Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Jeff Vogel on How He Saved the Games Industry Overnight

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 22, 2010

Long-time indie RPG maker Jeff Vogel makes some dang good points:

“If you asked me why I used that same old clunky game engine and why I am still using it, I would give this answer: Because I am really smart and cool and awesome. And if more people emulated me, the game industry would not be near so messed up.

“Now, mind you, I don’t write the same game again and again. That’s like saying an author who wrote ten books wrote the same book each time because they are published using the same paper and ink. Did I write a whole-new story? Then it’s a whole new game.”

You can check out the rest of his article here:

The Bottom Feeder: How I Saved the Gaming Industry Overnight By Being Awesome

Origin was probably most famous / notorious creating a new engine for every Ultima release. Except – well, they kinda faked it with Ultima VII Part 2: Serpent Isle, which really wasn’t another part of ANYTHING other than a way to get another game out of their engine, and appease their new corporate masters, EA. And previously they made two more RPGs (the “Worlds of Ultima“) out of the Ultima VI engine, but those weren’t officially part of the “Ultima” cycle – just kinda spin-off side-quests for the Avatar. And then the two Ultima Underworld games used the same engine (albeit enhanced) – but again, those were also spin-offs, and weren’t in-house projects.  So even they weren’t quite adamant about their stance.

Many folks claim that what eventually sank the long-standing Might & Magic series was a failure to significantly update their technology. I never played the later games, but from what I hear that wasn’t the only problem…

And then, there’s the story of how the rush for new technology destroyed a pitch meeting for Ultima Underworld III…

Because the story of video games over the last three decades has largely been the story of advancing technology, there’s definitely been an assumption that a new game means new technology. That’s gotta change. And it looks like it is. The technology should fit the game, not the other way around. And as the indies (like Vogel) keep demonstrating, there’s a lot of awesome, unrealized potential in these less-than-cutting-edge engines.

Filed Under: Biz, Production - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Justin Alexander said,

    Look at how much mileage was to be had in the original Doom engine. Or Neverwinter Nights.

    It’s not clear to me why it’s only in the mod community that you get an environment where developers hone and perfect their skills with a particular game engine. It’s as if professional design houses spend all their time developing oil-based paint, paint a single picture with them, and then move on to developing the next type of paint.

    I thought the move towards episodic content a couple years back was going to fix this blind spot in the industry. Instead, it’s only amplified it: Instead of turning out multiple short games using the same technology, they’re dumping more and more money into smaller and smaller returns in terms of actual gameplay.

  • Brian 'Psychochild' Green said,

    Actually, I really enjoy the later Might & Magic games. M&M 7 is probably my favorite, and not just because they borrowed the map of Meridian 59‘s Orc Caves. (The producer was a big fan of the game. 🙂 I will agree, it’s hardly pretty, but there’s a lot of character options. It’s probably one of the last great “western” RPGs along with Wizardry 8.

    Sadly M&M 8 went away from letting you build your party and went with what felt like gimmicky dragon characters. M&M 9 tried to update the game with a “real” 3D engine and ended up being a complete mess. So, sometimes updating your technology isn’t the answer.

    Ultimately, I think the role of technology for RPGs is mostly to get people in the door. We got pretty much no additional interest in Meridian 59 when we updated the rendering engine. People who like an RPG will stick with it, even if the graphics aren’t all that pretty.

    My thoughts.

  • (name here) said,

    Well, changing game engines is not without advantages. It does let you introduce new gameplay. On the other hand, graphics updates are indeed of dubious values. They’re neat, but I much prefer better gameplay.

  • WCG said,

    OK, I’m not a game-developer, so I don’t know how significant keeping the same game engine really is. But much as I loved Jeff Vogel’s early games, I soon got to the point, especially with Avernum, where I thought I was playing the same game over and over again.

    Yes, the stories were different, but the gameplay was the same. And with a turn-based RPG, a lot of the interest for me is with the strategy of developing my party of characters and the tactics of battle. When those things don’t change, or don’t change much, I might as well just play the previous game again.

    I always wanted to support Spiderweb Software, and so I ended up buying some sequels I didn’t play. But eventually, I stopped even that.

    As I say, I don’t know if I needed a new game engine, since I’m simply not that knowledgeable about game development. But new skills – important skills that really made a significant difference in the game – would have been a huge help. For EVERY new game, I want to re-learn optimal combat tactics, rather than just use the tactics I learned in the first game.

    And even more importantly, I want to THINK about my characters, about the appropriate mix of skills, attributes, and their role in the party. I want a sequel that’s similar to the previous game, but different enough that it’s a completely new experience. But no doubt that’s a lot to ask…

  • Chevluh said,

    Well, waht killed M&M was that the games were rushed, according to JVC himself, probably had less to do with the engine. Especially since both Xeen games already recycled Terra’s engine (with a few enhancements, admittedly) and it worked fine.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I guess that could spawn a whole new topic — milking the ol’ cash cow versus continuing to serve fans of a beloved series! Oftentimes the soulless-sounding former also leads to failure, which sounds like Karma. But does it always?

  • Bad Sector said,

    Didn’t the last RPG Codex story basically proved that milking the cash cow is the only method to not fail?

    Also Jeff Vogel seems to agree with this: Avernum has six episodes and from what i’ve read its a remake of an older (similarly big) series of his games :-P.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    My thought is that there’s a difference between just milking the cow (*dry*) to churn out sequels and … well, what Vogel does.