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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Robert Woodhead on Wizardry
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 27 April 2012, 20:10:49Tags: Retrospective Interview; Robert J. Woodhead; SirTech; Wizardry II: The Knight of Diamonds; Wizardry III: Legacy of Llylgamyn; Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna; Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
At the RPG Codex, we have occasionally done interviews in which we asked CRPG developers about their past work. But now we have decided to turn these "retrospective" interviews into a proper (if irregular) series, focusing on seminal titles and designers as well as forgotten gems and unsung heroes.
Robert "Trebor" Woodhead is a legend and a pioneer of the CRPG industry. Together with Andrew "Werdna" Greenberg, he co-created one of the most revered computer role-playing series of all time. The first game in the series, Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, was released for Apple II in 1981, becoming one of the first single player CRPGs for personal computers. Robert Woodhead stayed at Sir-Tech until the late 1980s, working on three further Wizardry titles: Knight of Diamonds (1982), Legacy of Llylgamyn (1983), and The Return of Werdna (1987). After that, however, he left Sir-Tech and then -- after spending some years in Japan working on an MMO that remained unreleased -- abandoned video game design completely. In 1989, together with Roe R. Adams, Robert founded AnimEigo, a company specializing in licensing, translating and distributing anime and samurai films, which he runs to this day.
Wizardry was a huge success for Sir-Tech, and it continues to inspire video game designers to this day. For this retrospective interview, we reached out to Robert to ask him a few questions about the 1980s, some of the design and coding decisions behind Wizardry, and the series as a whole.
Prepare yourself for the ultimate in fantasy games! Released in 1981 for Apple II, Wizardry I featured a colorful animated intro.
How does it feel to be the co-creator of one of the most influential video game series of all time? Do you get a lot of fan mail?
I do get occasional emails from people about the game, which is nice.
How would you describe the atmosphere of working in the video game industry in the beginning of the 1980s, and how did it change over the years that you were active in the industry?
Why did you leave Sir-Tech? Was there some kind of disagreement involved?
How did your decision to leave the industry after you parted ways with Sir-Tech come about? Have you ever thought of going back to designing video games?
It might be fun to work on another game, but it would probably have to be in a design role. I still program quite a lot but I'm a lone-wolf coder; I've never worked in a big programming team.
Do you keep in touch with any of your ex Sir-Tech colleagues?
Do you still enjoy playing video games, and cRPGs in particular? What is currently your favorite cRPG?
The static title screen of Wizardry II: Knight of Diamonds for Apple II (1982)
You were developing your own cRPG, Paladin, before you joined forces with Andrew Greenberg. What kind of game was Paladin supposed to be?
Prior to your work on Wizardry, you and Andrew were both active on the PLATO network. What motivated you to transform PLATO's multiplayer party-based dungeon crawlers such as Oubliette into a unique single player game?
Did you code the first four Wizardry games by yourself? What programming challenges did you face that you were most proud of overcoming?
Were there any design ideas that you wanted to implement in the series but had to reject because of programming or other technical considerations?
One thing I wanted to do was set up the game so that if it detected it had been copied, and there was a modem attached to the computer, it would wait until it had been idle for a while and then call us up and drop a dime on the pirate. And of course it could be a 900 number... : ) But wiser heads prevailed.
The title screen of Wizardry I for Commodore 64, released in 1987.
The early Wizardry titles were first developed for Apple II and then ported to other platforms. How did you go about this process?
Why did you choose to go for the 20x20 grid dungeons (Might and Magic, for example, later went with 16x16), and why were no dungeons of variable size introduced until Wizardry V?
The ruleset Wizardry used was D&D derivative rather than a faithful implementation of D&D. Was it mainly due to hardware limitations or copyright issues? In particular, why did you not introduce D&D-style spell memorization?
Wizardry's character creation was based on a point buy system with a randomized number of assignable points. Why did you go for such a hybrid system? Did you feel that re-rolling character attributes was an important part of the experience?
In Wizardry I, the player did not even have to explore half of the dungeon levels in order to beat the game. What prompted the decision to leave so many levels unused?
Wizardry III, released on Apple II in 1983, introduced its backstory through an extended graphical slide show.
Who was responsible for the monster design in the early Wizardry titles and who wrote the riddles for Wizardry II and III?
Wizardry III was to a certain extent an experimental title, introducing such ideas as aligment-locked dungeon floors and one-way walls that messed with the geography of levels. Can you tell us a bit about the people who designed Wizardry III (Robert Del Favero, Samuel Pottel and Joshua Mittleman) and how you got to cooperate with them? In a 1983 Computer Gaming World review, they were referred to as WARD, or "Wizardry Research and Development Group." What is the story behind the name?
The WARD group designed Wizardry III, and Roe Adams came up with the idea for Wizardry IV and designed the dungeon levels. To what extent were you and Andrew involved in designing Wizardry III and IV? What were your roles on these two games?
Speaking of Wizardry IV, what were the reasons the game had to be delayed for more than a year?
As if in mockery, Wizardry IV's Apple II title screen introduced the different kinds of do-gooders you will be battling throughout the game.
How did you feel about the rival Ultima series back in the day? Were you keeping an eye on what Richard Garriott was trying to do with Ultima?
Have you played D.W. Bradley’s Wizardries, and if you have, what do you think of them? Design-wise, were you happy with the direction the series took with Wizardry V and, later, VI and VII?
Why do you think the early Wizardry games became so popular in Japan that clones and similar games continue to be released there to this day?
Can you share your favorite anecdote or piece of trivia from the days you were working on the Wizardry series?
Well, it turned out we were right about the groupies. Unfortunately, they all looked just like us -- nerdy guys. : (
To conclude this interview by going back to the way it all began, have you got any advice for college students who want to make their own cRPGs?
Steve Martin said it best when he said that the best thing about comedy was "I get paid for doing this".
We are extremely grateful to Robert Woodhead for taking his time to do this interview!