For those of you who don’t know, there’s a little corner of Seattle, US, dedicated to creating massive RPGs. They won’t push your GTX680 to 70 degrees, and they won’t make your i7 scream for relief, but Spiderweb Software’s games will engage you in a way that no modern RPG could. Heavily engaging, and very descriptive, the games from this three-person studio have received silent acclaim on PC, and to a lesser extent on tablet devices.

I’ve recently been playing AvernumHD on my Nexus 7 (the Android port is a third party official development), and I hadn’t had that sensation of total freedom in an RPG world since I played Divine Divinity. If you’re a PC gamer, you can grab Avernum games 1-6 on GoG.com, and you can purchase the newest, Avernum: Escape From the Pit directly from Spiderweb’s store.

ss_20ea1c74f3b2d159bda6cd767f701571737a12a0.1920x1080There’ll be a huge disparity between demographics reading this article, because for many of you, Spiderweb Software are at the pinnacle of old-school Western RPGs. Some will roll their eyes, and explaim: “Pah, I’ve been playing Geneforge before it was cool,” but I know that a larger majority of you won’t even have heard of them.

I recently wrote an article entitled ‘I Just Realised Why I’m Bored of Modern RPGs’ where I tried to explain how the change in dynamic from the engagement of imagination to exposition meant that RPGs were getting boring, and how returning to some of the oldest RPGs, or older style RPGs is a refreshing break from all the flash and gimmicks of some newer aRPG installments. In that vein, I decided to reach out to Jeff and see what he makes of all this.

Explaining how they’re happy serving their niche, and that they believe you could make a game like Avernum with the polish of Skyrim, Jeff gives a candid look on his thought process, and his favorite part of making his games.

 

Avernum6DesktopGordon Walton, an industry veteran, recently said that The Sims 1 was “bigger than Sims 2 and 3″ because it engaged the imaginations of players more-so than its successors, because it was crudely animated. He claimed that high production values came as a detriment to how a player is engaged, because, according to Walton, it’s all exposition and no imagination. Do you think that lower production values help to engage the player, since the player needs to be more imaginative, and to actually engage with the game, rather than being spoon fed exposition? What are your thoughts on this?

Jeff: I think peoples reactions to various levels of graphics is very individual. It’s really a personal aesthetic preference. Everyone has a level of graphics they’re most comfortable with. I love the graphical detail of Avernum, even though it’s very simple and iconic. On the other hand, I’m completely unable to play Minecraft without a proper texture pack installed.

I think our audience is about as big as it should be.

I noticed your games are actually quite hard to find! Having played AvernumHD, enjoying the depth and scale of the RPG, I couldn’t help but notice it was of the same quality of titles such as Ultima and Beyond Divinity, etc,. Why are you hiding away?

Jeff: We’re small. We’re a tiny, niche, retro, indie development house, writing games for an elite audience of serious RPG fans. We do what we love, and our fan base is small but kind and fanatical. It’s pretty fun, truth be told.

I think our audience is about as big as it should be. We shouldn’t ever get AAA-title levels of exposure and popularity.

What, in your view, are the biggest challenges in making a very classic turn-based RPG in this day and age? Do you have to make any compromises, or are you appealing to a niche you’ve nurtured and respected?

Jeff: I think the hardest part is the same for any small indie title: getting exposure. It really takes a lot of time and effort to get any traction with a low-budget title, no matter what the genre.

As for compromises, we compromise all the time. We have limited time and limited budget, and so much of what we do is just improvisation and making do.

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There’s a story for almost every NPC I meet in AvernumHD – and even his surroundings, home, and past are accounted for. How do you guys come up with such exquisite and eloquent detail for characters that you may never meet again?

Jeff: That’s the fun part, actually. I spend months and months working on storyline, characters, etc. It really is the focus of what we do. Glad you like them!

Do you feel it would be possible to create a game like AvernumHD with the same depth, scale, and amount of dialogue, with the same graphical style or fidelity, including all voice acting, as a game like Skyrim? What do you think the cost would be? Is it something you’d ever like to do?

Jeff: I absolutely feel it’s possible. Heck, I loved Skyrim, and I would love to see what would happen with my sort of game design implemented with a real budget. Don’t think it’d ever happen, though. When a company spends that much bread to write a game, they’ll turn to either an in-house or big name designer. Oh, well. I’m really happy doing what I’m doing.

Do you – to any degree – lament the downfall of classical turn-based RPGs in favor of smaller, highly polished action RPG titles?

Jeff: I don’t mind the polish. I mind the action. I miss slower-paced, more cerebral games. I loved the recent X-Com reboot to death. I think it really shows you can have success writing that sort of game here and now.

Or are you happy serving a community who thrives on this classic niche genre?

Jeff: I’m very happy about it. It keeps me in business, and that is no small thing.

What have some of your favorite modern RPGs been?

Dragon Age: Origins. Skyrim. I’m playing a lot of World of Warcraft again. Dungeons of Dredmor was a hoot.

 

All of Spiderweb’s games are available on their website, and they can be found on GoG.com and Steam. Older titles are for Mac and PC only, whilst some of the newer ones are releasing for iOS and Android. The mobile versions are exactly the same as their relative PC releases.