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A love letter to Spiderweb Software —

adventureLet’s just get this out of the way. I like roguelikes. Specifically, I like top down, dungeon crawling roguelikes that gives you a sandbox with some guidelines, and says “go have fun”.

Well, once upon a time, back before Facebook, the iPhone, broadband internet, Valve, Google, and wifi were a thing, I had never played computer games. The internet was just barely a thing, and unlike today, you couldn’t just download the games from Steam.

About the time that Java was invented, I acquired three CDs loaded with shareware games and demos. These CDs (published by Aztech New Media), which I regret to say I don’t have anymore, were each labeled with a genre. There were Adventure, Parlor, and Strategy games. And they were an absolute treasure trove of interesting content.


Image from Exile I documentation

My favorite, by far, was a game called Exile, published by a company called Spiderweb Software. I fell in love with the game, the world, the lore, and I spent hours upon hours playing and learning and exploring. I don’t think I ever actually completed the game, but I had fun.

Eventually, the CDs got lost, the game files fell into the void of failed hard drives and hardware upgrades. I mostly forgot about the games. But the ideas, the concepts, they didn’t just disappear. Over the years, I’ve felt drawn to games that focused on quality and depth of content, even if the visual presentation isn’t “cutting edge”. Games like Stone Soup’s “Dungeon Crawl”, Castle of the Winds, and Battle for Wesnoth are high on my list of interesting, fun, creative games.

Years later, I re-discovered Exile, purely by accident. Once again, I dove deep, playing through the fantastic demos available for the Exile series, Nethergate, and Geneforge. But, once again, I never actually finished any of them, and other things distracted me, and I forgot about the games for a while.

Fast forward to Jul 11, 2013, when Spiderweb Software was featured in the Weekly Humble Bundle. I was ecstatic to discover that many of the games I knew and loved were available on Steam.

What, exactly, do I love about the games? Well, some of it is subjective, like the fact that I’ve got a soft spot for roguelikes and dungeon crawl games. Other things are more objective, like how story driven games are more engaging.

  • Story, story, story. Not the railroad-y kind that proclaims you to to be the Hero of Ages, The One True Heir, Who Must Save The World, but the kind that builds a story around the choices you make and lets you live in the world, explore, but see far-reaching effects of your choices.
  • Variety and balance are huge things in the Exile games. There’s no One True Class that gives you ultimate power, you get to build characters that fit your play style, and you aren’t penalized for failing to take exactly sixteen points in Underwater Blindfolded Lockpicking.
  • Constantly expanding awareness of the world, where you start out playing
  • Zero class lock-in means you don’t have to doom your fighter to a life without magic…just spend a point or three on intelligence and Mage/Priest, and you’ll be hurling fireballs (or throwing down blessings) with the best of em.
  • Related to no class lock-in, the classes have common sense balancing limitations, eg it’s difficult to cast some spells while in full plate armor.
  • Level progression in the Exile games helps guide you where to go, but if you want to min/max to take on a quest earlier, you aren’t penalized.
  • Complex, lore aware questlines help guide you towards rewarding results…and based on decisions you make or who you help, doors may open…or doors may close.
  • Hidden sections of the game, random encounters, and secret quest lines means that poking around in corners and exploring the map is really, really rewarding. Maybe you’ll find a mushroom vendor who will sell you a map to a treasure, maybe you’ll find a crypt just waiting for you to liberate it from piles of loot, maybe you’ll find a dragon to talk with.

These are all fairly dry, intellectual reasons. But they don’t properly address my feelings about Spiderweb Software.

The truth is, I love the games, I love the lore, and I’m hoping that Jeff Vogel keeps putting fingers to keyboard and producing new games forever. I grew up with Exile and GeneForge, and there are few things that make me happier than loading up my old party in Blades of Exile and taking on a new scenario.

Spiderweb Software is a large part of why I love games, and why I love the games that I do. Spiderweb set a high bar for game design, game lore, and creativity, and I’m a better person for having played the games.

Thank you, Spiderweb, and thank you Jeff. Keep being awesome.

~ jakimfett

Categorised as: Programming | Snippets

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