Avernum: Escape from the Pit is a remake of a game made in 1999 named simply Avernum. It’s a long-standing series with more than six incarnations. In fact, Spiderweb Software is a hugely prolific developer focusing on the niche market of tactical turn-based role-playing games — their other extensive series is known as Geneforge.
According to Vogel, the remake of Avernum, which is already available for Mac and iPad, will be coming to PC “early next week.” You’ll be able to pick up a copy here. For a game that offers hours upon hours of deeply complex, re-playable dungeon romping, the price tag is $20. Not bad if I do say so myself.
I learned some great things from this interview, such as the fact that Jeff does most of his development on a Mac, and that the game was rebuilt from the bottom up. Check it out below!
Exile was the first chapter in what would become the six-part Avernum Saga. It is the tale of Avernum, an enormous prison far under the surface of the world. It tells the epic story of the Avernites and their struggle to survive, escape and win their freedom.
TBF: Your remake of Avernum is rebuilding a lot of major aspects of the original game, such as the skill/trait advancement system. Why is that?
Jeff: I redid everything. Every element of the game, every line of text, everything was redone. I put as much work in Avernum: Escape From the Pit as in a new game. I used everything I learned in the years since I wrote it to make it entirely modern, accessible and fun.
TBF: What makes games like Avernum (which is heavily text-based, played from an isometric view, and requires some serious micromanagement) relevant amongst games like The Elder Scrolls V, Kingdoms of Amalur, and the Mass Effect series? What do you offer that they don’t?
Jeff: You seem to assume that there is no longer a demand for an in-depth, tactical role-playing game with a rich world and storyline. Luckily for me, this is not the case. As the big AAA publishers have decided to only make RPGs that are action games with stat-building stuck on, I have continued to cater to the old-school role-playing game fan. Those people totally still exist, even if the big publishers have forgotten about them.
I mean, isn’t that what everyone says they love about indie developers, that they make the sorts of games that people want but publishers neglect? And, happily, I’m not alone. There are a lot of developers out there now making great indie turn-based RPGs. It’s awesome!
TBF: Why did it take longer to develop the Mac version over the PC version? Does the Avernum user-base have a higher ratio of people who play on Macs than with other games?
Jeff: I write my games for the Mac first because I am personally more comfortable working on that platform. Then I port that version to Windows and iPad. It’s just a personal thing. When you write whole games almost entirely by yourself, you need to do it in a way that makes you as comfortable as possible. Please don’t email me telling me how dumb I am for using Macs.
TBF: What is the most enjoyable part of the design process, the part which you simply can’t wait to get to when you start making a game? What’s the least enjoyable part of the process?
Jeff: I’m afraid that writing games is very much a job for me now. I’ve been doing it for 18 years, after all. I find it very personally gratifying (and I’m certainly spoiled for any other sort of work), but I never actually enjoy it.
TBF: Are there advantages/disadvantages to working in an indie game studio? Can you describe some of them for us?
Jeff: Small studios are very quick and nimble, and I can make whatever I think is best without worrying about management overruling me. But I am a small fish servicing a niche market. It can be difficult to get attention or be taken seriously.
TBF: Have you ever thought about turning to Kickstarter to fund a game? Why or why not?
Jeff: I decided a long time ago that I enjoy being small and low-budget, so I didn’t seek outside funding. It makes me happier. Remember, Kickstarter is only one of many sorts of funding available to me (including old standbys like bank loans). I’ve avoided all of them. It’s probably not wise, but it’s how I work.
TBF: What do you think is the most appealing part of Avernum for players who aren’t accustomed to the series or the gameplay? What “hooks” new users?
Jeff: The detail of the world. I don’t like bland rooms full of repetitive encounters. I am always trying to throw at you interesting fights or weird characters or hidden treasures or something new and different to keep you from being bored. If there is anything about my design style that hasn’t changed since the early days, it’s that.
TBF: Thank you for your time. Ever since I picked up the preview copy of Avernum I’ve found myself coming back to it again and again — great job on a fabulous game!
Jeff: Thank you very much!
Avernum: Escape from the Pit is available for Mac and iPad. The PC release is coming early next week.