games reporter

Casual gamers invited to Patterson's 'Murder Club'

To some, author James Patterson is known for the 50 mystery novels that bear his name, while others might recognize him from the three movies and five TV shows — including "Women's Murder Club" on ABC — that have been adapted from his books.

But come the end of May, he hopes that gamers will know him, too, from his first casual video game — the first of many, he says, depending on their popularity.

To Patterson, who once was the chairman of advertising giant J.W. Thompson, casual gaming is an opportunity that his company, James Patterson Entertainment, simply can't ignore.

"What I love about this project is the chance to widen the boundaries of what people can do on the small screen, sort of like what the Wii is accomplishing," he says. "We're going to give people who don't want to shoot things … who prefer to use their brains … a chance to solve a really good mystery."

Patterson's first game — an adaptation of his six-book (soon to be seven-book) series — is being created by a developer also better known for endeavors outside of casual games. To mature gamers, Jane Jensen always will be remembered as the force behind the popular "Gabriel Knight" adventure series released by Sierra Online in 1993.

Today, however, she's known as co-founder of the Seattle-based Oberon Media, a 5-year-old casual game developer/publisher whose most recent successes have been two Agatha Christie puzzle titles.

"After doing five full-blown adventure games for Sierra, I left the business and never thought I'd go back," Jensen says. "But then I got a call from someone who had a project for an experienced game designer to work on their casual game business, and I started to get excited about the demographics."

Patterson provided outlines of the books and how they were transitioned to TV, and Jensen used them to create a 40-page story outline for the game, which Patterson reviewed.

"He's had a lot of input into making sure that the game stays true to his concept," Jensen adds, "and he signs off on everything we do."

The game, tentatively known as "Women's Murder Club," features Jensen's original homicide mystery plus hunt-and-seek gameplay with challenges to uncover clues and solve puzzles.

Jensen's team of developers, most of whom are based in Eastern Europe, began the project in August and expect the sizable game — which contains almost 40 "rooms" of puzzles and clues — will be concluded in nine months, just in time for it to be released at the end of May.

Jensen believes that the license will be particularly strong as it will appeal "not only to the core casual game audience but also to people who are familiar with the name 'Women's Murder Club' and to people who aren't necessarily casual gamers but who are James Patterson fans."

Patterson is confident that it will.

"Look at the book business," he says. "The audience is 70-something percent female. My readers are 70-something percent female. And the majority of people who play casual games is the same."

But does he expect the game to be successful because of the gameplay — or the license?

"My name is going to help … and so will the name 'Women's Murder Club' … but if the game isn't fun to play, the word will get out," he says. "This game has almost unlimited potential, especially if they do a great job marketing it. If we do this right, we can continue doing it until the cows come home."