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Interview with Jeff Vogel and crew at PC Gamer - Kickstarter for new engine planned in early 2018
Interview - posted by Infinitron on Wed 12 October 2016, 18:30:19Tags: Avadon 3: The Warborn; Jeff Vogel; Spiderweb Software
In honor of the release of Avadon 3 last month, PC Gamer commissioned an interview with twenty year indie RPG development survivor Jeff Vogel and his loyal band of everyman playtesters. It's an interesting piece, offering a glimpse not just at Avadon 3, but also at the entire Spiderweb Software philosophy and the general sentiment in what appears to be Jeff's inner circle. Here's an excerpt:
Vogel started writing stories when he was around 10, and describes himself as a fantasy author who just happens to work in the medium of gaming. It's a bit surprising, then, that he's not really a big fan of the fantasy genre. “I read it some, sure, and I even like some of it. The Magician series by Lev Grossman is probably my favorite. It’s just not something I’m drawn to,” he said. “My favorite fiction is realistic fiction in a setting far enough from ours that it is basically fantasy now. I recently reread The Grapes of Wrath and was absolutely entranced.”
And while words are the backbone of the games he creates, he also believes that too much of a good thing is not a good thing at all. When I mentioned Obisidian's recent claim that its upcoming fantasy RPG Tyranny is built on more than 600,000 words, he seemed downright taken aback. He hasn't counted the words in his own games since Avernum 3, which came to about 200,000 words; he thinks Avadon 3 weighs in somewhere in the neighborhood of 120,000-150,000.
“But I think huge words counts are a real danger. I mean, 600,000? Good lord! That is longer that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit put together. That’s a big, big chunk of verbiage. It doesn’t make me want to play the game more,” he said. “I think there is always a peril in flooding the player with words. Designers have discovered the joy of text. Now they have to discover the joy of brevity and skillful editing. You can almost always make a piece of writing better by shortening it. I loved the writing of Stanley Parable, and it didn’t have many words at all. And I’m about halfway through the indie hit Inside. That is a gorgeously written game, and it is entirely wordless.”
Vogel's appreciation for well-written videogames is shared by his fans. I spoke to some Avadon 3 beta testers, including homemakers, a data analyst, a computer science graduate student, and a theater manager at a major university. Despite the obvious diversity of the group, they do share some commonalities.
They tend to be older than the “average” gamer (no teenagers screaming into headsets in this lot); they have a long-standing (but not necessarily fanatical) interest in the RPG genre, citing influences ranging from Angband and Super Mario RPG to Morrowind, KOTOR, Dragon Age, and The Witcher; and they all say the storytelling is what brought them to Spiderweb, and keeps them there.
“The stories are always great. Jeff is a brilliant writer,” one fan, who goes by the name Istara, explained. “Spiderweb also really forces you to make moral choices, and there's usually no one 'perfect' 100 percent righteous choice. In this regard they have deeper replayability. The Companion system for Avadon is also cool, getting them to like you so they all stick with you.”
Something else Spiderweb's fans seem to share is disinterest in playing the game at higher difficulty levels. Danielle, another tester, said she was ashamed to admit that she only ever plays on normal difficult, but so does literally everyone else I talked to. It's a tiny sampling, but that unanimity has to carry some weight, considering how many RPG players tend to gloss over story to dig into the guts of a complex battle system.
I also found that, despite appearances, Avadon 3 isn't as obtuse as it appears. It was unexpectedly easy to play once I got used to the quirks of the interface, and while I got my ass kicked in a few fights I wasn't ready for, I soon learned that the game's openness (although I'm told it's actually quite linear compared to most other Spiderweb games) ensured that I could wander off, do other things, and then come back to tackle tough areas when I was better prepared. The looks belie the reality, in other words: Get past that crude visual element and you'll find a remarkably accessible RPG.
That's not to say it won't challenge you. “You actually have to make moral decisions, and the choices you make affect not just the overall ending of the game, but the small interactions you have with various people along the way, including your own party,” a player named Trish told me. “And those decisions are not easy, by any stretch. You can't help but feel a little icky about some of them, but that's what makes them so fun.”
Crowdfunding may not have revolutionized the indie game scene in quite the way some of us thought it would. “The illusions have all fallen away. Everyone now sees indie gaming for what it is: An extremely difficult, blood-sport kind of business,” Vogel said. But he's not making a principled stand against asking for money up-front, either. In fact, the first-ever Spiderweb Software Kickstarter is on the way. In two or three years.
“In two years or so I’m going to throw everything out and write a whole new game engine. When I do that, I think a Kickstarter will be a good idea,” he said. “All of those [earlier] games were sequels or remasters, so I didn’t need the money. I could self-fund and keep all the early sales for myself. Never forget: Kickstarter = presales. For our new engine, however, we will need some funding to get all the graphics redone. That doesn’t come cheap. So we are planning a Kickstarter in early 2018 or so.”
But don't look for a dramatic change in his approach to graphics, or anything else, when the new technology comes into play. Vogel said in his AMA that making good graphics requires a skill-set and resources that he doesn't have, and that he will “never, ever” be able to please gamers who are in it for the eye candy. “I will never write a really pretty game. I have to go for the Undertale crowd: people who can look past a mostly not-so-pretty game to the cool stuff under,” he said. “Our next game series, which I'll do after Avernum 3, will have all-new graphics. But honestly? You'll still hate them. They'll be a different low-budget thing that you hate. And that's fair. You can love or not-love what you want. But I have the budget I have and I do what I can.”
That will probably suit his fans just fine.