I have been following Jeff’s blog for a while now, and found the posts he wrote about the development of his latest game Avadon, The Black Fortress extremely interesting. As the release of the game approached, I decided to interview him about the game and game developing in general:
How did you get into making games and how come you never went down the corporate route?
J.V: I was in graduate school, studying applied mathematics, and I was slowly going insane. I decided to take a summer off and write an RPG on my new Mac, a game that turned out to be Exile: Escape From the Pit. I released it as shareware and, oddly, people bought it. I quit grad school almost instantly. I never went the corporate route because they never asked. I am available for the correct price.
How large is you team and in how many areas of the game development are you involved personally? It seems a huge amount of work - writing the game concept with all the details, doing the graphics the programming, the sounds, scripts and so on...in my mind it would take a huge team - So how big are you and how long have you been working on your latest game Avadon the Black Fortress?
J.V: Spiderweb has three full-time employees and a handful of freelancers. Art is done by others. I do design and coding. Avadon took about fifteen months of hard work. Fortunately, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve become very efficient.
I understand you got the idea for the plot from an opera you saw (blue beard) obviously the idea mutated from the original story to become you game or base for your game - could you elaborate on your process here? (do you write/brainstorm/teamwork/ just let it be until it happens alone)
J.V: It took years. Once I had the basic idea, I worried at it in my head for a long time, rounding it out, adapting it to work as I game, and putting in the neat ideas that slowly came to me.
The theme in Avadon is Power and how you can use (or misuse it), and as you stated - that could potentially lead to a game with a very dark mood. You prefer a humorous game - How do you accomplish that without compromising the theme and not making a farce out of it? Power after all, is quite a serious thing.
J.V: It is possible to mix serious issues and humor. Fantasy RPGs lend themselves very well to this. It’s a big world with tons of characters and writing. I can put in a lot of variety in mood.
Seeing as you really make up a story and plot or a story line with several changeable plots - what was it that made you grow up to be a game developer and not an author? (This is a thought I often have when I see the complexity of the story in games - your average author couldn’t really become a game developer but it could definitely work the other way round, don’t you think?)
J.V: I love games. Always have. Been completely addicted to them since I learned to play Dungeons & Dragons in fourth grade. Writing games was just kind of something I was born to do.
Since the game is class based rather than skill based - how did you ensure that the class’ power would be evenly distributed, and thus equally attractive for players to choose from? The skills of the classes Blademaster, Shadowwalker, Shaman, and Sorceress are so different from each other it would be hard to keep them balanced.
J.V: It is hard. It takes a lot of time. That is what testing is for. Lots and lots of testing and feedback. Fortunately, Avadon doesn’t have PvP, like World of Warcraft. The characters don’t fight each other, so they don’t have to have equal power. All I need is to make sure each character class is strong enough to survive the game. The power levels only need to be roughly equal, not exactly equal.
Now that the game is pretty much ready to hit the market - What are your favorite things about it?
J.V: I’m really proud of it. I’ve spent a lot of time playing it during testing, and I really enjoy it. I love the story. I love the big, detailed, dangerous feel of the world. I love how the interface and system worked out. I only hope that the customers feel the same way.
A lot of people would love to become beta testers. Who are yours? Any advice you can offer all the beta wannabees that might read this?
J.V: All of our beta testers are hard-working and skilled volunteers. We ask for volunteers whenever we’re building a new game. The best advice I can give to people who apply is to answer the questions accurately and with clear, readable English. The ability to communicate is hugely important.
Asides from your own games what are your favorite games to play right now? Why?
J.V: I play lots and lots of games. Right now, I’m really looking forward to Dragon Age 2. I put a ton of time into Super Meat Boy. And I really, really need to try Minecraft.
Anything thing else you would like to mention?
J.V: Only a quick thanks to everyone out there who has registered one of our games and supported Indie game development. Without customers, these games will stop appearing. So, thank you!