Over at rpgcodex, they’ve posted an interview with Jeff Vogel. Jeff’s been getting a lot of press lately, ever since he started his blog and put up the numbers for Geneforge 4. Good move on his part, and I hope he’s picked up some new customers because of it all.

Anyway, it’s an in-depth interview, touching on several topics. That made it tough to choose just one, but I finally settled on story. Because his games are about that more than anything else. As he says:

It really does start with the story. With Geneforge, I had an overarching storyline, and I told that. Same with Avernum. With each game, I try to put in incremental improvements in the graphics and game system, but I really look at these games as writing novels. It’s just, I use pixels instead of paper.

That is why I am so unapologetic about not remaking my game systems all the time. They are just the medium. I care about the message. I try to make changes for a little extra variety or depth, but that’s not where my passion is.

Which explains why it seems we’re always playing the same game: we are, insofar as the mechanics are concerned. The story may change or advance with each one, but in-game play varies little.

On the one hand, that’s good. Good for Jeff, because he doesn’t have to spend much time on the engine; he can put more effort into developing the plot. Good for players, as one game makes them familiar with the mechanics, and there is no steep learning curve in future games.

The downside is that, after awhile, everything becomes over-familiar. I’ve felt this myself, following the Geneforge series. Yes, I’ve enjoyed the story of Shapers vs. Rebels very much. He’s done a better job than many games with big budgets and large teams.

But playing through the story eventually becomes a chore. However fresh the content, tedium settles in. Geneforge went to five games; Avernum will have six. Staleness is inevitable when only the plot advances in each one.

Which points out the problem of focusing too much on any one part of a game, even when it’s the most important part. In the majority of RPGs, that tends to be the graphics, and the stories are often trite. With Jeff’s games, the stories are good, but there is otherwise little that is new.

Look at the great series from earlier days, namely Wizardry, Might & Magic, and Ultima. Each of them eventually freshened up the gameplay and mechanics. Unfortunately, two of those series ended on a dismal note, but that was a content problem.

Jeff has a new project ready to start once Avernum 6 is finished. He hasn’t said much about it; likely it will be another series. If so, I hope gives a bit more attention to gameplay in the new one, and doesn’t continue “same-old, same-old” in each one. Provided, of course, he stays with turn-based combat. But going by his comments in the interview, this is one aspect that won’t change. I can certainly live with that.

Jeff Vogel Interview at rpgcodex