The indie scene is generally pretty young, with the modern form of it largely beginning to take shape around 2008-2009 and evolving over the past decade. While in the 80s there was a vibrant small dev scene as well, in the later 90s, and the 2000s, most of the smaller developers were no longer able to keep going at it professionally. Very few companies can speak of being the same small business today that they were in 1998.
Spiderweb Software is one of those exceptions, a small RPG company run by Jeff Vogel that began releasing games in 1994 starting with Exile 1 and most recently Avernum 3: Ruined World (a remake of Avernum 3). Spiderweb’s games are often gameplay, world, and narratively ambitious, which has helped them find their niche while staying with a simple but functional art style generally. With this, he’s managed to release three different series (four if you count Avernum and Exile separately) and is looking at launching a new one, his first to take a top-down perspective since the early Exile games.
Personally, I first experienced Spiderweb games with the shareware version of Exile 3 (yes, that’s how old Spiderweb is, shareware is the way they distributed games), though my greatest fondness is for the Geneforge series. The first thing I asked him when talking about Queen’s Wish project was why he had brought the project to Kickstarter, with having such a long history and never having used crowdfunding before:
I’ve been writing indie games since 1994, and I got pretty old and set in my ways. I never needed to get extra funding to write our games, so I didn’t feel a need to use Kickstarter. I just wrote a game, sold it, and repeated the process.Fans quickly supported the project, with it nearing 100k with a bit over 2 days to go, which would hit one of the last two remaining stretch goals. Vogel was shocked by the amount of support they got, which relatively quickly hit the iPhone port and fourth nation for the game, and after looking at it a bit he did add two more goals: 100k for a professional sound designer (rather then doing it himself as he has for past titles), and at 150k an android port. I asked him about his stretch goal approach and he said:
With Queen’s Wish: The Conqueror, however, we are making a full engine from the ground up, something we haven’t done in a long time. This sort of thing is a lot more expensive. Plus, I started to want to try a Kickstarter, just to see what it’s like.
For Queen’s Wish, I have a picture in my mind of a very specific game. I want to make that game. Part of me is afraid of getting too much money, because it’ll pressure me to stray from the idea I have in my brain. For a game I think will be really unique and cool.But let’s get away from the business side of things. Another element that wasn’t clear that I quickly asked him was how would Queen’s Wish handle characters. With the Exile/Avernum series, Spiderweb used full party creation, while the Geneforge series was essentially a sole character, and the Avadon series used a companion system fitting its Bioware inspirations, and so I asked him which path Queen’s Wish would take:
But we do have uses for extra money. I can buy more and better art. Hire a sound designer. Have a little more breathing room to do more testing and polish. Extra funding will not be wasted.
It will be a fully creatable party. There won’t be NPCs with fixed personalities that join you. You won’t be distracted by the issues of your party members. You will be focusing on your own hard decisions about how to deal with/conquer/help Sacramentum.
Like many of Vogel’s games, Queen’s Wish features an empire. Instead of the empire being a force you’re against or in an uneasy alliance without any great ties to it at the start as can often be the case in the Avernum or Geneforge games, in this one you’re the child of the ruler sent to the furthest reaches to expand the borders of the empire. Given the propensity for empires of sorts to feature in his games, I asked Jeff why Empires fascinated him and his answer provides an intriguing look into how he approaches design:
I am a politics nerd, and I have been since I was young. I love current events. I’ve always been fascinated by history, especially military history.Tied into that is what makes Queen’s Wish unique, namely that it isn’t a game with a simple evil bad guy in it. Instead, it is a game where you can see the sides and the different views and decide which one you want to be on. One of the headline mechanics is that you’ll be building and decorating new forts. In our talk, Jeff told me that the various forts will be in different regions with appearances and layouts that you can affect. In them, you can buy things that influence the region and your colony with buildings like barracks, smithies, and breweries.
Fantasy games write about kings and dungeons and empires, but I think they only rarely do it in a thoughtful way. They give the player power, but the choices are simple. Power comes with responsibility, and both tend to warp the people who have them. I don’t want to make a game where you’re a “good guy” or an “evil guy”. I want to write a game where you decide what sort of person you want to be, and the game is trying to convince you to change your mind.
One aspect that also influenced design was the possibility of designing for mobile devices. With the stretch goal hit for iPhones, that is a certainty now. so I asked Jeff how knowing that he might be releasing the game on those devices impacted the design of Queen’s Wish:
It’s amazing how many things developing for a tiny screen affects. For example, the dialogue can’t be too wordy, because I don’t want the player to constantly be tapping through four full pages of words.With all the information here and on the Kickstarter page. I also inquired as to what comes after—will there be DLC for Queen’s Wish? What are the plans for sequels, and will any of them be going to Kickstarter? Well, the plan here is for a Queen’s Wish 2 and a Queen’s Wish 3, likely going to Kickstarter when that comes up. Jeff explained a bit why he hasn’t done DLC for his games in our talk:
Of course, I was planning to make this game less wordy than our previous games, anyway. I want to tell the story less with dumps of words and more with actions and events.
This is a point where I have to put on my Artist hat. I’m a storyteller. I tell stories. They’re in the form of games, with statistics and whatnot, but I approach every game I write live a novel, with a beginning, middle, and end.With that, I think it's a close. Queen’s Wish: The Conqueror is on Kickstarter right now and is nearing the 100k stretch goal mark (it’s well past its original funding goal of 30k). It will end in just under 60 hours and the game itself will be seeing a release in May 2019.
This is why I never do DLC. I just don’t tell stories that way. If there is a part of the story that is vital, it is in the main story. If it is so dispensable that I’d make it DLC, I don’t want to tell it. If it’s a story so compelling that I’d want to make DLC for it, I’d probably just expand it into a full game.