A Voice Indie Wilderness: Jeff Vogel on Gaming

I’m not sure when the transition occurred, but back in the proverbial day, the name for games produced by small companies and sold online via unlockable demo was Shareware. You downloaded the demo on your creaking 22.8k modem, played until you got to the dreaded Shareware barrier, and then either ponied up the money to keep going or moved on to some other game.

Now this self-same business model goes by the name “indie.” Whatever. It’s still Shareware to me and, I get the sense, to Spiderweb Software‘s Jeff Vogel as well.

Spiderweb has specialized in single-player computer RPGs since 1995’s brilliant Exile, a game that had a literal Shareware barrier blocking off the majority of the map from exploration until you paid to unlock the rest of the game. And it was worth $25 fourteen years ago to keep going, no question.

Avernum 5 Screenshot

Is it worth that much today, when you can get older big-budget games with installations spanning multiple CDs for $10? Jeff Vogel’s new blog, The Bottom Feeder, takes on these questions and more:

I can’t compete on price with old classic. Nobody can. To expect me (or anyone) to match price with a handful of old games is completely ridiculous. Can’t happen.

But my games have an advantage. They’re new. Go ahead and play the old classics, or at least the ones you haven’t played already. Go play Fallout or Planescape: Torment. They’re SWEET.

You’ll be done soon enough. And, when you are, I’ll still be here.

Admittedly, I’m not completely objective here. I beta tested seven Spiderweb games and even got a NPC named after me in one of the Geneforge games—talk about niche geek cred! Jeff and his small team at Spiderweb produce huge games, with amazing amounts of text and great storylines, for Mac and PC. On a cost-per-hour basis, these games are bargains.

As gamers, we need games like these to continue being produced, so check out them out if you haven’t already.

Universal Universe: EV Nova goes UB

Macworld brings us the news that Ambrosia Software‘s classic space exploration-trading-fighting-sandbox game EV Nova has been upgraded to Universal Binary (or, for our non-Mac using readers, it runs natively on Intel-powered Macs).

Bad place to be in a shuttle.

First released back in 2002, EV Nova was the third the series of Escape Velocity games, all with similar gameplay and with the ability to be extended and modified via plug-ins, leading to a very devoted online following. There’s even a Windows version.

Think single-player, top-down, simplified EVE Online (but with better quest writing and without all the annoying Cider client crashes on the Mac) and you’ve got a good idea of EV Nova. Might not be cutting edge, but the fact that Ambrosia took the time to update a six year-old game to Universal Binary status says something about the game’s enduring popularity, and about Ambrosia’s dedication to their products.

(Via Macworld)

With a Story and a Side Arm: Bungie’s Marathon

Every few years, I reacquaint myself with an old friend, one I’ve known since 1994. It originally came on four 3.5″ floppies in a triangular box, produced by a Mac-only software shop with a funny name: Bungie. They had previously released Pathways into Darkness, an adventure shooter centering on an alien god awakening in a jungle pyramid. Their new Mac-only game? Marathon.


The Marathon demo came out in late November, 1994, changing Mac gaming—and arguably computer gaming as well. It certainly wasn’t the first first person shooter; it wasn’t the first shooter to feature a detailed story told through interaction with in-game objects; it wasn’t the first shooter to use the mouse to change the player’s viewpoint independent of movement direction (mouse look); and it wasn’t the first shooter to attract an active modding community. But it did it all so very well, and on a platform not renowned for gaming to boot.

I upgraded my trusty Mac LC III to a whopping 8 MB of RAM (at no mean cost, either) in preparation for the full game after playing the demo, which I downloaded slowly on a 28.8k modem. USENET group comp.sys.mac.games lit up with conversations about the demo. Indeed, the volume of Marathon-related posts was so high that it spurred the split of c.s.m.g into various sub-groups, like .action and .flight-sim. I still have a record of a post I made to c.s.m.g that apologizes for posting about Marathon there:

From: chbaer@kestrel.cqi.com (chbaer)
Newsgroups: comp.sys.mac.games
Subject: Marathon and Micronauts?
Date: 15 Dec 1994 08:00:55 -0500
Message-ID: <3cpem7$d8e@kestrel.cqi.com>
X-Newsreader: TIN [version 1.2 PL0]

(Sorry, my server doesn’t carry alt.games.marathon or alt.mac.games.marathon)

Has anyone noticed the similarity between the soldiers and Bug from the
late-70’s/early-80’s comic book and action figure series Micronauts?
Bug, too, carries a fighting stick with a spade-like top. Hmm…
perhaps a plot connection (or at least something to think about until
Marathon ships).

Why the rabid fan base? Setting aside the fact that this amazing game was Mac-only, fostering quite proprietary feelings in the breasts of many Mac gamers, the game’s immersive story kept people coming back for more even after the last level.

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