News Update

About The Poisoned Pawn

Last week, in an update on his personal page, Aaron Conners mentioned that as far as he was aware, the Poisoned Pawn game was “on the shelf for the foreseeable future”. This was in response to the many questions he was getting about the status of that project. While this appeared to be the case, for the most part, we wanted to clear up a few miscommunications that happened since this piece of news was dropped a little earlier than we had planned.

As some of you are aware, the Poisoned Pawn began as a fan-made project, produced by a small handful of dedicated developers, as a recreation of ‘Tex Murphy: Overseer,’ and was sanctioned by Big Finish Games. A few years after the project commenced, an agreement was reached that the project would take on a new directive, and Aaron would provide an all-new wrapper story, thus turning the game into a canon continuation of the Tex Murphy saga. Other Big Finish Games members also agreed to volunteer their time to help the project along (filming new FMV sequences among other contributions). However, conflicts over design choices ultimately led to disagreements among the team members, resulting in a significant drop in momentum and motivation. Progress slowed, team members drifted apart, and ultimately the project failed.

As a result, Big Finish Games concluded the project was indeed shelved, in its current state, and we were ready to move on. In reality, we are quite happy to hand the reigns back to Chaotic Fusion. Despite the fact that we will no longer volunteer resources to the project, we offer the team our blessing and allow them full autonomy to complete the game on their own terms should they decide to continue. After all, it would be a shame for all the amazing work to go to waste.

We wish the team the best of luck with the project. Should fans have any questions or inquiries about The Poisoned Pawn, please direct them to the Chaotic Fusion team, as we will no longer be involved in the game’s production. We certainly look forward to seeing what they come up with if they decide to continue the project!

 

Big news for all those who have waited! Number one:
Let’s talk about the Tesla Effect Kickstarter.

As of right now, we acknowledge there is one outstanding backer incentive still awaiting delivery: The six new radio theater episodes. There is also one stretch goal unfulfilled: The golf game/simulator. We also acknowledge some of you were disappointed with the ‘Ultimate Detective Box Set’ (being a disc case rather than a big box). Let’s address each of these.

Radio theater:

The six new episodes of the radio theater are currently being recorded and we can’t wait to share them with you, so expect these to be delivered to eligible backers soon!

Golf game/simulator:

When we promised this stretch goal, we grossly underestimated what went into providing a whole game alongside a game (go figure). But we have some great news! We are currently investigating ways to make some of our legacy ‘Links’ games available to players again on modern systems. We are working hard to hopefully give backers access to one of the games in the Links series, so stay tuned for updates.

The Ultimate Detective Box Set:

When we promised this incentive, we weighed the options for producing the physical packaging for ‘The Ultimate Detective Box Set.’ Unfortunately, at the time, printing a “big box” was prohibitively expensive! We had to make a call: Overspend our budget and risk not being able to deliver Tesla Effect, or compromise with a smaller disc case instead. It’s almost as if the industry decided at one point big boxes were too expensive to produce and stopped doing it.

But, regardless of this justification, many backers were disappointed with the offering. While they were delivered the “contents” of what was promised, how it was delivered was considered unsatisfactory.

Thankfully, the costs of printing big boxes have reduced significantly in recent years, enabling us to revisit this incentive and hopefully come good on our original promise. We have designed a proper Big Box for the Ultimate Detective Box Set, and are in the process of getting a prototype printed and assembled. If we are happy with the quality and costs we will go ahead and do a limited run to meet the number of eligible backers.

While printing costs have reduced significantly, shipping has not, so we will be keeping a close eye on rates in an attempt to avoid it once again becoming prohibitive before we commit to delivery.

Tex Murphy, the Ultimate Detective Box Set artwork in 3D.

Important note: If we do reach the stage where we are ready to ship these boxes out to eligible backers, we will be shipping them out as empty boxes. This is because backers already received the contents of the box set, which they can place inside. Also, because we no longer have full access to the mailing details of eligible backers, we will be creating an online claim form for backers to submit and claim their big box, and provide up-to-date shipping information. More on that as we get closer.

The dimensions of the new box will match your other Tex Murphy big boxes exactly. This should earn it a spot on your shelf next to the other titles!

 

Now, let’s move on to the really big news!

 

The official Big Finish Games team is exploring a new Tex Murphy project:

The Pandora Directive 25th Anniversary

The Pandora Directive is often touted as Tex Murphy’s finest adventure by players and reviewers alike. About 12 months ago, Chris Jones, Aaron Conners, Doug Vandegrift and Mat Van Rhoon sat down and played through the game together over the course of a few days. As the end credits rolled, there was one lasting unanimous sentiment in the room: “Boy, wouldn’t it be great if we could release this game, updated with today’s technology?”

The chuckles subsided, eventually replaced with murmurs of genuine contemplation. Five years ago, this would not have been possible, but thanks to advancements in technology, we knew that once the idea was planted, the idea spread, causing the team to spring into action.

The team in-house at Big Finish has been working hard for the past eight months, painstakingly collecting, capturing, and digitizing all the source materials from the archives using some of the best equipment in the industry. We recently discovered a whole new box of tapes from the Pandora shoot which accounted for over 50% of the game’s primary video content, thus properly completing the collection. Exploring recent advancements in machine learning technology, we’ve been reprocessing the video in marvelous high definition! So far, the results have been extremely promising.

While the video restoration has been underway, Doug (alongside Mat) have been getting up to speed on the latest in game engine tech while also digging into the archives to resurrect the original level designs, with the ultimate goal of faithfully recreating the game environments with modern details.

Given how impactful the game was on even us when we re-played it recently, we have decided to ensure it remains as powerful with a faithful remaster. Our goal will be to provide players with an experience that mirrors the original game but with a modern interface. We also plan to perform some fine-tuning to ensure we preserve and enhance things that worked well, and cut back/fix things that didn’t work so well (*cough* alien abductor *cough*). But these liberties will be taken sparingly. Our goal is to take what we believe is an already amazing game and scale it up to modern standards while preserving the soul of the original game.

The in-house team currently exploring this project and their associated responsibilities are Chris Jones (production, game design, overseer), Aaron Conners (story, game design) Mat Van Rhoon (remastering creative director, full motion video, CGI, level design, programming), Doug Vandegrift (level design, art), Brian Johnson (art). We also have a number of other Big Finish Games team members, some who had pivotal roles in the original game coming back on board, some who also contributed to Tesla Effect.

 

Let’s talk about some of the aspects of this remaster

Chris Jones talks about computer technology in the making of The Pandora Directive
“I think that computers finally live up to all the hype that you’ve heard…” – Chris Jones (The Making of The Pandora Directive, 1996 video)

We have spent the past few months collecting the ~80 tapes (yes, eighty!) from the original production and getting them professionally digitized. To say this process has been challenging is a massive understatement, given the finicky nature of tape media. But that’s a story we can share at a later date (and boy what a story it is)! Suffice to say, we took a no-compromises approach to finding the source content and capturing it in the highest quality possible.

MII Tape Decks for capturing Pandora tapes
We needed to acquire legacy MII decks from around the country to capture some of the game tapes!

In addition to this process, we’ve been exploring the latest AI technology to upscale the source content into higher resolution. In many cases, up to full 4K 60fps! We aren’t using any interpolation trickery to achieve this; all the data is there. We’re simply employing powerful machine learning, and Mat has programmed a series of custom designed in-house algorithms to bring the content to life! You’re not going to believe how well some of the old footage scales to modern resolutions!

Kevin McCarty with machine learning upscaling to deinterlace and enhance HD details
Do you long to have your footage interlaced? Interlaced. Within cells, interlaced, within cells, interlaced, within cells.
Fitzpatrick in High Definition
We believe Kevin McCarthy “fitz” much better in an HD frame.

Music and sound are getting the same attention. We’ve collected DAT tapes and studio masters from the original sessions with both the sound designer Jon Clark and music composers Matt Heider and Jeff Abbott (Third Ear Music). Originally, most of the music and sound in the game was presented in 22,050Hz Mono. But in this remaster, we are planning to restore everything. Voices, walking around music, and the cinematic score will be remastered to their complete original glory (alongside some faithful recreations and enhancements)!

audio spectrum analysis of Pandora music.
Just about the cleanest version of the Pandora soundtrack you’ll ever see, um, hear.

Utilizing the latest in game engine technology, the goal will be to ensure each level from the game is recreated to match the original game’s layout and structure, but with much more attention to detail and polish. We’ve gone back to the archives to source all the original locations and models and use them as a base to build the new environments. Many of these source files are being resurrected from projects that were created on machines that carried the “486” moniker, and before 3DStudio had the word “Max” in it.

Doug Vandegrift working on the Roswell location from the original level assets.
Willingly revisiting Roswell takes a lot of guts. Go get ‘em, Doug!
The original Roswell level layout, orthographic design view.
The original Roswell layout. Reconstructed inch-for-inch, room-for-room as a blocking plan.

Using a combination of the new game engine scenes and levels, and completely re-created pre-rendered cinematic environments (rendered at up to 8k resolution), we want the full-motion video sequences to be re-composited in a way that brings justice to the original cinematic sequences. These will ultimately be presented in up to 4K 60fps with updated visual effects and color grading.

Spaceship Interior
North, Circle, Red…

We have had a chat to Adrian Carr, who is extremely excited about the idea. Once the project is in full swing, we will invite Adrian to come back on board and return to the edit suite. There were a lot of limitations at the time when Pandora was originally edited and composited. Adrian will be working closely with Mat Van Rhoon to provide players with the most definitive version of the cinematic sequences, while also updating them with tighter edits, refined compositing, and a more compelling color grade.

The Pandora Directors.

Can we expect to see a moonrise?

Some folks have already asked, “what about Under a Killing Moon?” Although many players regard Pandora as Tex’s best and most highly-regarded game, Under a Killing Moon holds a special place in many people’s hearts. Not only was it the game that introduced many to the Tex Murphy universe, but one that helped put full-motion video games on the radar (before other less than satisfactory titles proceeded to pull it off the radar years later).

While we have recovered many of the source materials used for Under a Killing Moon, the content hasn’t stood the test of time as well. Don’t get us wrong: they look great. But Under a Killing Moon was shot on a black screen (not a blue/green screen). Which meant most of the full-motion video sequences were composited using a combination of luma keying and rotoscoping. Back when the video was only 10 frames-per-second, this was not such a tall order. Upscale that to high definition and 30-60 fps, and we’re talking about a gargantuan task!

There have been some great advancements in technology that should help with the task, but many are still in their infancy, so we will be keeping a close eye on them as they develop. We’re certainly not ruling the idea out for the future. After all, as the famous Police song ‘Walking on the Moon’ goes, “Tomorrow’s another day… I may as well play.”

When will we get to play The Pandora Directive: 25th Anniversary?

This game will be developed in-house by many members of the original Tex Murphy development team, from those who delivered Pandora (and even the earlier titles) to those who delivered Tesla Effect. If the concept proves popular, the team plans to maintain that track record to see this project through to its completion.

We aren’t announcing any release dates yet. Even in its current stage of early concept and development, it’s an expensive endeavor to maintain. Ideally, we want to gauge the popularity of this endeavor before we commit to any hard dates and significant financial commitments. We will continue working on the idea and keep folks posted on the progress regularly, and will also be keeping a close eye on the community to determine if the demand for the project makes it viable enough to complete.

Updates will be posted here on the Big Finish Games website, as well as our official social media communities over on Facebook and Twitter, as well as YouTube (when video content becomes available).

 

Thank you for being the best adventure gamers on the planet!

 

Big Finish Games.