East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Creative Task – Tex Murphy and Me

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This week’s Creative Task for the Future of Storytelling course requires me to write about my favorite video game.

Now, I used to play more on video in the past – both on my PC or on my old Playstation 2; these days, I stick to tabletop roleplaying games.

Texmurphy_largeBut in terms of fascination, involvement, sheer fun, I’m still very much a fan of the old Tex Murphy games created by Chris Jones in the ’90s – the trilogy Under a Killing Moon, Pandora Directive and Tex Murphy: Overseer.

The series started as standard point and click games with two early entries called Mean Streets and Martian Memorandum.
Both the games pushed the boudaries of gaming by being multi genre (Mean Streets was part side-scrolling game, part flight simulator, part point-and-click adventure) and by adopting high quality video cut scenes and dialogues.

But it was in the later titles of the series I mentioned that thing really got interesting.

1003-1The mixing of genres is not limited to the gaming style – the Tex Murphy series can be described as science fiction noir comedy with supernatural elements.
And yes, it works.

The look and feel of the gaming world mixes future and past – the games are set in a future San Francisco which borrows heavily from Philip Dick’s work and from cyberpunk – there’s been a nuclear war, humans and mutants co-exist – but seen through the filter of a 1940s chandleresque noir sensibility.

The gaming world was rendered in high resolution and high quality detail, allowing unprecedented freedom of movement to the main character.
In 1994, watching the world of Under a Killing Moon unfold on the PC video was quite impressive.

SC_97_TexMurphyFollowing installments would add sideplots and multiple endings depending on the player’s choices.

The plots are deceivingly straightforward.
In each chapter of the series, down-on-his-luck private eye Tex Murphy has to solve a complicated mystery involving some weird, otherworldly conspiracy.
A smart-mouthed underachiever, Murphy is portaryed on screen by game creator Chris Jones himself, and is the point of view character of the game.

Murphy’s character is the main comic engine of the game – he’s basically inadequate to the task, but compensates his shortcomings with cheekyness and by improvising (with the help of the player). He faces action and smarts challenges, and has to explore his world and interact with a number of characters.

One of the funniest – and technically innovative, for the time – elements in the games was the handling of dialogue, which offered the player prompts about the style of what Murphy would say, but not an exact choice of words.
Asked a question about his recent activities, the interface would give the player a list of possible “answering attitudes” including, for instance

  • as pure as a lily
  • scathingly ironic
  • dumb as a lamp-post
  • just the facts

This had the double advantage of keeping the player interested – one wanted to see what Murphy would say this time – and keping the dialogue as brilliant and alive as possible for a scripted adventure.
Game activities included solving puzzles, action sequences and roleplaying.

Add to that a cast of popular actors playing the roles of the other characters (Barry Corbin, Tanya Roberts, Kevin McCarthy, Michael York, Henry Darrow) in the stories, a good soundtrack and the availability of novels providing a different, alternate take on the game storyline, and to me, in the ’90s, the Tex Murphy games were exactly what the doctor ordered.

The series ended on a cliffhanger in 1998 – and then Microsoft pulled the plug on the project of a new trilogy.
But Chris Jones and his team acquired the rights back and did a Kickstarter, so yes, there’s a new one coming out next year!

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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