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Book Extract: Dungeons and Desktops: 'The Silver Age'
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Book Extract: Dungeons and Desktops: 'The Silver Age'

May 26, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 14 Next

Wizardry: The Proving Grounds

Although Garriott's Ultima series is the best known CRPG of the early 1980s, it was certainly not alone. As early as 1981, a worthy competitor had thrown down the gauntlet: Sir-Tech.

Founded by Robert Woodhead and Norman Sirotek, Sir-Tech would soon earn a reputation for extraordinarily challenging yet well-designed CRPGs. Its Wizardry series did much to standardize the genre, and would remain vital throughout the 1980s and early 1990s (the eighth and final game was published in 2001).

The first of these games is Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, published in 1981 for the Apple II (and in 1987 for other platforms). Unlike Ultima, Wizardry allowed players to create their own parties of up to six characters, who could be almost any mix of five different races (humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, hobbits), four starting classes (fighter, mage, priest, thief), and three alignments (good, neutral, evil). (I say almost here because good and evil characters can't join the same party.)

After these selections, the player must distribute a random number of bonus points among six stats (strength, I.Q., piety, vitality, agility, and luck). Needless to say, going through this cycle six times can be quite a bit of work, particularly if the player is determined to create the best possible party. The manual puts it well: "Playing Wizardry for the first time is like kissing for the first time -- you want to do it right, and you're not quite sure exactly what you are supposed to do."

Wizardry offers a smooth first-person interface and puts the player in charge of a whole party of adventurers.

Creating a group rather a single character leads to a much different gameplay dynamic, since players have to carefully balance their parties to ensure that they have the right combination of skills necessary to complete the ten-level dungeon.

In other words, players are required to make many important decisions before gameplay commences; the character creation process is long, involved, and of paramount importance. A few poor selections can easily make the game extremely difficult, if not unwinnable. Many less experienced gamers were no doubt overwhelmed by the whole process. We'll return to the "party versus single hero issue" later.

Further complicating the party issue are four elite classes, which are more or less hybrids of the four basic classes: bishop (priest/mage), samurai (fighter/mage), lord (fighter/priest), and ninja (fighter/thief). The ninja is similar to what many later games would call the monk, a fighter that shuns weapons and armor and excels at critical strikes.

There are some alignment restrictions as well: bishops can't be neutral, samurai can't be evil, lords must be good, and ninjas must be evil. The elite or prestige class is something that will show up again later in The Bard's Tale (1985) and many later CRPGs.

The magic system is also fairly elaborate, with some 50 total spells for priests and mages. Perhaps as a tactic to ensure that players purchased a legal copy of the game, these spells can only be cast by entering their names -- printed in the manual, of course.

Although most of the spells are combat-related, a few are useful in other ways. For example, the mage spell "DUMAPIC" reveals the player's current position in the maze relative to the stairs leading out of the maze, and "MALOR," if cast in camp, will teleport the party to a precise location. The magic system uses a special spell point system involving slots for each level of spell. These points can only be replenished by resting in The Castle.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 14 Next

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