The Best Video Game Ever: “Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord”

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Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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50 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    After all, there are two possible choices for the best role-playing game from the very early days of personal computers, and I had to pick one.

    I read this, nodded, and said “Yep. Zork.”

    Whoops!Report

  2. Avatar Don Zeko says:

    How much work is “first” doing when you say that this game is “best?”Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      Quite a lot. Though I have to give some of the old games credit, they were legitimately HARD.

      At this rate, I’m going to wind up nominating the newest game on the list!
      (disclaimer: I’m going to be ethical and not nominate anything that folks could legitimately ask, “are you SURE you’re not biased?” It rules out quite a lot, that question.)Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      You’re right, Don, much my admiration for the game comes from its status as a pioneer rather than its ultimate mastery.

      But I’ll say this for the game affirmatively — it did force you to use your own imagination to color in things. And for the minimal identity assigned to characters in the game, the player’s identification with each one was quite strong — maybe because there really was so little character in the game to hang on to, and the mental construct was thus so personal. In that sense, it was more engaging and absorbing than anything out on the market now.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Have you played ADOM? I think you’d like it.Report

      • Avatar Don Zeko says:

        I don’t exactly mean this is a criticism. I’m not sure how much being an innovator should count for in this respect. While many sequels to groundbreaking games fail to capture the magic of the original, others seem to simply improve upon what worked before. Does that make such a sequel a better game, or does the trailblazing of the first game elevate it above later refinements? I genuinely don’t know.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          I wouldn’t have chosen Wizardry, myself.
          I’d say I’m totally split on this.
          There are plenty of forgettable firsts (Star Control? Wing Commander I).
          Then there are the ones where the sequel is way better (Civilization II, Brian Reynold’s Alpha Centauri)
          And then there are the ones where you’ve got arguments for both ways (Thief versus Thief2/System Shock II).Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko says:

            The Wizardry games did get better — technically and artistically and narratively. But until Wiz-8, they kept the same grid movement pattern, the same six-pack of characters of varied skills, and the same character development ethics. While the art got better, the exercise of one’s imagination diminished, and by Wiz 8 the mythology built up over the previous games had become more than a little bit cumbersome for storytelling purposes.

            But when we get to voting, despite nominating Wizardry here, I’m quite likely to vote for Civilization.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Clearly, they weren’t real programmers.

    Granted, I’m old enough to have done most of the things in that piece, and in FORTRAN. Still, there’s a point where it’s foolish to cling to a single way to do things and refuse to move forward. At least they didn’t mention computed goto, which is where I draw the line. I was scarred for life by the six weeks I spent cleaning up a program that used computed goto to emulate a return from a subroutine in the mistaken belief that it would run faster than an actual subroutine call and return. I expected better from the people at the Naval Postgraduate School, where the program was initially written.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      It’s worse when someone writes deliberately obfuscated assembly in the mistaken idea that this will protect them from getting fired.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Computed GoTo was for wimps: the possible statement numbers were right in front of you. Real programmers used assigned GoTo.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      Yeah, that link was great.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        It’s one of my long-time favorites.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Blast from the past. I genially despised such people as Ed Post. I coded IBM 360 and 370 series in assemblies and found the likes of Ed Post to be unwashed heathens incapable of reading a core dump or writing JCL.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            Post specifically describes reading core dumps, toggling in macine language, and using hex patch utilities. That’s what real programmers do. Symbolic assembler is for wimps.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Heh. Having actually debugged dying RAM memory, locating and isolating it in the depths of a 370/145, working from the front panel, let me tell you a thing or three about how it’s actually done. You don’t toggle in code. You set a load address via the toggle switches.

              I go back to IBM 360 and I have never once seen or heard of anyone loading code manually. Even NASA’s rope memories were the result of assembling.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I’ve done it.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                You didn’t load that.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                There’s even a standard procedure for it. You find the next available address in the patch area, hand-assemble your fix to start at that address, toggle it in, toggle in the branch to it, and test it. Once it’s working, you punch the cards to apply the same patch to the disk image and run them.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                That makes no sense.

                The only time I ever spend much time on the front panel was in the context of a bit (literally) of RAM which would crap out when the machine got hot enough. To exercise it, we had to run a program which would toggle the bits at a known-good address, copy the results into the suspect address, compare the results and proceed to the next address. We spent all of Labor Day weekend in a hot computer room isolating and testing board after board with our IBM SE engineer, who got to know our team well enough to marry one of our operators.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                (that was a joke in case it wasn’t clear).Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                You didn’t make that joke.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Without SYS1 the joke falls on deaf ears.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                In what context and to what end did you ever load anything from the front panel?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                As described above, to create a patch. Usually, for a program that’s either already been patched that way (so it can’t be built from source), or for which the source is unavailable.

                Also (but this is rare) to modify the IPL loader to work around some hardware failure, e.g. to boot from a non-standard device.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                Not on a 360, but on an early 16-bit mini down in the basement of the computer science building, had to key in the tiny program that would read a bigger program from paper tape that would read the actual operating system from the hard disk. Leaving my tiny basement closet/office one morning around 1:00 I heard sobbing; a young woman had overwritten the operating system and didn’t know how to restart things.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                A friend of mine had an old IMSAI machine. If you forgot to reset the load address after initialising the machine, the next load would trash the OS in memory.Report

  4. Avatar Will Truman says:

    My computing experience came just after Wizardry and Ultima and just in time for Bard’s Tale series. I loved that game. Couldn’t play it with a darn (was too young, lacked patience). I finally solved the first BT almost a decade ago when I installed the “IBM” version on my laptop. I was working my way through BT2 when said laptop died, alas.Report

  5. Avatar Pinky says:

    Burt – You may be able to answer a question that’s been bothering me for years. There was a game I used to play on the Apple II-C, if I remember correctly. You were an interplanetary mining concern, and you had to assign your ships to locations around the solar system. There was claim-jumping and travel time and profitability and a bunch of other things that made (as I remember it) a pretty interesting game. I once got a printout of the code – BASIC, I believe – but that’s long gone, and I’ve never seen a reference to the game in decades.

    Any idea?Report

  6. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    So, Burt, did you draw more comments for the game, or for the obscure footnote?Report

  7. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Is Myst a game?Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      Yup.
      Is Dear Esther a game?
      (consider: it was originally supposed to be displayed in a museum. until the museum burnt down).Report