Jeff Vogel has been producing indie RPGs for many years now, and releasing them through his own publishing company, Spiderweb Software.
His most recent release was Avadon: The Black Fortress, a game we at Digitally Downloaded enjoyed greatly. Jeff sat down to answer a few questions on his experience in the industry for us. Make sure you read next month's issue of the Digitally Downloaded magazine for the full interview!
DD: You’ve been involved in RPG development for some time – how would you say the industry approach to computer RPGs has changed over time?
Jeff Vogel (JV): I started my first game in 1994, so the whole industry is completely unrecognizable from where it was when I started. I mean, my first games were shareware, and the idea of releasing a partial "demo" of a game was foreign and innovative. I think the main change in attitudes toward RPGs is the same as the change in attitudes towards all games. They are more casual. They are less aimed at the "hardcore" audience, with their limitless patience for stat-building and arcane mechanics. Practically everyone, me included, is aiming for a larger audience. Of course, this is a great opportunity for young, hungry Indie developers. Underserved niches are our bread and butter.
DD: What have been some of your career highs and lows?
JV: In sixteen years, I've had my good and bad points. Changing things is hard work. Improving takes effort. I confess that there have been times when I slacked off, and I was richly punished for it. The big low point was releasing Blades of Avernum and Geneforge 3 in adjacent years. Both underperformed, and I was afraid I was going to have to close up shop. Instead, I gritted my teeth, sat down, and started heavily reworking everything for newer audiences. The results were Avernum 4 and Geneforge 4: Rebellion, both of which were big successes for us. The high point was Exile 3: Ruined world, way back in 1997. It was exactly the right game at the right time, went crazy, and sold a ton. We'll never catch lightning in a bottle like that again.
DD: What are the chief tenants that you design games towards? What kind of goals do you set out to achieve when working on a game?
JV: I write the sort of game I want to play. That is my only rule. The thing I want changes from year to year, so my games change from year to year. My own personal tastes are my North Star, the one unambiguous guide that has almost never led me astray. Playing Avadon: The Black Fortress, you can really tell how enamored of Bioware's output over the last decade. I freely admit it. But I also put my own spin on the thing.
DD: Are there any games out there that inspire you right now? If so – which and why? Do you look to pen-and-paper RPGs for ideas as well, and if so, what are your thoughts about how that genre has changed over time?
JV: I think Dragon Age: Origins was a true classic. For all its flaws, it was a real accomplishment. Dang, but I loved that game. I'm also really impressed by Minecraft, though I doubt it'll be as much of an influence. As for pen and paper RPGs, I hardly ever play them anymore. However, before I wrote Avadon, I played a bunch of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. I have some real problems with how they've evolved that game, but there are some really cool things about it as a tactical wargame. For example, how important positioning is. I think that will be a big influence on me going forward.
DD: Have you considered working with a large developer on a “modern” RPG? What would be your dream project, given a full studio budget and development team?
JV: Not really. Nobody is interested. No big developer has ever tried to recruit me. There is no shortage of skilled designers in this world. My dream project would be what I'm doing now, but with a team, a budget, and really sweet production values. Two or three more good writers wouldn't hurt. Basically, like Avadon or Avernum, but shinier!