The Let's Play Archive

Wizardry IV

by CrookedB

Part 14: 12a: Interlude: The Softalk All-Stars

Interlude: The Softalk All-Stars, or, Come Cast a Spell with Me

...but first let's turn to an article Roe Adams published in the Softline magazine in March 1982, in the wake of Wizardry's success and long before Wizardry IV, where the adventuring party known as the Softalk All-Stars was first introduced. The most relevant parts of the article are the in-character diary entry that precedes it and the character portraits it contains, but on the whole it's pretty funny, too. The article isn't exactly well-known, so I will post it here in full. Feel free to skip to the next post if you don't feel like reading it, but be sure to at least skim through the pictures!

It was in the fall of the fifth year of the fanatical wizard Werdna that our campaign began. What season or year it is now, none of us knows. I believe we are on the ninth level of this accursed dungeon, but time and distance are ever shifting, and reality is fleeting.

As we break camp, my five companions and I sort out our weapons and supplies. We have accumulated wondrous treasures and mighty weapons. Dreams of returning to enjoy the subtle pleasures that this shared booty could bring fill our wakeful sleep. Sezmar, the samurai; Hawkwind, the ninja; and Sarah, the priest, are the vanguard. Moradin, the thief; Prospero, the mage; and Tuck, the bishop, bring up the rear.

We slowly make our way down the zigzagging corridor. Suddenly, the eldritch light cast by Sarah's lomilwa spell reveals a secret door. Kicking the door open, we charge into a small room. Unfortunately, the hellhounds, demons, and deadly creeping coins do not welcome company. A fierce battle ensues that shakes the very foundations of the dungeon. Hawkwind slays a lycarus with his bare hands, while Sezmar dispatches hellhounds with his murasama blade. The tide of battle turns and twists in a kaleidoscope of weapons and mystical energies. Finally Prospero ends it. While Sarah shields us behind a maporfic spell, Prospero casts the dreaded tiltowait spell. We are victorious!

Bare, magic-blasted walls hardly reward our heroic effort. Our luck suddenly takes a dramatic turn—downward! The secret chute masks the hidden entrance to the tenth level. The final path to Werdna's lair is open. As we are standing around, slapping each other on the hack, the air is pierced with a maniacal laugh ... Werdna waits! Sobered, we regroup, heal our wounds, and set out again. We have no delusion: our greatest challenge lies ahead.

Resolutely raising our banner high, we stealthily tiptoe forward. We quickly vanish in the stygian darkness. Momentarily, our banner shines with its great war cry, "Trebor Sux!" Then it too vanishes as distant sounds of battle reverberate.

—Book IV, Chapter 9, of the Wizardry Chronicles

If this excerpt stirs excitement within you, then you are on your way to being addicted to one of the most innovative waves sweeping the country. Riding high on the crest of the popularity of computer role-playing games is Wizardry. It has been widely acclaimed as the finest and truest adaptation of the Dungeons and Dragons type game yet brought to the computer screen. Besides hitting the top ten on the charts, in the minds of many Wizardry should he the 1981 winner of the best game award. The second scenario, "Knight of Diamonds," due for mid-March release, may well capture the 1982 award.

Epic Insomnia. In the short time since Wizardry's introduction, the ripple effect stemming from this unique program has astonished even its creators, Robert Woodhead and Andrew Greenberg. Hordes of fervent Wizardry groups (many suffering from acute insomnia) have sprung up around the country. The section of post devoted to games on the Source has been almost completely taken over by Wizardry players. When a message was left on the Source looking for input for this article, the deluge of response was phenomenal and diverse. These were some of the comments:

"It sure helps to relax a person after a hard day at work. That troll does look like my boss!"—Mike, Omaha.

"The greatest joy in the game is getting those rare treasures. The other joy is mapping out all the contortions of the maze."—Harry, Brookline, Massachusetts.

"The dawn frequently breaks as a session ends. Luckily my boss is as addicted as I am."—Bill, Freeport, Maine.

"What do you call a sixteenth level ninja with +3 plate, a + 3 shield, a + 2 helm, silver gauntlets, a Ring of Healing, and a Shuriken? You call him Sir!"—Jon, Richardson, Texas.

Some of the responses were more sobering:

"I think combat in this game is like warfare of the future: controlled on a computer terminal, impersonal, calculated."—Dale, San Francisco.

"Sometimes I submerge myself so much into my characters, I lose almost all sense of my own identity. I once played for three days straight without coming up out of the game. When my party was finally devastated, I almost broke down into tears."—Dave, Seattle.

Real-World Sorcery. Others related Wizardry to the real world. For example, from a lengthy interview with Harry Conover of Computer Simulated Sports comes this business application:

"I'd liken Wizardry to a fantasized system of personnel management. As the manager of a small group of individuals, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, you must manipulate the members' performances against the 'competition' so that they achieve a certain goal. In Wizardry, as in real life, the goal can be mere survival, or the quest for power, or, over the long haul, the pot of gold."

Another spanner of worlds is Chuck Dompa. He has brought Wizardry to academe. "CS470 (Teaching Fantasy Simulation)" is in the catalog of courses for Penn State University in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. It is a graduate level continuing education course primarily for teachers and educators. The focus of the course is game theory and application. Wizardry was chosen as the most sophisticated computer fantasy game.

"The response has been so great that I hope to offer shortly an entire course centered around Wizardry. All the diverse elements that the course seeks to cover are contained within the scope of this game." Dompa feels that, through the impetus of his course, Wizardry will find its way into many other high schools and colleges as a valuable teaching aid.

Creating Characters, Building Lives. That prophetic tomorrow is a reality today for Dr. Ron Levy, a board-certified child psychiatrist and author of the book, New Language of Psychiatry, published by Little, Brown & Company. Wizardry has become an added diagnostic and therapeutic tool in his Williamsville, New York, practice. How this came about he recently conveyed in a letter to Sirtech, the publishers of Wizardry.

"This game, which allows children to create a group of adventuring characters and to journey through a maze where they fight battles with monsters, has turned out to be surprisingly helpful to me in my work with children who have emotional problems. ... The child, let us call him Jim (I have changed his name), was living in a family where there were serious marital problems. Jim, an otherwise bright and capable child, had begun doing poorly in elementary school several months before I saw him. I saw Jim on an emergency basis after he had announced to his family that he was going to kill himself. When he came to my office, he let everyone know that he did not want to be there and he refused to talk to me at all. This sad-looking school-age child sat quietly in my office staring at the floor, while his parents sat in my waiting room worrying about him. Because this child had declared his intention to commit suicide and was uncooperative with my efforts to interview him, there was little I could do at that point other than to consider admitting him immediately to a psychiatric hospital for his own safety and for further evaluation.

"However, with the help of your game, I was able to move beyond this apparent impasse. Jim agreed to play video games on my Apple computer and he became fascinated by my description of the Wizardry game. He made a set of characters, gave them names, and played nonstop for almost an hour. After the first half hour, he was willing to discuss with me what he was doing in the game, and I was able to learn a great deal about him from what he had told me and from watching him play. I found out that he was not as depressed as he seemed and that he was able to become enthusiastic about something he was interested in; and we were able to talk about some of his worries, using the game as a springboard. At the conclusion of this visit, he told me he had no intention of killing himself because he 'wanted to come back and play some more.' In this case, as in several others, I have been able, by using your game, to evaluate correctly children who initially appeared much more disturbed than they really were. ... Although you intended to create a recreational game, you have inadvertently provided me with a marvelous tool for my work with children."

During our interview with Dr. Levy, several related thoughts were brought forward.

"Wizardry is considerably different from Ultima, because the perspective of Wizardry is always subjective, while Ultima is objective." He felt that this difference hampered Ultima as a role-playing game.

Dr. Levy also felt that the development of a character through the dungeon parallels, in many ways, the growth of the child. The levels are similar to age brackets, such as the difference between a five-year-old and a six-year-old. "In a child's description of what his hero can accomplish often lie clues to some of the obstacles and troubles the child experiences in his own life. ... What the character is able to do is what the child fears to do."

One for All and All for One. This train of thought prompted a hypothesis put forth to Dr. Levy:

Wizardry is very different from most role-playing games in that it is designed for parties of six, rather than for solo explorers. In fact, the dungeon inhabitants are so powerful that no one character could survive long by himself. Therefore, unlike the typical game where you become the single character, here you must develop six different characters, each with their own persona and talents. Then the characters' mutual advancement and interaction becomes your goal. This is strongly reminiscent of Herman Hesse's classic concept of the "fragmented man," whereby each character becomes a different fragment of your own personality.

Dr. Levy considered this hypothesis was quite valid and applicable here. "Certainly one of the game's strongest features is that the child has much more total involvement with six characters than with one character." As to the therapeutic value of the game, he stated that "this game seems to draw together a number of features that evoke in children many of their fundamental anxieties and to hold out to them the prospect that, with repeated attempts, anxiety-provoking situations can be overcome. ... That is the lesson of the game, that if you keep trying and don't overextend your abilities, you will steadily progress toward a goal."

In his letter to Sir-tech, Dr. Levy closed with this endorsement: "I believe other professionals who work with children will find the game as useful as I have, and I strongly recommend that child psychiatrists and child psychologists seriously investigate the use of games such as Wizardry in the evaluation and treatment of children with emotional disorders."

International Spell. The effects of Wizardry are slowly spreading worldwide. A call to a colleague in England brought forth several interesting facts. There the game is selling strongly. England has been heavily into role-playing games for a long time (they feel they invented miniatures), and they are rapidly embracing Wizardry. He related that there was a small group of fanatical Wizardry players on a nearby air force base where, during work, one has to duck constantly to avoid being blasted by flying lorto and molito spells.

There is also talk in England of organizing Wizardry contests, where the winner would be the person whose team brought out the most gold in a fixed time limit. The event would be grouped into sections by the overall level average of each team, so that it would be fair, and everyone would use the same scenario. There is great enthusiasm for the idea in England; perhaps similar tournaments will be sponsored in the United States.

A great true-life story was related by Harry Conover: "I've a friend, a high-ranking public official, who's deathly afraid of flying. He's been playing Wizardry ever since it came out. His addiction has become so bad that he dreamt he was on a plane that started to spin toward the ground. Rising from his seat, he cast the Wizardry spell kadorto (which brings characters back to life, even if they are ashes). Immediately the movie screen in the front of the cabin lit up with 'Spell failed' . . . and he knew all was lost."

War in the Wee Hours. For a moment, step with us through the mirror for a wry touch of perspective, as related by Harry's wife Deborah.

"It was all those 'beep-beep-beeps' at four in the morning that got to me. I knew Harry had solved Zork and Zork II in record time, but his involvement with this game Wizardry was bizarre.

"So I lurched into his office and was silenced with a wave of his hand. 'Jeez,' he muttered, 'six level-ten mages, three chimeras, and three nightstalkers!!!'

"I looked around the room and saw only Pepsi bottles, maze maps, and a man hunched over the keyboard.

"'Harry, it's four in the morning. You can fight them tomorrow.'

"'No. They must be dealt with now' was his abrupt reply, and his fingers flashed across the keyboard.

"'There,' he said, turning and smiling at me, 'that takes care of them! And 6,742 experience points for me and the crew!'

"'Harry, come to bed,' I said, leaving for a saner haven.

"'In a minute: came his reply, wafting out of his office, 'I've got to get back to the castle first.'

"So, if you see a thirty-four-year-old man outside a castle, tell him to come to bed."

Our spell is wearing thin, time is fleeting. If you can linger, someone is offering free rounds of drinks at Gilgamesh's Tavern and Boltac's Trading Post is running a halfprice sale on copper gauntlets. Want to come along? It is only just down the road and turn left....