The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for packing up your house in preparation for a move while being quietly grateful that you’ve moved so many times that you’ve whittled down your belongings to the essentials. Let’s put down the boxes for a second and find the week’s best games writing before it’s too late.

At Paste, Cameron Kunzelman writes about Jeff Vogel, cantankerous and focused developer of old-fashioned isometric RPGs.

I cannot think of another figure in videogames who has so diligently focused and refocused on a world and collection of ideas as Jeff Vogel. It’s this constant repetition, finding new notes within old songs, that I find so engaging about his work, and it’s work that I don’t often see praised or even addressed in articles about him or interviews with him. Vogel has an uncompromising aesthetic vision that returns to these same ideas of imprisonment, rebellion and triumph over systemic forces that is tragically unrecognized and undiscussed in critical circles around games. Even worse is that Vogel seems to still be a niche (but, thankfully, a large niche) creator who is adored by a wide pool of hardcore fans and the additional players they gather by word of mouth.

At Kotaku, Keza MacDonald writes about “how Fable Legends took down Lionhead”. Quotes from this were doing the rounds all week. Good ol’ Microsoft.

It was around this time that Microsoft came up with a new priority for Fable Legends: Xbox One and Windows 10 cross-play. There is reportedly an initiative within Microsoft, codenamed Helix, that centres around Windows convergence; the eventual aim is for all of Microsoft’s products to run the same software. In the shorter term, all Xbox One games were to be adapted to run on Windows 10 as well. Fable Legends was to be the first game that would do this.

At Polygon, developer Ian Denniston writes about his experience working on Fable – which destroyed his life, but which he did not regret even though it wasn’t worth it and he wouldn’t do it again.

It became clear that we were in trouble. We had lots of cool things to show off — demos for the press and those we gave at E3 were always well received — but the open secret was that we had pretty much no game. There was so much that needed to be done, so much that I don’t think had even been decided. It wasn’t like we even really had a plan of how to get to the end. There were many ideas and lots of potential, but nothing concrete. If we were ever to release the game, something needed done. And so something was.

Soren Johnson has been out and about, talking and writing about Offworld Trading Company, his economic RTS which had its full release just recently. I feel like the game got overlooked, so consider these a reminder. First off, he’s at Gamasutra writing a postmortem of the early access process.

Over the 14 months of Early Access, we shipped ten major updates to the game along with a number of hotfixes, which absolutely took its toll on the development team. Each update had to go through a round of QA, with bugs being assigned to developers who had to interrupt their normal development flow to ensure the update was polished and ready. Some of these bugs were critical, but others were of subjective importance. The QA team was trying their best to be thorough, but during active development, not every bug needs to be fixed, especially for systems that are currently just placeholders. I gave each team member the right to make a judgment call on which bugs to ignore, but the process itself absolutely took time away from more important, long-term tasks.

Johnson appeared on Shut Up & Sit Down to discuss the game’s boardgame inspirations.

And Johnson was interviewed on his own podcast, the excellent Designer Notes, by Bruce Geryk. “They discuss how exploring a black map is one of gaming’s greatest hits, why the hardest part of designing Offworld was ending the game, and why Early Access games shouldn’t have QA.”

A short one, because packing. Music this week is Maggie Rogers’ Alaska, because it was all over and I like it. There’ll probably be no Papers next week because I’ll be on a boat.


  1. Eight Rooks says:

    Huh, Maggie Rogers is getting somewhere? Now that’s good to know (I don’t even have a Facebook page, so I wouldn’t have noticed it that way). Blood Ballet is a terrific album and those songs she says are doing well on Spotify are some of the highlights (James in particular is amazing). I got BB for free off Bandcamp but I’d be happy to pay for a followup if it’s anything like as good.

    • TWChristine says:

      Might not really be the same kind of music, but I came across Princess Chelsea the other day and have been really enjoying it.

  2. aepervius says:

    The thing is, corporate office tend to only see short or medium term return on money. A Fable 4 would have been a lower ROI than a successful F2P game, and possibly increase the fable license worth, but the market is over-saturated. And then there are people like me which would not want to touch a skinner box (*), sorry a F2P game, with a 10 foot pole. And then limiting yourself to a new windows platform was the same kind of trick they already used (and are using with time splinter) but it is a failed proposal as only a minority buy an operating system (especially one with such a shady reputation like windows 10) just for a game. IMO from the moment they took both those decision, windows 10 and skinner box, it was game over. And now the fable license is decreasing if nobody develop for it, as people will simply lose sight of it. So de facto it is not only the investment into fable legend they lose, but also the worth of the license. But I guess at that point they would rather risk it be worth zero and write it off rather than see it on PS.

    I do wonder if we are headed for a F2P crash. I would not mind that if it means reinvesting into more traditionally game and financial models.

    (*) my reason to dislike them is multiple, but usually for many of such game this is because they are limiting in their progression model and try to lead you to monetization at the expanse of gameplay : the gameplay is changed to have you go to the store. Now this is not always true some F2P model are for cosmetics, but even those I can see choke points in progression to make you stay longer rather than enjoy more the game. Usually those game reach the point where the gameplay is not interesting anymore and is too much grindy/slowed down for my taste.

    I would rather pay upfront and have an interesting gameplay than pay nothing and have a drab one emphasizing the store.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Could not agree more.

      First, I think Free us on the way out. It has summarily failed to work in most instances. Warframe is a good example of why.

      Much as I live the moment to moment game play of Warframe I will no longer spend money on it. The game is straddling the fence of pay-to-progress. Making things so hard to obtain in game, that they basically have to be purchased. Moreover, all loot us a horrendous, repetitive grind. At this point the developers have rather openly placed monetization above game play in their list of priorities.

      And so it goes with free games: Allow people to play a subpar version if a good game, all the while selling the good parts to them piecemeal. And when this finally, inevitably fails, you resort to selling power, ruining your rep with players.

      In cone the golden eggs short term, while on her nest before the public eye the goose is slowly strangled.

      Free to Play: Goodbye, and Good Riddance.

    • freedomispopular says:

      Nobody’s buying Windows 10, you’re definitely right about that.

    • Baines says:

      It is perhaps worth noting that while Legends might have been the nail in the coffin, Lionhead was not necessarily in a healthy place even before Legends.

      The company had spent years working on some of Molyneux’s increasingly vague ambitious titles that didn’t pan out, before Molyneux wandered off entirely to form another company.

      It is a similar story to the death of Free Radical. Haze was an example of bad management decisions killing a studio, but Free Radical was really taken down through the accumulation of issues over several years. If Lionhead were in a better position post-Molyneux, then it might could have rode out Legends.

  3. Geebs says:

    It’s almost like Fable Legends was Lionhead’s Hulk Hogan, and Microsoft was their Peter Thiel.

  4. malkav11 says:

    Funny you should post an article about Vogel just as I dusted off my Avadon run and finally finished that game, over two years after I last played. His proclivity for remaking his older games as a way of keeping them relevant is certainly interesting, although I’ve always felt a touch misguided as well. There are real improvements along the road from Exile to the second round of Avernum remakes, but he also has made some changes to how the games play along the way that leaves me still preferring the originals in certain respects. Most notably, the Exile games supported a six character party (versus Avernum’s four) and had a much wider palette of spells. The party size change made it much harder to have a party that covers all the needed bases, and the truncated spell list left off a lot of my favorites.

    The other thing is that while it’s nice to have an updated version of his classics for the future, a lot of his fans have already played these games in one or more previous iterations. He adds new bits and pieces along the way, but the fundamental storyline and encounters are pretty much the same. I wonder how many are willing to revisit them in slightly fancier dress? (FWIW, I am, but mostly because the version I played was Exile, back in the late 90s, and I never beat any of them. If I’d played the first Avernum remakes, maybe not so much.)

    I would guess Geneforge remakes are coming, by the way. At the time the current crop of Avernum remakes started that series had just finished so was too new to remake. But I gather that once Avadon finishes (game 3, The Warborn, is next up from Vogel), he has another new franchise idea as well. Looking forward to it!

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Most notably, the Exile games supported a six character party (versus Avernum’s four) and had a much wider palette of spells

      Yep. The fireball spell in particular was pretty much my single favorite thing about the entire Exile series, and it was removed.

      The first Avernums were ok, but the latest series of remakes really “streamline” character skills and everything to the point where it’s just not interesting to me anymore. I remember his blog post about being inspired by Dragon Age: Origins to add auto-regenerating health at the end of combat. I understand the attraction as a game designer who wants to reliably balance encounters, but you start filing off all the rough edges that made something like Exile so memorable, and you wind up with something fairly bland.

      • malkav11 says:

        I was more excited about the new approach to skills in Avernum: Escape from the Pit when I thought that he was adapting Avadon’s system of giving new perks and special attacks along the way, but then I looked closer and the only thing it takes from Avadon is having to spend points in certain configurations instead of the complete freeform of earlier Spiderweb games. I found that disappointing. Avadon’s mechanically a little simplistic for my tastes, but I really do like the character building and would like to see him apply that sort of thing (with different abilities, of course) to other franchises. I’m a big fan of the regenerating health, though.

        I think I’m still more into the latest remakes than the first crop of Avernums, though. There are interface niceties that have improved, I feel like the big step down in gameplay already happened the first time around, and so on. Still not sure if I’m going to ever end up finishing Escape from the Pit. It’s a little too open-ended and freeform for my current sensibilities, and a bit light on story. Also real easy to wander into stuff you just cannot handle at your current level of power. If I do it would probably be with a walkthrough in hand.

      • malkav11 says:

        And yes, fireball was great.

  5. Rizlar says:

    Vogel really needs to go back to Exile’s art style, it is so much better in every way; usability, quality of individual assets, quality of world building as a whole. Sadly none of the old games seem to run on modern systems. :(

  6. Michael Fogg says:

    Related to the Jeff Vogel article: his games, under Spiderweb Software are currently at 70% off at GOG.

  7. Mags says:

    Now I’m melancholy for a game that doesn’t exist, didn’t exist and won’t exist, i.e. Lionhead’s Fable 4.
    And I’ve never been a massive fan of the series. I’ve been vaguely wishing they’d release something other than Fable since 2005.