I don't know if the definitive history of Sir-Tech has ever been written, but it must make for an interesting drama. From what we can see on the surface:
- In 1981, Robert Woodhead and Andrew Greenberg wrote Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord by building upon Oubliette from the PLATO system. As we recently discussed, they appear not to have acknowledged any debt to Oubliette specifically, despite adapting elements of it wholesale.
- For the next seven years, they kept making basically the same game.
- David W. Bradley joined the team in 1988 for Wizardry V, the same year that Woodhead departed the company for Japan.
- Andrew Greenberg left the company sometime after 1988 and later sued Sir-Tech for breach of contract, tying up so much of the company's resources that (at least according to Sir-Tech) it delayed publication of Wizardry VII.
- Bradley is listed--repeatedly--as the sole designer on Wizardry VI and the game--sorry, fantasy role-playing simulation--radically changes the interface and game elements.
- For their work in creating the series, the Wizardry VI documentation gives Greenberg and Woodhead the same acknowledgement that they gave Jim Schwaiger and Oubliette: none.
|I'm not entirely sure who was responsible for Wizardry VI. Can anyone help?|
In my post on Windwalker, I made fun of developer Greg Paul Malone's constant presence in the game materials, and I have to do the same here with David Bradley. His byline is on nearly every page or screen that mentions the game. There's a full dedication page to his mother. But even with that, I was going to leave it alone. So what? I thought. He's proud of the game. He should be. There's no reason an "author" of a game shouldn't be as proud as the author of a book.
Then one of my readers, JJ, mailed me the game's hint guide. Oh, my.
|Did anyone tell David that the 90s had begun?|
The guide begins with a little chronicle of David Bradley's arrival at Sir-Tech, insisting that he began programming Wizardry V back in the early 1980s, long before his employment at the company, thus completely hand-waving the fact that Wizardry V was almost entirely based on the programming that had gone into Wizardry I-IV. Seriously, check it out. After discussing the founding of Sir-Tech and the publication of the first few games, the guide, using glorious malapropisms, says:
At the same time and on opposite ends of the United States, David W. Bradley had begun to program what would become Wizardry V: Heart of the Malestrom. [Huh? He was in two places at once?] Being a fan of fantasy role playing and computers, David naturally mixed the two. [It was about time someone did!] In the office where he worked, the game passed from disk to disk and person to person. People who were supposed to be typing memos, planning corporate stratums [that's honestly the word it uses] and comparing financial sheets, were instead trouncing through dungeons [it really says that, too], battling dragons and collecting gold pieces. In 1984, David contacted Sir-Tech Software about his program, then called "Dragon's Breath" [given what Wizardry V ultimately looked like, one wonders why]. In just a few weeks, the game was a hit with Sir-Tech's office staff, too. Norm and Rob Sirotek decided it was just too good to pass on, and so set the production wheels in motion. After its release in 1988, Wizardry V won several gaming awards and increased the series' fame to even higher levels. And that's when it happened--David threw the entire system out the door on its ear.
Am I missing something? Wizardry V was basically the same game as Wizardry I-III, right? Same structure, same combat system, same spells, even the same names for the stores on the castle level. Is Bradley really claiming credit for developing it (let alone the CRPG genre in general)? Either he was passing around a completely different game to his co-workers who were supposed to be "planning corporate stratums" (pity those in the lowest caste) or he was passing around a game that plagiarized Wizardry. Either way, this little retconned history is mind-boggling.
But the centerpiece of the hint guide--remember, this is supposed to be a hint guide--is a four-page Q&A with Bradley that reads exactly like a Q&A that someone fantasized for himself while sitting in traffic. The guide's author is given as Brenda Garno, but I have trouble believing that Bradley didn't write both the "Q" and "A" part himself. Among such questions as "How did you become interested in computer programming?" and "What's a typical day while you're in the middle of game design?" and "Once you had finished Bane of the Cosmic Forge, did it turn out to be bigger than you had imagined?," we get this gem of an exchange:
Q: You know, I still remember you saying, "Bane of the Cosmic Larva."
A: I did not say "Bane of the Cosmic Larva."
Q: Yes, you did.
A: Unless we were joking around.
Q: We were going through the dictionary and you were saying "Bane of the Cosmic..." whatever. You were picking out all these names. Eventually, you came out with "Bane of the Cosmic Larva."
No "A" appears to that last "Q," so I guess the facts behind this shocking anecdote will have to remain unknown.
Thus, with a little help from interviewer and subject (all the quotes below, gods' truth, come from the hint guide), let's begin exploring this game.
Q: How did you get the idea for Bane's plot?
A: In a flash. Literally, just like that. Everything that I had thought of, all of my characters and sub-plots, fell into place.
The short back story tells of a thoroughly debauched king (a wizard) and queen. The king and one of his evil wizard allies waged war on all the "evil planes." During one of these wars, after the defeat of an arch-demon ruler, they discovered the "Cosmic Forge," a magical pen with which the wielder could write things into existence. With it, they "began to script such horrors for the universe that no man has since imagined." Ultimately, the two allies had a falling out, went to war, and were never heard from again. (This, of course, sounds absolutely nothing like the story of Trebor, Werdna, and the magic amulet.) Over a century later, the party of six adventurers kicks open the dusty doors to the castle...
Q: If you had to create a David Bradley to go pouncing [yes, "pouncing"] through the dungeon, what type of character would he be?
A: Well, actually, I am in Bane, but I'm all of the other creatures in the game. But just a single character? How about a Samurai scientist.
In addition to the humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and hobbits that have been with us since the beginning, Wizardry VI introduces six new races, all magical or bestial: Faeries, Lizardmen, Dracons (sort-of like Draconians from Krynn), Rawulfs (canine humanoids), Mooks (look like Wookies from Star Wars), and Felpurrs (cat people). I'm trying to guess how long it took to come up with "Felpurr" and whether it's any more or less lazy than "Katta."
|The pre-game menu.|
For classes, the game retains fighters, mages, priests, thieves, samurai, lords, bishops, and ninjas from its predecessors, then introduces rangers, bards, alchemists, psionics, valkyries, and monks. Alchemists and psionics have different spellbooks than mages and priests, and all classes come with a variety of special abilities and equipment.
I decided to try some new things with my party, partly based on some advice I've received in the last few posts, and partly just for fun. The party favors the new races and classes, has no male characters, and has no pure spellcasters. Bragging rights for the first person to figure out the theme.
- Nysra, a Dwarf valkyrie
- Selky, a Felpurr monk
- Lashi, a Mook samurai
- Paisley, a Dracon ninja
- Harquin, a Faerie bard
- Nofri, an Elf bishop
All of the characters have some spellcasting ability, and among the party members, I have access to all the spellbooks, but because none of them are pure, I'll gain spell levels very slowly. We'll see how it works out.
Creating this party, I should mention, took a number of hours. I don't love the character creation process, mostly because there's no way to cancel or back out of it if you realize you're getting a bad character. You have to finish creating her and then decline to keep her.
Q: How did you become interested in computer programming?
A: I didn't become interested. It was an accident and then I got addicted. Now I can't kick the habit. I sat down in front of a computer and started typing some stuff. And I haven't stopped yet.
Once you set the name, race, and sex, the game presents the standard attribute scores and gives you a pool of "bonus" points, ranging from around 5 to 18, and then lets you choose your class. Each class has a minimum for various attributes, and if the bonus points plus the default race/sex scores aren't enough, that class isn't available. If the class is available, and you choose it, the game automatically allocates your bonus points towards the class minimums, then lets you spend whatever is left over.
Some classes, like the ninja, essentially require the maximum number of bonus points, so it took dozens of "false starts" before I was able to create the character.
|Creating a character. I needed a bonus roll this high to make the character a monk.|
Character creation also involves the allocation of skill points--a first for the series--which I admit had me lost. There are ten weapon skills, six "physical" skills (including scouting, music, ninjutsu, and lockpicking), and eight "academia" skills (mostly magic). Some of them apparently increase with use, but others must have points allocated to them to increase. I did the best I could, putting a few of my monk's points into scouting and a few of my bard's points into lockpicking.
Finally, there's a "Karma" score, which the manual describes as a combination of luck and morality. I'm not sure how it affects gameplay. My random rolls include both high and low values, which the manual suggests is a good thing.
This game is one of the few of the era that allows you to choose your character portrait. There were some odd choices, and it didn't appear to me that Mooks and Dracons had any options (at least, none that looked like their portraits in the manual).
|Equipping my starting items.|
After I had the six characters rolled, I started the game and began exploring the castle. There's no "town" to visit as in the previous games, nor any long process of buying initial equipment. Instead, you simply begin with default equipment. There must be places to buy things later, because you do find gold at the end of combat.
|My map so far of Level 1.|
The first floor seems appropriately castle-shaped, with at least nine stairways up and seven stairways down. I say "at least," because there are six doors that I'm unable to open. This seems to be a consequence of choosing a party without a thief and in which no character has particularly high strength. No one can force or pick the locks, and if I try too hard, they "jam," which the manual suggests is bad. I think I'll keep playing and see if I can return to the doors when I have the "knock-knock" spell or a higher lockpicking skill level.
|Lockpicking involves a little mini-game where you wait for green bars to appear above all tumblers and hit ENTER at the right moment.|
There was one gate that, Dungeon Master-style, required pushing a button on a nearby wall, but I couldn't find a way to open a gate beyond that. Two chests held various potions and magic items, along with some cryptic messages.
I've fought half a dozen random combats against things like vines, rats, and bats. I'm going to hold off describing it until I have a better handle on it, except to say that it's a clear evolution from the previous games in the series. Each character has various attack, defense, and magic options every round, and you "line up" your attacks before executing them all at once. So far, the foes haven't been difficult at all--a big change from the first five titles, which throw you relentlessly into danger in the first hallway.
Q: Before Bane hit the market and all the positive feedback came, what were your initial instincts telling you about it?
A: Ah, you never know. I knew it was going to be a good game, I knew the story and all that went with it, and I loved it. I generally do stuff where it all feels right. But still, you never know.
So far, the graphics and sound seem okay. The sound, while supporting Sound Blaster, either has weird artifacts (intermittent static, pounding) or is supposed to be alerting me to nearby creatures or something. I disabled the mouse and am not having much trouble navigating with the keyboard.
|A fountain in the main hall restores stamina.|
I'm just getting started with this one, of course, so I can't offer much of an opinion yet. By my next post, I'll have an idea as to whether this party is going to make it. I mentioned having the physical hint guide that JJ sent, but my rules haven't really changed. I glanced at its advice for character creation, but I won't be using it for the maps or puzzles or anything.
Let's close with some final inspirational words from DWB, which I hope inspired legions of prospective young doctors, crane operators, and jet pilots:
Q: What do you recommend to people who want to do what you're doing?
A: If you want to do something, you just do it. You'll learn all you need to know along the way.