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Tex Murphy: Kickstarting a video game classic in Utah

Published May 22, 2012 10:02 am

Tech • Designer turns to crowd-sourced funding to resurrect Tex Murphy character.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In his heyday, futuristic gumshoe Tex Murphy always caught the crook and got the girl.

Today, the virtual private eye who starred in his own series of popular computer games in the 1990s such as "Martian Memorandum" and "Under a Killing Moon" is a bit older, more seasoned, but probably just as bumbling as ever. And he's ready to head back to computer monitors everywhere.

Centerville videogame designer Chris Jones, who created the series of five multimedia PC games based on Murphy — and who also starred as the detective — wants to make a sequel 13 years after the last one was released. So he turned to the one funding mechanism that has proven to be popular for independent game makers of late, Kickstarter.

Kickstarter.com is a website that promotes crowd-sourced funding in which people can go online and pledge donations to creative campaigns, including the making of films, comics, games, music and other pursuits. Backers are then offered rewards based on how much they donate. In the case of Tex Murphy, all receive a copy of the computer game. Those who donate $10,000 or more receive an executive producer credit, can have a walk-on in the game, and more.

"We've tried several times to get [a Tex Murphy sequel] going. But for a number of reasons, we weren't able to put it together," said Jones about trying to get financing from game publishers.

Jones and his producing partner, Aaron Connors, who also wrote the Tex Murphy games, put a video together pitching their new game, which has a working title of "Project Fedora." They posted it on their Kickstarter page last week, setting a goal to raise $450,000 in 30 days. By Friday afternoon, it already had received more than $192,000 from nearly 2,000 backers.

The game is completely budgeted for about $750,000, and Jones' gaming company, Big Finish Games, will finance the rest. If they meet their funding goal, he will begin producing the game this summer for release sometime next year.

The game follows the science fiction exploits of Murphy, a down-on-his-luck private investigator living in a futuristic San Francisco teeming with flying cars and mutated humans.

The game is a point-and-click adventure in which the player walks through 3D-rendered sets, interacts with objects in the game, and interviews witnesses shot in full-motion video. The script for the new game has already been written by Connors and Jones, who will once again don the fedora and trenchcoat. Unlike the older games, the new title will utilize current graphics technology, even with a lower comparative budget, Jones said. Adventure games of its ilk today usually cost millions of dollars to produce.

"When you look at the market, you see what tools are available now that weren't available before," he said. "The tools have improved so much, it has taken a vast majority of the labor out."

Kickstarter has become the go-to option for many independent game makers who want to bypass mainstream publishers and investors in favor of more creative control. It can work especially well for producers who want to go back and either remake a popular game of yesteryear or a sequel to a cult franchise because they already have built in-fan bases.

The craze erupted earlier this year when famous video game designer Tim Schafer ("Grim Fandango," "Day of the Tentacle") raised $3.3 million in 30 days for a new adventure game, the most ever on Kickstarter.

But the success of a Kickstarter campaign mostly depends on the trust backers have in the game makers, said Paul Trowe, CEO of Austin-based Replay Games, which used Kickstarter recently to produce a remake of the classic 1988 adventure game "Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards." This new version will be made by the game's original designer, Al Lowe.

"Fans want to see something successful from a development team that has done something already so they know their money has not gone down the toilet," Trowe said. "In our case, every single executive has over 25 years experience in the video game industry."

And Jones thinks his fans will get their money's worth with a game that will bring back a beloved character from a futuristic film noir.

"I really like the fact that he's an everyman character," Jones said. "He does dumb things. He says the wrong things at the wrong time. But he's tenacious and sticks with it, and his heart is in the right place."

vince@sltrib.com

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