Welcome to WWB's GameZone!
Our guest today is Jeff Vogel, President of
Spiderweb Software, Inc.
Spiderweb Software is a small company dedicated to
creating the best possible entertainment
shareware for the Macintosh and PC Windows 3.1/95
platforms. Their hot games include Exile:
Escape From the Pit, Exile II: Crystal Souls, Exile
III: Ruined World, and a not-to-be-missed
new game Blades of Exile.
Spiderweb Software, Inc. is also home to a loyal
companion and mascot (you guessed it), Spider.
Jeff Vogel is a full-time shareware developer,
currently (and quite happily) living in Seattle, WA.
He holds a Masters in Applied Mathematics, minimal
computer programming training, and has a
whole lot of experience coding in C.
GCS Cys: We welcome Jeff Vogel!
GCS Cys: To start with... could you tell us a little
bit about how you got your start as a game
Spidweb 2: Hmm. I started with an Apple II+, which I
got when I was 14 or so. I was
obsessive ... no ... OBSESSIVE about computer games.
I didn't just play them, I studied them,
and wrote them every chance I got all through my
adolescence. And to think I could have spent
the time dating girls. Hah! At any rate, I then went
to grad school, which was awful. At the same
time, I got a new Mac. (PowerMac 6100) To stay sane,
I spent my spare time writing Exile. I
released it, and people gave me lots of money for
it. Grad school hurt. A lot. And I saw a chance
to finally make a living games, so I leapt for it.
Wrote Exile II and III, and have been doing great.
GCS Cys: It appears to me that you are
cross-platform with a Mac heart. What was behind
your choice to port to Windows?
Spidweb 2: ? What makes you such a wonderful,
godlike person? Why did I port to Windows?
Well, I wanted to make big, heaping, beautiful,
lovely gobs and gobs of money. I write my
games for the Mac first. I love the Mac, and it's
like 80 times easier to use. When that's done, I
port the games (which is a very fast process for
me), to guarantee a good, solid income flow.
Windows isn't very good. But it's not the end of the
world either. I like Macs a lot better, but
Windows is basically usable.
GCS Cys: Jeff, I'm amazed to find out that you are a
successful shareware developer. Not
many can claim full time status. Kudos to you! How
is it that the shareware model works so well
Spidweb 2: Shareware rules. (By the way, for
prospective developers, I have a lot of
shareware writing advice on my web site
http://www.spidweb.com. Lots of good shareware
advice.) Shareware is great for people writing in
niche markets, such as my older style rpgs.
There's a lot of demand for my sort of games, but
not enough to justify going through the meat
grinder of store distribution. That's why shareware
is key. It's great. I recommend it to all my
MakeMineMac: You say porting is quick? How long does
it take you?
Spidweb 2: Oh, around a month for the port, and a
month more for testing. That compared to
8-10 months to write a whole game (for me). I
specifically write my games using special
cross-platform libraries I designed for my own use,
and my games aren't too technically
complicated. Put those together, and ports go by
pretty fast. With pain. But fast. Mmmmm.
DaveR: What takes more time? programming the AI or
developing the story that makes the
Spidweb 2: Story! I write my AI in, oh, say, 5-10
minutes. Usually while drunk. In other
words, I put twice as much effort in my AI as
everyone else. The interface and system then takes
around 2-3 months. The world is the serious job. All
that dialogue. All that town design. That's a
solid 6 months. And I've never concealed the fact
that my creature AI is awful. My only defense,
and it is a weak defense, is that everyone else's is
just as bad. Unfortunately.
The Raven: Jeff, I've played Exile's I & II until I
could no longer see straight, I've played, but
not yet had time to Truly play & register III. How
will 4 play upon the Exile story thus far?
Spidweb 2: Exile IV will not happen. Ever. The
horror! The horror! Blades of Exile is it for the
whole Exile thang'. I put it this way ... I don't
think I could get out of bed in the morning
knowing that I would have to design the Tower of
Magi for a FOURTH time. On the bright side,
I've already put up on our web site
(www.spidweb.com) information about our next game ...
Drum roll ... Nethergate. If you liked Exile, you'll
love Nethergate. So just pretend it is Exile IV.
Just with a different interface. And graphics. And
set in 61 AD Britain. Above ground. With
GCS Cys: Generally, when you pause in the gaming
world, everything stops and is on hold.
In Exile III, kewl things continue while you get
your 2nd bag of Doritoes. What inspired you to
go the extra mile? Not many companies have done
Spidweb 2: http://www.spidweb.com. Just thought I'd
throw that in again. Exile III isn't
actually real-time. Time passes when you take moves.
I did it because it was pretty darn cool. It's
pretty neat to watch the towns crumble into dust and
have the people die. The key thing when
designing games, and ESPECIALLY shareware games, Is
to have some COOL sort of hook to
draw people in. That is why I did the crumbling
towns thing. It was fun to play, fun to code, and
looked great in the press release.
JoelMathis: I was wondering how much research you
are doing into the background of
Neathergate. I mean are you going for nearly
historical society roles or are you making
allowances for the modern mind set?
Spidweb 2: I'm trying to make it pretty darn
historical. I have a huge pile of books by my desk.
There will be some modern sorts of things, like, for
example, female warrior type characters. But
for the most part, I'll try to make it reasonably
historically accurate. However, much of the game
will be interaction with faeries. And mythological
creatures. That won't be terribly real world.
JoelMathis: On the same subject, given the date and
local, any chance of Joseph of Aramathea
and his toys showing up :)?
Spidweb 2: Nope. Not at this point.
Peter: What kind of influence does the spider have
over you and your games : )
Spidweb 2: He makes me go out and buy him crickets,
thus slowing down the development of
further games. Oops. SHE makes me go out. Sorry
Munin: Are you planning to take future beta-testing
pools from places OTHER than AOL, or
are you planning to stick with AOLites for testing?
Spidweb 2: Mmmmmm The next game will be beta tested
generally on the Internet. One of
these days, my lovely employee, Mariann Krizsan,
will bother to put up the beta tester application
form on our web site. When this happens, the fun can
GCS Cys: Have multi-player games on the net changed
the way you create your games?
Spidweb 2: GOod question. No. The multiplayer fad is
pretty big. It seems like every game
now has a multiplayer component. That's cool. It's
neat. I like it. But it's not something I plan to
do. First, I'm not a good enough programmer, and
second, it's not my focus. People generally
play my games because they like the cool stories and
design, and because they like the
retro-simple, gaming experience. I dunno. It would
be neat, and I have great ideas for an online
rpg. However, I'm a coward at heart. I'm going to
stick with what's making me money. By the
way, there's a character in Exile II called Mariann.
After Mariann, of course. I put this in as a
truly elegant and carefully crafted way of flirting
with her. And now we're engaged. (Romantic
music swells in background.)
GCS Cys: OK, well then -- has Harlan Ellison changed
the way you create games?
Spidweb 2: Harlan Ellison is God. Let me repeat, to
clear all ambiguity. Harlan Ellison, while
personally sometimes a wee bit of a jerk, is God. I
love the emotionally impacting way he writes
and often let it influence the way I design my
stories. Though I'm influenced by many other
writers as well. Anyone who's read a lot of
Silverberg will see a lot of his ideas have influenced
my stories. And, of course, there are many others.
I'm influenced a huge amount by SF authors,
and an equally huge amount by the New York Times.
Nobody who writes a lot of genre stuff
should be without either resource.
JoelMathis: I was wondering about what kind of
improvements we are going to see in the
engine for Neathergate and beyond. Anything big or
are you planning on staying with the simple
but effective design?
Spidweb 2: Both. Nethergate will have an ever
smoother and nicer interface than Exile III and
as rich a game system. It will also have much more
modern graphics, incl. a 45 degree above 3D
sort of view, but I plan to do it in a way that adds
to, not detracts from, the game. I plan to retain
everything bitchin' about the older games, but try
to add some of that professional polish that my
previous games have lacked. But still no music.
Munin: I've noticed that having an IRC presence can
sometimes boost awareness of a
shareware company. Any plans on initiating one in
the near future?
Spidweb 2: Nope. Between the online service
presence, the web presence, the E_mail
presence, the online chat presence, and so on, I
don't have time for too much else. The problem
is, writing a game is seriously, seriously time
consuming. I just do all the PR I can manage to
maintain sales. Oh. Plus, I'm lazy.
Munin: I can understand that. Still, it's always fun
to yak with an author about his/her latest
Spidweb 2: I can understand that. ALas, I can only
manage so much of that.
GCS Jade: Can you tell us more about writing
shareware? Give us more tips?
Spidweb 2: Shareware tips? Go to my web site. Piles
and piles. But this is key: You MUST
write something good enough that people will give
you money for it. And you MUST push and
advertise it. A lot. Fail at either of these, and
doom awaits you. DOOM, I tell you,
DOOOOOMMMMM!!!!! Sorry. Where was I? Oh, yes.
DOOOOOOMMMMMMM! PR. GOod
product. These are your watchwords.
JoelMathis: Why release a scenario editor? Fan
pressure, trying to make more money? Why do
something that so few other people bother with (not
that I'm complaining)?
Spidweb 2: Hmm. Why a scenario editor? I think a lot
of it is just that I needed a slightly less
time consuming product to develop. Simultaneously, I
thought of a really neat idea to do a
scenario editor, normally a very hard thing to do.
The two just hit together, and I decided to go
for it. The problem is that designing an rpg
scenario editor just plain sucks. It's a hard thing to
do, and a hard thing to test. Still, I saw a
potential market, thought it would be cool, and leapt for
it. Much of what I do and why I do is is as much
whim as anything else.
GCS Cys: I know that at one time you mentioned
having a whole science fiction role-playing
game all plotted out in your head. What are the
plans regarding bringing that to life?
Spidweb 2: Wow ... I haven't thought of that in a
long time. You see, in between games, I
fully plan out and design 3 or 4 games in my head.
Like wargames. Civilization type games.
Science fiction rpgs. All sorts of great stuff. I
get hugely excited about each one. I decide I'm sure
I'm going to do it. Then I come back to my senses
and write another fantasy role-playing games.
I have a GREAT idea for a science fiction rpg. Heck,
with the popularity of Fallout, I may well
go ahead and write it. You've met this horrible,
rapacious race, closed-minded, greedy,
determined to destroy everything you hold dear.
You've been captured by them, and must stop
them at any costs, before they take over your entire
system. They're called "Humans." You play
weird, four legged alien things which do everything
by genetic engineering. You don't generate
your other characters. You make them. You mold them
out of goo you find around. If you gain
enough experience, you can eventually make them
smart enough to not try to eat you. It was cool
enough that, at one point, I was sure I was going to
write this game. Then I chickened out.
Again. But now that I think about it, it should
probably be my next game, after Nethergate.
Spidweb 2: Why? Because it is not the part of a
small shareware developer to create new
markets. I look for markets that are already
established but underpopulated, and go there. There
was a market for fantasy rpgs, but few good ones, so
I wrote Exile. Now, with Fallout, there is
this new market for sf rpgs. I'm there. I am so
GCS Cys: I'm not a very impulsive buyer. I like to
take everything for a *test drive*. Are there
demos available for download?
Spidweb 2: Heck yeah! There are full, nice, big,
yummy demos at www.spidweb.com. That's
the key of the whole shareware thing, after all.
GCS Cys: What's next on the horizon for SpiderWeb?
Feel free to tell me about any secret, not
about to be made public, things in the works. I
promise not to tell <G>.
Spidweb 2: Nethergate. Then something else. I have
no idea. Maybe the previously mentioned
sf rpg. Maybe a sequel to Nethergate. Maybe Blowin'
Stuff Up. Or "Hunt The Amish." or ... uh
... Or "Pick Someone To Hate." Or "Mutual
Relationships." The game of relationship building.
Munin: I have to ask... who did the voice sampling
for the "Hello" and "Hi" of the GIFTS
(Giant Intelligent Friendly Talking Spiders) in
Spidweb 2: You're in this conversation with your
significant other at 4 AM, and the winner is
the first person to say something which makes the
other person cry. The voice of the spiders? Me
and my ex-wife, Shirley Monroe. The monster getting
hit sounds in Exiles I-II was her too. The
"Mmmmmm" sound in Exile III (when you get food) is
me. Mmmmmmm. No helium. It's a
GCS Cys: It seems that we are almost out of time. Do
you have any final comments or insights
for our audience before we wrap up?
Spidweb 2: Surrender. There is no hope. And, until
it all ends, buy more shareware. That
URL, again, it http://www.spidweb.com. Thank you,
and good night.
GCS Cys: Thank you Jeff Vogel! This has been both
insightful and informative. I'm so glad
you could join us today at WWB's GameZone!
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