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 in reply to Don Zeko 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 in reply to Don Zeko 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 in reply to Burt Likko says:

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

      • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Burt Likko 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 in reply to Don Zeko 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 in reply to Kimmi 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. 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

  4. 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. 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