Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

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Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
Wizardry pgotmo.jpg
Apple II cover
Developer(s) Sir-Tech Software, Inc.
Publisher(s) Sir-Tech Software, Inc.
Designer(s) Andrew C. Greenberg
Robert Woodhead
Sir-Tech Software, Inc.
Series Wizardry
Platform(s) Apple II, Commodore 64, DOS, Macintosh, MSX, NEC PC-9801, NES, PC booter, PC Engine, Game Boy Color, Super Famicom
Release date(s)
Genre(s) Role-playing video game
Mode(s) Single-player

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord is the first game in the Wizardry series of role-playing video games. It was developed by Andrew Greenberg and Robert Woodhead. In 1980, Norman Sirotek formed Sir-Tech Software, Inc. and launched a Beta version of the product at the 1980 Boston Computer Convention. The final version of the game was released in 1981.[2]

The game was one of the first Dungeons & Dragons-style role-playing games to be written for computer play, and the first such game to offer color graphics.[3] It was also the first true party-based role-playing video game.[2]

The game eventually ended up as the first of a trilogy that also included Wizardry II: The Knight of Diamonds and Wizardry III: Legacy of Llylgamyn.[4] Proving Grounds needs to be completed in order to create a party that could play in the remainder of the trilogy.


Starting in the town, the player creates a party of up to six characters from an assortment of five possible races (Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Hobbits), three alignments (Good, Neutral, Evil), and four basic classes (Fighter, Priest, Mage, Thief).[2] Besides being the first microcomputer role-playing game to offer multiple characters to control, there are also four elite classes[5] (Bishop: priest and mage spells; Samurai: fighter with mage spells; Lord: fighter with priest spells, and Ninja: fighter with thief abilities). Characters can be changed to an elite class after meeting the stat requirements. Priests typically cast healing spells, while Mages cast damage spells. Bishops, being a combination of the two, learn both sets of spells but at a reduced rate. Good and evil characters normally cannot be assigned to the same party, but exploits exist to allow this.

After equipping the characters with basic armor and weaponry, the party then descends into the dungeon below Trebor's castle. This consists of a maze of ten levels,[6] each progressively more challenging than the last. Classes have multiple spells, each with seven levels, that characters learn as they advance.[5]

The style of play employed in this game has come to be termed a dungeon crawl. The goal, as in most subsequent role-playing video games, is to find treasure including ever more potent items, gain levels of experience by killing monsters, then face the evil arch-wizard Werdna on the bottom level and retrieve a powerful amulet. The goal of most levels is to find the elevator or stairs going down to the next level without being killed in the process.

Screenshot of Wizardry 1 for the IBM PC MS-DOS on level 1 of the maze

The graphics are extremely simple by today's standards; most of the screen is occupied by text, with about 10% devoted to a first-person view of the dungeon maze using high-resolution line graphics. By the standards of the day, however, the graphics improved on the text-only games that had been far more common. When monsters are encountered, the dungeon maze disappears, replaced by a picture of one of the monsters. Combat is against from 1 to 4 groups of monsters. The game's lack of an automap feature, which had not been invented at the time of its release, practically forces the player to draw the map for each level on graph paper (included in the box) as he walks through the 20x20 dungeon maze,[7][5] step by step – failing to do this often results in becoming permanently lost, as there are many locations in the maze that have a permanent "Darkness" spell upon the square (making the player walk blindly) or a "Teleport" spell sending the player to a new location. A magic spell can be used to determine the current location of the party, and at higher levels there is a teleport spell that can be used to quickly transition between the maze levels. Care is necessary when teleporting as the player must enter both the level and coordinates to teleport to (the number of steps north, south, east, or west from his current location) and it is easily possible to land in a trap or solid stone, ending the game. The original releases of Wizardry also do not announce that the player has teleported and play resumes as if one step forward was taken.[7]

The game has unforgiving difficulty as players cannot save their progress within the dungeon; they must exit the dungeon first. In the event of a total party kill, play cannot be resumed; however, a new party may recover the bodies and items of dead adventurers. Later Wizardry games made it easier by restarting at the point in the dungeon where the characters died. It can take hundreds of hours to finish the game.[6]

Wizardry saves the player's party and game progress onto a scenario disk. After booting, a new one may be created with a blank floppy disk or an existing one used. Completion of Proving Ground of the Mad Overlord is necessary to play the sequels Wizardry II and III since they require the characters from the first game to be imported from a scenario disk.


A series of exploits that involves the identification ability of Bishops allows characters to gain massive experience points and gold.[2] According to co-author Robert Woodhead, these cheats were actually a bug caused by the game's lack of bounds-checking, which was disabled to fit within 48K of RAM. When the IBM PC version of the game was released, the bug was declared to be a feature and deliberately included.[citation needed]


Wizardry drew influences from earlier games from the PLATO system, most notably the game Oubliette.[8][9] It was initially coded in Applesoft BASIC, but Andrew C. Greenberg and Woodhead rewrote it in UCSD Pascal after BASIC proved too slow to be playable. They had to wait for a run-time system, not available until early 1981, before publishing it. The game took two and a half man-years to complete, but the delay benefited Wizardry by permitting almost one year of playtesting and game balancing before release, distinguishing it from others such as Ultima I. Frederick Sirotek, Norman's businessman father and the company's financier, insisted that the packaging and documentation be professional, also distinguishing the game from others sold in Ziploc bags.[7][10][5]

The Commodore 64/128 versions of Wizardry 1-3 share a common code base with the Apple originals, as they all use the same run-time 6502 Pascal interpreter which provides support for overlays and low-level functions to interface with the hardware. USCD Pascal was also used for the IBM versions, but with an x86 version of the interpreter.

Lengthy load time and extensive disk access was a problem with Wizardry; however, the Commodore versions, which particularly suffer from this, provided a variety of workarounds. In C128 mode, the VDC memory is used to store overlays and REUs are supported in both C64 and C128 mode. Wizardry 2-5 also detect if 16k or 64k of VDC memory is present and can use the 1571 drive's burst mode for faster load time.

Werdna and Trebor are the names of Greenberg and Woodhead spelled backwards. Their names also appear as initials (i.e., ACG and RJW) on the map of the eighth and ninth floors.[5]

Reception and legacy

Wizardry shipped in September 1981 and almost immediately became a hit, the most popular Apple II game of the year.[10] By 30 June 1982 it had sold 24,000 copies, making it one of the best-selling computer RPGs in North America up until that time. In comparison, Temple of Apshai (1979) had sold 30,000 copies and Ultima (1981) sold 20,000 copies at the time.[11] Electronic Games described Wizardry in 1983 as "without a doubt, the most popular fantasy adventure game for the Apple II at the present time."[12] Computer Gaming World praised it as "one of the all-time classic computer games", complex yet playable. With no major faults, the only minor one described in the review is the ease with which parties can initially be killed.[7]

Within months of Wizardry's release at least two commercial game trainers for it appeared, despite Sir-Tech's denouncing their use. The game also had perhaps the first strategy guide, The Wizisystem, which promised that "the average player" could succeed in the game with "a successful, easy-to-follow format". A child psychiatrist reported success in using the game as therapy.[9] The game was the top-rated adventure for five years in Computer Gaming World's reader poll, until Ultima IV replaced it in 1986,[13] and in 1991 the magazine wrote that "while mainly hack-and-slash, it's still a grand expedition, even today".[14] The game eventually led to a series of eight games spanning twenty years, and helped set genre standards with its intuitive layout and interface.[3]

The game was reviewed in 1982 in The Dragon #65 by Bruce Humphrey. Humphrey stated that "There is so much good about this game, it’s difficult to decide where to begin", and concluded by describing it as "not easily beaten or solved, I recommend it to anyone tired of mediocre programs and ho-hum dungeon encounters."[15]

The Macintosh version of the game, known by fans as "MacWizardry", was reviewed in 1986 in Dragon's first "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers called MacWizardry "a delightful reintroduction of a marvelous classic."[16] In a subsequent column, the reviewers gave the Mac version of the game 4 out of 5 stars.[17]

The Wizardry series was ported to various Japanese computers such as the NEC PC-8801 and became extremely popular there. Along with Ultima, it formed the inspiration for JRPG series like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest.[18]

In 1984 Softline readers named the game the most popular Apple program of all time.[19] With a score of 7.69 out of 10, in 1988 Wizardry was among the first members of the Computer Gaming World Hall of Fame, honoring those games rated highly over time by readers.[20] In 1990 the game received the ninth-highest number of votes in a survey of readers' "All-Time Favorites".[21]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 "Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (1981) Apple II release dates". MobyGames. Retrieved 2011-09-04. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Hallford, Jana (2001). Swords & Circuitry: a Designer's Guide to Computer Role Playing Games. Cengage Learning. p. 55–58. ISBN 0-7615-3299-4. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Crigger, Lara. "Chasing D&D: A History of RPGs". 1up.com. Retrieved 2008-06-05. 
  4. DeMaria, Rusel; Wilson, Johnny L. (2003). High Score!: the Illustrated History of Electronic Games (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 156. ISBN 0-07-223172-6. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Maher, Jimmy (2012-03-23). "Playing Wizardry". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved 9 July 2014. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 McComb, Gordon (July 1984). "Playing the new adult-rated video games". Popular Science 225 (1): 92–98. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Marlow, Mark (May–June 1982). "Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, a Review". Computer Gaming World: 6–8. 
  8. Hardcore Gaming 101 interview with Robert Woodhead
  9. 9.0 9.1 Maher, Jimmy (2012-03-26). "The Wizardry Phenomenon". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved 9 July 2014. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Maher, Jimmy (2012-03-20). "Making Wizardry". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved 9 July 2014. 
  11. "List of Top Sellers", Computer Gaming World 2 (5), September–October 1982: 2 
  12. "Explore the Worlds of Computer Fantasy". Electronic Games 4 (16): 52–56 [52]. June 1983. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  13. "Reader Input Device". Computer Gaming World. April 1986. p. 48. 
  14. Scorpia (October 1991). "C*R*P*G*S / Computer Role-Playing Game Survey". Computer Gaming World. p. 16. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  15. Humphrey, Bruce (September 1982). "Campaigns for the Keyboard". The Dragon (65): 73–74. 
  16. Lesser, Hartley and Pattie (June 1986). "The Role of Computers". The Dragon (110): 38–43. 
  17. Lesser, Hartley and Patricia (October 1987). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (126): 82–88. 
  18. Edwards, Benj (2012-03-10). "10 Classic Computer RPGs". PC Magazine. Retrieved 2013-08-19. 
  19. "The Best and the Rest". St.Game. Mar–Apr 1984. p. 49. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  20. "The CGW Hall of Fame". Computer Gaming World. March 1988. p. 44. 
  21. "CGW Readers Select All-Time Favorites". Computer Gaming World. January 1990. p. 64. Retrieved 15 November 2013. 

External links

Template:Wizardry series