We recently contacted Linda Currie, one of the lead designers of the recently released single-player role-playing game Wizardry 8, and we were able to discuss Wizardry 8's development and its future distribution plans, as well as the current and future plans of Sirtech, a company that's been around in one form or another for 17 years and has created the Wizardry RPG series and Jagged Alliance strategy series.
GameSpot: Thanks for taking the time out for this interview, and congratulations on finally releasing Wizardry 8. We know that you've stayed in touch with the game's community of players. Aside from the high marks it received in GameSpot's review and in reader reviews, Wizardry 8 seems to have been received well by most RPG fans. Would you agree that this is the case?
Linda Currie: I certainly would agree that it is being well received by RPG fans...maybe even more than we expected. Wizardry 8 is a unique product--it's "old-school" in a lot of ways and hasn't skimped on RPG features. And we never expected it to appeal to everyone. It's a big game and there's a lot to it, and while we fully hoped to bring in new players to the Wizardry series, we also felt it would not be the ideal game for the light or casual gamer. Based on the number of responses I've gotten from people who had never played any previous Wizardry games but love the product, I'd say we did a little better than expected. We especially love the e-mails from people who tell us that we've taken over their lives, spoiled them for all other RPGs, and other gushy stuff like that. It feels good to know that we've succeeded in making a game that can really absorb players.
GS: What was your favorite part about creating Wizardry 8, or about working on the Wizardry series in general? Would you say that Wizardry 8 is Sirtech's best game yet?
LC: The best part was getting it done. Seriously, the best part was when we were able to add the balance and polish that made it an enjoyable game and not just a playable one.
The first occasion we had where we sat down with the intent to play it saw many of us become a little panicked. The balance was off (OK, we expected that), but it lacked feedback, making some things hard to follow, hard to control (OK, this too we expected since we planned a "polishing" phase). The dialogue needed to give us more information, and so on, but it was still a little hard to sit down to play and go, "Ugh, we've got some work to do." When it became clear that our ideas did work, that if we enjoyed playing it (and we did), then we, at least in part, achieved many of our goals--that was a nice part of the project.
Is Wizardry 8 Sirtech's best game? You could say so, in that it's our latest and so it does some things better than we've done before. But I know there are things we would have changed in Wizardry 9, and we had even had bigger ideas for Wizardry 10, so who knows, maybe our best was yet to come.
GS: You've described in other interviews some of the difficulties that you and Sirtech had in developing the game, such as the Sirtech US publishing office closing in 1998, developing a 3D engine from the ground up, and generally shopping around for a publisher/distributor. What would you say was the most difficult part of making sure Wizardry 8 saw the light of day? Were there other difficulties you'd like to discuss?
LC: Well, throughout it all, it was very difficult living with the uncertainty. Here we were, working on a title for four years, yet we didn't know when it would make it into players' hands. We knew we had something good--we had great response from our beta testers and from the press demo--and yet here we were, struggling to find a way to bring it to market.
It shouldn't have been so hard. Often it would seem that we would be close to a deal with a potential publisher only for them to go through some major restructuring or change in their focus that would change the dynamics of everything. But no matter the reason, it was still another publisher "out of the running." This often had the side effect of making us start to think that maybe Wizardry 8 was too niche-oriented, maybe players weren't going to be interested in this sort of title in this day and age, maybe all of our efforts were going to be lost in lack of interest. But in spite of it all, we loved playing it, our testers loved playing it, and the press received the demo well. Ultimately, we realized that though there was something magical about Wizardry, it didn't say "big numbers" to publishers and so they probably had a hard time justifying the investment that would be required in bringing it to market when what they wanted were big, mass-market, 500,000-unit sellers.
It was also difficult not seeing any hype being built through ads or concentrated PR efforts. Sirtech Canada just didn't have the resources to provide that, and we counted on a publisher to help us create the hype that would help Wizardry 8 become anticipated and more widely known about. With every passing day that we did not have a publisher in place, as we got closer and closer to completion, we knew that even if someone picked it up, there was a catch-22 situation. To advertise and build hype takes time, and for a publisher to do so at such a late date would have meant the product would have to "sit" before being released. Conversely, if there were no advertising, then we'd lose out on sales, as people wouldn't know about the title. Ironically, the result actually was both--the product "sat" and we had no advertising or hype-building efforts in advance.
Finally, in the end, it was pretty difficult knowing that we had no chance to continue developing products like Wizardry 9, Wizardry 10, or Jagged Alliance 3.
GS: We already know that Sirtech signed an exclusive deal with Electronics Boutique to distribute the game initially. After the terms of this deal expire, will Wizardry 8 be carried by more distributors? Has Sirtech signed any deals with publishers to distribute the game in either North America or Europe (or both)?
LC: We hope Wizardry 8 will become widely available but have to admit that it is not really up to us. It is up to the individual stores out there to place orders, and we can't exactly force them to do so. We are very grateful to EB for the help that they have given us in bringing this title out and can easily say that without their help, Wizardry 8 would most certainly not be on the shelves now. There is a distribution procedure in place for North America, though I'm not totally up on the details (hey, my part was the development of the product). If stores are interested in purchasing Wizardry 8 but have trouble finding it, they should send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. As far as Europe goes, I know that we still hope to sign deals for localized versions in various countries and are talking to parties about this. We do know that some overseas retailers are purchasing English versions of Wizardry 8, though we don't have details about who, when, or how many.
GS: You've stated previously that Sirtech Canada wasn't "going out of business," but rather that the company would no longer produce games. Would you please elaborate on what this means, specifically? Given how well Wizardry 8 has been received, are there any prospects for more games from Sirtech Canada, perhaps an expansion pack or add-on for Wizardry 8?
LC: What that means is that we are going to stand behind Wizardry 8 to ensure that our players get technical support as they need it and that patches become available as they are required. Sadly, though, Sirtech Canada will not be developing future titles, and there are no plans for add-ons or expansion packs.
GS: What sort of role, if any, is Sirtech Canada playing in the development of Atlus' upcoming PlayStation 2 game Wizardry: The Forsaken Land?
LC: Sirtech Canada did not play a role in the development of the PlayStation 2 game Wizardry: The Forsaken Land. This is an independently created product produced by Atlus. But we look forward to trying it out.
GS: Could you give us an update on the status of the other projects that Sirtech had in development, like Wizardry 9 and Jagged Alliance 3?
LC: Some early design was done on Wizardry 9 (and even on Wizardry 10), and a lot of design and prototyping was done on Jagged Alliance 3. And that's the still the way it is, as there is no work continuing on these products for obvious reasons.
GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add, either about Wizardry 8 or about Sirtech's past, present, or future?
LC: It's a little bittersweet. Wizardry was a project that had a lot of ups and downs for everyone associated with it. It's rewarding to see it out there, gratifying to know that it's being loved by a lot of players, satisfying that we can say we worked on this title, and sad that having "pulled it off" that we aren't continuing with it. But, hey, at least we can go out with something to be very proud of. We know that rumors fly and people speculate, some even complain, about how things were handled...and we're not going to go into it other than to say that ultimately we did the best we could to try to continue in game development, and when that didn't work, we just did the best we could to get the product out.
GS: Thanks very much, Linda.
For more information about Wizardry 8, read our full review of the game.