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Editorial Making Wizardry: The Roots of Sir-Tech

Discussion in 'News & Content Feedback' started by Crooked Bee, Mar 21, 2012.

  1. Crooked Bee (no longer) a wide-wandering bee Patron

    Crooked Bee
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    Tags: Andrew C. Greenberg; Robert J. Woodhead; Sir-Tech; The Digital Antiquarian; Wizardry; Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

    The Digital Antiquarian blog has put up what is so far a two-part article on the roots of Sir-Tech and the making of Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord. I'll quote it generously for you:

    One of the most popular games on PLATO at the time (and one of the system’s legendary titles even today) was a space wargame called Empire. It’s a game we’ve brushed up against before on this blog: Silas Warner helped its designer, John Daleske, with its early development, and later developed a variant of his own. Robert [Woodhead] believed it would be possible to write a somewhat stripped-down version of the game for the Apple II. Progress was slow at first, but after a few months Robert bought the brand-new Apple Pascal and fell in love with it. He designed and programmed Galactic Attack in Pascal during the latter half of 1979. Demonstrating that blissful ignorance of copyright that marked the early software industry, he not only swiped the design pretty much whole-cloth from Daleske but made his alien enemies the Kzinti, a warlike race from Larry Niven’s Known Space books.

    ...

    Microcomputers in 1980 had nothing to compare with PLATO games like Moria, Oubliette, and Avatar, games that that not only foreshadowed the PC-based single-player CRPGs soon to come but also the online social dynamics of more modern MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Looking around at a microcomputer scene that offered only much less sophisticated games like Temple of Apshai, Woodhead began considering how he might bring some modicum of the PLATO CRPG experience to PCs. He tentatively named his new project Paladin. Coincidentally, a computer-science graduate student at Cornell, Andrew Greenberg, had been working on the same idea for quite a long time already.

    ...

    Greenberg today frankly characterizes the months that followed, months of designing, implementing, testing, and revising what would become Wizardry, as “the most wondrous of my life.” The general role played by each was precisely opposite what you might expect: Greenberg, the budding computer scientist, designed the game system and the dungeons to be explored, while Woodhead, the psychology major, did most of the programming and technical work. Partly this division of labor came down to practicalities. Woodhead, still suspended from classes, had a lot more time to work on thorny technical issues than Greenberg, immersed in the first year of an intensive PhD program. Nor were the two exclusively confined to these roles. Greenberg, for instance, had already created many of the algorithms and data structures that would persist into the final game by the time he turned his earlier game’s code over to Woodhead.

    Almost from the start, the two envisioned Wizardry as not just a game but a game system. In best D&D (and Eamon) fashion, the player would carry her adventurers from scenario to scenario — or, in D&D parlance, from module to module. The first release, which Greenberg and Woodhead planned to call Dungeons of Despair, would only be the beginning. Woodhead therefore devoted a lot of attention to their tools, crafting not just a game but a whole system for making future Wizardry scenarios as cleanly and easily as possible. Greenberg characterizes the final product as “layers upon layers of interpreters,” with the P-Machine interpreter itself at the bottom of the stack. And in addition to the game engine itself, Woodhead also coded a scenario editor that Greenberg — and, it was hoped, eventually other designers — could use to lay out the dungeons, treasures, and monsters.

    Apple Pascal’s unique capabilities were key to fitting such an ambitious design into the Apple II. One of the most important was the concept of code segments. Segments allowed a programmer to break up a large program into a collection of smaller pieces. The Pascal library needed load only the currently active segment into memory. When execution branched to another segment, the previous segment was dumped and the new loaded in its place. This scheme allowed the programmer to write, relatively painlessly, a single program much larger than the physical memory of the Apple II would seem to allow. It was, in other words, another early form of virtual memory. While it was possible to chain BASIC programs together to create a superficially similar effect, as evidenced by Eamon, Ultima, and plenty of others, the process was a bit of a kludge, and preserving the state of the game across programs that the computer saw as essentially unrelated was a constant headache.

    ...

    Greenberg and Woodhead got a prototype version of the game working in late September of 1980. They showed it to the public for the first time two months later, at the New York Personal Computer Expo. People were entranced, many asking to buy a copy on the spot. That, however, was not possible, as Apple still hadn’t come through with the promised run-time system. A second Siro-tech product was stuck in limbo, even as Apple continued to promise the run-time “real soon now.”

    Yet that was not as bad as it might seem. With the luxury of time, Greenberg enlisted a collection of friends and fellow D&D fans to put the game through its paces. In addition to finding bugs, they helped Greenberg to balance the game: “I began with an algorithmic model to balance experience, monsters, treasure, and the like, and then tweaked and fine-tuned it by collecting data from the game players.” Their contributions were so significant that Woodhead states that “it would not be unfair to credit them as the third author of the game.”​

    Read it in full here: Part 1: The Roots of Sir-Tech and Part 2: Making Wizardry.
     
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  2. MurkyShadow Glittering gem of hatred Patron

    MurkyShadow
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    I could never convince my sister, that I was actually playing a game, in what
    she just saw as something that caused eye cancer, spoiled younger generation.

    I told her, she'd get her first PC no sooner then she stood the test of time
    with the trusty C-64, but alas, her grandmother thought I was joking.

    I wasn't. But justified wrath died away unheard.

    Still sad when reminded of the demise of SirTech.
    Sad in the way of, I want to set something on fire.

    My therapist ensures me, we'll work that one still out...
     
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  3. CappenVarra phase-based phantasmist Patron

    CappenVarra
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    Very cool to read, thanks for the link!
     
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  4. Humanity has risen! Arcane Patron Repressed Homosexual

    Humanity has risen!
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    Great behind the scenes piece. It looks like the Siroteks and Woodhead/Greenberg got along great back then. I wonder what soured their relationship, mostly looks like the Siroteks being greedy. Are they still living off of royalties from selling Wizardry to a Japanese company?
     
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  5. Livonya Augur Patron

    Livonya
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    I loved Wizardry. So much fun. I had to go out and buy graph paper, something I had never done before. And I can still visualize the pages of maps I had drawn.

    Interesting article.
     
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  6. Flatlander Liturgist

    Flatlander
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    I wonder if the (S)NES versions were also made in Pascal, if so it's probably one of the rare games made in higher level languages running on early consoles. From Woodhead's comments at http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/the-x-button/2011-07-06 it seems like a possibility:

    Also
    Seems that Woodhead was also an early weeaboo...

    Edit: Given how portable the games were it's interesting that Bane of the Cosmic Forge is the only one with an Amiga version. And none for the Atari. All the other big RPG series were well known in the Europe but it seems that Sir-Tech never cared much about that market.
     
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  7. mondblut Arcane

    mondblut
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    A good site. I like the part about Garriott. :smug: "What's a 'testing'"?
     
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  8. CappenVarra phase-based phantasmist Patron

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    Whoa, I only now realized this is the guy who wrote The King of Shreds and Patches. And there is even Pascal appreciation several posts down - the way this is going, this site is :incline: enough to be added to the Holy RSS Reader :salute:
     
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  9. MMXI Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    MMXI
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    Interesting articles. Thanks for bringing them to my attention!
     
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  10. Jack █▓▒░ Patron

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    Great stuff, will definitely keep an eye on that blog for future parts.
     
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  11. Humanity has risen! Arcane Patron Repressed Homosexual

    Humanity has risen!
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    Animeigo doesn't seem to release new anime at all anymore, only samurai films. But yes I think his fascination is easy to see early in Wizardry, what with all the stereotypical Japanese warriors it contains.
     
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  12. CappenVarra phase-based phantasmist Patron

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    In case you guys aren't following the blog, there's a new update about Wizardry: http://www.filfre.net/2012/03/playing-wizardry/
    Teaser quote:

     
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  13. CappenVarra phase-based phantasmist Patron

    CappenVarra
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    And another one - http://www.filfre.net/2012/03/the-wizardry-phenomenon/ :
     
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  14. Crooked Bee (no longer) a wide-wandering bee Patron

    Crooked Bee
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    Cool.
     
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