The mid-1990s was a period of significant changes for the videogame industry. Arcades were beginning to decline as home console systems became more popular, the Nintendo NES would be discontinued in 1995, and computer games were increasing in popularity. Specifically, 1994 saw id Software’s Doom II: Hell on Earth and Bullfrog Production’s Theme Park become best-selling games at the time. 1994 was also the year Jeff Vogel founded Spiderweb Software while working towards a Masters in Applied Mathematics.
We recently had the opportunity to talk with Vogel about his love for the industry, what inspired him to create this company, his thoughts about making casual games, and what type of games he sees himself making in the future. (Sadly, no Spider-Man jokes came up. We are deeply sorry about this.)
Getting Started & Escaping Grad School
In 1994, Vogel was low on cash and dealing with the mental stress inflicted upon students by grad school, and decided to create a videogame to relieve stress and maybe earn some cash. It was a decision that would lead to the creation of Spiderweb Software. “I wrote my first game as a way of maintaining my sanity during grad school, and I released it in the hope of earning pizza money,” Vogel said when asked about the creation of Spiderweb Software, “I really didn’t have any plans. I still don’t. I just write games, release them, and hope they sell.”
His first game was 1995’s Exile I: Escape from the Pit. It sold so well that he dropped out of grad school and committed to teaching himself programming. His decision to pursue a career in the videogame industry is not one that he takes for granted. “I was fascinated by video games from when I first played them over thirty years ago,” this lifelong fan said, before immediately acknowledging how fortunate he is to have made a career in this industry, “I have the rare gift of being able to do for a living what I dreamed of doing when I was a child.”
Learning About the Industry
After Exile I, Vogel went on to finish two more installments of the Exile series, and create the Avernum series, Blades of Exile, Blades of Avernum, the Geneforge series, and Nethergate.
Even after this success, Vogel’s humble. He still sees himself as the head of a “little indie company” and “probably the wrong person to ask about anything real industry people do.”
When asked what game design component he thinks is often neglected during development, he professionally responded “Not sure, really. I think games tend to be very well-designed, overall. But there are a million things that can go wrong implementing even the best design.”
Another element of Vogel’s success stems from the value he gives his audience. While he remains the driving force behind the games he develops, he always takes into consideration what potential customers might want. “Because there are a million choices to make in writing a game, and the answers are rarely obvious,” Vogel said. “When given two roughly equivalent paths to take, knowing who you are writing the game for can provide guidance.”
Current and Future Projects
One of his most recent games is Avadon: The Black Fortress, which Vogel describes as an “indie fantasy RPG.” Though he acknowledges its low budget origins, he knows that writing and careful craftsmanship helped make it an indie hit. “We worked very hard on its storyline and gave it a lot of polish, with the hope of getting it onto Steam. We succeeded [and] I learned that a little polish goes along way.”
When asked what he thinks helped Avadon stand out from the crowd, Vogel places a particular amount of importance on the game’s storyline. “It’s actually detailed, epic, and heavily integrated into the game. We cared about it, and it shows.” And it’s this emphasis on narrative that seems to be Vogel’s and Spiderweb Software’s most important attribute. “If you’re going to have a story, you might as well make the extra effort to make it good. It takes about the same amount of time and work, and can only increase your fans’ fascination with your product.”
As for what future projects Spiderweb is producing, Vogel would only humorously state “I don’t have new ideas anymore. I’m too old. I plan a long, joyous run of more-of-the-same.” We doubt that this is true, but even if it is, we know that we can still look forward to some great games.