Spiderweb Software Interview

Eschalon: Book II

Developer:Spiderweb Software
Release Date:2009-12-05
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
With the release of Avernum 6, Spiderweb Software has closed the book on its flagship franchise with a final critically acclaimed and commercially successful entry. With the independent studio also working on a new game in a brand new setting, we jumped on the opportunity to talk with Spiderweb Software founder Jeff Vogel about both about Avernum 6 and his next franchise.

GB: Following the Mac release, you mentioned in a post-release blog post that Avernum 6 was outselling its predecessors. Given its success, how do you feel about your decision to end a franchise that's climbing in sales?

Jeff: There are always regrets attached to ending a successful series, and Avernum has done very well for us. However, there is a fundamental limit to the process: If I can't write it, it doesn't happen. Seven games (Avernum 1-6 plus Blades of Avernum) is a huge amount of time working on one world, and at a certain point you get squeezed kind of dry. I've already gone too long without writing something all-new.

It's a big risk making something new, and I'm pretty terrified about it. But it's also really exciting to make a new world. I've having a lot of fun with it.

GB: Avernum 6 had quite a few sequences where the player's party is just one part of the overall assault, or clearly tasked to assist someone more powerful than he or she is. It de-emphasizes the power and importance of the protagonist in a way the older Avernum games didn't or did to a lesser extent. Why did you make this change in narrative structure?

Jeff: Because it makes for a cooler story, and it adds more variety to the action. And I really don't think that the player should always be the most powerful person in the world. In fact, having more powerful people around makes for a more interesting story, not less. One of the reasons Lord of the Rings was such a compelling story is that it focused on Bilbo, not Gandalf. And, for what it's worth, the player response to those sections you refer to has been very positive.

GB: I wrote in my Avernum 6 review that the reusage of assets was starting to jar a bit as we see varying levels of quality and style side-by-side. Do you agree with this assessment?
Is this something you can/would address while making a new series?

Jeff: There is something to be said for this. That is why I am approaching the graphics in the new engine from scratch and working harder to maintain a unity of styles.

Similarly, when I released polished new revisions of the first Avernum trilogy over the next few years, I will have a lot of the graphics redone, including the old character portraits.

[Editor's note: Spoiler warning for the following question for those who have not finished Avernum 6]
GB: Another element that de-emphasizes the importance of the player's actions is the ending: while Avernum 6's ending varies based on your actions, its ending message is clearly that the cave is more or less the same as it was before the events of Avernum 1, and all the actions in between really had very little consequence. Why did you choose to go this route?

Jeff: I don't think that the world is the same at the end of the series at all. In the beginning, the people of Avernum are prisoners. At the end, they have won freedom, respect, and a land of their own. In the beginning, the Empire is a land of tyrants. In the end, the rulers of the surface are much more sane. And the player, through the games, has a major role in bringing these changes about. It is the story of the series.

The land of Avernum, itself, ends up a wild place, full of danger and adventure. And I think this choice, itself, is a cool and exciting one. There are a lots of reasons I wanted this, including that it makes sense. I don't think the underworld is a viable place for a lasting civilization. The final fate of Avernum is foreshadowed since the second game.

GB: What about the idea of Avernum 0? Is that looking possible or even likely?

Jeff: That is an idea I threw out a few months ago in an interview, a single game that is a prequel of the whole series. It's a cool idea, but it's not something I would seriously consider for at least five years or so. That's enough time to recharge enough "Avernum energy" for one more game. Maybe.