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The enduring web of indie veteran Spiderweb Software


Spiderweb Software is one of the oldest independent development studios in existence. Founded in 1994 by Jeff Vogel, Spiderweb has been developing RPG gems for close to 18 years, beginning with the Exile series, and more recently launching the first of its new Avadon trilogy, titled The Black Fortress.

Today the indie industry is regarded as a true form of gaming and art, producing superstars, millionares and rabid fanbases, all within a cool bubble of hipster trendiness. As Vogel tells Joystiq, it didn't start out that way.

"When I started, there was no indie culture," Vogel says. "We were writing what was called 'shareware' and everyone thought that we were losers. The whole thing about indie developers being respectable and able to make real money on Steam and iTunes is a very new development. And it still makes my head spin."

Vogel is lucky -- he found a loyal, niche market in the indie RPG genre -- but he's also displayed a lot of dedication to have survived on his own for almost two decades, longer than many in the latest wave of indie developers have been alive.

"I'm proud of survival," Vogel says. "I've been doing this for seventeen years, working for the same company and making the same genre of game in the same way. The list of people who have done that is very short."

"I've been doing this for seventeen years, working for the same company and making the same genre of game in the same way. The list of people who have done that is very short."

- Jeff Vogel, Spiderweb Software
Part of Spiderweb's success may stem from its reputation as an engaging storyteller, which Vogel notes says has been a major focus in his development process . There's more to it than a "good" story, though.

"I have always tried to fill my games with cool stories and intriguing game systems," Vogel says. "However, I think that the single aspect that pleases me the most is the level of detail. I hate bland areas. Whenever I make a cave or room or clearing in the woods, I try to come up with something interesting to put there."

Vogel is currently rebooting his first and most popular trilogy, Exile -- because it was either that or abondon it entirely -- and plans to release the "more shiny" versions on iPad. The first Exile title launched in 1996, and with 15 years of technological advancement at his fingertips (literally), Vogel has polished the entire game: New graphics, dungeons, sounds and a new town, and more dialogue and quests, all in updated grahics.

"I was completely determined to not half-ass this new version, and we've put almost enough time in it to develop a whole new game," Vogel says.

More than technology has changed since 1996, especially on the indie scene, but Spiderweb's approach to staying in business remains valid, for this and every industry.

"Everything you do has to be focused on making a game that ships," Vogel says. "Not that 'is perfect' -- that ships. Letting 'perfect' be the enemy of 'good' has brought down many a promising young indie project. Then your game needs to be good enough to get people to pay actual money for it (or for the things you sell inside it). That part is pretty tough too."

With this advice in mind, Spiderweb has at least four more years of development mapped out, writing two more games in the Avadon series and rewriting Exile 2 and 3.

"After that, I'll write another game," Vogel says. "Or I'll burn out, succumb to despair, and never leave my basement again.

"Either one is fine. I have an exceptionally comfy basement."

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