|Seasons come and go. Pages fall from the calendar. And Spiderweb Software releases another game.|
In 1997, I wrote a hit game.
It was called Exile 3: Ruined World. It and its remasters are the most popular games I've ever written.
Bear in mind this game was a hit by 1997 shareware standards, not 2018 indie standards. It made enough to buy a modest 1997-priced house. It didn't make enough to buy a mega-mansion. But I'm certainly not complaining.
In 2002, I remastered the game into Avernum 3. It sold a lot of copies. Then, this week, twenty years after its first release, we shipped Avernum 3: Ruined World, the second remaster of this title. If my email is to be believed, a lot of people want it.
This is a brief story of writing a game that did really well and figuring out how to deal with it.
|Exile 3: Ruined World. 1997 shareware at its semi-finest.|
When I started Exile 3, I'd already put out Exile and Exile 2, and they'd sold well enough for me to go full-time. It was a modest living, but entirely adequate for a 26 year old in Seattle. (You didn't have to be an Amazon employee with a mega-salary to live in Seattle then.)
At that point, I'd been writing shareware for two years, was starting to feel a tiny bit confident and comfortable. I decided that I was really going to stretch my wings. I wanted my third game to be GOOD.
So I did what I usually do when I want to design something good.
I played every game that was popular at the time, stole the very best idea from each, and synthesized them all into one coherent title.
Here's the thing about stealing ideas: Everyone does it. We all stand on the shoulders of giants. It's knowing which tools to not steal, which ones to steal, and how to assemble them together to makes a real craftsman.
|Computer Gaming World called Exile 3 the best shareware game of the year. They even gave me a prize. The logo is 2 chubby guys with bad posture sensually hugging a floppy disk.|
From the Elder Scrolls games, I was inspired to write a huge game with tons and tons of towns. This resulted in Exile 3 being the biggest game we've ever written, by far.
I've written it three times now, and each time I have despaired that I would ever finish it. It's sickeningly huge.
Since I had so much space to fill and I was still young and crazy enough to feel free to do things that were genuinely dumb, this game has a lot of weird, silly stuff in it. Towns named after old sitcom characters. A giant dungeon themed after old karate movies. A whole chapter where the enemies are giant cockroaches. (Actually, I still think this idea is terrific.)
There's a reasonable amount of it that I'm sure I wouldn't do if I wrote it now. I was a lot looser and sillier when I was young. However, when I do a remaster, I need to trust my younger self. I left almost everything alone.
|Avernum 3. A big upgrade from Exile 3, but it doesn't work so good on 2018 computers.|
I suppose when I say that all of my ideas are stolen I'm partly joking. There is a lot of cool stuff in Avernum 3 that was quite innovative when it came out, and I can't remember any games doing those things back then.
You can be a merchant or buy a house. There was already games that had this.
The world crumbles as time goes on. If you don't fight the bad guys, towns will fall apart and characters will die. If you're slow enough, a gigantic disaster happens and you have to deal with it or the world ends. NOTE: No matter how slow you are, you can always win the game, but not without consequences.
I wanted to make sure you felt that the world was bigger than your perception and that there were things going on you would never know about.
This is really cool, and I don't remember any other games doing this.
|Avernum 3: Ruined World in all its low-budget glory. It was made cheaply, but it's fun.|
When you do a remaster, you are the curator of your own work. You have a responsibility to your fans to keep everything they love most about the title intact. If you don't, they will punish you lavishly.
People tend to dislike change. If you change one thing, even if it's an entirely reasonable or even unquestionable change, you will always get complaints. These complaints can get very angry.
This makes remasters really grinding, painstaking work. I tried to put in lots of new ideas and designs and stuff. I improved the interface greatly. However, as much as possible, I left the world and story and feel of the game alone.
(There is one change I regret: The artist who made the character art doesn't work for us anymore, so I couldn't get horse art that would match the old style. Sorry about no horses.)
Thank You For Your Support
This wouldn't be complete without a thank you to the many people who have supported and stuck with us over the years. Your kindness has enabled me to live my childhood dream. I promise to work hard to be worthy of it.
Back To Creativity
After 16 months on Avernum 3, I'm really itching to do something new again. I hope I never have to remaster it again. Check in with me in 2033.
We are starting a whole new series. New world, new game engine, new system, maybe even a Kickstarter.
I hope you like Avernum 3. If you aren't sure about it, we have a demo. If you loved it as a kid, I hope that I kept the things you love alive.
On to the next.