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Interview RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Robert Woodhead on Wizardry

Crooked Bee

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Tags: Retrospective Interview; Robert J. Woodhead; Sir-Tech; 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.

To start things off, we present our interview with Robert Woodhead, the co-creator of Wizardry, one of the most revered series here on the Codex, and a pioneer of the industry. Wizardry was a huge success for Sir-Tech, and it continues to inspire video game designers to this day. In this interview, Robert talks about some of the design and coding decisions behind Wizardry, nerds, groupies, and related matters. Have a snippet:

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?

In the early days, we were very isolated; the only time we really interacted with other creators was at conferences and conventions. The rate of change during that period was very slow due to the lack of communication -- a 1200 baud modem was the gold standard!

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?

I actually moved to Japan to build what would have been one of the first MMOs (code-named "Sunday"), in the early 90s, but the project lost funding when Japan's economic bubble burst. But at the same time, AnimEigo grew from a fun weekend project into a real company, so things worked out. And the girl I was chasing after allowed me to catch her.

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.

Did you code the first four Wizardry games by yourself? What programming challenges did you face that you were most proud of overcoming?

I did the code for the first 4 games. The most interesting hacks I did were the copy-detection system, and the "Window Wizardry" retrofit that added overlapping windows to the UI, which got done from idea to implementation in a single 80-hour coding marathon.

Were there any design ideas that you wanted to implement in the series but had to reject because of programming or other technical considerations?

Not really.

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 early Wizardry titles were first developed for Apple II and then ported to other platforms. How did you go about this process?

We wrote Apple Pascal p-code interpreters for each target machine. That plus a little assembly language code to abstract the graphics did the trick. We also had a text localization system that moved all the text in the game into a database; it got done for the Japanese localizations and permitted us to create any message we needed on the fly, with all the variable parts inserted into the right places.

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?

I think we underestimated how fast people would power-level -- and at the time, nobody knew what power-leveling was. So while there were shortcuts, we expected they would be used only after people had explored all but the final level.

Can you share your favorite anecdote or piece of trivia from the days you were working on the Wizardry series?

When the industry first got started, all the programmers thought we'd be the rock stars of the '80s, complete with groupies.

Well, it turned out we were right about the groupies. Unfortunately, they all looked just like us -- nerdy guys. : (​

Heh, the story of a Codexer's life.

We are extremely grateful to Robert Woodhead for taking his time to do this interview. Stay tuned for more retrospective interviews in the future!

Be sure to read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Robert Woodhead.

P.S. Thanks to cboyardee, MMXI, Alex, Zed, and JarlFrank for their criticism and suggestions on the first version of the questions!
 

Morkar Left

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Short but entertaining to read interview.

When the industry first got started, all the programmers thought we'd be the rock stars of the '80s, complete with groupies.
Well, it turned out we were right about the groupies. Unfortunately, they all looked just like us -- nerdy guys.

Definitely the funniest line.
 
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Did you code the first four Wizardry games by yourself? What programming challenges did you face that you were most proud of overcoming?

I did the code for the first 4 games. The most interesting hacks I did were the copy-detection system, and the "Window Wizardry" retrofit that added overlapping windows to the UI, which got done from idea to implementation in a single 80-hour coding marathon.

Then we got whiny faggots bitching about the horrors of refitting existing UI code for different resolutions. Oh the horror, horror, you poor poor little thing :'(((
 

Azalin

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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?
I'm pleased, of course, but any explanation I could give would likely be psycho-social bullshit. : )​

Can you share your favorite anecdote or piece of trivia from the days you were working on the Wizardry series?
When the industry first got started, all the programmers thought we'd be the rock stars of the '80s, complete with groupies.

Well, it turned out we were right about the groupies. Unfortunately, they all looked just like us -- nerdy guys. : (​

:lol:
Good interview:hero:
 

Zed

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We got so many interviews and shit in our pipeline - it's about to break!
Or not. But there's more to come. Pretty varied interviews too.
Such interesting times we all live in.
 

eric__s

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He sounds so very disconnected from it all now. Kind of weird, no?
I think he's lived in Japan for like the last 20 years. I'm not sure if he's even aware of what's going on anymore.

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?

Obviously, you'd want to do something for smartphones or tablets, since the barrier to entry and the development costs are much lower there. But mostly I'd give the same advice I give anyone about any project -- do it for yourself, because you love doing it. Money and success is just icing; the cake is the work itself.

Hmmm... smartphones and tablets : (
 
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Errr no, he lives in America, he only lived in Japan in the late eighties and traveled there from time to before before when he was at Sir-Tech to deal with Wizardry licensing, and after for Animeigo.

And yes, if you read the history of Animeigo and some of his other sites, you'll see that he does have a sense of humor.

I really wonder how Animeigo keeps him and his employees afloat, they only release very obscure Blu-Ray samurai films anymore that no more than 1000 people must buy, and they're losing all their old anime licenses without getting new ones (because it crashed in North America and the Japanese studios ask way to much for licenses). I think he does programming work too.
 

Crooked Bee

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What I particularly like about this bit

Robert Woodhead said:
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.

is that it sheds further light on Robert Woodhead's appearance in Ultima II:

2swp23gw.joq.png


:P
 

Infinitron

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Reading this, you think he's grown up and decided to leave nerdy gaming behind. Then he mentions being a member of EVE's "Council of Stellar Management"... :thumbsup:
 

jewboy

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I actually moved to Japan to build what would have been one of the first MMOs (code-named "Sunday"), in the early 90s, but the project lost funding when Japan's economic bubble burst. But at the same time, AnimEigo grew from a fun weekend project into a real company, so things worked out. And the girl I was chasing after allowed me to catch her.

I wonder if that girl was Japanese. There is nothing quite like a j-girl. They really are special. It's more than just their kawaii looks. But Japan is one of those countries where the pretty girls often work all the time or study all the time if they are students. They tend not to have much free time to spend with their pet gaijin.
 

CappenVarra

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I cant fjnd ghe posting drank on teh codex thread now but want to say i love yu guys and trannies of codex more than you know and you are all fagglrs :love:
 

Sceptic

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is that it sheds further light on Robert Woodhead's appearance in Ultima II:
When I saw his answer to this question I immediately thought I wish we'd asked him about this particular appearance he made in Ultima II. But then the story itself is explanation enough of why Garriott had him in there :lol:
 

Bruma Hobo

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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?

I'm pleased, of course, but any explanation I could give would likely be psycho-social bullshit. : )​

Trebor is truly a gentleman :obviously:
 

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