(Sorry for the lack of posting recently, I was dog-sick last week and figured you didn’t want to hear about that.)

Jeff Vogel is The Man. Honestly, there is a very short list of people I truly admire and Jeff is on that list. Jeff is the president, founder, and 1/3 of the staff of Spiderweb Software, a shareware company that makes role-playing games. During the Dark Times, before the Baldur’s Gate series revitalized the commercial RPG industry, Jeff’s site was pretty much the only place to get a new RPG.

And were they good? You bet! Graphically they invoked old-school, Ultima-style roleplaying. They were well-written, had good interfaces, had tactical combat, and were big like RPGs are supposed to be.

Jeff’s story should be very familiar to anyone who knows any computer game history. He started off on the Apple II when he was 13, playing deep old-school RPGs like Eamon. He taught himself some Apple programming and started writing simple games. But it wasn’t until grad school that he got serious. He bought himself a Mac and a copy of Codewarrior and started writing his first game to escape the tedium and boredom of grad school. That game was Exile: Escape from the Pit. Once the game was done, he decided to try to sell it as shareware and was pleasantly surprised at how the market responded, as are most people who try shareware. Exile’s success prompted him to begin a sequel.

Eventually his games were making enough money to justify his quitting the hated grad school altogether, and since then he’s been making shareware RPGs full-time.

Jeff started his company in 1994. It is now 2005. At this point, Jeff has written twelve games. He says it takes him about eight months to write an RPG, and about two months to port it to the PC (since all his new work is done on the Mac). Then he decompresses for a few weeks and starts on the next one.

That is one hell of a work ethic.

And it basically allows him to live what he considers the perfect life – doing what he wants, living where he wants, working out of his house (which was paid for by his games). This has prompted him to start advocating the shareware system. Jeff says, “Shareware is a force for good.”

And in the end, he’s right. You can download huge demos of all twelve of Jeff’s games, play them all the way through, and not give Jeff a penny. But if you like them and you want to finish them, you can pay a very reasonable fee to get the complete game – and you can do so knowing that every bit of that money is going straight to Jeff, and that your contribution means Jeff will be able to continue to make games. There is a partnership between the player and the developer that just isn’t there in commercial games.