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Jeff Vogel interview

Jeff Vogel interview

Interview - posted by Saint_Proverbius on Mon 11 November 2002, 21:42:39

Tags: Avernum 3; Spiderweb Software

1.) Can you tell us a little history about yourself? Why you decided to found Spiderweb Software? What your goals are with Spiderweb?

I wrote my first game, Exile, on the Macintosh in 1994. I was desperately sick of grad school, so I wrote the game to stay sane. I released it as shareware, and was surprised and gratified to find that it sold quite well. Not long after that, I quit grad school and began writing games full time.

My primary purpose for founding Spiderweb and my motive for continuing it is to make as much money as possible before everything falls apart. I would like to say I do it because of "love of writing games", but, sadly, I have found that I can't buy groceries with "love of writing games" checks.

2.) You're a fairly well heard of shareware advocate. Could you tell us why the concept of Shareware appeals to you? Do you think being a Shareware developer has benefitted your work? Your creativity?

The advantages of shareware are clear, so much so that, in the last few years, the entire PC gaming industry has adopted some form of the shareware model (though they call them "demos"). It's good business. People sensibly want to try something out to see if they like it.

It doesn't affect my work or my creativity, though. Shareware is not a type of software. It's a marketing model.

3.) Geneforge was originally supposed to be purely science fiction but ended up being a blend of fantasy and science fiction. When did that change? Why did that change?

It changed not far into development.

The basic reason for the change is that, in science fiction, weapons should be devastating. A laser pistol is expected to be a very damaging thing. I found it to be too difficult to model the weapons in a way that simultaneously felt sensible and maintained balance.

4.) Geneforge's character system is very similar to the Avernum character system. Is there an official name for this character system? What was the inspiration for this system?

No name for it. I just wanted to come up with a real clean, basic point-based system. It's based more on that concept than on any particular game.

5.) One of the differences between the Avernum system and the Geneforge one was that Avernum had Advantages and Disadvantages you could pick to customize your character. Why didn't Geneforge have them?

I dunno. Didn't occur to me, I guess.

Writing games by oneself leads to lots of little blips like that.

6.) You've come up with a few fairly original ideas for CRPG settings. Avernum/Exile were essentially high fantasy games within a giant dungeon world. Geneforge was a quasi-fantasy biotech setting. What inspires your settings? Do you feel that unique settings help or hurt CRPGs?

Don't forget Nethergate, set in Roman-occupation Britain.

My settings tend to be inspired by books I read and movies I see. My plots tend to come all out of my own head (though based in a basic fantasy framework), but the settings tend to infect me from outside.

7.) Many CRPGs these days rely on automation of combat systems and passive control. What do you think about games becoming simpler and more passive? Do you feel this helps Spiderweb's sales since you offer something much different than the trends offered by mainstream developers?

I don't know how many sales being a niche developer gets or costs me. I really don't. When I design a game, I just design the sort of game I want to be playing. That game changes as time passes. And then I hope the game I come up with is one people like.

8.) When you design your games, do you design them for a specific audience or do you design games that you'd like to play? Or both?

The latter. I always, always, always do what I would perosnally prefer. If I try to go outside of that, I get lost and confused very quickly.

9.) Blades of Avernum will be your second scenario design based CRPG. What kinds of considerations are made when designing such games? Is it hard finding a balance between allowing creative freedom and keeping the setting of Avernum consistant for the scenarios? Can you explain why you feel this consistancy is important to the players of the scenarios?

It's very hard, and it makes scenario designers hate me.

I would like to write a system in which the designer can rewrite and alter and completely convert everything. But it would be an enormous investment on my part, for something that really wouldn't improve sales much.

As for consistency, I am making Blades of Avernum so that, when a player enters a new scenario, the game system is the same. Skills won't be altered, and familiar spells won't be heavily different. It's a complex system, and I don't want designers to pull the rug out from under the player after the player has taken the time to learn things and develop a strategy.

One of those factors alone might not have been enough to tip the balance. But both together made me feel that my limited time would be best spent elsewhere.

10.) One of the differences between Geneforge and Avernum is that Geneforge was single character and Avernum was party based. Do you feel that there are fundamental design consideration differences of the two because of this? Is it harder to make one as opposed to the other?

It didn't really feel any different doing the design. Remember that most people play Geneforge with several pets (which act as de facto party members).

11.) Timed events play a big part in Avernum 3, such as the razing of towns by monsters if you don't get to their nests in time, and quest situations that only occur after certain dates. Can you explain why Avernum 3 does this? Is making a dynamically changing world more difficult versus the added benefit of demonstrating urgency of situations? Do you feel this worked well for Avernum 3?

It's the thing I love most about the game. I love the size, the depth, the amount of stuff in it. And I love the way you can return to a town and find half of it smashed in.

It was a lot of work. But I think it was just cool.

12.) Can you tell us anything about your upcoming games? Other than Geneforge 2 and Blades of Avernum are coming in 2003? How long they've been in the works?

I've only started them recently. The first one out will be Geneforge 2, hopefully in late summer 2003.

Beyond that, Geneforge 3, I suppose. I haven't thought much that far ahead.

13.) Are there any setting architypes for CRPGs you'd like to try in the future? Such as Western, Science Fiction, Superhero, etc?

Not really. I'm not that adventurous a person about busingg things. Fantasy works, so I stick with it. One game that doesn't sell could put me out of business.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Jeff Vogel!

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