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Failing to Fail: The Spiderweb Software Way

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In this GDC 2018 talk, Spiderweb Software's Jeff Vogel presents a retrospective on his company's history and how they've managed to stay in the game-making business since 1994. Register for GDC: http://ubm.io/2gk5KTU Join the GDC mailing list: http://www.gdconf.com/subscribe Follow GDC on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Official_GDC GDC talks cover a range of developmental topics including game design, programming, audio, visual arts, business management, production, online games, and much more. We post a fresh GDC video every day. Subscribe to the channel to stay on top of regular updates, and check out GDC Vault for thousands of more in-depth talks from our archives.
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Text Comments (258)
Bucky•JaKRBT (5 hours ago)
I've played and own every game Spiderweb has made. The Geneforge series being my favorite. He's made some incredible games.
fundude53 (22 hours ago)
dam i own most of your games and wow you the kind of developers i love your attitude and work effects ile always throw my money your way and keep that back catalog going
ALC0LITE (1 day ago)
As intriguing to listen to as his in game dialogue is compelling.
Twisted Logic (1 day ago)
This man is the hero we need.
Viktor Svensson (2 days ago)
I know who you are, Spiderweb :)
Tristan Robertson (2 days ago)
This man is a legend and a god. Such a inspiration for me.
Deioth (2 days ago)
I explored every possible corner of Exile 3's shareware demo I could (and smashed my head against a few walls I couldn't break down in the process). Not having money for then being a 10 year old, well, hey, couldn't buy it. But now I have a full time job and can get the remake of the remake and explore the surface again. I mean, I've since slain Emperor Hawthorne and recovered the Crystal Souls, time to retake the surface. Just need to be ready for it. I binge this sort of game when I play it and I need a break after 80+ hours of that kind of gameplay. There's a tedium that really sets in when you have little left to explore except the final dungeons and have hit level cap (and playing on Hard/Torment, god damn can the final bosses be infuriating). But, I can finally pay Jeff for making games and I will continue to do so.
lipnoodle117 (2 days ago)
The fact that no one laughed at 22:30 is incredibly sad.
nabiddy badiddy (3 days ago)
I've not laughed like this for a long time! Such a great speaker!
Joe Black (4 days ago)
Exile Escape from the pit was an amazing game. At least that was my impression of it at the time :) I played it back when I'd never even heard of RPGs. Up to that point I had only played arcade games and platform games on NES. It absolutely blew me away. I can still recall a sense of the wonder of just simple aspects of the game. There I was. A kid who loved reading adventure books all my life up to that point. Especially fantasy adventure. A I found myself playing the lead role in the story. It might have actually been a terrible game. Who knows. I've never tried it again. But yeah the original experience was beyond novel for me.
Ertain1 (6 days ago)
That plug for Open Game Art at 24:36. Thank you, Jeff for giving them a mention.
LowbrowDeluxe (6 days ago)
Huuuge fan of Geneforge, also played through Avernum and loved it. But mostly I clicked as soon as I saw Spiderweb Software because I wanted to shout out Geneforge. Still one of the most interesting fantasy worlds I've ever enjoyed.
LowbrowDeluxe (6 days ago)
Played the original Nethergate, too, now that I watched the whole video. Might just grab the remaster to go with the copy of the Geneforge series I picked up on Steam because I long ago lost my originals.
Dennis LLopis (7 days ago)
"I am older than the art work that I work with" - the real MVP lol.
Lorem Ipsum (7 days ago)
Your talk is very inspiring, thank you for presenting it. I've been thinking of making my own RPG for over 10-15 years. I write a little engine in C++ for it in my free time, I often think about mechanics and story ideas, and sometimes I wish I could work on it full time. So you being a successful independent RPG developer is rather inspiring.
prob my fav game developer....makes me want to make
Simon Crawford (7 days ago)
I like this guy.
sys krank (7 days ago)
One of the best talks ever.
Fuck You (8 days ago)
Geneforge series is amazing and avernum is great
Vazzaroth (8 days ago)
Wow, I didn't know that Exile was the first game. I got that on a 250+ software CD as shareware and never got a chance to get the full version. Always wanted to, but my parents wouldn't put CC info into the internet. Awesome to meet this man who affected me when I was ~14!
TheBadAsh (8 days ago)
I'm not going to do a shameless plug my mentioning my game name (aside from the fact that it's not released yet) but standing on the shoulders of giants is exactly how I developed my game. Though I didn't quite put it that way, that's what I did.
Alexis Wilmot Porter (9 days ago)
Awesome. That talk was so inspiring for a (relatively) old-timer to hear. I remember playing the demo of Exile 3 on some Mac in the 1990s and being all snobby because I was a hardcore Ultima nut and not appreciating it at the time. Plus I was moving onto PCs having finally become so sick of going to the Mac store and seeing like 10 games, of which only one or two would be RPGs or something I would like. Meanwhile, on PC there were hundreds of titles. But, I digress - I picked up a deal on Steam which gave me all the Avernums except the remade Avernum 3, plus all the Geneforges, Nethergate AND Avadon 1 & 2... all for about NZ$20 or less. Best game bundle I ever bought - I have clocked up many many hours in all the Avernums (bought part 3 when it came out), somewhat less on the Avadons, quite a bit less on the Geneforges... and a fond love for the quirky but totally original Nethergate:Resurrection (playing as Romans - such an awesome thing to have an RPG four-member party using Roman armour and weapons!)... Jeff Vogel is a big hero to me, as someone who wrote unfinished games in my youth and is now getting back into it. I've always wanted to write my own games since I first wrote a few lines of BASIC after reading Michael Crichton's book Electronic Life which had several full code examples of simple games, and then played Ultima 6... Finally, I'm thrilled to hear there is a remake of the Nethergate game... I stopped playing it awhile ago because I was getting spoiled by the remade Avernums, but I think it's one of the most original RPG concepts that actually works I've ever seen. Bravo Jeff and thanks GDC for the video!
Tim Sheerman (9 days ago)
I loved the exile games back in the 90's. Thankyou!
azmodanpc (9 days ago)
Compare him to the Blizzard guys...The guy knows his audience, unlike Activision.
RegalShock (11 days ago)
Wow. I played Exile II back in the day.
ManiManiPlays (11 days ago)
I personally quite like the reused assets and play style. It works well, why fix what isn't broken?
Samir Sekhon (11 days ago)
Geneforge is one of my favorite series, and is cheap as hell to boot
ameteuraspirant (12 days ago)
never heard of you guys? geneforge is my JAM
Kohreku (12 days ago)
Jeff, you're an absolute madman for thinking you could make a one-man dev team with online distribution your primary venture back in the 90s. You're an even bigger one for pulling it off. I salute you, good sir. We need a talk from Jeff about the process of coming up with the story for Exile/Avernum and writing, managing to make an RPG world deep and engaging enough for 3 different iterations of the same trilogy to be worthwhile is quite an achievement.
Kohreku (12 days ago)
For all the Exile fans here, you can run those games in a Virtual PC just fine. VirtualBox with Windows ME from WinWorldPC will run the games and can access the Spiderweb site just fine through Opera in order to download them.
TigerJ (12 days ago)
21:02 Challenge accepted.
PrivateCritter (13 days ago)
Ooh, a favorite developer, time to listen.
PrivateCritter (13 days ago)
Generforge for remaster?! Sweet!
Alex Voxel (13 days ago)
Easily one of the best gdc talk!
Leonard Kruc (14 days ago)
What a hell of a wise dude
Kevin M. Smet (15 days ago)
I miss those shareware discs...
Andrei Zavidei (15 days ago)
We love you Jeff. You're a good man. Stay in business.
YellowbusRider (15 days ago)
what a fascinating boi
Nathan Hawks (15 days ago)
This was an hour well spent.
Nailsinmytummy (15 days ago)
Starsector 0.9 when? ALEEEEX!!!
Jones Crimson (15 days ago)
GENEFORGE! Whenever a random NPC had hidden dialogues that required specific stats, it blew my mind.
Jacob Parker (16 days ago)
I loved shareware growing up
Didiodu Law (16 days ago)
I know it's silly, but his drinking sounds... MAN >o<
Marko Milas (7 days ago)
annoying, right?
9bitjim (16 days ago)
I remember getting avernum shareware back in 199x, good stuff. Back when getting a pc game was exciting and a work of soul, talent and thought. Now its so comercialized tipped with lootboxes and pay to win bs.
VoidKeeper (16 days ago)
The funniest thing about this video is that looking back I think I was actually playing an Exile shareware game and not an Ultima port for Windows back when I was a Kid X'D. I always thought it was Ultima. I couldn't read a lick of English back then mind you ^^
Juksemakeren (16 days ago)
31:43
Avenus112 (16 days ago)
Focus on what you're good at. Outsource what you're bad at. Vertically integrate. Curb your expectations, be tough and humble and play moneyball with every decision. It's like this guy taught an MBA in an hour-long conference about pixellated digits and time burners.
Hayden Harvey (16 days ago)
"You've never heard of us" You keep your mouth shut. I grew up on Geneforge lol.
Bryon Lape (17 days ago)
He was 5 in 1975? He's 2 years younger than I.
Suralin0 (18 days ago)
Oh man. I remember playing an early version of Exile 1 that came on a "So you want to learn to code games" CD my parents got me in 1995, on the old Performa. So many good memories. Never actually got around to registering anything until I started pulling in money of my own after high school, tho, by which point it was the first Avernum trilogy and a "Great Quality" PC from Fry's. (Which, appropriately, got fried later due to a horrendous power surge in my building's old wiring.) Steam and GOG really do simplify most everything, so by all means get a hold of Jeff's games from one of those avenues if you're into old-school RPGs, good storytelling, interesting worlds, and dry humor.
superawesome (18 days ago)
Next stop... No stop. Never stop!
Brady McDonough (19 days ago)
Ah yes, Indie game developer and LIVING LEGEND Jeff Vogel. I wonder if he's ever contemplated writing a novel, he's pretty great at writing and talking and describing and he could make a pretty solid, quirky fantasy novel. I guess he's too busy building solid, quirky fantasy games.
The Logan (20 days ago)
Holy shit, I remember playing Exile: Escape From the Pit back when it came out. I was like 9 years old and I probably just played the shareware version, without knowing it was not the full version, but I played it for so so many hours xD
LabrnMystic MK (20 days ago)
Exile 3 is still one of my favorite PC games. I got the game on a demo CD with a couple other games, and then bought the full game and hint guide.
John McGarey (20 days ago)
Favorite quote so far: "When I pressed the upload for my first game I was ... WASTED". Hahaha!
Found the Exile 3 game on a disk of 250 arcade games. Played some 300 hours.
Wish the modern games were as open-world and versatile. The Exile 3 spell list was incredible.
Andrew Kieran (23 days ago)
I have ALWAYS loved the exile series. I still play Exile sometimes. I didn't know he's released another remaster. I'm gonna spend some money
Exile 3 was one of the first CRPG games I played. Sadly back then I bought it on a pirated CD. But I do buy Avernum games now.
One of the best GDC videos ever.
rik0904 (25 days ago)
funny thing I pirated his game and I liked, so I bought it. I guess he was right about that.
d ja (25 days ago)
I want torrentDNS and zipSites and voxel based web browser for SpiderSites. peer hosted simple html sites like g0-s.top/chess
d ja (25 days ago)
Hey Jeff Vogel I love you! I learned how to read because video games and I love video game and their creators! PS 54:00 I watch at faster speed ctrl+> this reminds me of PACMAN SOUNDS!
Coach Cro (26 days ago)
So glad I decided to stick to the video even if he's a "no namer". Very good talk, obviously a gamer but he looks like an old person - it's brilliant
Zod (26 days ago)
His last advice about a bad chair and back problems is where I have failed big time. I was using cheap chairs for years and got myself chronic sciatica. Once you have back pain you can't code anymore - the pain distracts you and you can't concentrate. Now I have to work from a horizontal position in my bed with the monitor propped aboven my head to keep the pain away which is *very impractical. Don't repeat my mistake, buy a 1000$ chair and work out every day
P Radziel (26 days ago)
I just looked up their games on Steam and he has all very positive reviews btw. This makes me happy, despite I don't know his games myself.
Brendan Crocker (26 days ago)
Gulp.
Andreas Sjöberg (27 days ago)
Yeah Steams refund poilicy sucks! After failing to get a game to run for 2 hours : no you cannot get a refund because you played more than 2 hours....
Stephen Webb (27 days ago)
ahhh, my first computer was a TRS-80 and my first programming language was BASIC...man those were the not-so-good old days, but I loved it. Stick figure baseball, text dungeon crawlers...yeah the memories lol. I guess we really do live in spoiled times - my last contract had me work with a guy that was whining about his intellisense not working...I bet you all know exactly how that conversation finished LMAO
Stephen Webb (27 days ago)
I love this guy, what a personality man!
Havok121212 (27 days ago)
Never played any of his games, but I respect what he's been able to accomplish over the years. Good for him for doing it his way and succeeding.
The Yellow Architect (27 days ago)
Watching this for the first time, damn. One of the best GDC talks certainly. Midnight deving motivation~
Kayak Fan (28 days ago)
Loads of respect for this man. He brings some great knowledge and experience in and is really down to earth about it.
Alex Taras (28 days ago)
Pretty much the most inspirational talk about indie development...Thanks for taking the time to share this with the world !
Imrixan (28 days ago)
Oh wow, Spiderweb, there's a blast from the past. Back when I was kid I learned basic maths from doggedly puzzling out the stats screens in Nethergate. It's genuinely lovely to see them still around.
saken (29 days ago)
That was an entertaining talk, and interesting to hear some of the story behind these games. I hadn't thought about them for some time, but enjoyed playing ones like Avernum, Geneforge and Avadon, not knowing anything about their creators until now. As someone who liked older orthographic games like Ultima, their roughness became charming, in light of various things, like large worlds and increased fidelity. After hearing from the creator of those games, it makes me want to go try one of their recent releases.
forbidden404 (29 days ago)
I've got some of the Spiderweb games on Humble Bundle and I've played a few, not my stuff, but their style and dialog are really endearing to me for no apparent reason. I never knew the company was that small and I never knew the found/developer/almost everything/ was such a cool guy. This talk is one of the best I've seen on GDC, I wish all the luck for the next games coming out of Spiderweb.
forbidden404 (29 days ago)
To add on what he says, I've been graduating in Computer Engineering and we have strong ties with Computer Science in my College, we share the same buildings, a lot of the course is similar apart from the later parts and there's this thing about not getting enough sleep and being proud of it that always saddens me when I hear it. I was lucky enough to work with really diverse people from other majors and I've had an eye-opening experience about doing too many things and getting sleep deprived because of it and it's great to hear this sir talking about it, you shouldn't be proud of not getting enough sleep. It's horrifying to know that the Game Development Industry is rilled with people being overworked until burnout and I'm glad the discussion is being brought up by people inside the industry.
Amy Dentata (29 days ago)
Honestly the first biz talk I've found useful.
Wade Raef (29 days ago)
I loved Nethergate back in the late 90s. So amazing. Celtics FTW!
darkrain1189 (30 days ago)
It's great to see one of the companies you saw growing up and still around and keeping up with the curve. Spiderweb software games are still my go to when I just don't want to deal with the nuisance of "multiplayer" and how games are nowadays. Once a classic, always a classic.
Millenia (30 days ago)
Absolute legend & great talk to boot!
dartfrogger (30 days ago)
his speech mannerisms sound very similar to George RR Martin right?
Yes it does :DDD
Areanyusernamesleft (30 days ago)
As someone who has played many of his games from the original Exile, it came as no surprise that @4:50 Jeff Vogel revealed he was fascinated by mazes at an early age. ;p
Paul Gray (30 days ago)
Delightful talk!
Daz Lartist (1 month ago)
Been a fan forever of Spiderweb and this is the best video on this channel!
Scott Harper (1 month ago)
I was 12 in 1995 when Exile came out. I played it at my uncle's house because we didn't have a computer at mine that would run it. I only played the free stuff because I had no money, and following my uncle's footsteps, I hex-edited the crap out of my saves. I still think about that, being a senior software engineer to this day, and how formative it must have been. Since he started remaking them, I have been picking up the full versions of the Avernum games as well as the Avadon games. Glad he's still doing okay. :)
Alexis Wilmot Porter (9 days ago)
Did you have great "friends" who you only really visited to play games on their computers? I realized looking back at all my best friends at school from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s were selected largely because of the games and computers they had. Of course, I liked them personally and I'm sure (I hope!) they enjoyed my company, but still... Then I seemed to go through a reclusive phase once I had my own PC... hmmm. I always loved Ultima so much that I played every clone I ever saw, but Avernum was the only one that really made something original out of the basic idea. Still an excellent story arc to this day, really - and the sequels were much more consistent than the sadly flawed later Ultima games.
NDjuggle (1 month ago)
Such a brilliant talk!!! I hope he continues making games for a long time, really inspiring. :)
faB (1 month ago)
23:50 This can only last for so long. Nowadays all those assets are incredibly tiny. Even at 1080p your party members are so tiny and barely distinguishable in the environment. it looks like those mods of Diablo where they added support for higres but the game still runs at the native res. And we haven't even talked about 4K monitors. So how long does this "mean and cheap" strategy works? If you are running a very oldschool pixel based engine, and nothing scales up (unlike ie. Scaleform used in Skyrim menus)... then at some point your games will just be unplayable. In essence you had a life extension via mobile platforms, thanks to their smaller screens. For example Avadon by Spoderweb, and the ports of Baldur's Gate. But on desktop, for me at least, the game is just not playable. I tried the demos and couldn't get into. Either I go fullscreen and everything is blurry, or windowed and everything is tiny(plus windowed which is ugly, there is no "windowed borderless" mode).
Alexis Wilmot Porter (9 days ago)
Also, there's bound to be some point where ever-larger screens with games designed to run at that scale will diverge too much from old-school games designed for the classic monitor size. Personally, I find anything above 1280-1024 too detailed and large for me. It may be mobile device only for you if none of the options given for desktop graphics is suitable. Sometimes it just takes a little persistence and your eyes adjust, but not always of course. I disagree about the unplayable part - it's largely a matter of taste and preference, and eventually very good tablets or mobiles will be ubiquitous. Any game that can still sell after two full remakes has staying power in this ever-changing business.
Alexis Wilmot Porter (9 days ago)
On a mobile it can work really well - I'm working on a game using 32x32 pixel roguelike tiles largely, and they look great when zoomed in on Unreal Engine. There is a taste thing to it as well, I think - some people just don't like pixelly game art, and that's fine for them. Jeff Vogel has done an excellent job of making the most out of all his art assets - replacing them only when it's really needed. Also, for his games, the story and rpg elements are so deep and rich that the graphics really isn't the most important thing. I find a good UI and controls setup makes much more of a difference - if the game flows nicely at your preferred pace without having to click through too many windows or use clickable elements without shortcuts, that is much better than a graphical upgrade. In fact, the newer versions of Avernum can be a little too small and detailed - making it harder to see what's happening. My favourite would probably be Avernum 6 - the last one he made it seems before upgrading the first three for the second time. If Jeff Vogel's games are still being downloaded and played by people who grew up with modern graphics (as opposed to someone like me whose first computer was a CGA 4-colour 8086) then there should be no limitations - caused by graphics at least - on the longevity of such games, short of some complete revolution in how games are played.
jukebaum (19 days ago)
+faB I can get that. Your concerns are probably valid. maybe try reaching out to him on email? or the forums. he might tell you he can add that or not.
faB (20 days ago)
I'm just bummed I guess because I enjoyed Avadon so much on the iPad. I keep checking Spiderweb's games once in a while. I download a demo and try it, and no. There is NO "2x scale" mode or anything like that. So good luck playing those games on a 1440p monitor. **Desktop Dungeons** is an example that handles scaling. Use Windowed and "2x". You get a nostalgic slightly pixellated look. It works. Fullscreen looks OK too. Though if you ask me, the art style for Desktop Dungeons is so AWESOME that it truly boggles the mind why they'd go for low res pixels. I mean, the sprites they have are so awesome and unique compared to your run of the mill rogue tileset. Clearly the artist must have produced this art in higher res, but then they ruin it with a pseudo "pixel art" style that's not even remotely like old school games anyway. But anyway I digress...
jukebaum (20 days ago)
if you are cheap and want to reuse old assets. You better plan for reusing them. If assets are made only in one size that fits the current game. You are doing it wrong. That is why they remake it from ground up.
Levisaxos (1 month ago)
I've often been looking for indie RPG games and often not found anything really worth it except for a few.... but I have never seen any of the games of spiderweb software... thanks steam! Going to try atleast 10 of your games now to see if they are in my style!
Peter Leban (1 month ago)
<3
gorgonheap (1 month ago)
60 hours of content in Exile 3? I swear I put upwards of 300 into it. Played that game until windows 7 told me to stop. Jeff puts such heart into his games it's hard not to love them instantly.
zankki90 (1 month ago)
As a horrible marketing act, a genius way to speak for your company, therefore I have to give a try to your work.
Daniel Hofmann (1 month ago)
If you are an Indie, save your time and stop watching anything about motivational stuff on Youtube NOW. Watching this guy's talk once a month will keep you going.
James Brooks (1 month ago)
wow, i've been a big fan of spiderweb for over 15 years now, this was an oddly inspirational talk
Desmondshark (1 month ago)
Jeff Vogel is my hero. I have spent countless hours on his brainchild, he is one of my inspirations.
Worthless Winner (1 month ago)
Exile on a share-ware CD was my first western RPG, i loved the demos but never got enough pocket money to buy'em. So i was happy when i found them freeware. Sadly it's too hard to get them working on modern computers! Thanks for the Avernum remakes!
weemcast (1 month ago)
This was really great, I loved it. Great info and amazing humor. Can we get him on a podcast about this stuff? A regular series on Youtube? Something! ;)
Klarden (1 month ago)
I never got into his games (a bit too hardcore for me), but by gods, this is one of the best GDC talks I've seen. Hell, this talk passed the pee test! Gotta run, though...
ZoidbergForPresident (1 month ago)
46:40 It will be as long as economy revolves around money. Change that, ditc money and art will thrive...
sequorroxx (1 month ago)
Loved the exile/avernum games as a kid.
Matt Hall (1 month ago)
This is a great talk!
TanukiDigital (1 month ago)
Back in 1996 I had to get a Mac for work and there were only a few games for MacOS. The Spiderweb Software games were ubiquitous back then. This is a blast from the past.
Bryon Boyd (1 month ago)
Bring back Ultima Online for ios and androids please. 🙏🏻

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