GameZone Transcripts


Welcome to WWB's GameZone!


Our guest today is Jeff Vogel, President of

Spiderweb Software, Inc.


Spiderweb Software is a small company dedicated to

creating the best possible entertainment

shareware for the Macintosh and PC Windows 3.1/95

platforms. Their hot games include Exile:

Escape From the Pit, Exile II: Crystal Souls, Exile

III: Ruined World, and a not-to-be-missed

new game Blades of Exile.


Spiderweb Software, Inc. is also home to a loyal

companion and mascot (you guessed it), Spider.


Jeff Vogel is a full-time shareware developer,

currently (and quite happily) living in Seattle, WA.

He holds a Masters in Applied Mathematics, minimal

computer programming training, and has a

whole lot of experience coding in C.


GCS Cys: We welcome Jeff Vogel!


GCS Cys: To start with... could you tell us a little

bit about how you got your start as a game


Spidweb 2: Hmm. I started with an Apple II+, which I

got when I was 14 or so. I was

obsessive ... no ... OBSESSIVE about computer games.

I didn't just play them, I studied them,

and wrote them every chance I got all through my

adolescence. And to think I could have spent

the time dating girls. Hah! At any rate, I then went

to grad school, which was awful. At the same

time, I got a new Mac. (PowerMac 6100) To stay sane,

I spent my spare time writing Exile. I

released it, and people gave me lots of money for

it. Grad school hurt. A lot. And I saw a chance

to finally make a living games, so I leapt for it.

Wrote Exile II and III, and have been doing great.


GCS Cys: It appears to me that you are

cross-platform with a Mac heart. What was behind

your choice to port to Windows?

Spidweb 2: ? What makes you such a wonderful,

godlike person? Why did I port to Windows?

Well, I wanted to make big, heaping, beautiful,

lovely gobs and gobs of money. I write my

games for the Mac first. I love the Mac, and it's

like 80 times easier to use. When that's done, I

port the games (which is a very fast process for

me), to guarantee a good, solid income flow.

Windows isn't very good. But it's not the end of the

world either. I like Macs a lot better, but

Windows is basically usable.


GCS Cys: Jeff, I'm amazed to find out that you are a

successful shareware developer. Not

many can claim full time status. Kudos to you! How

is it that the shareware model works so well

for you?

Spidweb 2: Shareware rules. (By the way, for

prospective developers, I have a lot of

shareware writing advice on my web site Lots of good shareware

advice.) Shareware is great for people writing in

niche markets, such as my older style rpgs.

There's a lot of demand for my sort of games, but

not enough to justify going through the meat

grinder of store distribution. That's why shareware

is key. It's great. I recommend it to all my



MakeMineMac: You say porting is quick? How long does

it take you?

Spidweb 2: Oh, around a month for the port, and a

month more for testing. That compared to

8-10 months to write a whole game (for me). I

specifically write my games using special

cross-platform libraries I designed for my own use,

and my games aren't too technically

complicated. Put those together, and ports go by

pretty fast. With pain. But fast. Mmmmm.

Coffee. Mmmmmm.


DaveR: What takes more time? programming the AI or

developing the story that makes the

world flow

Spidweb 2: Story! I write my AI in, oh, say, 5-10

minutes. Usually while drunk. In other

words, I put twice as much effort in my AI as

everyone else. The interface and system then takes

around 2-3 months. The world is the serious job. All

that dialogue. All that town design. That's a

solid 6 months. And I've never concealed the fact

that my creature AI is awful. My only defense,

and it is a weak defense, is that everyone else's is

just as bad. Unfortunately.


The Raven: Jeff, I've played Exile's I & II until I

could no longer see straight, I've played, but

not yet had time to Truly play & register III. How

will 4 play upon the Exile story thus far?

Spidweb 2: Exile IV will not happen. Ever. The

horror! The horror! Blades of Exile is it for the

whole Exile thang'. I put it this way ... I don't

think I could get out of bed in the morning

knowing that I would have to design the Tower of

Magi for a FOURTH time. On the bright side,

I've already put up on our web site

( information about our next game ...

Drum roll ... Nethergate. If you liked Exile, you'll

love Nethergate. So just pretend it is Exile IV.

Just with a different interface. And graphics. And

set in 61 AD Britain. Above ground. With



GCS Cys: Generally, when you pause in the gaming

world, everything stops and is on hold.

In Exile III, kewl things continue while you get

your 2nd bag of Doritoes. What inspired you to

go the extra mile? Not many companies have done


Spidweb 2: Just thought I'd

throw that in again. Exile III isn't

actually real-time. Time passes when you take moves.

I did it because it was pretty darn cool. It's

pretty neat to watch the towns crumble into dust and

have the people die. The key thing when

designing games, and ESPECIALLY shareware games, Is

to have some COOL sort of hook to

draw people in. That is why I did the crumbling

towns thing. It was fun to play, fun to code, and

looked great in the press release.


JoelMathis: I was wondering how much research you

are doing into the background of

Neathergate. I mean are you going for nearly

historical society roles or are you making

allowances for the modern mind set?

Spidweb 2: I'm trying to make it pretty darn

historical. I have a huge pile of books by my desk.

There will be some modern sorts of things, like, for

example, female warrior type characters. But

for the most part, I'll try to make it reasonably

historically accurate. However, much of the game

will be interaction with faeries. And mythological

creatures. That won't be terribly real world.


JoelMathis: On the same subject, given the date and

local, any chance of Joseph of Aramathea

and his toys showing up :)?

Spidweb 2: Nope. Not at this point.


Peter: What kind of influence does the spider have

over you and your games : )

Spidweb 2: He makes me go out and buy him crickets,

thus slowing down the development of

further games. Oops. SHE makes me go out. Sorry



Munin: Are you planning to take future beta-testing

pools from places OTHER than AOL, or

are you planning to stick with AOLites for testing?

Spidweb 2: Mmmmmm The next game will be beta tested

generally on the Internet. One of

these days, my lovely employee, Mariann Krizsan,

will bother to put up the beta tester application

form on our web site. When this happens, the fun can

truly begin.


GCS Cys: Have multi-player games on the net changed

the way you create your games?

Spidweb 2: GOod question. No. The multiplayer fad is

pretty big. It seems like every game

now has a multiplayer component. That's cool. It's

neat. I like it. But it's not something I plan to

do. First, I'm not a good enough programmer, and

second, it's not my focus. People generally

play my games because they like the cool stories and

design, and because they like the

retro-simple, gaming experience. I dunno. It would

be neat, and I have great ideas for an online

rpg. However, I'm a coward at heart. I'm going to

stick with what's making me money. By the

way, there's a character in Exile II called Mariann.

After Mariann, of course. I put this in as a

truly elegant and carefully crafted way of flirting

with her. And now we're engaged. (Romantic

music swells in background.)


GCS Cys: OK, well then -- has Harlan Ellison changed

the way you create games?

Spidweb 2: Harlan Ellison is God. Let me repeat, to

clear all ambiguity. Harlan Ellison, while

personally sometimes a wee bit of a jerk, is God. I

love the emotionally impacting way he writes

and often let it influence the way I design my

stories. Though I'm influenced by many other

writers as well. Anyone who's read a lot of

Silverberg will see a lot of his ideas have influenced

my stories. And, of course, there are many others.

I'm influenced a huge amount by SF authors,

and an equally huge amount by the New York Times.

Nobody who writes a lot of genre stuff

should be without either resource.


JoelMathis: I was wondering about what kind of

improvements we are going to see in the

engine for Neathergate and beyond. Anything big or

are you planning on staying with the simple

but effective design?

Spidweb 2: Both. Nethergate will have an ever

smoother and nicer interface than Exile III and

as rich a game system. It will also have much more

modern graphics, incl. a 45 degree above 3D

sort of view, but I plan to do it in a way that adds

to, not detracts from, the game. I plan to retain

everything bitchin' about the older games, but try

to add some of that professional polish that my

previous games have lacked. But still no music.



Munin: I've noticed that having an IRC presence can

sometimes boost awareness of a

shareware company. Any plans on initiating one in

the near future?

Spidweb 2: Nope. Between the online service

presence, the web presence, the E_mail

presence, the online chat presence, and so on, I

don't have time for too much else. The problem

is, writing a game is seriously, seriously time

consuming. I just do all the PR I can manage to

maintain sales. Oh. Plus, I'm lazy.


Munin: I can understand that. Still, it's always fun

to yak with an author about his/her latest

game. :)

Spidweb 2: I can understand that. ALas, I can only

manage so much of that.


GCS Jade: Can you tell us more about writing

shareware? Give us more tips?

Spidweb 2: Shareware tips? Go to my web site. Piles

and piles. But this is key: You MUST

write something good enough that people will give

you money for it. And you MUST push and

advertise it. A lot. Fail at either of these, and

doom awaits you. DOOM, I tell you,

DOOOOOMMMMM!!!!! Sorry. Where was I? Oh, yes.


product. These are your watchwords.



JoelMathis: Why release a scenario editor? Fan

pressure, trying to make more money? Why do

something that so few other people bother with (not

that I'm complaining)?

Spidweb 2: Hmm. Why a scenario editor? I think a lot

of it is just that I needed a slightly less

time consuming product to develop. Simultaneously, I

thought of a really neat idea to do a

scenario editor, normally a very hard thing to do.

The two just hit together, and I decided to go

for it. The problem is that designing an rpg

scenario editor just plain sucks. It's a hard thing to

do, and a hard thing to test. Still, I saw a

potential market, thought it would be cool, and leapt for

it. Much of what I do and why I do is is as much

whim as anything else.


GCS Cys: I know that at one time you mentioned

having a whole science fiction role-playing

game all plotted out in your head. What are the

plans regarding bringing that to life?

Spidweb 2: Wow ... I haven't thought of that in a

long time. You see, in between games, I

fully plan out and design 3 or 4 games in my head.

Like wargames. Civilization type games.

Science fiction rpgs. All sorts of great stuff. I

get hugely excited about each one. I decide I'm sure

I'm going to do it. Then I come back to my senses

and write another fantasy role-playing games.

I have a GREAT idea for a science fiction rpg. Heck,

with the popularity of Fallout, I may well

go ahead and write it. You've met this horrible,

rapacious race, closed-minded, greedy,

determined to destroy everything you hold dear.

You've been captured by them, and must stop

them at any costs, before they take over your entire

system. They're called "Humans." You play

weird, four legged alien things which do everything

by genetic engineering. You don't generate

your other characters. You make them. You mold them

out of goo you find around. If you gain

enough experience, you can eventually make them

smart enough to not try to eat you. It was cool

enough that, at one point, I was sure I was going to

write this game. Then I chickened out.

Again. But now that I think about it, it should

probably be my next game, after Nethergate.


MakeMineMac: why?

Spidweb 2: Why? Because it is not the part of a

small shareware developer to create new

markets. I look for markets that are already

established but underpopulated, and go there. There

was a market for fantasy rpgs, but few good ones, so

I wrote Exile. Now, with Fallout, there is

this new market for sf rpgs. I'm there. I am so



GCS Cys: I'm not a very impulsive buyer. I like to

take everything for a *test drive*. Are there

demos available for download?

Spidweb 2: Heck yeah! There are full, nice, big,

yummy demos at That's

the key of the whole shareware thing, after all.


GCS Cys: What's next on the horizon for SpiderWeb?

Feel free to tell me about any secret, not

about to be made public, things in the works. I

promise not to tell <G>.

Spidweb 2: Nethergate. Then something else. I have

no idea. Maybe the previously mentioned

sf rpg. Maybe a sequel to Nethergate. Maybe Blowin'

Stuff Up. Or "Hunt The Amish." or ... uh

... Or "Pick Someone To Hate." Or "Mutual

Relationships." The game of relationship building.


Munin: I have to ask... who did the voice sampling

for the "Hello" and "Hi" of the GIFTS

(Giant Intelligent Friendly Talking Spiders) in

Exiles 1-3?

Spidweb 2: You're in this conversation with your

significant other at 4 AM, and the winner is

the first person to say something which makes the

other person cry. The voice of the spiders? Me

and my ex-wife, Shirley Monroe. The monster getting

hit sounds in Exiles I-II was her too. The

"Mmmmmm" sound in Exile III (when you get food) is

me. Mmmmmmm. No helium. It's a

natural skill.


GCS Cys: It seems that we are almost out of time. Do

you have any final comments or insights

for our audience before we wrap up?

Spidweb 2: Surrender. There is no hope. And, until

it all ends, buy more shareware. That

URL, again, it Thank you,

and good night.


GCS Cys: Thank you Jeff Vogel! This has been both

insightful and informative. I'm so glad

you could join us today at WWB's GameZone!


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