Wizardry 6 continues to absorb to an almost alarming degree. Sessions of four and five hours have flown by. Other than errands and eating, I’ve been doing nothing but dungeon crawl. I’m developing a ritual sense around the mapmaking. There are technically discrete areas–I’m exploring a mountain, I’d been in a mine earlier, and there was of course that gigantic castle–and most hint guides feature separate map pages for each realm, but I’m taping together graph paper in order to visualize the entire plane at once. I know exactly where I am in relation to the castle which I cannot yet get back to. I am going to be able to picture nearly the entire game in my head when that’s done.

Not bad for a world entirely in grey tile.

The graphics, you see, appear to be exactly the same for the entirety of the run. Occasionally you’ll see candles on the walls to denote a nicer castle and then you’ll see chains on the wall to show you’re in the dungeon, but other than that everything is the same grey flooring and walling. The game and the map are both nonrepresentational; the actual game takes place in the head, and the flavor text is good enough to aid the impression. Rather than what’s “actually” happening to these characters, Wizardry 6 provides an engine for us to imagine what our characters are going through. And to this end it is, oddly enough, creating a much stronger picture than many of the games I’ve played recently.

I can realize I am on a mountain; I can read text about being on a mountain; and that is all well and good, but Wizardry 6 employs some more tricks than that–that is, it does an excellent job of characterizing its locations through the level design. The initial castle is all squares and hallways and is largely a case of finding the keys to unlock more and more rooms. The mines are an extremely compact maze that’s interconnected through several floors. The mountain is all winding paths and cliffs where you can fall to your death. The physical experience of drawing each map shifts depending on the layout; the *feel* of each level is extremely different. I think about Skyrim, which for all I noticed the design could have been procedurally-generated, just a bunch of vaguely laid-out rooms with a few different sets of skins. Skyrim all but encourages you to shut your brain off and follow the bouncing arrow; I left that game no richer than I came in. Wizardry 6 has been filled with nothing but the bliss of Flow. With nothing but a few paragraphs of text IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and some masterful maze design, a world is being built, and for a ridiculously small amount of memory. This is a clear and obvious example of restrictions unleashing creativity.

A sticking point for me was class change, mostly because I was expecting it to be more explicitly like early Dragon Warrior class changes–no real restrictions about what you can and cannot choose–and so I may have made a couple of class changes prematurely. Any character can be any profession, but they need to meet certain minimum requirements–I haven’t quite figured out what they are yet. The sense I am getting is that you can, with enough skill, learn to work within the system to create some seriously powerful characters. Another case of restrictions allowing for creativity.

So let’s think about this: The backstory is that the castle belonged to an evil King and Queen who, in their lust for ultimate power, teamed up with an evil Wizard and sought out the Cosmic Forge, a magical pen which quite literally allows anyone to write anything in or out of existence.

Makes you think if there’s some sort of message here.


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