Thursday, June 23, 2011

Our First Game Is Out For the iPad. Hooray!

Last week, Avadon: The Black Fortress HD for the iPad went live in the iTunes App Store. The reaction to it so far has left us stunned. Literally. Like, jaws dropped, walking around in a daze.

The genesis of the iPad version was a few months ago, when I said, "Hmmm. I have a few weeks free on my schedule. I think I'll port Avadon to the iPad. That'll be good for a laugh!" I've long known that there was a demand on the device for old school gaming, free of ads, in-game purchases, cute animals, zombies, and farming.

But, it turns out, the demand was far greater than I'd ever guessed. My fan mail since the release has been very instructive. Gamers weren't just disappointed by the lack of deeper games on the device. They were downright irked.

But that is the Magic Power of the Indie developer. Find an underserved market and serve it.

Writing and releasing my first device for iOS has been very instructive. In case anyone is interested, here's a few comments on Spiderweb Software's first game for portables.

Learning To Code For a New Platform.

Apple has done an amazing job of making developing for iPhones and iPads accessible. The sets of commands to program the device (i.e. the API, called Cocoa) are very clear and not too trying to learn. The development environment, XCode, is free. There are several good, free game engines for the devices. (I used a heavily modified version of the open source engine iPTK.)

There are also excellent books available on the topic. I leaned most heavily on Beginning iPhone 4 Development. I found iPad Application Development For Dummies to be unusually poor for a Dummies book, but its chapter on Provisioning (a tricky, vital, and neglected topic) is easily worth the cost of the book.

A Decent Port. But Just Decent.

Avadon originally came out for Windows and Mac. I was really determined not to half-ass the port to the iPad. I put a lot of thought into how to best adapt an old school, Western-style RPG to a touch screen. It's not something people have spent a lot of time doing. I think I came up with good answers to a lot of the questions, and the game overall plays really well.

However, there are a number of places where the UI could be better. This isn't because I was lazy or wanted to dump shoddy work on the market, but simply because this was my first iOS application. So have mercy. Our next game for the iPad (out, let's say, next April) will be better. It'll take some doing to modify the engine, but it'll get done.

Avadon HD is also a fairly demanding app. All of those icons eat up RAM, and the first generation iPad doesn't have a lot. It's playable, but it will be pokey from time to time. It runs great on the iPad 2, but I don't take a lot of satisfaction in that. The inconsistent performance on the iPad 1 is, simply, a failing on my part.

The Apple Approval Process.

Took a week to get my app approved. No rejections. No hassles. No complaints.

The Eternal Pain of Pricing.

It hasn't all been love and group hugs. Some of my fans have been seriously furious that we sell Avadon for Mac and Windows for $25 and the iPad version is $10. Like, "I will never be your customer again. Die in a fire." furious. I don't normally explain my decisions about pricing, but this merits a few words.

The same game is almost always priced differently on different devices. If you look at the prices charged for, say, Peggle, Plants vs. Zombies, or Angry Birds on different platforms, you'll find a huge variety. Angry Birds on the iPhone? One dollar. On the Macintosh? Five dollars. That's a five times difference!

There are a variety of reasons, all of them out of my control, for why I feel it is appropriate to charge less for the iPad version:

1. It has fewer features, due to the limitations of the device. Most notably, it is stuck at 1024x768 resolution and there are no keyboard shortcuts.
2. Since it is being sold by Apple, it is subject to the rules of their system. Most notably, there is DRM, and we can't give refunds through iTunes. Games bought directly from Spiderweb have no DRM and a Money Back Guarantee.
3. When you buy Mac/PC Avadon from us, you get a registration key that can be used to unlock an unlimited number of copies, over both Mac and Windows. A registration over iTunes isn't quite so liberal.
4. There is no ability to mod the game. This matters to more people than you might think.

But the main reason Avadon HD is $10 is, to be honest, that is the only possible price. Any more expensive, and it will cost way too much for an app. Any cheaper, and we're charging too little for what is still an old school niche product with a limited audience. If you try to look at it from our perspective, I think you will see that we didn't have a lot of options here.

One More Disappointment.

We are going to release all of our new games on the iPad. No question.

However, we currently have no plans to write games for the iPhone. After long thought, I came to realize that we just can't figure out how to write the sort of in-depth games we like to do on that screen size. Again, this is a failing on our part. I'm sure some intrepid developer will find a way to make it work. (Hear that, young Indies? That is the siren song of a market for you, all wrapped up with a big, red bow.)

Also, since most Android devices don't have a screen big enough to support our games, we are very unsure how soon we'll be supporting that platform. We are in wait-and-see mode.

Thank You.

And finally, many thanks to everyone who reads this who has supported our games. At the end of the day, I'm just a guy in a basement trying to earn a living and feed the kids. I am grateful for every sale. Plus, they make it possible for me to write more games. Lord knows, by this point, I'm too old and cranky to learn how to do real work.

Soon, we will release the first screenshots and information for Avernum: Escape From the Pit. For Windows and Macintosh. And the iPad!


  1. Reading this article provoked an almost unconscious response; good for you.
    I don't own an iPad or iPhone but the presence of some deeper games than colour matching etc can only be a good thing in the event that I do.

  2. I have a 10" 1280x800 Iconia Tab Android tablet, and I've yet to see a non-casual game for it that doesn't have horrible writing and lazy design. A lot of iPad-sized Android devices seem to be coming out around now, like the Asus Transformer and the Galaxy Tab 10.1. I'd definitely like a Spiderweb RPG for mine.

    The market is probably a lot smaller than that of iPad users for now, unfortunately.

  3. Awesome and yes the Ipod/Ipad market is hungry for stuff like this.

    Also if someone decided to port the original X-Com to iPad it will sell like hotcakes. Same for Dungeon Master.

  4. @Risto: Believe me, we are keeping an eye on it. A lot of it will depend on my personal energy level. I'm not the greatest programmer in the world, and learning a new platform is very exhausting to me. But it is something we can potentially see ourselves doing at some point.

    - Jeff Vogel

  5. Good to hear, Jeff. New market will bring new attention to good spiderweb games.

  6. Wow! I need to download that, lol.

  7. I own a Touch, but I am seriously considering an iPad purchase in time to play the Avernum reboot. Since I've played both Exile 1 and Avernum 1 on Mac, I can probably withstand the wait for the iPad port.

    The iPad will likely make a nice addition to the coffee table. I already use the Touch to check IMDB while watching movies/TV. It's also a handy instant-on device for news/weather/sports when I'm not in front of a computer. I don't spend much time in full sun, so the iPad would make a decent eReader, as well.

  8. Avernum: Escape from the Pit, eh? Sure, that sets up easy titles for Avernum 2 2 and Avernum 3 2 but when it comes to do Avernum 4 2 you'll be screwed!

  9. Hi Jeff,

    Until yesterday, I haven't heard of you and never played any of your games. But yesterday, I got Avadon and stayed up a lot later than I expected to playing it. Today, I've read some blog posts about "hardcore old-school" RPG gamers not liking this game.

    I've been playing cRPG's for about 20 years now, starting with Might & Magic III. My favorite RPG's are Baldur's Gate, M&M series, Planescape Torment, Betrayal at Krondor, Lands of Lore, Ultima, Wizardry, etc.
    So I definitely fit the "hardcore old school" demographic and I want to say a big THANK YOU for this game.

    About six years ago I stopped playing games on PC/Mac altogether, because of real life getting in the way, and only recently started playing again when I got the iPhone/iPad. Ever since this platform got introduced, There have been NO good, old school deep RPG's with engaging plot, turn based combat, a good skills system, etc. At best, we've had something like Undercroft (good combat system, no plot), Japanese RPG's (which are not real RPG's, anyway), Diablo clones (which are also not real RPG's), or rogue-likes, which are not real RPG's either.

    Anyone who says this game is too casual doesn't know what they're talking about. This game is a G-d-send. Thank you so much, and it's the best 10 bucks I ever spent on an iPad app.

  10. Wait, are there any modding utilities included with Avadon? I had no idea. The only game of yours that I knew had user generated content was Blades of Avernum/Exile. I am sorry to say I haven't purchased the full versions of any of your games, but a modding utility such as a map creator, scripter, or even a small chunk of source code would make it a must-buy.

  11. It's a wonderful release Jeff. It's so good to see a deep CRPG release on the iPad. It's probably only one of three decent such apps in the entire AppStore at this time. Just in time for my business trip to Japan! :)

    Keep them coming and I will keep buying! :)

  12. I think there is an underserved market with Android tablets, please, I implore you, serve it.

    I have a Motorola Xoom which is quite similar to an iPad2, and I'd love to play this game in it.

  13. Did you really put up a game on the AppStore without including screenshots? For shame.

  14. Thanks so much for this release. I don't have the time or money to put down $25 for a game I will probably never finish on my pc (Case in point I've only gotten halfway through Eschalon Book I in the 2+ years since I bought it). The iPad has allowed me to still game on the bus or train or in bed before I go to sleep and I've been both waiting for an oldschool RPG for iPad and to play your games for a long time. $10 on the iPad was perfect, even if/when I never finish it.

  15. Are you willing to say anything about sales numbers? How is it selling relative to the PC/Mac versions? Do the sales offset the reduced price?

  16. @Gardnan

    There aren't any utilities, but all us old-time SpiderWeb fans know Jeff's scripting language and can modify that to alter NPC AI and event triggers.

  17. @SkyHawk: Of course, we put up the game with screenshots. Then, some time in the last 24 hours, they just disappeared. We're now hard at work figuring out how to bring them back. Thanks for pointing that out.

    - Jeff Vogel

  18. Sorry to hear about iPhone. Up to this point, I have not considered purchasing an iPad. But Avadon, could be the killer app. for me.

  19. Anytime! I think I might make this my first Spiderweb game I buy / play.

  20. Haven't bothered to buy the mac version, but the moment I saw iPad version I hit the buy button - even when my iPad is yet to be shipped by Apple. I love Spiderweb games (played them starting from Exile 1.0) but since I got old and had kids I just haven't had time to play newer titles anymore. iPad is perfect form factor to enable play whenever I have a short slot of free time, ie. on bus etc.

  21. As soon as I saw this for the iPad I couldn't wait to get it! I have bought and played every single Spiderweb game ever released, and I have never been as excited for a release as this one!
    I'm looking forward to Avernum 3 and Blades of Avernum on the iPad!
    The only thing, is that I wish i could transfer Save Game files between my mac/pc and the ipad. I know this is possible since other apps connect through itunes, but I'm not sure what api or how much coding would have to be involved on the dev side.
    And yes, this game is what i need to replace everything i do on my ipad while i'm not busy, riding the bus, flying, in the bathroom, you name it!
    And I haven't tried it yet, but i use a bluetooth keyboard on my ipad.... will it work with this game?!? wow, to be able to play it like the desktop with a keyboard would be awesome!
    hey, it's just v1.0 release for this game. Jeff, please think about some of this for your 1.1 or whatever release!

  22. Hello,

    can you post also something about MAC development? tools, engines you are using, dev environment...

  23. It's always nice to hear about unexpected successes. May you continue to have successes with your games, Jeff. Always been a fan since I first found Exile on a shareware disk years ago.

  24. Congrats Jeff!Think my iPad is ready for such great apps! Keep sharing ur masterpieces with us. Thanks a lot

  25. I love the iPad version. I would also love it if you would start porting some of the geneforge or Avernium titles to iPad.

    A couple of small complaints:
    When targeting creatures, name of creature shows up under my finger. It would be great if it shows up somewhere that is readable. (like at top)
    It is difficult to select the correct square / enemy in combat. It would be great if there was two zoom levels for easier targeting. (although that would necessitate either massive pixelization or two versions of each icon, adding lots of extra work and memory usage).
    Overall so far it is an excellent game and worth every penny.

  26. Hello,

    I'm a first time customer of your games, I just want to say I loved this Avadon game on the iPad. Haven't played a CRPG since Baldur's Gate, and it was nice finding yours.

    I have most of the same User Interface complaints as those mentioned above, targeting enemies and reading the pop-ups over my finger.

    Anyway, great job, really really great job. I had previously tried one of your games via a demo on a PC, and it didn't grab me, but the iPad feels like a perfect fit.


  27. Congrats on the ipad release. Looking at the charts is easy to see how that made even more money than your desktop versions (I'd be surprised if I didn't) and I understand why you're porting all your future game to iPad ;)

  28. I know its a bit counter intuitive but I would strongly recommend purchasing a stylus for this game. I know, you shouldn't have to purchase a peripheral but the small tips are perfect for selecting enemies etc and still having the text be legible.

  29. Is it possible that you could port the original Exile series to the iphone/ipod touch? It would seem like that would work well with the iphone's screen size.

  30. Gah! Nothing for us iPhone peeps? What if I type purty purty puhleeze!?!?! There's no way you could imagine doing something awesome on that format?!?!? C'mon, please consider imagining a wee bit more -- how's this: 1/4 perspective but with zooming & spinning, and a very unique type of game like a dungeon delver (random dungeons) with 'on-level' quests & always random?

    Yeah, I'm talking about a roguelike.


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  33. Just finished Avadon on the iPad (the loyalist route using a blademaster called Alwan), and want to add my congratulations for producing yet another masterpiece. It is amazing and somewhat comforting to know that a one-man indie outfit can blow big corporate games clear out of the water as it comes to fully capturing your interest for a long, long time. (actually, in keeping with the theory of planned obsolescence, big game designers probably don't want you to spend too much time on any one title). I’m looking forward to seeing how the plot proceeds in Avadon II, and hope you continue to inject quirky details, wit and the occasional easter eggs for those who like to explore every pixel of the map!

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