Avadon: The Black Fortress out for PC now

  

  

Anyone who says there aren't any real RPGs anymore clearly haven't played Jeff Vogel's games. The consistently funny and thoughtful Seattle-based indie developer have not only been making isometric, party-based and turn-based games since 1994 - he's also been able to earn a living by doing just that. Apart from delivering generous demos and serving a dedicated fan base with precisely the kind of games they actually want to play, an absolutely essential part of Spiderweb's business strategy is that the company is not giving its games away for, say, $10 or less. While there are promos and discounts occasionally, Vogel has always insisted that huge and ambitious independently developed games must be allowed to reach a certain price point or else the possibility of making any kind of profit (not to mention the ambition and depth) will be sucked away from the indie scene entirely. This sentiment has of course been echoed by various Apple denigrators recently, who worry about what the pricing on the App Store is doing for game development (...which I guess makes it all the more ironic that Avadon is coming to the iPad later this year).

What makes Avadon especially interesting (apart from the upcoming iDevice release) is that Vogel both has left his long-established series Avernum (which focused on exploring huge cavernous kingdoms) and GeneForge (which was all about summoning and the faction system) behind and started an entirely new series with a noticeably upgraded graphics engine. Among other things, the tweaked engine provides more detailed sprites as well as seamless (as opposed to grid-based) movement inbetween combat scenarios. The skill and party systems have likewise been significantly changed, and jn a particularly radical move the custom-made party members from Spiderweb's older titles have now been replaced by distinct characters designed and written by the developer himself. This allows Vogel to insert unique dialogue specific to these party members and thus have them react to story events and comment on the various parts of the world which the player is exploring. Thus, there has been some BioWare-ification of the classic Spiderweb formula, although players who have gone through the full game say that the party banter element is still relatively limited in comparison with more heavily story-focused games.

So far I've only just scratched the surface of this generously sized RPG, but I'm very much looking forward to see what the world of Avadon: The Black Fortress has in store for me. Let's party like it's 1993 and no one has heard of a bad Ultima game yet!
Buy the game or download demo at:
http://www.spidweb.com/
13 Comments
13 Comments
Posted by Egge

  

  

Anyone who says there aren't any real RPGs anymore clearly haven't played Jeff Vogel's games. The consistently funny and thoughtful Seattle-based indie developer have not only been making isometric, party-based and turn-based games since 1994 - he's also been able to earn a living by doing just that. Apart from delivering generous demos and serving a dedicated fan base with precisely the kind of games they actually want to play, an absolutely essential part of Spiderweb's business strategy is that the company is not giving its games away for, say, $10 or less. While there are promos and discounts occasionally, Vogel has always insisted that huge and ambitious independently developed games must be allowed to reach a certain price point or else the possibility of making any kind of profit (not to mention the ambition and depth) will be sucked away from the indie scene entirely. This sentiment has of course been echoed by various Apple denigrators recently, who worry about what the pricing on the App Store is doing for game development (...which I guess makes it all the more ironic that Avadon is coming to the iPad later this year).

What makes Avadon especially interesting (apart from the upcoming iDevice release) is that Vogel both has left his long-established series Avernum (which focused on exploring huge cavernous kingdoms) and GeneForge (which was all about summoning and the faction system) behind and started an entirely new series with a noticeably upgraded graphics engine. Among other things, the tweaked engine provides more detailed sprites as well as seamless (as opposed to grid-based) movement inbetween combat scenarios. The skill and party systems have likewise been significantly changed, and jn a particularly radical move the custom-made party members from Spiderweb's older titles have now been replaced by distinct characters designed and written by the developer himself. This allows Vogel to insert unique dialogue specific to these party members and thus have them react to story events and comment on the various parts of the world which the player is exploring. Thus, there has been some BioWare-ification of the classic Spiderweb formula, although players who have gone through the full game say that the party banter element is still relatively limited in comparison with more heavily story-focused games.

So far I've only just scratched the surface of this generously sized RPG, but I'm very much looking forward to see what the world of Avadon: The Black Fortress has in store for me. Let's party like it's 1993 and no one has heard of a bad Ultima game yet!
Buy the game or download demo at:
http://www.spidweb.com/
Posted by ArbitraryWater

I'm not going to lie, the video intrigued me but the price point scared me away. I can appreciate that these guys are making serious legit RPGs, but they should at the very least discount their earlier stuff. $55 is an intimidating price for games of that nature (Though, I guess it's very much a price that aims for a niche audience anyways) That might just be me smarting from my unfortunate Ebay impulse buy rampage though. They seem at the very least like something I should check out after I'm done with all the commercial Old School RPGs that I've been meaning to play (And by that, I mean Planescape, that copy of Wizardry 7 I just bought for far more than it was worth, Neverwinter Nights 2, Icewind Dale II and maybe even Lionheart, though I have to say that that game is kinda shitty)

So are these games more of a Fallout (pure open roam kind of thing) or a Baldur's Gate (Less open, but more tactical combat) kind of thing? Or do they go even farther back? And, on a kinda unrelated note, did you ever play the Eschalon games? Those seem like they would be up your particular brand of alley.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

Holy crap!  Those art assets are amazing. It's hard for me to believe this is from Spiderweb, since I'd gotten used to seeing those Foligio characters. Going to have to check out the demo now.

I have never bought one of Vogel's games, but have enjoyed the demos thoroughly. To be honest I remember Spiderweb Software every once in a while but some part of me always wonders if they're going to disappear, in part because of the prices. He totally makes a good point about pricing, but the market seems pretty hostile to that right now. Big companies seem to have flooded the market with deliberately under-priced stuff so that anyone who doesn't have a shield of fluid revenue has to work a lot harder for the same level of stability.

(Like with Solium Infernum, where the creator had to price it at a certain level in order for it to be a worthwhile project, and sales wound up being disappointing.)

Looking forward to your reflections on the game as you get further in.

Edited by Egge
@ArbitraryWater:  I think $25 is very reasonable for a 40 hour game - even aside from the fact that a lower price would not be economically sustainable - but as someone who only rarely is capable of justifying spending the equivalent of $50-60 on mainstream games, I can certainly understand being concerned about pricing in general (also, the frankly stupid amounts of sale-related impulse buys on my Steam account means that I'm likewise aware of the ironic downside of price sensitivity). However, given my strong interest in the independent RPG scene I for one always feel a strong need to put my money where my mouth is and support the few people who still develop games based on the general design philosophies I approve of (i.e. party-based gameplay, turn-based combat, no level scaling and relatively open-ended exploration without an overtly strong focus on story or choices & consequences). I certainly don't buy all of Spiderweb's games, but I get one once in a while when the timing happens to be right for me personally.

As for discounts of an indie developer's older games, that's always an interesting question but judging by what Jeff Vogel himself has stated in interviews etc. it appears that a decent amount of his sales actually comes from older, (nearly) full priced games. Thus, I take it that his particular economic model at the very least does not benefit so much from low prices that it would make financial sense to reduce the prices on previously released titles. The strongly incremental nature of Vogel's releases (Avadon is a lot like the long-running Avernum series which in turn strongly resembles the much older Exile etc.) also means that buying, say, Avernum 4 after just having played a more recent release like Avadon can make a lot of sense if you liked the experience. In other words, in the world of retro RPGs one game doesn't magically get obsolete by the release of another.

And yes, I own both Eschalon games but haven't played them much yet. When it comes to isometric turn-based RPGs I vastly prefer a party-based system and I also found the movement in Eschalon to be annoyingly slow and sluggish. That said, the audiovisual presentation is certainly right down my alley and the skill system seems intriguing, so I'm sure I'll get around to Basilisk's well-received series at some point.
Edited by Egge
@ahoodedfigure: Wow, you must be the first person on the planet to ever have been impressed by the graphics in a Spiderweb game. ;) But, yes, the visuals have been improved, although as always there are still a lot of reused assets from the latest Avernum and GeneForge games.
As for pricing, I think the fact that Vogel has been able to do his thing for 17 years now (a time period during which numerous indie developers have come and gone, most of them with significantly lower prices for their products) is as good an indication as any that his general economic model works. Then again, he's certainly built up a "sheild of fluid revenue" by now, so I don't know if I'd advice any newcomer on the indie scene to do business exactly the way Vogel does. In general, however, I think it's safe to say that the price-related race to the bottom that we see on certain PC-oriented distribution platforms (and I would at least partly count Steam among those) will either give us a 1983-esque crash or condemn the entire indie scene to an eternity of casual puzzle games (with or without the words "Crash" and "Birds" in the title). Or both...

Solium Infernum is an interesting example, though, and while I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cryptic Comet and their incredibly smart hardcore strategy games there just might be a point at which something is so niche that it really needs to be very cheap to have any hope of breaking even. Say anything about Spiderweb's games, but at least they're very recognizable genre games which should be easy to get into for just about anyone with some familiarity with and inclination towards old school RPGs. I'm not so sure one can say that about the unapologetically byzantine Solium Infernum (or even Armageddon Empires with its MtG-esque card mechanics).

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Egge:  Well, I meant the paintings, not the iso stuff (the latter looks improved, but still boxy like before)

Vogel HAS managed to build up a good reputation among people who know about his products, so I imagine that helps somewhat too. Brand loyalty. Given that he's been producing games to fill this niche for... wow, 17 years you say? ...means that unlike big companies he's actually not going to switch focus and alienate loyal customers, which is no mean feat.

You may be right about the prices limiting game growth, although I wonder if the piecemeal pricing schemes out now might reduce that a bit, given that people pay a bit, then pay bits more to customize their experience. Almost reminds me of old-time arcade approaches.

I would say SI is a lot more intimidating on the surface than it is when you get into the meat of it. This from a person who is usually intimidated or disgusted by games with strategy games with so many layers of mechanics. But my history with that game includes helping crush the bugs, so I had the luxury of playing quite a bit of it without worrying if it was the game for me. If anything, I think all the mods and instructions other people have made for SI after its release show that it could have been less intimidating after a few more iterations of user-friendly instructions.

I hope Vogel manages to pull off a coup with this price level. I downloaded the demo and will see if I can run it smoothly enough on this machine. Thanks for the article!
Posted by Kear

Thank's for the heads up, I've been waiting a while for this.  I've been checking the Spiderweb site everyday, I must have looked too early yesterday and missed it.  Very interested in this new direction for Spiderweb Software.  I was never fond of Geneforge, and Avernum was getting  stale for me.  Download just finished, time to check out Avadon.
Posted by snide

I've been messing around with this at home. If I can drag myself away from Mount and Blade we might put a Quick Look up.

Posted by onarum
@snide said:
" I've been messing around with this at home. If I can drag myself away from Mount and Blade we might put a Quick Look up. "
Come on man, you gotta convince Jeff and the others to do a M&B TNT.

Also this looks very interesting, I might get it.
Posted by Egge
@snide: That's certainly interesting to hear. Given that the game's high resolution graphics with really tiny sprites don't lend themselves particularly well to gameplay videos of any kind, I would imagine that producing a Quick Look could be something of a challenge. Either way, GB deserves a lot of credit for giving even such unapologetically retro-oriented indie titles as Gemini Rue, VVVVVV and now possibly also Avadon their much-needed 15 minutes of fame.
Posted by MuttersomeTaxicab

Finally got around to downloading the demo. I still have a shit-ton of Avernum 6 to play through, but this looks pretty excellent.
Posted by MuttersomeTaxicab
@snide said:
"I've been messing around with this at home. If I can drag myself away from Mount and Blade we might put a Quick Look up. "

Oh MAN. Totally missed this. That would be amazing.
Posted by eroticfishcake
@snide said:
I've been messing around with this at home. If I can drag myself away from Mount and Blade we might put a Quick Look up.
I know it's been three months since you've said this but...got the time now to do a quick look? Please?...