Behind The Scenes: Gabriel Knight
The launch of Gabriel Knight 3: Blood Of The Sacred, Blood Of The Damned in 1999 marked the end of an era. Sierra On-Line, whose quest-style story games had been its bread and butter for nearly 20 years, had recently shut down its adventure division in a high-profile fit of “housecleaning”. Gabriel Knight 3 would be its final adventure game. In the decade since, series designer Jane Jensen has stayed busy as a novelist, and one of the co-founders of casual game company Oberon Media. She has also worked persistently to get a new adventure series, Gray Matter, off the ground. But her greatest gift to gamers remains the celebrated Gabriel Knight, a trilogy of supernatural mysteries that introduced new levels of depth and maturity to point-and-click adventures.
An adventure and puzzle game fan with a penchant for storytelling, Jensen was working as a programmer for Hewlett-Packard when she applied for a job at Sierra. “I was a big fan of their games, so I sent them a resume and short story,” she explains. “I heard nothing for a year, then one day they called. They were starting a writer’s block and had found my story in a file. I was thrilled.” Her early work included writing for Police Quest 3: The Kindred and co-designing a children’s game, EcoQuest: The Search For Cetus, both of which released in 1991. Then came her big break – she teamed up with veteran designer Roberta Williams for the sixth instalment of Sierra’s flagship franchise King’s Quest. Soon after, Jensen was offered the chance to develop her own series.
Drawing on interests in mystery stories, historical settings and paranormal phenomena, Jensen came up with Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers, a supernatural psycho-thriller intended for an adult audience. The title character – a brooding, Harley-riding ‘bad boy’ – owns a New Orleans bookstore and is unsuccessfully trying to cut it as a novelist. As he soon learns, he’s also the last in a line of Schattenjägers (‘shadow hunters’) destined to serve the light by investigating supernatural evil. “I wanted a kind of modern day knight of the Round Table, and it was more interesting to start with a character who had no idea that he was supposed to be doing this,” Jensen says. “Graphic novels like Sandman and Hellraiser were an inspiration. The Schattenjäger concept was my own, though I’m not sure how original it is.” With help from his research assistant, history scholar Grace Nakimura, Gabriel confronts the dark forces behind a rash of brutal, voodoo-themed murders while reluctantly accepting his legacy. The gameplay is classic point-and-click, with interaction, exploration, and puzzle solving at its core.
Sins Of The Fathers and its two sequels, The Beast Within and Blood Of The Sacred, Blood Of The Damned, are best known for their layered, well-researched stories. “I read a lot of weird non-fiction, so usually the idea for a story has come from something I had already read,” Jensen says. “Then I try to find whatever good sources on the same subject matter I can. I tend to obsess and absorb a lot of information quickly.” The plots face both outward and inward, incorporating sweeping history and legend while also carrying high emotional stakes for the main characters. In Sins Of The Fathers, Gabriel’s investigation leads to revelations about his heritage and ultimately a crucial decision between following his heart or upholding his duty. The later games explore similar themes, as well as an evolving personal relationship between Gabriel and Grace. “They did mature and get stronger over time,” Jensen acknowledges of her protagonists. “They get to be very real in your head.”