blood and I'll immediately go, 'Ooh, vampires!"
3d Killed The Video Star
But while the storyline may be a strong one, what about the actual game? Will traditionalists be put off by the all-3D approach? Jensen doesn't think so: "The traditional adventure games were animated; certainly GK1 was animated and we still managed to tell a good story. And I think this engine is better than 2D animation or video. There are always trade-offs, sure, but GKlll is going to be a much funner game."