Thursday, December 15, 2011

Avernum: Escape From the Pit Is Out

We have released our newest game, Avernum: Escape From the Pit, for the Macintosh. As I have written before, it is a ground-up rewrite of one of our earlier games that desperately needed it. We've tried to put a lot of cool new graphics, design, and polish into it. A big demo is available, and the Windows and iPad versions should be out in April.

This is a rewrite of the first game I ever wrote for money, Exile: Escape From the Pit, which first came out in January of 1995. It has been fascinating to go back to my first full-length design. I'd forgotten how weird and silly my work could get.

A few examples:

Huge, Sprawling World.

Skyrim has provided a fresh reminder of how much people love a huge, sprawling world full of details, cul-de-sacs, and side quests to get lost in. When I started out, I made games like that. Avernum is really, really big. It's possible to wander out into the wilds, get lost, and be eternally distracted by all the stuff you can do and dungeons you can explore. I was heavily inspired by the early Might and Magic games, some of the first games that really tried to overwhelm you with a huge world.

I love games like this. However, writing them is difficult for the obvious reason: A huge world takes a lot of work and a lot of energy. I'm old now, and I don't have the limitless drive I used to. I tend now to write smaller, more focused games. Less terrain to explore, but with a more intricate story.

Three Game-Winning Quests.

I am constantly accused of never innovating, and this vexes me. I have worked hard to try new things in my RPGs and stretch the genre, and I've been doing this from day one.

Example: Avernum doesn't have one storyline. It has three. The game has three long, arcing, game-winning quests, each of them almost entirely separate from each other. It is possible to achieve one of them, say escaping the underworld, be told you have won, pat yourself on the back, and never realize that the game still has two epic storylines remaining.

They aren't three different endings. They are three different games.

I did two games this way, and I've never seen another RPG that does the same thing. I eventually let it go to focus on more detailed single stories, but I still think it was a really cool idea.

Odd Humor.

In my spare time, I have had some success as a writer of humor. My games have always had funny elements, some more than others. Avernum contains some bits that are so weird and off the wall that I could never see myself doing now. I don't want to give precise examples, but if you play the game for more than a little you'll start to see what I mean.

Years Pass. Nothing You Can Do About it.

Since 1995, my work has gotten a lot tighter, more controlled, and generally less eccentric. This has been both good and bad. It's also unavoidable. I'm older and more experienced now, and that sort of fresh, unfocused enthusiasm is just not available to me anymore. I still write good games (or, at least, games that sell), but my changing tastes and increasing age have made me unable to do some things and more able to do certain new things.

For example, if you tried Avadon: The Black Fortress and didn't like it, I'm sorry. That is the sort of game I write now. This will change. Five years from now, I'll do something entirely different. (I really, really want to return to open-ended non-linear games at least once before I retire.) But for now, that's it. If you hate my new games, then there is nothing I can do about that.

But, if you don't like the new stuff, I suggest trying Avernum. It's old-school, and it's really neat. I hope you like it.

(And I'll post a link to this article in April when the versions for the other platforms come out.)


  1. Hi Jeff! I'm really enjoying the revamped Avernum, but this new version appears to break command-Tabbing out of the game to get back to the finder. Instead some sort of compass view comes up. Is there any way I can restore this?

  2. @bishnu: OpenGL prevents app switching when played in full screen mode. I can't do anything about this, I'm afraid. Play in a window to switch apps.

    - Jeff Vogel

  3. I can't wait for the PC version to come out so I can review it for my friend's blog. Can't wait!

  4. I got the revamp and I don't understand why when I'm outside of towns I'm smaller than I was in Avernum 6, at least that is how it seems to me. Also when I run into a random encounter, you have to remember to loot before hitting the peace button if you want the random daggers and such...

    This game is also harder than Avadon, many times my party has been wiped out, and I have to go finish some easier quests before returning to fight a boss.

  5. @Jeff, does your game use "true fullscreen"? I strongly recommend having "windows fullscreen" like lots of newer games have. Starcraft II and League of Legends both have this: a borderless window that covers the entire screen. This makes it friendly to dual monitors and app-switcher friendly.

  6. I can't wait for this to come out on Windows. Exile I was my favorite game ever for my Mac, despite the flat graphics. The Exile series kept me entertained for untold hours when I should have been studying. Not getting this game first is one of the few reasons I am sad about switching to Windows.

  7. No love for Android tablets? :D

  8. Avernum 4-6 really didn't grab me as much as the older games. I always thought it was the graphics. The atmosphere was different or something.

    Now, I know exactly what it was. The missing outdoor mode. The difference is night and day; my vision isn't artificially constrained to a 30 feet or so radius anymore. I should be able to see for miles and now I can. Everything's more unique, recognisable and memorable now. I was completely lost in Avernum 4-6 without looking at the map, and the landscape was utterly forgettable. Thank god the outdoor mode has returned.

    I agree that every Spiderweb game is crying for a fullscreen mode that allows the use of Mission Control and the app-switcher. Surely Lion's fullscreen mode could accommodate this, using the windowed fullscreen idea above. Can't even control my music as things stand.

  9. Is there any hope for another Geneforge game?

  10. "I am constantly accused of never innovating, and this vexes me."

    Maybe they say this because while Geneforge, Avernum, and Avadon take place in different worlds with different stories, the main conflict is pretty much the same.

    You have to choose between an ordered and stifling authoritarian rule (Shapers, Empire, Redbeard) and those who want to have freedom for themselves and self-governance (Rebels, Avernites, Tawon Empire and other rebels).

    While you definitely do innovate in terms of story and skills and spells, you haven't deviated much from this conflict in your games.

  11. I wrote a preview for ya (because I have a Windows PC!)

  12. Jeff said-"Five years from now, I'll do something entirely different. (I really, really want to return to open-ended non-linear games at least once before I retire.)"

    Have you ever thought of doing a technology/fantasy based game like arcanum? That might be the one catch to satisfy your oldschool side. It might be a minor risk, but geneforge was as it was sci-fi. Look how great it turned out. Just a thought as i find you would do that well.

  13. An Arcanum ispired game? It would be magnificent.
    Even if I still hope for a Geneforge prequel...
    Can i ask a little not-so-innocent question?
    Jeff, do you still ENJOY making games?
    Many of your posts seems... a bit negative on the fun factor of being a indie developer.

  14. I disagree that Jeff's games are defined by an authoritarian vs. libertarian conflict. It is the central struggle of the Geneforge series, but not Avadon or Avernum.

    Avadon especially does not follow this paradigm. Some of the Pact's foes are essentially barbarians, but other antagonists (Tawon Empire) may be just as authoritarian as Avadon, if not more so. To me, Avadon is essentially a fantasy take on "Homeland Security". Sometimes you're up against guys in caves that hate you, and sometimes you're in a cold war with rival nations.

    With a few exceptions, Jeff's games do tend to involve large political conflicts. This is likely because the actions of the PCs need to affect the world around them, and deciding the outcome of a major political conflict is one of the better ways to do this. The conflict-of-nations approach certainly beats your average "save-the-world" fantasy RPG quest, in my opinion.

  15. A geneforge prequel would be really quite cool, if done the right way. The final scene: blasted to death by the first fyora.

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  17. Just started Avadon on the iPad. Loved it so far,its a pity few good RPGs get an iOS port (imagine Diablo or Icewind Dale), so thanks for the great game, and I'll be waiting for Avernum to come out for iOS.

    PS: will there be more Avadon games, or is it a stand-alone game?

    1. My pediatrician uses an iPad running WIndows, and since sells icewind dale for windows, looking into Parallels might be a way for you to do this. I've had /really/ good experiences running the infinity engine games on both XP and 7 inside of Parallels. It might be a bit tricky on an iPad, because you really have to run (at least) the widescreen mod to get a good experience.

  18. Hi Jeff, I'm excited to play Avernum. I've been a fan of Avernum since it was called Exile, but I've never played the first in the series.

    Small feature request: It would be nice if game saves were portable across platforms. I could be wrong, but I think this doesn't work right now?

    Especially with the ipad, it would be really convenient to be able to play on my windows machine at home with keyboard shortcuts, but and then pick up my game on the ipad while I am on the bus.

    That added benefit for you would be making two sales of the same game :)

    You could get syncing between platforms without having to set up your own server by integrating with dropbox, which has public apis:

    There are other file syncing services of course, but a lot of people already use dropbox, so that might be a good choice.

    Syncing through itunes would also be acceptable... and maybe easier from a development perspective?

    1. Second this! I would buy Avernum for my work computer today, and play it on my iPad via remote desktop, if I knew that the saved game was portable when it comes out for iPad.

  19. i love all your games jeff but its the geneforge games that realy stole my heart. i would love to see a prequel or sequel based several centuries later just to add obscurity to history ie one of the posible endings to overthrow. avadon and the exile remake are at the top of my list and i only await my allowance to get them

  20. I bought Exile years ago. Read a review in PC Gamer? Electronic Strategy Games? idk, some game magazine back in high school, anyways. Played up to the dragon, and immediately gave my parents cash to use their CC and buy it. Just wanted to let you know that I love your games. And big worlds are fun to explore, yes, but its the good storytelling games that keep me coming back for more time after time.

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