Interview with Glenn Wichman

This weekend I had a chance to share a trip to the Colombian Coffee Area with Glenn Wichman, one of the creators of the original Rogue (along with Michael Toy and Ken Arnold) and a veteran of the video games industry.


On Sunday we did this small but hopefully interesting interview, in the middle of the Colombian nature. Some of the topics we talked about are:

  • Game Design challenges when incorporating new technologies.
  • “Roguelites” and diversity on game design elements.
  • Issues with current videogame distribution channels
  • The role of the Game Designer and some other related disciplines.
  • A message for the roguelike development community

Check it out here, or you can also read the transcript below.You might also want to check the previous interview I had with him, 9 years ago.

Transcript of the interview

Hello Internet! I am Santiago Zapata and I am here in the coffee area of Colombia with Mr. Glenn Wichman, one of the original creators of Rogue, so we are going to do a short talk about some game design topics and some Rogue related topics and Roguelikes, so thank you for accepting this small interview Mr. Glenn.


Where do you think the Roguelike genre is heading to, what’s going to be in the future for Roguelikes?

That’s… hard to say! I think it’s gonna be the same than future for all different games.

I think Virtual Reality is one of the next big waves on the horizon so I’m sure there will be a Virtual Reality Roguelike, and I think it will be very interesting. There probably already is one out there, I just don’t know about it yet. A procedurally generated environment that you can actually walk inside.

But yeah… who knows what the next innovation is going to be.

So, what do you think about the challenges for game design with all these news technologies? Virtual reality and everything that’s coming?

It’s a good question and it would probably be better answered by someone who’s got a degree on game design but, you know, I’ll give it my best shot.

Technology is not gonna make your game any better, and I think that’s the main thing that you have to have in your mind. That technology is a channel, a means to an end, and may be it will open up some new doors for you to make some games possible that weren’t possible before.

But if you look at what made Rogue good none of it was the technology, certainly not from today’s point of view, but it was cutting edge technology at the time that we were creating the game. So, the challenges that we faced were how to make a game run on 60K of memory, how to make a game engaging and how to build a fantasy world when all you had were ASCII characters to use. Those were our technical challenges, but that wasn’t what made Rogue fun or not fun, so I think you have to look at the technology you have, figure out how to make good use of it, but the fun and the engagements are not based on technology.

What do you think about these “roguelites” or games that have some design elements from Rogue but aren’t really roguelikes? Have you seen them?

I’ve seen a few, and I think the more different ideas and the more different ways that people views elements from different games and mixes them together, the more diversity we get and I think that’s always good.

Rogue introduced a few really interesting innovations for its time, and I think everybody has to introduce their own innovations when they make their own games. So of course it’s good to evolve, it’s good to change and that’s what makes the new games interesting.

What do you think about the current distribution channels like the App Store, or Google Play or Steam for PC vs another ways of distributing like the traditional ones or some online methods?

I think the AppStore sucks, I understand why Apple did what they did and it makes sense but I think all of the unintended side effects of it are… it’s a terrible distribution channel, specially for small independent games. Unless you just happen to have lightning strike you are now going to get any visibility for your game.

Back when the Internet was first beginning to catch on outside the computer science realms I was advocating from the very beginning that there was no sense to be distributing software in those days on floppy disks or in CD ROMs, when you could just have the game live on the Internet and you just go to a site where the URL and always get the latest version of the game, and I loved when web-based games started to come out and web-based applications were. You always had the latest version, everybody out there had the same version, and you don’t have to worry about distribution. And I feel like we allowed these new ways of distribution and we lost that.

I think Steam seems to be better, although I’m not really familiar with it, I haven’t used it a lot. It seems to be a more effective way for independent developers to put something where it’s going to be noticed. Specially by the gamer community.

But yeah, I would like to see Internet-based distribution of games were you create a website and place the game there, that’s something which is a good way to go.

It’s just a difficult problem in general, since the gaming community is a thousand times the size than it was when I started out… there’s a huge population to reach but there’s so many games being created and that’s good, that’s a wonderful thing, the more the better but it’s a hard problem to solve when a person is got an idea for a game or a small company is got an idea for a game, how they are going to get it in front of the people who may wanna play it.

And for a gamer there are so many choices now! When I was starting out there were literally may be 15 games to play, at all! then there were hundreds and thousands and now there’s millions! so, how do you choice what to play when you have some many choices.

Let’s talk a bit about game design, what do you think how this role has changed throughout the years, the evolution of this role of the game designer

When I went to college in 1979 I wanted to major on game design, and to me it didn’t mean computer game design, because I didn’t really even understand about computers until I got to college. But of course there was no such thing as a Game Design major.

When we designed Rogue we were just figuring out how to have fun. We didn’t have a language to use like we do now, we didn’t talk about Game Mechanics, or Friction Points or Core Loops or any of those things. Then as my career went on there weren’t many Game Design positions you could apply for, or there were very few, it wasn’t a discipline.

Over the years since I started this it has become a discipline, now there is a lot of really good schools who have dedicated programmes specifically about game design and that’s such an exciting thing to see but I kind of missed out on it so I may have ended up with a career as a Game Designer, instead I have a really nice career as a Game Engineer, and when I’m fortunate my work allows me to have some design input but I’m paid for my engineering skills not for my game design skills.

So, do you think the game designer should code? how far should he get into the code? or should he stop into a game design document or something like that?

People should do what they love. I love game design and I love programming so when I can do both I will do both. But I think if you love Game Design and you don’t like programming then… you are lucky because you live in a world where you can make a career designing games without having to program.

And if you love writing code… I think if you are going to be a game coder you should at least have an appreciation for Game Design, and if you are going to be a game designer you should have an appreciation for Engineering, even if you never intent to write a line of code you should at least learn what coding is, how it works… and it’s not just those two disciplines, there’s User Interaction Design, and there’s Graphics Design and there’s sound design and production and quality assurance, and you should have at least a feel and an appreciation for all those disciplines and how a good game is not possible without all of them working together.

But you should do what you love.

Let’s finish up this the same way we did with the first interview, do you have any message for the Roguelike community? these independent developers out there doing their game on their own or in small teams.

Well, I am so glad this is still a thing because again, I have worked in games where there’s been a hundred people working on the game and, it’s great, it’s like making a movie, it’s really neat to see so many people coming together to create something. But, I think we always need to have room for the individual visionary who has an idea and then wants to see it come to life. And to people like me who like Game design and graphic design and engineering to have a space where you can bring all of your loves together in one place, so I’ve been excited to see how vibrant it is.

I don’t keep up with things as well as I should. Again, there’s millions of game out there, it’s overwhelming to have an understanding on everything that is going on and I’m really busy creating new ones so I don’t time to take a look at all of them.

But yeah, I’m excited that there continues to be space in this industry for small team and individuals to create games and a game doesn’t have to be technologically on the edge in order for it to be fun.

Simple games can be fun, I love simple games, if you want to make stuff for me make them simple! I think a lot of Roguelikes, and this is just a personal taste, but for me a lot of Roguelikes got way too complicated for my tastes. I like to have a game that you can wrap your head around in just a few minutes and that is difficult not because it’s complicated but it’s difficult because it’s challenge. So that’s I think where I would like to make sure people are focusing, don’t just throw lots and lots of stuff and overload your game with too many features. Make sure that you’ve got a game that while still simple is fun.

Alright, thank you Mr. Glenn and I hope we can meet again, may be in 10 years, for the third iteration of this interview and thank you again.

Alright, thank you!

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