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Tex Murphy

Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame series (from 1989). Access Software (AS). Designed by Aaron Conners, Brent Erickson, Christopher Jones.

Tex Murphy is a series of graphical Adventure games featuring the eponymous twenty-first-century private detective. The setting is a post-World War Three San Francisco, where the skies glow red with radiation and many of the inhabitants are down and out mutants. Tex, the player character, is one of the few unmutated "norms" living in the bad part of town, a kind man, but one whose kindness is informed by a certain world weary cynicism. The tone is much influenced by Raymond Chandler's hard boiled detective fiction, though Tex Murphy is more knowing and less serious; the games include frequent pop culture references, and are often gently self mocking.

Mean Streets (1989 AS, Amiga, C64, DOS; 1990 AtariST) designed by Brent Erickson, Brian Ferguson, Christopher Jones is the first game in the series. Tex is hired by Sylvia Linsky, a beautiful, mysterious woman, to investigate the suspicious death of her father. The player can eventually discover that he was working on a form of mind control, and shut down the project which is conducting the research. The gameplay is a mixture of action game (including two-dimensional combat and sequences set in Tex's flying car) and puzzle solution; the puzzles depend largely on the player's ability to combine fragments of information obtained by questioning, bribing and threatening a variety of characters. While of largely historical value today, Mean Streets remains of interest for its unusual fusion of what later became largely separate game forms. Martian Memorandum (1991 AS, DOS) designed by Brent Erickson, Christopher Jones is a more conventional graphical Adventure using a (somewhat clumsy) point and click interface, set six years later. The game begins with a powerful businessman, who has become extremely wealthy as a result of his investments in Martian Terraforming, summoning Tex to his office to inform him that the tycoon's daughter is missing – and so is "something else". Half set on Mars and half on Earth, the game combines puzzles based around logical problems with the conversation-based form of deductive reasoning used in Mean Streets.

The first two Tex Murphy games were notable for their attempts to include realistic video and audio portrayals of their characters. With Under a Killing Moon (1994 AS, DOS) designed by Aaron Conners, Christopher Jones technology had improved to the point where Full Motion Video of human actors could be used. While promoted as an "interactive movie", Under a Killing Moon actually alternates between non interactive filmed scenes which establish the characters and plot and real time sequences in which the player moves through a three-dimensional world using a first person view. The gameplay concentrates on puzzle solution within these interactive first person sequences; this approach was adopted by all of the Tex Murphy games from this point on. At the beginning of Under a KIlling Moon, Tex has married and divorced Sylvia Linsky, and has reached his personal nadir. The player is hired to track down a missing statuette, but rapidly becomes entangled with the activities of the Crusade for Genetic Purity, a vicious anti mutant cult.

The fourth game, The Pandora Directive (1996 AS, DOS) designed by Aaron Conners, Christopher Jones is often considered the high point of the series, featuring romance, aliens and an intriguingly complex plot. The game begins with Tex hired to find a missing man, and ends with him involved with the ancient Mayans and a conspiracy to hide the truth about the supposed 1947 UFO crash at Roswell. One interesting aspect of the game is that it can be played using three different versions of Tex's personality, from slightly tarnished knight in shining armour to selfish cynic; the choices made affect the events depicted in the Full Motion Video segments. Tex Murphy: Overseer (1998 AS, Win) designed by Aaron Conners, Christopher Jones is a remake of Mean Streets as a graphical Adventure with the same basic structure as Under a Killing Moon. The main story is wrapped in a framing sequence which ends on a cliffhanger, with Tex and his girlfriend shot by unidentified assailants.

The Tex Murphy games are effective detective stories (see Crime and Punishment), with gameplay focusing on investigation of scenes and questioning of suspects. Their strongly linear stories (see Interactive Narrative) are often reminiscent of quality B movies; the sometimes shaky dialogue, questionable special effects and dubious science are overshadowed by a certain retro charm. As a whole, the series is consistently amusing and on occasion genuinely moving.

Related works: When it became apparent that a sixth game was unlikely to appear, Christopher Jones and Aaron Conners produced six episodes of the "Tex Murphy Radio Theater" audio drama with the original cast to resolve the ending of Overseer; these are available for free download from the "Unofficial Tex Murphy" website. Under a Killing Moon (1996) and The Pandora Directive (1995) are novelizations of the third and fourth games, both by Aaron Conners. [NT]


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