RPGamer Feature - Avernum: Escape From the Pit - Interview
Avernum: Escape From the Pit
Developer: Spiderweb Software
Publisher: Spiderweb Software
Release Date:
Q4.2011 (Mac) / Q1.2012 (PC/iPad)

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The Avernum series has quite the history and reputation among indie RPGamers. The original three Avernum games were remakes of the Exile series and has since then spawned into it's own beast. Love it or hate it, remakes are always valued by thousands of gamers, and while Avernum has a huge following, Avernum: Into the Pit in particular was one such game in need of an overhaul according to the series creator. RPGamer had the chance to speak with Spiderweb President, Jeff Vogel, about this upcoming Avernum reboot.

Greetings Spiderweb Software! You’ve recently released Avadon: The Black Fortress and are gearing up for the reboot of your popular Avernum series. Can you share with our readers a bit of your background as a developer and how you got started?
Jeff Vogel, President: I've been running Spiderweb Software since 1994. We've been writing Indie RPGs for Windows, Mac, and now the iPad for quite a long time. We're a small, three-person company, based in Seattle.

I've been obsessed with role-playing games since I was in the fourth grade. I wrote my first game for sale when I was studying math in grad school and totally hating it. I decided to take off a few months to write a game and sell it. Imagine my surprise when people actually wanted to buy it.

For those of us unfamiliar, what is the origin of the Avernum series? Can you tell us a bit about the plot before "Into the Pit"?
JV: The Avernum series was a ground-up rewrite of our first trilogy, the Exile series. Exile: Escape From the Pit was Spiderweb's first game.

Avernum is a prison, far under the surface of the world. The surface world is ruled by the Empire, a monolithic power that controls everything. Misfits, petty criminals, and political prisoners are thrown into the vast, underground nation of Avernum, never to see the surface again.

The Avernum games tell the tale of heroes in the underworld, who fight to survive, escape the underworld, and get vengeance on the Empire that cast them there.

We understand that the graphics in particular are getting a major overhaul, but what else is being revamped in this remake? Will there be any changes to the game’s combat system?
JV: Everything is being revamped. Graphics. Sounds. A whole new game system. New skills and ways of training. A new spell and ability system that will lead to really varied and interesting fights. Though the story is the same, Avernum: Escape From the Pit will be a new game that plays differently (and, I humbly suggest, better) than any of its predecessors.

What kinds of new features will be included in this version as compared to the past Avernum games?
JV: A lot of things. Dozens of new traits you can give your characters as they advance, to customize them. A really detailed quest and automap system to help you track your quests. New towns, dungeons, quests, and artifacts. Many interface improvements. I've learned a lot in the over a decade since I worked on these games, and I'm shoving it all in there.

What inspired another reboot of the Avernum series? These games have been remade before, right?
JV: Avernum: Escape From the Pit is indeed a ground-up rewrite of Avernum, which was itself a ground-up rewrite of Exile: Escape From the Pit. I know this seems odd, but there are several things that justify the rewrite.

First, Avernum came out over a decade ago. It doesn't run well on Windows 7, and it doesn't run at all on the Mac. So some sort of update is absolutely necessary. And Avernum is really old and rough, and there is a huge amount of room for improvement. Second, I also want to release it for the iPad, and that also requires a ton of rewriting.

Plus, I love this game, and it has a big following. I don't ever want it to die or disappear. I really think freshening it up is worth the time.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from fans about remaking the game once again?
JV: A few people have complained, but most of the feedback has been hugely positive. The Avernum games are our most popular creation, and people understand my wanting them to look their best.

Also, there are a lot of iPad owners who are pretty pleased.

By the way, I think one of the saddest things about video games as an art form is the way our old classics are allowed to degrade and disappear. It's a pity. Not only do I feel entirely justified to refresh my old titles, but I think that other developers should do the same a lot more often. And I'm sure you'll find plenty of Final Fantasy VII fans who agree with me.

Is the plan to remake the whole six part Avernum series, or is this just an update to the first three games?
JV: Just the first three. They are the ones that need it the most (and the ones that don't work on the newest version of the Macintosh OS). The second Avernum trilogy is pretty solid.

Some people miss the sprites from the original Exile games, has there ever been a thought to include a classic graphical option?
JV: I hate to say it, but I don't have those graphics anymore. At some point moving from machine to machine, I lost track of them.

Avadon made it onto both the iPad and Steam, firsts for Spiderweb. Can we expect this with future titles?
JV: iPad, definitely. Steam, it will be up to them, but I really hope they take my games in the future. It's an awesome, awesome service.

What would you say is the most important aspect in developing an RPG?
JV: In general, a progression system that is smooth and satisfying, giving rewards at a proper pace, not too fast, not too slow. Story helps. Interesting tactical situations are great. But it is the feeling of progression, of earning power, that powers the addictiveness of an RPG.

But to me, for my games, a compelling setting and storyline are just as important. Our stories are the things we count on to set us apart.

When can RPGamers expect to get their hands on Avernum: Into the Pit? Can we be expecting it soon?
JV: I've been working on it for a long time. I really hope it's done soon.

The plan is still December for Mac and March for Windows and iPad. No promises, but that's what we're shooting for.

RPGamer would like to thank Jeff Vogel for taking the time to give us the scoop on Avernum: Escape From the Pit. Check back in December when the Mac version releases. For those curious about taking the plunge with one of Spiderweb Software's games, check out its recent offering Avadon, which RPGamer editor Michael Apps gave a glowing review for.

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