An Interview with Robert Woodhead, Creator of the Genre-Defining RPG, Wizardry

Robert Woodhead, inventor of the modern RPG videogame, is discovered hiding in plain sight amongst a community of sci-fi sandbox sociopaths. (Part 1 of 5)
This is an extended feature interview of Robert Woodhead, co-creator of the influential Wizardry RPG video game series, entrepreneur and spaceship politician. Here's a breakdown of what follows:

Part 1: An Interview with Robert Woodhead, creator of the Genre-Defining RPG, Wizardry. An introduction explaining how our interviewer stumbled across Robert Woodhead hiding in plain sight amongst a community of sci-fi sandbox sociopaths.

Part 2: Wizardry: The Birth of Role-Playing Video Games. Robert Woodhead explains how he created Wizardry which inspired future generations of stat-mongering roleplayers.

Part 3: Turning Japanese and MMORPG That Nearly Was. Woodhead explains how his Wizardry franchise led him to Japan, where he planted the seeds of Final Fantasy whilst meeting various challenges... and a woman.

Part 4: The Mad Overlord and the Online Generation. Woodhead shares his thoughts on the new MMO version of his groundbreaking eighties RPG and the future of emergent gameplay in MMOs.

Part 5: The Wider World of Woodhead. Woodhead talks about his role as a player ambassador for EVE Online, the possibility of getting back into game design and the time he worked in Hollywood.

An Introduction

Today's gamer is spoilt for choice, able to browse through an endless catalogue of titles. With a commercial games industry spanning nearly forty years, the number of games available is staggering, from cutting-edge new titles to fondly recalled classics. The attentive gaming genealogist will see themes and trends running throughout the decades, with critical titles and pivotal talents shaping genres for future generations of games designers.

Imagine my surprise then, when researching the history of newly released MMO Wizardry Online, I discovered not only did it have a heritage that stretched back to the early eighties, but it also played a key role in planting the seeds of the modern RPG. Renowned swords and sorcery titles ranging from Dungeon Master and Final Fantasy to Guild Wars and World of Warcraft are all scions of the original 1981 first-person dungeon crawler, Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord. Its DNA can also be found scattered throughout many genres beyond.

But that wasn't the main source of my surprise. What caught my attention was a familiar name sitting amongst the details on the Wizardry Wikipedia page:

Robert Woodhead

It took a moment for the dots to join in my mind. As a player of EVE Online, I take part in a single-sharded persistent game universe where names stick. Amongst the more well-known individuals of EVE's playerbase are the elected members of the Council of Stellar Management, a group of masochistic volunteers who work to communicate player interests to the developers at CCP Games.

That's where I'd seen the name: Robert Woodhead was long-standing CSM member, Trebor Daehdoow.

It was like the final scene of The Usual Suspects where suddenly everything dropped into place. There had been clues: I recalled mention of Trebor's previous industry experience, quite probably from his CSM election campaign. He blogs as "Mad Overlord" and one of the locations in Wizardry was Trebor's Castle, the home of the titular Mad Overlord.

Trebor is Kaiser Soze! (Well, he invented RPG video games; which still a fairly impressive “wow” moment, just without the bodycount.)

I was genuinely taken aback - here was a man who sits in digital entertainment's Hall of Heroes somewhere between Gary Gygax (Dungeons & Dragons) and David Braben (Elite) and he's been right in front of me all this time.

I recovered from my surprise, gathered my wits and approached him for a quick chat. Read on for the result.

Next: Wizardry: The Birth of Role-Playing Video Games

 

Wizardry Interview Feature Index:
  1. An Interview with Robert Woodhead, Creator of the Genre-Defining RPG, Wizardry
  2. Wizardry: The Birth of Role-Playing Video Games
  3. Turning Japanese and MMORPG That Nearly Was
  4. The Mad Overlord and the Online Generation
  5. The Wider World of Woodhead

Featured Columnist

Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.

Published Feb. 7th 2013
  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    I think we can agree that there was a movement in the late seventies and early eighties that defined the RPG genre for the decades to come and Robert Woodhead's contribution was a key part of that. There were many creatives in play at the time, including Richard Garriott and his top-down strategy view Ultima series (and the less successful first-person Akalabeth that preceded it). The transition of pen-and-paper RPG material as championed by the likes of Gygax and Livingstone was spearheaded by Woodhead and his peers.

    They're all legends in my opinion.
  • Kuan Yida
    I was an enormous Wizardry addict, as were many of my friends. My brother's band had a song called "Makanito." The full and proper name of the song was "Makanito Kills Poison Giants."

    Temple of Apshai was a bit primitive--I think Wizardry is still technically the first of the true genre. Otherwise I'd say HACK was the first.
  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    A tweet is hardly the place for detailed descriptions and pinpoint accuracy. Wizardry, along with Richard Garriot's works, were the first titles which launched a genre. Robert himself said that the titles were developed independently without knowledge of each other. Irrespective of who was first to market, I still think it's hugely impressive.
  • Poetic Stanziel
    Featured Contributor
    Temple of Apshai and Akalabeth: World of Doom predate Wizardry. Your tweet suggested that Wizardry was the first in the genre.

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