Friday, May 6, 2011

On Making Lots of People Angry

The other day, after Avadon: The Black Fortress came out, a certain community of hardcore fantasy RPG fans jumped on it with universal loathing.

I thought that I had a lot of good points to be made about the perils and opportunities of listening to feedback from fans (or ex-fans), so I wrote a blog post about it. This had the entirely predictable effect of infuriating the previously mentioned community.

Now, in the light of day, I feel kind of bad about it. I think what I wrote was fairly mild and I do still stand by every word of it. However, I think I kicked a group of my fellow gamers when they were down, and, being a lifelong gamer myself, I regret that. I've been reading their posts and chatting with them and I think I understand where they're coming from a lot better now.

I am only bringing this up because this blog is mainly about indie gaming, and I think this a great opportunity to make a huge point in that area.

Here's Your Audience, Wrapped Up In a Bow

Fledgling developers write me all the time asking for advice on what sort of game to write. What I tell them is that they should look for an underserved niche and serve it. This is the Great Magic Power of Indie developers.

Here, as I see it, is the story of RPG Codex. These people love, love, love old-school hardcore RPGs. The sort that used to be common on the ground and have faded away. They were forsaken by Sir-Tech, and Origin, and SSI, and Bioware, and now me. There was a thing that they loved, and it is gone, and they are angry about it. The anger might manifest itself in unappealing ways, but it's real. Nobody likes losing what they love.

You want to do what I do? You want to make a living writing RPGs? You have skillz? Go there. Talk to them. Pick past the ranting, find the reasonable things they are after, and write that game. Do it well, and you can make money.

And One Final Word For RPG Codex

I am still a gamer at heart. The gritty, hardcore elements in Avadon are later in the game. I put them there to not scare off more casual gamers. Teh casualz need to be eased into that sort of thing.

Were you my fan, but the Avadon demo turned you off? Well, here's a challenge. We have a one year no questions asked money-back guarantee. Buy the game. Give it a few hours on Hard or Torment difficulty. (I suggest until the boss fight with Zhossa Mindtaker.)

Still disappointed? Then I don't want your money. You get it back. My lips to God's ear.


  1. I thought that this post could lead to an interesting, civil conversation, so I actually went to the RPG Codex forums and tried to start a thread. But I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to make an account on their forums. Maybe I'm going blind in my old age, or perhaps they blocked my IP. :-)

    I'll just have to hope someone reposts this there and anyone who wants to chat will find their way over here. I'm actually a pretty friendly guy, but racial slurs and blatant insults will result in a thread locking. I am a human being, and I require being treated with the basic courtesy all decent human beings deserve.

    - Jeff Vogel

  2. For the record, I'm loving Avadon, and I'm as hardcore an RPGer as they come. Been playing your games for fifteen years, since I was ten years old. Not stopping because some dorks at a site I've never heard of say your game is bad.

  3. This is something that popped up in the last thread, but if the demo is really that boring, maybe you could include the very first bit, and maybe a chunk of a later choice dungeon/encounter, just like the Dragon Age 2 demo? Certainly more work to make the demo, but it might help people get a better taste of the game.

  4. This post will make me go buy your game now Jeff. First time I buy from Spiderweb. You deserve the money for caring and being a solo indie developer. I'm pretty sure I will love the game as well :)

  5. If you actually care, the registration link for RPG Codex forums is here:

  6. Though I should mention I myself wasn't able to register. It complained because I'm behind a proxy. Both times I've submitted the form for them to let me in anyway, I haven't gotten a response. But I'm willing to be they'll notice if your registration comes in.

  7. If you can't even figure out how to make an account over there without a step-by-step tutorial then perhaps Codex is not for you.

    Try social.bioware instead.

  8. These people love, love, love old-school hardcore RPGs.

    Such people can be found in many other, less vile places. Most of them don't go around using the word "fags". Honestly, I have difficulty believing many people on RPGCodex were playing CRPGs in the early-mid 90s.

    If you're an aspiring CRPG designer starved for ideas, look no further than actual RPG books. D&D, White Wolf, Das Schwarze Auge. Anything. Well, probably not AD&D4.

    If they're not a treasure trove of inspiration, you're doing something wrong. There are hundreds of ideas in RPGs that have never quite survived the leap to CRPGs, just waiting to be implemented well.

    Then go back and play games like Darklands and Realms of Arkania or even Quest for Glory. See what they did really well that modern games don't do at all.

  9. Jeff, the reason people critiqued Avadon isn't because they want a certain type of game you don't make anymore. It has a number of pretty obvious and glaring issues. I saw little hatred on the Codex, but what I did see were many disappointed people who were hoping Avadon would be a better game than it is.

    Rather than choose to actually respond to those issues in Avadon in a fair manner, instead you called out the community as some sort of troll haven full of people who hate your guts. Yes, things there can get vile sometimes, but look past some of the crude language and you'll find people with very well-written, well-articulated and logically sound arguments. You ignored pretty much every single one of these. Excusing criticism on the basis of "I don't make those kinds of games anymore" simply isn't valid. If you engage people in debate, address their points directly, rather than quoting them out of context and focusing on the more inflammatory statements, while ignoring the legitimate comments.

    Finally, most people there don't hate you, or want you to die, or whatever, as you insinuated, though after the frankly rather arrogant and self-important way you've handled this situation, I imagine you've lost a few fans. In fact, I'd say most of the critique has come out because people genuinely care about your games and want to see them improve, not get worse over time. If you want to ignore such people, then by all means, go ahead, but don't insult them or refuse to engage them fairly. Whining about everyone hating you, only to put your hands over your ears and sing "la la, I can't hear you" doesn't exactly reflect well on you as both a developer and a person.

  10. Jeff isn't doing anything remotely close to whining or putting his hands over his ears.

  11. @Milkman Dan

    You mean he wasn't doing that when he a) accused the entire Codex of wanting him dead and thinking he was some sort of icon of evil of Bethesdian proportion, b) when he avoided responding to legitimate comments made on the forums while focusing on the trollish stuff about piracy etc. (common on just about any unofficial gaming forum), or c) when he closed off comments on the previous blog post and decided to offer a second one as some sort of definite conclusion to the whole issue, while still failing to acknowledge many comments/arguments/etc.? Could have fooled me.

  12. Why are you concerned at all about "casual" (whatever that even means) gamers. Do you think there's some group of people who don't regularly play rpgs out there thinking to themselves "time to buy fantasy role playing game Avadon 1 from hit hot topic Spiderweb Software studios."

  13. Also I agree with Eric that you picked a bunch of low hanging fruit to complain about and even then they had valid points such as the boring blandness of fighting rats and spiders for the millionth time.

  14. @ Papa

    They wouldn't know who Spiderweb Software is at first, but there could very well be a group of "casual RPG players" who will notice Avadon in game portals and news sites.

    Try to think back to when you first played RPGs. How did you discover the very first RPG you ever played?

  15. Yeah, try to remember, Jeff, most the people loving the game are PLAYING it, rather than trolling forums. It's a shame the unhappy ones are the loudest ones, but thats just the way it is.

  16. Well you have to realize that the majority of the "vile" comments are really just done in humor and in hyperbole. There's a reason for this, you know. There is no banning policy at all, unless you're a spambot or acting like a spambot. So seeing the word "fag" in a Codex thread is like walking down the street and hearing people greeting me, "Good day, sir!" And if a thread is REALLY fiery and abrasive? Close it, go read a different one.

    I don't understand the fixation on words so much, anyway. Words don't exist on their own. Words exist in context, in tone. Just because one forum allows more profanity than the other doesn't change the fundamental ideas expressed.

    And actually we have had several Codexers that go on to (try to) make games. Age of Decadence is an obvious one.

  17. The tone was what bothered me. I mean he's a real person that might not like being told he sucks balls. I realize that the internet breeds inflammatory language, but that doesn't make it OK, or make it hurt less.

  18. You know, Jeff, I wasn't a fan of your last post or the way you responded to criticisms of Avadon. I thought it made you look overly sensitive regarding how some people viewed your product (whether they tried it or the demo or not). But if you're serious about putting your money where your mouth is, well... I can't think of a better deal than that. Nice one. :)

  19. Jeff -

    For myself, I love your games. Having discovered Spiderweb late, I own Avadon, Geneforge 4 and 5, Avernum 6, and a couple of the Exile series from years ago. I play them with my now 14 year old daughter, and we both have a great time spending time together exporing the worlds. Heck, the bonding time is worth far more than what you charge, and I'll gladly pay it again. Maybe not having a background of playing every game ever created allows us to just enjoy each game for what it is rather than feeling obligated to constantly compare and contrast in a vain attempt to define what each game isn't.

    We'll be buying the rest of the Avadon series when they're out, so you can count us in with your True Fans.

  20. It's not the language, it's the raw stupidity, emotional immaturity, and utter dearth of originality that makes places like RPGCodex or Reddit annoyingly useless. If intelligent people want to waste their time there, so be it.

    I want you to look at how normal adults interact in real life. Swearing is lovely. Making horrible jokes is fun. Giggling about "fags" is something done only by 12 year olds, homophobes, and people too fucking boring to let go of a tired old meme.

  21. @TE - you talk as if the idiotic memes are the beating heart of the site. They're really not. Some users can ignore the sad Cartman-lite attempts at comedy, and enjoy the huge collection of often obscure LPs (over 300, I think), some thoughtful RPG design discussion, the Library, a couple of memorably bizarre personalities and the fact that such a niche site is so bustling...and some can't. The Codex is frequently stupid, immature, unoriginal, and annoying. But it isn't useless.

    @Jeff - I still haven't played Avadon, so it's just as a sympathetic observer that I'm suggesting this; responding to critics (any critics) as you did in your last blogpost does you no credit, no matter how much publicity the ensuing controversy stirs up. No matter how ill-founded and ignorant you believe an individual critic's remarks are, by seizing upon them so publicly (and by repeatedly bringing up the slightly tangential point of the nastier aspects of the Codex - what would you call that, an ad websiteninem attack?), you give the appearance of not being able to take any criticism, period.

    Not that her terrifying response is directly comparable to yours, but I think this author's response to 'unfair criticism' in the comments of this blogpost are an excellent reminder of how petty an artist can look when they get too emotionally involved with user feedback;

  22. Hey just wanted to say I'm a newcomer to your games and I'm loving the Avadon game. I'm as old school as they come and I think its a great game, a must buy for any rpg player who likes the classics such as Baldur's Gate.

    I have to admit in the past I never gave your games a second look because the graphics looked so primitive and unappealing, but Avadon is a huge step forward in terms of its presentation compared to your other games, that got me interested enough to try it and I'm now a new fan.

    I look forward to seeing future games with this new Avadon series and as far as this old schooler is concerned, you are going in the right direction.

  23. Well, your post about RPGCodex's Avadon thread did come off a little acerbic, but I can't say I blame you.

    Anyways, my girlfriend and I are hooked on Avadon!! It's her first Spiderweb game but I've been on and off since Exile 2.

    Despite reports of "VOGEL SELLING US OUT 2 THE CASUALS!" I enjoy the way your games have evolved. I found Avadon's stat/talent mechanics straightforward, but still nicely customizable. The combat as always is extremely satisfying and can be challenging. The graphics are, again, an improvement and the UI/controls make it easy to get immersed.

    What consistently draws me back, however, is the atmosphere you create. I instantly wanted to know more about Avadon and fortunately had the (almost) full freedom to explore it. The characters are always fun to talk to, and the world feels very plausible.

    I DO have my share of little gripes and nitpicks, but I mainly wanted to say I'm enjoying Avadon and heres to another 15 years of Spiderweb! Hoorah!

  24. I had to download the Avadon demo to see it for myself after hearing how much RPGCodex bashed it.

    Everyone's got their own tastes I guess, but I found it sucked me in right away. Even when my character stepped through the front gate and found the fortress was a lot more chaotic than he thought it would be my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to know more.

  25. "They were forsaken by Sir-Tech, and Origin, and SSI, and Bioware, and now me."

    Yet, still you make the identical mistake made in the last entry of this saga: drawing community-wide conclusions based on a few vocal posters, many of whom are unlikely to be serious in their witticisms. (. . . or committed to their immediate reactions.)

    I look forward to seeing your posts on the PRG Codex, though. Just remember, the ratio of inappropriate humor to serious comments will be high, possibly even fun if you let it be.

  26. I'm about an hour into the demo of Avadon. I like it. I have complaints, but none of them are story or mechanics related. I... just want to see this game done on the Gamebryo engine (the one used for Oblivion).

  27. Frankly, the complainers just need to go shove their heads up their asses. I've been interested in Jeff's games since I was a kid. I own a few, but was never very interested in the newer style Avernum games (4-6). Although when I have a real job someday, I'll buy all of Jeff's games, just because I want to support him. Whenever a new style game comes out, I always have complaints. BUT, I keep them to myself, or if I do comment on them, I don't troll and whine and bullshit about things that are out of my control. If you've got something against life, then go shove it somewhere else, instead of trying to mess with someone else's life.

    I pretty much swore off games a couple of months ago, in order to focus on life. But, I bought Avadon right when it came out, because I liked the style, and I figured that if I was going to play any game at all, it'd be one by Spiderweb Software.

    Complainers - I'm not going to respond to any follow-up comments you have. I'm just writing this for Jeff's benefit, to show that he does have loyal people out there. People who like the choices he makes for his games, and will stick with him through everything. Because we like what he has accomplished, and the worlds he creates.

  28. The problem with RPG Codex members is they take everything personally. A surprising trait for a website so full of bile and filth.

  29. Hey Jeff, I really like that phrase, "My lips to God's ear." I'm going to try and work that into conversations now.

  30. Honestly, the "casualization" moves aren't bad at all. Regen health, autorevive, the skill trees, those are all steps that I really enjoy about the game.

    But Jeff, why do new areas on the map only open up when they're given to us? It really makes me feel like a lackey, just running everyone else's errands.

  31. I don't play Casual but I do play Easy, and always have tended to go for the midrange (the storyline is what sells the game as far as I'm concerned, although the fights and the character building are fun). I'm enjoying Avadon just as I have all the Avernum and Geneforge games, and I honestly don't see a lot of difference in terms of game play, but that may have to do with the way I tend to play. (And I'm an old-timer, played my first computer RPGs on my dad's Commodore 64 in my younger days. :)) Maybe that makes me a "Casual"?

    I don't know how large the customer pool is for players like me, but I do know I'm a regular customer of yours, and bought Avadon as soon as it came out for Windows. So there's a data point if it's useful. :)

  32. Just one remark regarding your previous post - I do believe you're wrong about the demo part. You said that "releasing demos that are half the game is a bad business decision".

    Rewind 15 years - I was a kid who managed to download a demo version of Exile. I was really impressed with the huge world to explore and I was enamored with the game long before I hit the Shareware Chasm. Since then, I've bought every single Spiderweb game and will still buy full versions blindly until you release a really awful title (which Avadon thankfully isn't).

    Now, do you really believe that anyone who's satisfied with a half of a game is going to withhold payment for the second half - not see how the plot progresses, what the endings are, how his/her characters develop? On the other hand, by making the demos too short, you're likely to lose potential customers since they won't find what they're looking for in the demo. I believe that having long demos is a win/win situation and it doesn't really require extra work on your part apart from extending the demo fragment.

  33. Also, if you're gathering feedback: one thing that really got me hooked into your games was the huge open world, sandbox style like Exile 1 was. I understand the need to care for casual gamers and not throw them into areas which they cannot beat (and then they don't know whether they're supposed to beat that area or not), but I believe there's a better solution to that than just making a linear progression like you did right now. For example, make region exploration similar to Geneforge, but color-code the regions according to difficulty level or add sentries/patrols that will warn a player when they're entering a region whose Challenge Rating is too high. That way you can have the best of both worlds - satisfy the players who enjoy to roam the world freely while still caring for the needs of casual players.

  34. Thanks very much for this post! In the past you have put on the market some titles which were definitely interesting for the more "hardcore" crowd (for lack of the better word), and I hope you won't be turning your back on them. Good that we seem to be going into the direction of compromise rather than conflict :-)

    Hm, weird thing with the account creation problem. And I thought you had an account - didn't you write a few posts there back in 2003? :-)

  35. @ininthar: "Now, do you really believe that anyone who's satisfied with a half of a game is going to withhold payment for the second half - not see how the plot progresses, what the endings are, how his/her characters develop?"

    Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes!

    One of the most important to understand about demos (and I really should blog on this) is that a very large portion of the people who try the demo will play to the end of it, enjoy it, smile, let out a contended sigh, say "OK. That was enough.", delete the demo, and move on.

    The larger the demo is, the more people will do this. You, personally, are a completist. I love completists. But very few gamers are.

    - Jeff Vogel

  36. Hi Jeff,

    I'm most of the way through Avernum 6 right now. I originally found my way to your games through Software of the Month. I started with Exile 3 some fourteen years ago. I've loved your games ever since. The writing is spot on, and it's always a pleasure to get my ass kicked on Torment.

    I've always wondered, when you changed the title from Exile to Avernum, what convinced you to change the spells so drastically? Simacrulum, Kill, Divine Thud, Avatar, QUICKFIRE (LOVE LOVE LOVE) etc. Those spells were so awesome and so loved by me. The only comparable game in terms of spells I've ever been able to find is Diablo 2. What made you take out all those wonderful spells? Granted, I still recommend your games to anyone who will listen to my rants, but those spells were incredible, and I miss them.

  37. Haha, not to be confused with "The Technomancer" from above (nice name ;)), I haven't commented on here much in a while, but have continued to be an avid reader.

    This whole unfair criticism thing is something I have a good deal of experience with as a musician. Usually, I'm able to shrug it off, but sometimes putting up with certain walking "facepalms of society", it gets to a person. In general the best thing to do is ignore them, but you already know that. A creative person who has invested their livelihood into their art is going to be more sensitive about things than outsiders can appreciate. I cannot blame you at all for taking such exception with the mindless flak, but just like a rash, scratching will only make it worse.

    I'm sure there are grown-ups over at the Codex, but I have no tolerance for "Lord of the Flies" level eJuveniles. That's why I only go over there when I absolutely have to. Hopefully you can make more sense of them (or to them) than I (care to).

    I'm glad to hear that sales have been solid, I know you've had to have been chewing your fingernails off while undertaking this new venture. I haven't played the new demo yet, as I'm pretty booked up at the moment with other games and Real Life (tm), but as you say (to paraphrase), "when those things are done, Spiderweb Software will be still be there waiting." ;) I sincerely hope it always will be.

    Since I haven't played the demo yet, I can't attest one way or another to boredness or length or anything else, but I'm sure I will like it cause I just love your style. I am a pretty casual gamer anymore time-wise, but I can muscle through about any challenge, even straightaway, and tend to enjoy it thoroughly. Trying to open up to larger markets though, the logic behind making the entry-level skill requirement lower makes all the sense in the world. I can't fault that at all.

    If the demo is a little too easy or simplistic, maybe there could be a middle ground somewhere? I've thought about this a bit over the years and have read other articles about it, but maybe including a set of optional "Training Wheels" in the early stages would help? You could have a check box to enable it during difficulty selection at the beginning that is checked by default, at least on normal or casual difficulties. What these "Training Wheels" could be are really just hints at certain locations, basically a tutorial, that can ease new players into difficult situations. This way, you are not just throwing hard situations at green players, you're teaching them how to deal with those situations in the process!

    This would also give more rough-n-tumble folks like myself the ability to muscle through it on our own if we wanted to. If a certain boss fight has a tactic or character placement strategy, "Trainees" can get a hint "Hey, that pentagram looks like a good place to place a spellcaster" or whatever, where the "Pros" could have the pleasure of figuring it out on their own after a couple of reloads. Teaching people how to play your game IN the game (or at least providing the option) can help bridge the gap between novices and pros without scaring off the n00bs vs. boring the HC-LEET-GAMER-LULZ!!.

    Now, of course, will the occasional 11 year old fire it up and say "I don't need no help" then get frustrated? Yeah, prolly. Will some ultra hardcore leet gamer leave the walkthrough on and complain "LULZ WEAK!! TUTS KILL CHALLENGE!! LOLWTF?!!"? Of course. But how is that substantively than what goes on now? :D

  38. " I ended up uninstalling the demo and then smashing my hard disk with a sledgehammer afterwards just to make sure it was gone, I was so disgusted with how terrible it was, but hey, people like shit, let them eat shit. "

    Did I play the same game as these people, or did some hacker release some sort of rape simulator onto TPB that had the same name that these honkey's played?

    I've got as much affinity for the old Avernums as anyone, I will cling to my dying breath as them being them being as perfect a specimen of CRPG as will ever be created.

    However as far as modern RPGs go Avadon had a pretty fresh story, crazy good battles, a streamlined enticing stat system, and sharp isometric graphics that tile out to infinity on my monstrous iMac. What the hell wasn't to like?

  39. Im thinking if I should try the game or not, i mean buy it and accept the challenge. What I dont understand is why Should i get bored for hours to get to the "good part" if they exist?

  40. I gave up on RPG Codex years ago. In some thread dissing a new game I pointed out that all of the flaws being discussed existed in the games they were holding up as sacred classics. They came down on me like a ton of bricks. I guess facts dare not creep into "conversation" there.

  41. I used to read RPG Codex but stopped when a writer openly talked about pirating games (ones they were reviewing no less) and no one called them out on it.

  42. @Martin: All I can say is the same thing any indie developer can say to any potential customer. If you like RPGs, try the demo. You might be surprised to find that it is not as dull as the people at a place known for unrelenting negativity find it.

    - Jeff Vogel

  43. Jeff, I really like the new game rule set.

    The abilities on timers allows for decision-making in combat: do I use the special ability now, or save it for the next wave? It took me a little while to realize that those abilities were drawing from the characters' vitality pools (read instructions? me?). I like that additional layer of complexity in the tactical decision making.

    Dead characters rejoining the party after a combat is fine. I figure that's a lot easier than just reloading a saved game and fighting the evil Whatsit a half-dozen times until everyone survives. But realistically, once a character goes down the party is at greater risk for a wipe anyway.

    Anyway, I like the ruleset and the game writing as well. I preferred the way maps were linked in Geneforge, but opening the map as I start new missions makes sense from a 'soldier of Avadon' standpoint.

  44. Hey Jeff, completely random question: have you ever thought about licensing your engine/s to aspiring designers?

  45. I agree about the abilities. In Exile and Avernum, almost all the time I started combat spamming buffs, then blasting the enemies over and over, and refreshing buffs as needed. Whereas in Avadon, they were a lot more flexible, and even the most powerful abilities weren't an "I win" button if you misused them.

    I was also intrigued by the consequences of my action at the end of the game. I tried to act like a good loyal little boy scout, and ended up screwing so many things it wasn't even funny. I'll probably give it another shot on Hard difficulty.

  46. Im trying the demo, and for now my major complain is not about the what people seemed to complain but about interface.
    It seems you have to walk around pressing G like madman to make sure you dont miss any interesting item since in the global map there is no indication about if there is anything of value or not. I spend most of my time pressing G and looking between sticks to see if there is anything worthwhile that actually playing the game, which is killing it for me.

  47. There is nothing so sacred as religion save for nostalgia.

    There will always be the conflict between the old and the new, conservation and progression. I'm an old timey CRPG veteran, and I too have things that I look back at and say, "what happened? Why can't you make games like THAT anymore?"

    I miss much of Jeff's classical work, RPGs so old school they come armed with mortar boards and corporeal punishment. I miss the big, massive, sprawling free roaming out doors environments, I miss the detailed item descriptions, and I miss the epic diversity of items in general. I like having a very clear sense of growth and progression of your character and enemies, a spell list which could demand its own encyclopedia, and items that come in a festive wrapped box marked "unidentified". You know what's wrong with a straight forward mana system? NOTHING.

    There are a lot of things about classical RPGs that have fallen by the wayside that I miss, and would love to see picked back up, if not by Jeff, then by some other, equally proficient game developer.

    But! There are things within the modern movement among gaming that I'm all for. Minimizing downtime between fights, character driven story lines, melee classes that do more than march forward and run into things… I even like the elimination of "social" talents that basically resign a character to be the party "spokesman" and sit on the sidelines the rest of the time.

    I like not having to dance through saves a million times to make sure a fight doesn't completely nullify the reward because one of my characters got killed and I have to pawn everything but my socks to undo that cheap string of stuns/critical hits. In the case of Avadon, I really like not having make eleventy billion circuits to and from the dungeon and pawn shop to make sure all applicable loot isn't wasted. Seriously, why didn't anyone think of this sooner? And not have it be a cheat I mean?

    Somewhere between the old, curmudgeon-y philosophies and the new, immature philosophies lies the perfect, golden game design with can satisfy the vast majority of both camps. Where that is, well… if I knew, I'd be off becoming the next Minecraft styled success story. But, I still have hope that someone, somewhere will find that perfect balance, and bring disparate gamers together.

    As to Avadon, go get it. It's worth your time and money, no matter what the criticisms, valid or otherwise, may be.

  48. I disagree. There are two or three fundamentally different groups of CRPG players out there, and no single game will ever satisfy them all, no more than you can combine turn-based strategy with a first-person shooter and capture both sets of fans.

    The core problem, IMO, is cargo cult design. Doing things because that's how they've always been done, because no one has bothered to sit down and really ask whether it makes sense that way. Gary Gygax was a genius, but not a god. No RPG concepts are sacred. I always say that when designing a game, you have to start with your goals. What kind of game do you want to make? For whom (hee hee)? If any feature does not serve those goals, it should be tossed.

    For some CRPG players, downtime is evil and constant action is the right formula. Others want a slower, more tactical game focused on careful resource management and exploration. Some want a story, others want an open world where they could amass wealth and build their own castle.

    Good game design is never everything to everyone. It should have clearly-defined goals, and set out to achieve them in the best way possible.

  49. I should add that Dragon Age II provided one of the more bizarre examples of cargo cult design. Look at how they handled trash items and fetch quests.

    It's genuinely hilarious. Like they wanted to remove them to streamline the game, but felt obligated to include them in some minimal form. In the end, who's happy with that? Nobody. It's pure, self-acknowledged time wasting.

    Generally speaking, quests and items are two areas deserving of a long, hard look. The vast majority of modern CRPGs have become stuck in a certain pattern for handling these aspects of the game, and I'm not at all convinced that it's the ideal one in any way.

  50. @Michael: "I miss much of Jeff's classical work, RPGs so old school they come armed with mortar boards and corporeal punishment."

    I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading that.

    - Jeff Vogel

  51. Jeff - I've tried to post a comment a couple times already, but it gets deleted as soon as I post it - an overzealous spambot?

  52. @ilintar: I honestly have no idea. I'm not doing it, and we're both at the mercy of what Blogspot will allow.

    Your last post did get through, so you aren't completely locked out. Try posting your post in several chunks to try to troubleshoot which particular bit of text the software is barfing on.

    Don't give up. I'm genuinely interested in seeing what's going on.

    - Jeff Vogel

  53. After reading the RPGCodex threads for a bit, I really think that the problem is that people there appreciate "hardcore" RPG's a lot, where "hardcore" is pretty much undefined as long as it's opposed to "mainstream". That is, story-driven RPG's are a no-no because that's what BioWare does for a living. Simplified or user-friendly mechanics are a no-no because they case a game to be "dumbed down" (I still fail to comprehend how forcing a player to do the chores of walking back to a city and back again to regenerate health raises the IQ level required for playing the game).

    I've read a lot of posts there where people miss the old days of dungeon-crawling RPGs. For me, especially after I had played Betrayal at Krondor, I don't know if I could really enjoy a dungeon crawler without some nice bonus that would get me hooked.

  54. Another thing people love there in general are open-ended, non-story driven worlds. This is something I never really liked in RPGs - a sandbox approach is nice, as long as there's a really good background story to get you going. Betrayal at Krondor was a good example, as was the first Exile and, in a slightly lesser degree, Oblivion. On the other hand, I could not really get myself into Morrowind, which got really high praise on RPGCodex.

    On the other hand, I really consider myself a hardcore cRPG fan in that I've really played (and completed) tons of those and I've been playing cRPGs since mid-90's at least. However, many games often referred to on RPGCodex as "classics" (ADOM, Morrowind) are ones that I could never get myself very immersed into (for reasons explained above). Generally, I could find points in RPGCodex's group criticism of Avadon that I agree with (lack of open-endedness, limited region exploration, general linearity), but many that I don't. However, that will be the case with every single game out there - there are no perfect games suited for every player out there since every player has their own idea of what constitutes an ideal RPG. The problem is when you try to project your own vision of "the perfect RPG" onto a game that you're reviewing and only focus on the negative aspects. Hey, I'm frustrated as well that nobody made a second Betrayal at Krondor as of yet, but I don't go flaming every single RPG maker because of that.

  55. That's the key word - flaming. Criticism can be voiced as user feedback - me, as a customer, saying what I expect from a game I want to buy and which expectations were met by the relevant title (and which were not). On the other hand, it can be used in the objectively normative way of RPGCodex posters, some of which seem to think they hold the key to separating good RPGs from bad ones. Said criticism gives little to no valuable feedback to producers because, short of learning some knowledge (mostly negative) about the normativity used by RPGCodex users, it hardly conveys any information about real expectations and any constructive criticism. Obviously, there are posts which make valid points, but they are often drowned in aggressive arrogance.

    There, enough said, this is already becoming tl;dr, so I'll stop at that.

  56. I reviewed Avadon here:

  57. @ilintar: Planescape: Torment is definitely a story-driven game and it's a true classics for the majority of Codexers. Saying that we don't like story driven games doesn't give the proper picture. And many of the folks there also adore some stuff made by Bioware (e.g. BG 2).

  58. I ended playing the demo and doing this very poor english review.

  59. @ Leszek: I agree it doesn't give a proper picture, but that's the picture painted from the thread about Avadon - that is, story-driven is only potentially OK if it's not "Bioware'an" (whatever that means).

    I think the problem lies in what I said before - there is no uniform positive view conveyed in the criticism of Avadon, however, there are at least semblances of uniformity in the negative comments. Why do I say "semblance"? Because there's a mechanism at work here - when one person criticises a certain aspect of the game, other people who also feel that said aspect is bad will join in, while people who think otherwise will usually refrain from saying anything.

    Some people there actually attempted to show what the supposed decline between Avernum/Geneforge and Avadon was (such as the lack of real C&C), however, various bits of criticism were mutually exclusive (how do you know whether there is real C&C if you only play the demo? There wasn't any real C&C in Geneforge's early game either).

    Another thing is that people often criticise a game without actually taking time to reflect upon the reasons for which they don't like it. The result is criticism which doesn't capture the real reasons why someoene dislikes a title, especially if the reasons are synergic in nature. Planescape is a good example - someone might dislike story driven RPGs in general, but like Planescape because the story is simply very good (and the setting adds to the immersion factor as well). Then, someone saying "I like Planescape, but I dislike Avadon because it's story-driven" comes around as inconsistent, whereas it would be enough if they'd simply say "a story-driven RPG has to really have an original story to catch my attention, and Avadon does not have that (because of )".

    With normal criticism, such inconsistencies would be weeded out within the course of a debate, but if the criticism is also arrogant and dismissive, a debate will not happen and then trying to make out a clear picture out of an inconsistent set of criticisms is not really worth the time.

  60. Also, it might not be a coincidence that the games you point out as positive examples are 10 years old. The positive opinion might be as much due to the fact that they are good games as to the psychological phenomenon that 16-year old kids are generally less critical of their entertainment than 26-year old adults are. Add to it the nostalgia factor, which tends to skew scores a bit too. I'm probably guilty of this as well when I talk about eg. Betrayal at Krondor (although I do remember going through the game a few years ago and it was still enjoyable).

  61. @ilintar: By the way. What on earth does C&C mean?

    - Jeff Vogel

  62. There are few things more annoying in games discussions than claims of nostalgia.

    I want you to point out one recent game that's comparable in features to Darklands, Realms of Arkania, Quest for Glory, or Ultima Online circa 1999.

    That's a pretty broad range. And guess what, nobody's making games along those lines anymore. And it's not a coincidence: the market has changed and vastly expanded.

    Fuzzy arguments about "good" or "better" are irrelevant; what's important is that games are now undeniably different in many, many ways.

  63. @Jeff: choice & consequence.

  64. Jeff, what do you think of my review?

  65. My main issue with Avadon is that the second Zhossa fight is unwinnable bullshit set up to waste powers on fake enemies that deal real damage and heal to full every other turn. I've been trying for the better part of a week and I'm really close to asking for a refund. This is not any kind of fun. At least the other gimmick fights had a clue about how to beat the gimmick, but this is just overwhelming force with no sense of progress.

  66. Jeff,

    I think you have an awesome attitude toward the RPG Codex forums and the comments from the participants. (I was going to add this comment on the previous thread, but you shut down comments before I had a spare moment to write.) I've been seeing something similar in my professional life: I recently got elected chair of my alumni association, and it seems like I get a little nitpicky e-mail about every minor choice I make about, say, committee meetings or drafts of documents. The comments bug me until I remember, well, there was only one other person who ran for this office, and I was the one elected, and the author of this nitpicky comment wasn't the other candidate. So how valuable is this nitpicky comment, especially if it's more of a "concern troll" than a substantive, constructive criticism on an actual issue?

    - Grant

  67. That's not a bad response, really.

    If anyone thinks RPG Codex is a waste of time I would suggest you look again, because you're dead wrong.

    The 'problem' is that there's a diverse set of opinions and a far too low signal to noise ratio. The signal that is there (especially in the RPG design forums) is high quality and well deserving of your time.

    The key is not to try and make the Codexers happy, because that will never happen. The key is to note the users who enjoy the sort of games you're developing, take account of their criticism (with a pinch of salt) and ignore the users who enjoy different sort of games.

    Even amongst the codexers, whilst certain games pop up in top ten lists regularly, there is no consensus on what the top ten should be..

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    I actually haven't played any of your other games, but I thought Avadon's torment difficulty was pretty fantastic as far as hardcore RPG experiences go. I do think that you should've made torment have a larger effect on difficulty during the early parts of the game, though. I admit that I was a little turned off by how easy the game was initially. And I did kinda dislike every fight which wasn't against a boss (if only because the boss fights are so creatively set up).

    I also love that you had free re-speccing as an option, since to me, the most fun thing about combat in videogames is being able to try lots of different approaches. (I'd rather have uber-diffuculty and re-speccing than have meh difficulty to deal with the possibility of bad party planning)

    My point is that I think Avadon did succeed as an intense and strategic turn-based RPG.

    Honestly, my biggest problem is that you didn't have that big a variety of character sprites, and even worse that you didn't have unique portraits for everyone.

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