John Wilson, also known as the Rochdale Balrog or the Balrog, was a British text adventure author and the proprietor of the mail-order software house Zenobi Software.
He first became known in the adventuring community through his contributions to fanzines like Insight and regular mentions in magazine adventure columns sharing solutions and tips. His first published adventure was The Secret of Little Hodcome which appeared on a Your Sinclair Digi'T'ape.
John started Zenobi Software in 1986, initially as an outlet for his own work, but later focussing on publishing games by others. Zenobi ceased producing new titles in 1997, but John continued to supply the adventure market with copies of games for "emulation".
After dabbling with Twine games in the early 2010s, John returned to "proper" text adventures when he was introduced to Adventuron by Chris Ainsley in 2016. He wrote a wave of new games with the tool. At his request, two of them were ported to his beloved ZX Spectrum platform (by Gareth Pitchford) and this encouraged John to "come out of retirement" and start producing adventures again.
In this new Pension Productions guise he wrote (or collaborated on) twenty new titles, constantly reworking and rejigging the games over the next few years. He released them for a whole selection of 8-bit and 16-bit platforms and used a diverse range of authoring systems including PAWS, DAAD, Adventuron and PunyInform. Not bad for someone who said he'd never touch anything other than The Quill!
John Wilson died on the 31st May 2021 at the age of 74.
Born in Edinburgh Scotland in 1947. Educated at Lorne Street Primary, Hyvots Bank Primary and Gilmerton High School at primary level, before starting secondary education at Liberton High School and Gracemount Secondary School. Then moved to Cwmbran, South Wales where he attended Croesyceiliog Grammar School from 1960 to 1963. Whilst at Croesyceiliog Grammar School John was selected for, and played for, the Newport Schoolboys rugby squad. This team was fortunate enough to win the coveted Dewar Shield trophy. Moved to Flint, North Wales to complete his education at Holywell Grammar School.
Joined RAF in 1965 where he trained as an Aircraft Mechanic (Electrical). After trade-training at RAF Newton, served at RAF Valley until 1967 when he was posted overseas to RAF Seletar, serving with 52 Squadron. Moved to RAF Changi when Seletar closed and left Changi in 1970 when 52 Squadron was disbanded.
Settled in Rochdale, Lancashire in 1970 and still lives there to this day. Originally employed as a Quantity Surveyor with Milbury Builders Ltd until 1976, he undertook a Radio & Television Maintenance Course in 1979 at the local skill-centre, where he obtained a City & Guilds qualification in the respective trade before joining Rediffusion as a TV Engineer.
When Rediffusion shut down he set up Zenobi Software with the aid of a government grant, originally simply as a 'one-man-band' operation. However business was brisk and the demand for adventure games so intense, that he branched out into publishing the work of other authors. At the peak of Zenobi Software's success they were publishing the works of in excess of 50 different authors.
New adventure games were produced for the ZX Spectrum, and Atari ST range of home-computers until the late '90s when the demand for such products diminished and since then John Wilson contented himself with catering for the 'emulation' side of the market.
- An Everyday Tale of a Seeker of Gold (publisher: Zenobi Software; 1986; Spectrum).
- Bulbo and the Lizard-King (publisher: Zenobi Software; 1987; Spectrum).
- Secret of Little Hodcome (publisher: Zenobi Software; 1986; Spectrum).
- The Balrog and the Cat (publisher: Zenobi Software; 1988; Spectrum).
- Behind Closed Doors (publisher: Zenobi Software; 1988; Spectrum).
- Behind Closed Doors 2: The Sequel (publisher: Zenobi Software; 1988; Spectrum).
- Behind Closed Doors 3: Revenge of the Ants (publisher: Zenobi Software; 1988; Spectrum).
- Fuddo & Slam (publisher: Zenobi Software; 1987; Spectrum).
- From Out of a Dark Night Sky (publisher: Zenobi Software; 1988; Spectrum).
- Retarded Creatures and Caverns (publisher: Zenobi Software; 1989; Spectrum).
- John Wilson (archived) - at Baf's Guide.
- John Wilson... in his own words.
- From Beyond - An Interview with: John 'Balrog' Wilson. Published in From Beyond issue 14, September/October 1992.
- A Zenobi Interview with the Balrog - May 16, 2008.
- The Classic Adventurer Issue 2.