Trebor Daehdoow Tagged Articles RSS Feed | Trebor Daehdoow RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Countdown to EVE Online Fanfest: Player Power Tue, 16 Apr 2013 20:34:14 -0400 Mat Westhorpe

The relationship between EVE Online's players and the developers at CCP Games has always been at the forefront of the sci-fi MMO's growth.

Even in the early days of EVE in 2003, the emergent gameplay nature of the sandbox universe meant that player actions drove development decisions; stacking penalties were introduced to counteract ingenious but overpowered player tactics, alliances of corporations were recognised and facilitated within the client. It was virtual symbiosis.

As EVE Online evolved, so did this relationship. The Council of Stellar Management (CSM) was formed in 2008 to provide a means of giving further voice to player concerns and ideas.

In the impressively dense guidance document, “Implementation of Deliberative, Democratically Elected, Council in EVE” by CCP Xhagen (Pétur Jóhannes Óskarsson), it outlines the CSM role thus:

“The purpose of the CSM is to represent society interests to CCP. This requires active engagement with the player community to master EVE issue awareness, understanding, and evaluation in the context of the greatest good for the greater player base.”

Political Growing Pains

The CSM's growth from inception to present day has been remarkable. It was a pioneering concept in the management of a virtual world and has not been without its critics, deficiencies and spoon-shaped projectiles. Yet from what started out as a player body largely dismissed as a gimmick, the work of every incumbent has been built upon over the years to push for useful game elements and to provide vital communication in difficult circumstances.

An entire meta gameplay culture has sprung up around the CSM, with player candidates running campaigns complete with colourful propaganda, podcasted debates and interviews. As a result, the CSM season begins long before the elections open, with steadily increasing activity building to a crescendo as the winners are announced at Fanfest.

For the spectator, it can be quite entertaining to witness the community buzz during this election period. At time of writing, we are in the final days of the CSM8 elections and it has been possibly one of the most eventful run-ins yet:

A change in the voting process this year has seen a fairer but far more complex system introduced, which has been the subject of much bloggery and analysis. The perennial issue of encouraging a higher percentage of players to vote has been more keenly stressed this year, with CCP coming under fire from some quarters for not doing enough to promote the process. An excellent series of thirty-minute one-on-one podcast interviews by Crossing Zebras co-host Xander Phoena saw 27 of the 31 candidates engaged in challenging discourse and brought to light one candidate with extreme right-wing views who was subsequently expelled from the process. 

Raising the Stakes

EVE politics are every bit as interesting as the real thing. In fact, they practically are the real thing – after all, successful candidates become a very real part of the process of video game development.

In a CCP livestream held earlier today on their channel, newly appointed Development Director, CCP Seagull (Andie Nordgren) explained the value that the present CSM has added to the EVE Online development process. She explained that she views the CSM as one her her main stakeholders;

“The CSM function as a really good sounding board for stuff we're doing. I invited the CSM to be part of the discovery process for Odyssey. I invited everyone to come up with a theme... A theme is a combination of coherent cool reasons to fit things together that suits our science fiction universe.”

CCP Seagull was very positive about the way the CSM have become integrated with CCP's stakeholder practices, explaining that the CSM are viewed as an internal team. “There is a huge amount of opportunity to influence what we're doing.”

As one of the elected CSM representatives, there is undoubtedly a vast amount that can be learned about the development of an MMO and those with enough industry, integrity and passion for EVE Online can earn the opportunity to travel to CCP's headquarters in Iceland for key meetings to help effect a positive change on behalf of the entire playerbase.

[December 2012  CSM Summit - L-R: UAxDEATH, CCP Veritas, CCP Xhagen, CCP Dolan, Seleene (obscured), Trebor Daehdoow]

A CSM seat is not an easy position to hold though. It is telling that of the incumbent council, due to step down at the end of the month, only two members (Robert 'Trebor Daehdoow' Woodhead and Greene Lee) are running again in the current election.

According to Woodhead, who has held a position on the last three councils, “doing CSM right is at least 10-15 hours a week, minimum”. Not an easy ask of volunteers with real-life commitments too.

With the CSM8 elections coming to a close and results due to be announced at Fanfest on the 27th April, CCP Seagull has high hopes for the next generation of player representatives.

“I'd love to see a CSM that comes in with really strong support from the community ...and can be a strong voice.”

Good luck to all involved and thank you to representatives past and present for all their efforts.


[Check out our other daily Countdown to Fanfest features for more information and speculation on EVE Online's Second Decade and the Party on Top of the World.]

Wizardry: The Wider World of Woodhead Fri, 01 Feb 2013 00:48:15 -0500 Mat Westhorpe

Part 5, the final segment of our interview with space politician Robert Woodhead.

MW: What do you get out of your role as a “spaceship politician” for EVE Online? You've held an elected position for a number of terms now, what is involved in that role? Are you an unpaid consultant, a voluntary administrator or a very enthusiastic EVE fan? Are you still involved in game design and development in any other respect and if not, do you miss it?

RW: One of the things that Wizardry did for me that I appreciate most of all was that it put me in a situation where, within reason, I can do anything that interests me, and being on the CSM is one of those things. It's a combination of being on a focus group and being a lobbyist for the players. I got bored with WoW in months, what has kept me playing EVE was the social aspects, and CSM is the secret ingredient in the secret sauce. When you are on CSM, you have a privileged viewpoint; you get to watch people playing the game of making EVE.

As for working in game design again, if an interesting opportunity presented itself, I might be tempted by it. I still write code all the time, but most of it is for my own personal use, and the rest I just give away.

MW: You said in an earlier email that you would be attending Fanfest in Iceland in April because “its one of the perks of being an Important Internet Spaceship Politician”. Does this mean EVE players can expect to see you continue your CSM role for another term of office?

RW: As of this moment, I haven't made a final decision whether to run or not. And then if I do run, I still have to whore up enough votes to get elected.

MW: I was very excited to read on your Wikipedia page that you were credited in the 1985 Val Kilmer geek comedy Real Genius as a “hacking consultant”. Were you involved in the production in any way or was this just a nod to your work from fans on the production crew? Do you think they based any of the characters on you? Lazlo Holyfeld maybe?

RW: I actually did work on the film, and they flew me out to California for a few days. I did the original design work for the stuff you see on screen when they're trying to figure out the data format to re-target the laser (though someone else programmed it). Wizardry was actually supposed to appear in the film -- Holyfeld was a Wizardry player, and had programmed his computer to play for him -- but it got cut.

I do have one of the early drafts of the screenplay somewhere; it has some really, really gross jokes that didn't make the final film.

Standing on the Codebase of Giants: A Reflection

It was an absolute revelation to discover that someone who so fundamentally influenced the first faltering steps of computer-based RPGs and MMOs was happily going about his business in an online gaming community. It's a testament to the impact of the internet and the evolution of online gaming that underlines how much smaller the world has become.

It was a real pleasure having the opportunity to interact with one of the forefathers of the RPG gaming environments that we all take for granted today and it was great to see how he takes it in his stride. It also provides an interesting yardstick by which to measure development progress, the ideas that have been carried through and how decisions made decades ago can leave a lasting imprint on the gaming universe.

I hope to have further opportunity to talk with Robert at EVE Online Fanfest in Iceland later this year and I will be digging into the Wizardry games for review very soon.


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
Wizardry: The Mad Overlord and the Online Generation Fri, 01 Feb 2013 00:47:54 -0500 Mat Westhorpe

Part 4 of our interview with RPG forefather Robert Woodhead.

MW: Wizardry Online seems to maintain the series' pedigree of uncompromising gameplay, challenging players with the threat of character permadeath in their multiplayer dungeon crawl. Have you played it? How does this fit into your ethos? What are you feelings about the Wizardry heritage has evolved?

RW: I popped into the game briefly during the beta, but didn't have the time to play it extensively, so I couldn't give an informed answer to this question. I was, however, hit in the face by a baseball bat of nostalgia, there are so many touches in the game that are clear references to the original.

As for perma-death, while I think there needs to be significant risks to make the rewards sweeter, I think it has to be done carefully. Even in the original Wizardry game, people learned that they could write-protect the floppy disk or copy it to save their characters.

MW: Your affiliation with EVE Online makes sense, as I recall its original designers cited Ultima Online as one of the inspirations for the emergent gameplay model. For a long time EVE Online has been the lonely leader in a niche market for this kind of sandbox environment, whilst most major development studios have previously favoured more a theme park model. Why do you think this is? Are we starting to see a gradual shift toward more player-led game content in MMOs?

RW: I think it's inevitable. Given the number of hours people put into these games, you simply can't crank out enough theme-park content to keep people engaged indefinitely. EVE's secret-sauce has always been the depth of the social interactions between the players, and EVE development is all about providing new ways for the players to interact. Fortunately, the fact that EVE players are horrible people who like to interact by being nasty to each other makes this a bit easier... :)

Next: Wizardry: The Wider World of Woodhead


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
Wizardry: Turning Japanese and the MMORPG That Nearly Was Fri, 01 Feb 2013 00:47:43 -0500 Mat Westhorpe

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


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
Wizardry: The Birth of Role-Playing Video Games Fri, 01 Feb 2013 00:47:28 -0500 Mat Westhorpe

Part 2 of our interview with Wizardry creator Robert Woodhead.

Mat Westhorpe: Robert, thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions. It really is a privilege to get some insight from someone who has played a fundamental role in the early evolution of RPG video game design. Looking at your legacy, it certainly seems to make sense of your commitment to your role as a member of EVE Online's Council of Stellar Management. With the recent release of F2P MMO Wizardry Online, the modern reinvention of your brainchild, I'd like to know more about that legacy.

Along with Andrew C. Greenberg, you created Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord on the Apple II way back in 1981. It was well received at the time and is described as one of the first RPGs to evolve beyond the text adventure format. How did Wizardry come about and what part did you play in its creation?

Robert Woodhead:Andy and I were both at Cornell, and avid users of the PLATO system (which basically invented everything you love about the internet, including multiplayer games, in the early 70s). I had to take a year off because of low grades (too much PLATO, not enough studying) and during that year, was writing computer games. I wanted to see if something like the PLATO dungeon games could be written on a microcomputer, and started working on a game I called Paladin, in Apple Pascal. At the same time, Andy had been writing a game he called Wizardry, in Apple Basic. By some happenstance, we found out of our similar interests, compared notes, and decided to collaborate. And the rest, as they say, is history.


MW: It seems that Wizardry was built on similar ideals to the Ultima series which was first released around the same time. Wikipedia states that by 30 June 1982, Wizardry had sold 24,000 copies to Ultima's 20,000. According to your Wikipedia page, you made a cameo appearance in 1982's Ultima II. What was the relationship between the two games and its developers? Was there rivalry?

RW: We ran into Richard Garriott [aka Lord British, creator of the Ultima series] a few times at computer game conventions, but other than that, there wasn't much of a connection between us, and certainly no rivalry. Back then, everyone basically did their own thing, and we rarely saw other games before they were released (especially since Andy and I were living in upstate New York).

Next: Wizardry: Turning Japanese and MMORPG That Nearly Was


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
An Interview with Robert Woodhead, Creator of the Genre-Defining RPG, Wizardry Fri, 01 Feb 2013 00:47:21 -0500 Mat Westhorpe

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