Mr. Glenn Wichman is known as one of the creators of the original Rogue back in the 80’s, before computer games were a multi-billion dollar market, and when one single lonewolf developer (or a small team) had a chance for success on the commercial world. He comes back after almost twenty years to find out the evolution of the genre that his game spawned. He describes himself as an hard-working, happy person, and loves kayaking. –Slash, for the Roguelike Temple.
Good day Mr. Wichman, and thanks for accepting this interview for the Roguelike Temple
Good day. Thanks for inviting me!
How is the day closing today at Tucson?
It was very hot today. Now we have a breeze, so it is cooling down.
It’s been a long time since you developed Rogue… can you tell us in short words, what role did you have on its development? How do you remember these times?
The time when Michael and I started on Rogue was a great time in my life. We were sharing an apartment not too far from the beach in Santa Cruz, California. We were both students at the University, but we also both had jobs working in the computer labs…
I had written lots of computer games in BASIC and Pascal. I was starting to learn C. Michael had already done a lot of C programming, and got ahold of the curses library from UC Berkeley.
We started working together on a number of simple game ideas. We had both written text adventure games, and I had created a system in Pascal that let non-programmers create adventure games with simple text files; Michael thought about doing a graphical adventure game using curses. We worked out all the ideas together, but initially he did all the programming.
He created most of the algorithms — how to draw a level, how to do daemons and fuses, etc. but we were equally responsible for figuring out the game play, the monsters, weapons, etc.
About Michael, did you ever talk again with him? Do you keep in contact?
Yes, I still see Michael any time I visit Northern California. In the last five years, since I moved to Tucson, we haven’t kept in touch as much. But until 2001, we attended the same church, so I would see him pretty much every week. Our wives and children are friends with each other as well.
Have you ever (lawfully) recovered the Amulet of Yendor from the depths of the dungeon and survived?
I never have. My wife has done it once, though. She is a much better rogue player than me :)
Michael has won several times.
When you developed Rogue, did you imagine it would spawn a whole genre of games? Were you there when new games based in Rogue began to rise?
I can’t remember if I thought we would spawn a genre of games. But I was aware at the time we first unleashed Rogue, that we had created something unlike anything else out there.
What do you think are the factors or features that define a roguelike?
IMHO, The quintessential feature of a Roguelike is that the computer creates a world for you to explore. The adventure has to be different every time, and the game has to be capable of surprising even its creators.
Do you currently play any roguelike?
I go through phases where I play Rogue for a while, and phases where I don’t play for a long time. This year I decided to participate in the seven day roguelike challenge, so of course I played my own creation and I tried out some of the other 7DRL contestants. I am aware that there is a whole world of amazing roguelike games out there now — far beyond anything Michael and I initially imagined. But my life doesn’t leave me much time for game playing. Some time I would like to try out all the games the roguelike community has created.
What about the newest roguelikes, like GearHead, DoomRL, POWDER?
I stopped participating in the Rogue-based usenet groups sometime around 1990, just because my life was filled with other things. So I was really not even aware of any roguelike games until I started reading the usenet groups again earlier this year. Except that I knew about Diablo, because other interviewers asked me about it. But I never played Diablo either.
I would like to try out these new games now that I have heard of them, but it seems like there is a steep learning curve for these new roguelike games. Rogue is pretty simple by comparison — no character classes, no allies, etc.
As the roguelike community came to know by the past 7DRL challenge, you are embarked on a sacred quest to complete within a single calendar year, a Seven Day Roguelike, a 24-hour comic, and a NaNoWriMo Novel. What led you to start this quest?
That’s a very good question, and I don’t know if I have a good answer. It seemed like a great opportunity to accomplish something that no one has ever done before (even though it’s something kind of meaningless). I figured if you have an opportunity to be the very first person to do something, than you should take it. My son suggested that I might be the only person who was even capable of accomplishing all three tasks, but I don’t think that’s true. Now that I have gotten to know something about the other 7drl challengers, I am sure some are capable of succeeding at the other challenges as well.
How is this going? Will you succeed?
I feel pretty good about the 24 hour comic, which will take place on October 20th. I have plenty of time to prepare, and I only have to free myself up for a couple of days.
aNoWriMo is a bit more terrifying though. I am actually a pretty good writer (enough people have told me so that I believe it), but I am not a fast writer. I have trouble moving on to the next sentence until the current one is perfect.
Then there is the time commitment. I have to write 175 pages, or 50,000 words, between November 1st and November 30th. I don’t know what my life will be like in November. If I were to try it right now, there is no way I would succeed. I have too much else going on. But hopefully my life will ease up a bit before then.
What do you think about the current status of the roguelike genre? Where is it heading to?
I need to learn more about it before I can give an informed opinion. I think it’s great that there are still people creating these games, but it feels like the community is dwindling. That’s probably okay; nothing lasts forever.
I am a firm believer in everything being available online. I can remember advocating all software being available online long before there even was a world wide web. I am surprised that people still create software to be downloaded and installed.
I would like to see a roguelike that has aspects of second life — players could create their own areas with their own monsters, magic, and adventures, and your character to could move from one area to another.
Do you think is the main audience for roguelikes are hardcore geeks? or they could be enjoyed by mainstream gamers?
You could say that Diablo is a roguelike for mainstream gamers. Or EverQuest.
Michael and I wrote a 2-D, overhead-view, turn-based, single player game because that was the best we could do at the time with what the technology allowed. It’s interesting, and cool, that some developers continue to do this by choice. I think roguelike gamers are kind of like afficionados of black and white films (or maybe silent films :) ) — they have an appreciation for the way things used to be. That’s a good thing. But it won’t ever be mainstream. No director would make Spiderman 4 as a black and white silent film.
Back in the 1980s, you could find games (even commercially) that were the creation of a single individual, or a small band of people like the four of us responsible for Rogue. Nowadays, it takes hundreds of people to create a game, and there’s no room for the vision of a single individual.
The great thing about a roguelike is that one person can still pursue his vision to create something, without having to conform to some corporate standard.
From your personal website we can see some artistic creations like “I’m going to join the cave-men”; do you still create this kind of art (poetry)?
Every ten years I write a sonnet for my wife :) Other than that, the poetic side of me has kind of dried up. I imagine I will write more poems some day, but when I have tried to force it, they come out very bad.
What are your favorite books/authors?
There are a few authors where I will buy anything they write. They are in very different genres, but here they are: Bill Bryson, Garrison Keillor, C.S. Lewis, and Michael Crichton.
My favorite books are the Chronicles of Narnia, that has been true since I was seven years old.
What about videogame franchises, movies, or comics?
I used to be an avid reader of Marvel Comics. My favorite superhero is Nightcrawler from the X-Men. I used to read Spiderman, Thor, Captain America, X-Men, Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight without fail. I have always been a fan of newspaper comic strips. Pogo is my all-time favorite. I read Doonesbury, Sherman’s Lagoon, Rose is Rose, and too many others to mention.
I could go on and on about movies. I like all kinds.
For video game franchises, there has not been any that I’ve really gotten caught up in. My son Caleb is really into the Legend of Zelda series, so I’ve played that some with him, and I like it.
So, when was the last time you paddled a kayak?
November 2006. I love kayaking, but somehow I ended up living in the desert. It is at least a hundred mile trip to the nearest decent place to paddle, so I generally only manage to go a couple times a year. I hope someday to live much closer to water!
Finally, what is your message for the roguelike community?
Here is what I think: It is a lot easier to invent a new genre that it is to improve on an existing one. I have a huge amount of admiration for this community that has taken our little idea so much farther than we even imagined. I really like the fact that the community, though it is small, represents just about every area of the world, and that each person in it has something unique to contribute. It has been very fun to jump back in to this group after being gone for 20 years and to see all the cool stuff going on. I’m hoping I may still have more to contribute.
Mr. Wichman, thank you for your time put into this interview, and we hope to see you around the scene for much more time to come!
Thanks, Slash! I wish you all the best with your new website!
– Santiago Zapata, 13/05/2007..
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