When I first looked into longtime independent developer Jeff Vogel’s upcoming Queen’s Wish: The Conqueror, I found a number of things I expected: turn-based combat, a role-playing game with choices, and Spiderweb Software’s classic art style. What I didn’t expect to find was a game that involved managing shops and building forts.
Or a parable about how it’s time for the Baby Boomers to step aside in the United States and for the younger people to take over.
“Nobody from my generation has ever run this country, and I’m old! I’m an old guy! I’m well into middle age,” Vogel said in a video call. “Part of it is my fantasy that at some point, I want every Baby Boomer to say, look, we’re tired. We want to retire to Boca. We want to catch up on 30 years of episodes of Wheel of Fortune. You guys run the country now. You’re going to screw up a lot, but it’s your time. That’s your job. And so I have my own frustrations about that.”
Queen’s Wish is coming out later this year for PC, Mac, and iPad. Like all of Vogel’s earlier games, it’s a turn-based RPG. But this one has more crafting than he’s tinkered with in the past. Your family has had enough of your lazy ways and has decided it’s time for you to join the family business — ruling an empire. You do have a party, but instead of friends helping one another face danger, it consists of underlings assisting your rule of Haven, an empire that’s in shambles after facing a calamity.
We also discuss how Vogel has created a new engine for Queen’s Wish and Apple’s Arcade service — something he thinks he’s too small for but is keen to discuss with Apple. This in itself is remarkable to me, as Vogel once decided to stop publishing on iOS.
Here is an edited transcript of our interview.
The family biz
GamesBeat: How is this world for Queen’s Wish different than what you’ve done with Avadon, Avernum, and some of the other games you’ve made?
Jeff Vogel: There’s a lot of differences, both in the game setting and the game system. For this, I really have been pushing hard to try to do a lot of new stuff and innovative stuff.
It started with the idea that I’m always a sucker for games where it lets you build up your town, and you can build shops and sell things and make money. I always just got a big kick out of that. But I wanted a game where that was a major part of it, where you’re trying to build an empire and build industry and have all of these miners and craftsmen and artisans or whatever working to serve you, and that’s where you get your power from. If you’re a person wandering around in the wilderness, you’re sort of powerful. If you have this gigantic industry behind you, then you become way more powerful. That was the core idea for it. And then I thought, well, where does that setting come from? Why do you have that much authority?
The other thing about it is, I wanted it to be in part about a family story. I have a family now. I have kids, teenagers. I don’t think computer games deal with that very much, in a funny, interesting way. In the game you’re the youngest prince or princess, the youngest child of the family business, and you’ve always been a layabout, a ne’er-do-well. At a certain point your family says, OK, you need to join the business. You need to do your job. You need to earn all of this wealth you’ve been given. They kick you into a magical portal and you fall out in this wilderness, and you can’t come back until you’ve proven that you can join the family business.
Of course, our games always have tons of choice and options. Once you get there, you find you don’t have to do it. You’re free now, and you can start exploring and doing your own thing and making your own choices. But there will always be people in the world who have their own agendas and uses for you, and they have their own ways to bribe you. Everyone’s going to be bugging you and trying to get you to help them in their own way. When I started this game I wanted to do a bit less dialogue, because I find writing dialogue really exhausting. For the last year I’ve been doing nothing but writing dialogue.
I’m really happy with how this game turned out. I think it’s a cool story, cool characters. The way your character advances and the way he gains power really feels innovative. I’m excited about this series. That was a long monologue, but that’s a lot of what’s on my mind about it.
GamesBeat: There seems to be a humor about it that I haven’t seen in your other games.
Vogel: My games always have a bit of humor. I can be really funny, but I’m also a gigantic civics nerd and politics nerd and history nerd. I’ve been saying for decades that–this game has a lot of funny bits in it, a lot of funny lines, a lot of humorous situations. But in the end it always gets–whenever I write a game, it always ends up being overwhelmed by my fascination with humanity and governments and history and systems. Just why things work the way they do. Like how people can start out with a great idea and a great goal and all the ways that can go wrong. What’s the quote? From the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever built. It’s one of my favorite quotes. I love writing games where everyone starts out with a bunch of great ideas and it all falls apart.
GamesBeat: What is the family business? Is it more than just ruling an empire?
Vogel: No, that’s it. A queen is a provider of services. A queen provides the service of governance and is paid in return with all of the authority and wealth of being the queen. Now, if you stop providing the governance service, then you are fired. And the way you are fired is you wake up in the middle of the night and there’s a bunch of peasants there and they cut your head off. When the queen comes to you and says, you have to join the family business, what she’s saying is — this is explicit in the game from the beginning — look, we get to live in this castle, but all of our peasants want food and they want to feel safe. The moment they stop getting those things they’re going to kill us. You have to get out there and help us keep control or the bad things happen. That’s always a thing running through the story. If you do things too slowly or don’t do enough, your siblings and your mother are always ready to guilt trip you.
GamesBeat: Are your siblings your rivals, or just making you feel guilty?
Vogel: They’re your rivals. They’re your advisers. They love you, but they may be a bit frustrated with you. I tried to give the player the ability to really build a character, to make someone who’s really industrious or really lazy or really mean and cruel or really nice. The game starts with two things. You’re a prince, and up to now you always take your time lying in bed or going on vacation. You’re the goof-off. From the start of the game, you can be whoever you’re worth, but your siblings and your mother, they love you dearly in their own ways. But it starts with the fact that they’re so frustrated with you that they say: This is it, you get authority now, whether you like it or not. We’re old. We’re tired. Maybe we didn’t do enough to prepare you to run the world. But we don’t have a choice anymore. Now you have to go run the world. Which is — in a sense, sometimes that’s how I think that our kids and our kids’ friends are.
My kids have had a very comfortable life in a lot of ways. But at some point those kids, and everyone else in their generation, are going to have to run the world. I don’t think we’ve done a very good—the older people haven’t done a very good job, or for that matter my parents haven’t done a very good job with my generation of saying to us, OK, it’s time for your apprenticeship in running this country, in running the world. Part of this is—it’s a fantasy. Part of it is my power fantasy, that right now, all of the people—there’s a presidential election coming up. All of the front-runners are, what, in their mid-70s? Nobody from my generation has ever run this country, and I’m old! I’m an old guy! I’m well into middle age. Part of it is my fantasy that at some point, I want every Baby Boomer to say, look, we’re tired. We want to retire to Boca. We want to catch up 30 years of episodes of Wheel of Fortune. You guys run the country now. You’re going to screw up a lot, but it’s your time. That’s your job. And so I have my own frustrations about that. A lot of that is in this game. Writing a game, for me–from the outside, from the beginning, from the descriptions, they all kind of sound like the same game. I entirely realize that. But they all end up very different, at least to me.
GamesBeat: They do. There’s no denying that.
Vogel: But still, it’s a totally fair question.
GamesBeat: Getting back to that, I was reading through some of the materials. It says it’s up to you if you want to reclaim or liberate colonies. Has your empire fallen apart? Is it in decline, and you’re trying to bring it back? Or are you trying to be an expansionist here?
Vogel: I hope it’s going to be a trilogy of games. In this game, the empire of Haven is very strong and stable and wealthy and prosperous. Except for this one land, which was taken over and everything was running tickety-boo, and then there was a sudden calamity. For the people of Haven, the crops started failing and the wolves started coming out of the forest. They were afflicted by storms all the time. They were driven out. They don’t know, nobody knows, at the start of the game, where this came from. It is a fantasy game. There’s dragons. But nobody knows where this calamity came from, and this is the one land that Haven lost. It happened under your mother’s reign. Any sort of failure on her part galls her greatly. She’s quite a perfectionist. She’s determined, no matter what, that this blot on her record is going to be corrected, and you’re the person who’s going to correct it.
GamesBeat: So you have a mess to clean up.
Vogel: Yes. You show up on—the continent is called Sacramentum, and when you show up everything is a gigantic mess. There’s monsters everywhere. Buildings are being torn down for their copper. You’re immediately given a long list of fires to put out. It’s an RPG. There have to be missions.
GamesBeat: The world usually isn’t in such disarray?
Vogel: It is an empire that’s normally very organized. Everything is kept very quiet and very tidy by whatever means are felt necessary at the time.
GamesBeat: How do you go about doing this?
Vogel: It’s a lot of rebuilding forts. A lot of times when you—there’s a lot of dungeons. A lot of dungeons in this game full of monsters and bandits and brigands and people to talk to and people to bother. Often the reward—there’s always treasure, because there’s gotta be treasure, but most of the dungeons, the reward is resources. In addition to a nice new sword, you might get a new source of iron or quicksilver and such. Then you can take that to your towns and say, okay, rebuild those buildings. I want an alchemist in that building. And then all of a sudden you can get better potions.
Learning the craft
GamesBeat: This is different for you. I don’t remember doing any of that in your past games.
Vogel: It’s completely new. I’m not an expert on the role-playing scene. I used to be, but I’m not anymore. I’m sure there have been games done in this way. But in this game your main source of loot and your main source of power increase is industry. By building forts and building shops, building smithies, building woodworks, building guard posts, that’s your main source of advancing your character. It’s a new thing. I don’t know how much people are going to like it. I know I get a huge kick out of it. I get my own little power fantasy from moving across the board and saying, put a building there, poof, there’s a building, walk inside. This place is going to have a barracks. Poof, there’s this little cloud of smoke effects, and then there’s a barracks there with guards standing there all of a sudden, and now you’re more powerful in this way or that way. I get a big kick out of it.
I like that most of our best loot upgrades, you’re going to make them yourself by building up your empire to the point where you can make the awesome sword or the awesome plate mail. You don’t just have to—there are really cool treasures in the dungeons, but when you get the really good suit of armor, it’s not some dingy bloodstained thing you found under a dragon’s butt. You made it yourself.
GamesBeat: Like crafting pieces in an action-RPG game.
Vogel: Yeah, exactly, except that I don’t like persnickety crafting systems where you have to gather 3 blocks of iron and 2 phoenix feathers and 4 catapults and three pieces of tungsten and 5 gallons of salt water.
That always gets on my nerves. More of it’s like—a lot of it is handled for you, because you have employees. You have generals and chiefs and servants. A lot of the persnickety details of running things, you have staff. You have folks for that. You say there’s a shop there and poof. You don’t research the new set of plate mail yourself. You walk to the show and say, whaddaya got for me this week? And they say, thanks to beating the dragons over in Poughkeepsie, now we’re getting iron, and because of that now you can buy the nice chain mail. Gimme a suit of the nice chain mail! Boom, you have chain mail.
GamesBeat: This is kind of like “Fantasy CEO.”
Vogel: Yeah, yeah. Including limitations to research. There are brigands. There’s theft. There are various events that can happen during the game where your supplies can be—like, you build a shop and then there’s an upkeep cost for that. People get angry and all of a sudden there’s rebellion where your stone is coming from. All of a sudden your upkeep costs aren’t being kept, and that tips into your goals. A lot of that kicks in at higher difficulty levels. I’ve really tried, with this game—I’ve had lots of complaints that higher difficulty levels are too easy before. Nobody is going to complain about that this time.
GamesBeat: When it comes to the brigands and other people who are trying to stop you, are you able to buy them out? Can you just pay them off?
Vogel: There’s a lot of stuff you can do. There’s guard posts. There’s barracks. Sometimes the reward for a mission is just that the people like you more, and so your stuff stops falling off the back of the truck. It’s not a super complicated faction system, but the faction system really makes a difference quickly. If you improve your faction you get more stuff. If you do nice things for rich people you get more stuff. There may be a moral stain attached to that, because it’s not one of my games if you don’t get to be a bad guy sometimes.
GamesBeat: It’s party-based, correct?
Vogel: Yeah. You always have to travel with—you’re royal, a prince or princess, who has special abilities and stuff like that, but then you have a roster of characters. You can travel with up to four people out of town. As you advance into other countries, you can recruit people from those countries, who’ll add their own special abilities.
GamesBeat: But it’s not a tight-knit RPG party. These are your workers?
Vogel: Yep. The three people who travel with you, I don’t want—they don’t have personalities. They don’t have romances. They’re your employees. You can hire and fire them at will. You can start with three people, but holy crud, the people from the Yukon have great abilities, I’ll start hiring a couple of them. That’s good, but I have a fort in the Vall, I can start recruiting them and they have a different skill set. I’ve really tried to make it so that there’s an advantage to swapping your group’s abilities in and out when you’re going into different countries and going after different foes.
GamesBeat: When you’re tinkering with these systems for crafting, how long did it take you to get to a point where you said, I like this, we’re going to stick with it.
Vogel: Years. I had the initial idea for this game about five years ago. I started dickering around with graph paper for this game years ago. I feel like I’ve been working on this game forever. The combat system, the crafting system, the industry, how you’re going to put these forts together, what’s the story going to be, what are the different factions going to be—the story, for example, I wanted to have enough factions that you really feel like you’re traveling and encountering different people and having lots of choices. But small enough that it would fit in the player’s brain. In our previous game series, Avadon, the countries just had too many factions. I just got in a rabbit hole of, well, there’s these guys and these guys and these guys. It was hard to keep track of that. I tried to tighten it down to a small number of really interesting nations with their own weird personalities and quirks, so that I could try to bring it to life. But I feel like I’ve been planning this game forever.
GamesBeat: With your last series, Avadon, did you try to get any crafting into it and just say, OK, it’s not going to work?
Vogel: I tend—there’s so many things to put in an RPG. I tend to like to swap in and out. I’m not a gigantic fan of two things in computer games: crafting and fishing. Avadon I don’t think had any—every once in a while I’ll put in a really stripped down crafting system, where there’s a few items you can gather, and if you do, you can get some really nice high end gear. But I don’t like just doing lots of crafting where I have to keep track of ingredients. I don’t want the player to have to keep track of lots of ingredients. That’s the key thing. I don’t like that kind of—I know a lot of people do like it and that’s great. It’s just not the sort of thing I enjoy writing. So Avadon didn’t have a lot of crafting. With Avadon, I really wanted to have a lot of story focus. There was a lot of cool story stuff in that. There were some of things about the game engine that I really wish I could go back in time and tell myself to do differently, but maybe I’ll just remaster that in 15 years.
GamesBeat: That kind of model works well for you.
Vogel: Once a game is 15-20 years old, if it’s any good, it should be remastered. It’s new to most people. The next thing I’m going to do is start remastering the Geneforge games, which were really terrific games.
GamesBeat: That was a fantastic series. That was the first series of yours I came across.
Vogel: It’s really cool beans. But the first Geneforge game will have come out 20 years—when I release the remaster the previous one will have come out 20 years ago. It runs on an 800 by 600 pixel screen. I’ve learned 900,000 things about how to design a game since then. I’m really looking forward to this remaster. It’s going to be really neat, and I’m going to do my best to leave alone all the stuff that people liked, but there’s a lot of stuff in it that’s kind of wonky, that I don’t think works very well. I want to turn it into something a lot more interesting on the game end of it. I like to do new game, old game, new game, old game. I’ve been doing this for 25 years. Burnout is always an imminent threat. I have to change what I’m doing a lot to maintain my sanity. And so for Queen’s Wish, what I decided to do was pick a job that was way too big for me and drive myself mad.
Get your motor runnin’
GamesBeat: I talked to you when you first started Avadon. You talked about how you, again, picked a job that was way too big for you. Is that becoming a theme?
Vogel: It’s the new engine part. I really hope to do Queen’s Wish 2 and 3. If I do, they will be way easier, because Queen’s Wish, I had to do the engine too. When you’re doing the engine from scratch, all bets are off. You have to re-figure out every single little thing. I had to figure out how to program in a new engine. I had to figure out a whole new interface. The graphics are different. It’s a straight-on, more old-school JRPG square-space look. Part of the reason I did that is because people have been asking for it for years. A lot of people really miss that retro look. Part of it is because it’ll make it easier—I’ll be able to write the game on the iPhone. Square spaces are much easier—people have asked me why square spaces, and part of the reason is, on the iPhone it’s far easier to target your finger at a square than a diamond. It’s far easier to get the square to the right size so your finger can hit it easily. Now that I’ve done that, as soon as the game comes out I’m going to write it for the iPhone, and I’m super excited about that. I don’t know if anyone will care, but I will find it incredibly enchanting to have my game running on a tiny little phone in your pocket. I think that’s going to be neat.
GamesBeat: And with Apple Arcade coming out I think a lot of people are going to want their games on the phone.
Vogel: I would love to talk to Apple Arcade. I think I’m too small for them to be into it, but I should try to get in contact with them. It’s for premium games, which is exactly what I’m doing. I should really talk to them and see if I can get an email about that. But I’m just so overwhelmed by every other little thing that I’m not doing the business stuff that a real grownup would do.
GamesBeat: How does Queen’s Wish showcase what you’ve learned about making games for 25 years?
Vogel: The immediate answer that comes up is everything. I’ve changed every single thing based on mistakes I’ve made and things I’ve learned and things to tweak. A million things. But I will give one specific example. One of the things that I really like in a turn-based RPG for creating suspense is just how your—your character leaves home and gets in a bunch of fights. How your character gets weaker as that happens—when you go on an adventure in Queen’s Wish, you go in a dungeon and have a series of fights and encounters. Some of them are optional and some of them are necessary. If you do the optional ones you get more stuff. But the basic idea behind it is, as you’re doing these fights, you’re weakening. You leave each fight a little more wounded, a little less energy than each fight before. My goal for this game is to create a feeling of suspense.
When you fight the final boss, you feel like you’re out of gas. I’m out of energy. I’m wounded. My potions are all drunk. But I’m going to do this final blow and bam, I killed the boss, I won. And you’re like, hooray, I don’t know how I pulled that out, but now I can go home and I managed to do it. I feel really smart. I’m super-hard from day one on balance and how this game system works to create these really suspenseful adventures. We played it a lot and we tinkered with it a lot and we’ve worked with testers a lot. I think we’ve got it. I think it really works. If you’re playing at an appropriate difficulty level for you — and the difficulty levels play very differently – but if you’re playing on the right difficulty level, there’s a real edge of your seat feeling to these adventures and fights. While at the same time, it’s fair, and you know what’s going on. You can really feel that you’re earning your progress. It’s really neat. I have a lot of fun playing this game. People out there, if you try this game and you don’t like it, that’s fair. There’s a lot of games. But I’ve played it, and I like it. I really think this game is fun.
GamesBeat: It’s coming out some time over the summer, correct?
Vogel: My plan is September. I really think we can make that. I have it broken down and it gives us some room for me to get the flu or whatever. The main world is four weeks from being done, and then there’s just a few things left to do with the engine, the Windows port and a bunch of testing and whatnot. But I think early September is going to be it. It’s nice. We Kickstarted it. The Kickstarter went really well. I want to show that computer game people, you can Kickstart and really deliver.
This story originally appeared on Www.youtube.com. Copyright 2019