Wizardry: Turning Japanese and the MMORPG That Nearly Was
Part 3 of our interview with genre founder Robert Woodhead.
MW: It seems your legacy is still going strong, with the Wizardry franchise having thrived in Japan for the last few decades, before returning to the West in its modern MMO guise. What part did you play in this global journey?
RW: I lived in Japan for several months helping with the original conversions of Wizardry (we wrote p-code interpreters for all the different machines; Wizardry IV was actually written on a NEC PC-9810 IBM PC-clone that, after suitable incantations, would happily say "Welcome to Apple Pascal"). I extended the "Window-Wizardry" system that provided an overlapping window interface so that all the mutable text was abstracted to a datafile and a set of semantic rules for modifying them (for example, adding "a" or "an" in front of a noun). This let us handle foreign-languages (Japanese, French, German) pretty easily without significant code changes.
Later on I moved to Japan to build what would have been the first MMORPG, but the funding dried up. Fortunately, my other reason for going was that I was chasing a girl. She caught me, and we've been happily married for over 20 years now. And we had a little fun company on the side at the time, AnimEigo, that's still alive and well.
MW: What influence do you feel the Wizardry series has had on the evolution of modern RPGs? Can you see its DNA in other games?
RW: The way I see it, every generation takes what came before and adds their own stamp to it, driven by cultural and technological possibilities. So we were inspired by the PLATO system and paper D&D, and we had these marvelous new toys (1 mhz 8 bit processors! 48kb ram! 143kb hard drive!), and something interesting came out of it. And if what we and many other people did inspired others in turn, that's wonderful.
MW: You seem to have a taste for harsh and complex gameplay; Wizardry was famed for its difficulty with its unpredictable spells, bewildering mazes and unforgiving combat and now you are a figurehead player of EVE Online. Why is this? What is it about these elements that you feel are important to game design?
RW: I don't think this is the right way of looking at it; rather, it's all about getting the risk/reward right in the context of the game and its players.
You can clearly have great games that aren't harsh at all; Kerbal Space Program isn't harsh at all (except to the poor Kerbals!).
Next: Wizardry: The Mad Overlord and the Online Generation