Retro Game of the Week – The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

In 1995, the phrase “full motion video” (FMV) conjured up the image of such classic games as Night Trap and Burn: Cycle – eye candy at best, and generally poor gaming experiences.  CD-ROM technology had been out a for a couple of years, and The 7th Guest was really still the only “must-have” CD-only game on the market.  So, imagine the concerns of adventure gamers when they discovered that the sequel to Jane Jensen’s awesome Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was going to be released in FMV format.

However, these concerns were unfounded.  Sierra had been working on the Script Code Interpreter (SCI) game engine, which used full motion technology, for a Roberta Williams game, Phantasmagoria.  The development team for the second Gabriel Knight game, The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery, was able to appropriate the engine for their own use, which had the benefit of cutting down the game’s development time.  However, even with the game engine built, FMV was an expensive process, involving a production crew and professional actors, all of whom were paid well for their time.

The Beast Within features beautiful backdrops.

Another limitation that the use of FMV incorporated into gameplay was the need to limit the choices available to the player, thereby making the game more linear.  Unlike some games that provided many paths based upon how a player reacted to each situation, The Beast Within kept players hemmed within a much more linear storyline.  The costs in both production dollars and CD space were simply too high to choose any other avenue.

Yet The Beast Within was still an epic game, and a true adventure game classic.  Why?

Some of Jane Jensen's novels.

The answer is multifaceted, but the first step was retaining Jane Jensen as the author of the entire storyline.  The first Gabriel Knight game was lauded for not only being fun to play, but having a deeper story than most adventure games.  Ms. Jensen had majored in computer science, but also had a deep fascination with creative writing, evidenced by her work on the Gabriel Knight series.  Interestingly, she did not become a published novelist until well after The Beast Within, with her novelization of the first Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers book in 1997, and then Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within’s novelization in 1998.  Her first non-computer game related novel, Millennium Rising, was published in 1999, the same year her last Gabriel Knight game was released.  She has continued to write books, earning a Phillip K. Dick Award nomination for Best Novel in 2003 for her book, Dante`s Equation.  But I digress!

The Baron looks a little...intense...

The Beast Within was not only written well, it was acted well.  The game featured Dean Erickson as Gabriel, who would go on to leave acting altogether and become a real estate agent; Joanne Takahashi as Grace, who continues to take a variety of minor roles tailored for Asian women; Peter J. Lucas as Baron Friedrich von Glower, who continues to take roles for an ethnic European; Andrea Martin as Gerde, who was a Tony-award winning actress before working on The Beast Within and continues to work on both the stage and in voice-over work today.  None of these four ever worked on a computer game again! However, Nicolas Worth, who played Kriminal-Kommisar Leber, has not only had a successful career in film and television both before and after The Beast Within, but has also continue to work in the gaming industry, acting in Emperor: Battle For Dune, Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, and Red Alert 2, as well as lending his voice to Freedom Fighters!

Dean Erickson as Gabriel Knight

The puzzles of The Beast Within were not particularly difficult, but were, on the whole, imaginative.  The game used “hotspots” on the photographic quality images to show that there was something of interest on the screen, so it was a simple matter to gain all the inventory items required to solve most of the puzzles the game threw at its players.  Like many adventure games, forward progress could come to a complete halt until you discovered the correct hotspot, but this generally was not a complete inconvenience.

Joanne Takahashi as Grace Nakimura

Reviews of The Beast Within were very favourable upon its release.  Two of the biggest gaming magazines of the day gave it high marks: PC Gamer gave it a score of 96% and it’s coveted Editor’s Choice award, while Computer Gaming World (CGW) gave it 5 out of 5 stars, a Critics Choice tag as well as naming it the 1996 CGW Game of the Year.  It also managed to make #17 on CGW’s 150 Best Games of All Time , which is the definitive “must-play” list for retrogaming enthusiasts!  If you haven’t played this classic of the adventure game genre, you’re missing a rare treat.  Highly recommended!


One Response

  1. […] remotely familiar with the beautifully crafted Gabriel Knight series recognizes the name Jane Jensen when they see it, and should get a small spasm of joy at the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s