Jeff Vogel has been creating old-school RPGs for a lot longer than many of us spent at school: his first title: Exile, Escape from the Pit came out back in 1995. His latest release, Avadon : The Black Fortress has just been released for the PC, following its Mac release a couple of months ago. Like his previous games – Geneforge and Avernum – it’s a lo-fi production. The graphics are pretty basic and there’s an awful lot of text to walk through. But it’s deep when it comes to mechanics and story-telling.
It’s quite a specialist niche. Ultimately, it’s people who value storytelling and combat mechanics over graphical buzz and special effects. These games aren’t, to be honest, my cup of tea. But they are for many people. Time and again I’ve read impassioned reviews of Spiderweb’s games from fans, so I’ve ended up downloading and playing the demos of a number of his titles. There’s a very special core devoted to Spiderweb Software, Jeff’s company, and everything it produces.
Avadon is a little different, though. The difficulty is set quite a bit lower than some of Jeff’s earlier titles – through research with users, he’d discovered that people want to win. This lower difficulty is very much visible in the demo of the game, where most of your time is spent fighting rats. There’s also been a simplification in character development, whereby characters now have class-specific skill-trees rather than 100s of different options.
So the PC release of the game came out last week, along with a demo. And many of Jeff’s fans are up in arms. They HATE being set a less difficult challenge, and anything that might sniff of consolification. RPGCodex seems to have formed a nexus for these people. Here’s some of the first comments from the announcement thread about Avadon.
It seems like he put in a lot of effort to attract the casual crowd. The “casual” difficulty mode for people who are “new to fantasy RPGs”? As if these people would be interested in a Spiderweb game. Sure, he updated the graphics and it’s the nicest looking Jeff’s game to-date, but still…
It seems like he threw away everything he’s learned and built over the years and started from scratch: a linear, easy-breezy Bioware adventure with a Diablo-like character system. Yay
Avadon stands in a sort of middle ground: It’s too streamlined for somebody used to RPGs and looks too “dated” for the casual gamer.
It’s such a dumb move from Vogel, does he plan to attract the new generation to a 2D turn based game? Why didn’t he make a browser game or something?
Too bad, it’s pretty much what I was expecting based on all the previews and talk of linearity and dumbing down.
Sorry, Vogel. I’d like to support you, but I’m not paying for this game in the hopes that you’ll go back to making some more Geneforge-like games. That’s the kind of thinking that leads to Fallout: BoS.
Oh fuck, this is disappointing. I thought it could still be a enjoyable little action-RPG, but nope, Jeff Vogel went full retard.
Got bored with the demo as soon as I was sent to the beginner dungeon to fight rats and spiders. What a lousy piece of shit game.
And so on… It gets more horrible as you get deeper into it.
What I do want to remark on – in an abstract way – is the very special nature of internet fans and the pile-on phenomenon.
Internet fans – the sort who comment on forums – are not fickle, as many say. They are absolutely unwavering. But they are not unwavering in support of any company or product-line. They are loyal to their own values and the extent to which those are connected with your brand. Woe betide the CEO, product manager or games developer who mistakes the two things. Your greatest fans are also your greatest griefers. If you betray their idea of what you are then you’ve betrayed their trust. Maybe it was delusional to begin with, but that’s how brands work: they are about an idea or an ideal of how things are, or might be, not so much about the products themselves. Your fans ally to that brand idea, by and large, not individual products.
The second point was about the internet pile-on. A few people are miffed, then suddenly there’s a thousand people out for blood. I’ve come across this at work (I blog for a major consumer brand) and I guess the main thing that I’ve learned – through hard knocks – is not to panic or over-react. Ninety-five per cent of the haters are “piling-on”: they’re people who want to be part of a popular cause and will join in just for the sake of being part of that anger. Hold your breath for two days and they’ll have disappeared onto the next righteous crusade. The remaining five per cent, though, they’re well worth engaging and debating with. But you don’t know who they are until the rest have dispersed.