102: Richard Garriott: The Escapist Interview

"In general, having played those games, the bad guy doesn't do anything particularly bad other than he just waits for you in the final level for you to come and fight him and kill him. And in fact, what you as the player do is you pillage, plunder, maim and steal and do whatever it is you can to do to become as powerful as you need to be to come and knock off the supposed bad guy.
"After telling that story myself through the first few Ultimas, that was another one of those things where I said, 'Look, we've got to do better than this, and I believe we can do better than this, and I believe doing something more meaningful, something with more depth, would make a truly better game and therefore a game that more people would appreciate and like.'"
Dana Massey speaks to Richard Garriott.

Richard Garriott: The Escapist Interview

I very much respect the hard work Richard has done over the years, but I have a very hard time reconciling what he's saying here with his new chosen medium.

MMOs are a poor vehicle for telling a story. While all MMOs HAVE a story, the players are usually so busy squabbling over mechanics or questing for loot that they couldn't care less about WHY they're doing it. I agree wholeheartedly with Richard's stance on bringing accountability to gaming actions; that, to me, would be far more dynamic then deformable terrain. Anyone can destroy a building, but it would take real effort to rescue the destitute of an entire city. This kind of action almost requires a persistant world, but I don't believe that the MMO players of today have been trained to think of their games in this manner.

When I think of seeing both sides of an issue, I think of Dark Messiah. I always sneer when the hero pauses to listen to the baddie's monologue at the climax of most stories, but with Dark Messiah I found myself doing it out of choice. I stood there, weapon raised but genuinely wanting to hear the opposing view.

The plot may have been bunk in general but it did a fantastic job of making you ask difficult question about your morals and justifying the so-called bad guy's actions.

I have quite a bit of respect for Richard Garriott. However, out of instinct, whenever a person tells me they're going to challenge my opinions and make me think, I am immediately skeptical. Usually - and certainly not always - the thing that they end up showing me is more indicative of "I'm going to tell you what to think, because you're wrong and possibly also too stupid to think in the right way without me telling you what's wrong with all the other viewpoints." What then proceeds is a ham-fisted indictment of all the downsides of the status quo, without any acknowledgment of its upsides, nor any discussion of even one of the alternatives. All the subtleties are lost from the issue, but boy does it generate controversy (hence sales).

Scopique:
I very much respect the hard work Richard has done over the years, but I have a very hard time reconciling what he's saying here with his new chosen medium.

MMOs are a poor vehicle for telling a story. While all MMOs HAVE a story, the players are usually so busy squabbling over mechanics or questing for loot that they couldn't care less about WHY they're doing it.

Isn't that exactly what he's saying? He said that MMOs are a challenging vehicle for telling a story. That doesn't mean he thinks they're a good or easy medium - in fact quite the opposite.

Of course whether he'll actually come up with something new and emotionally engaging remains to be seen.

Quite simply, sincerely, I cried.

There, right there, is a person who understand.
Unique, unparralelled and unequalled.
Whether Tabula Rasa succeed or fail as a game, Richard is forever my hero.

To his credit, this is the FIRST Massive Multiplayer, and possibly more importantly - Subscription based game that I have ever even considered. I am interested in finding out more about it, because I can't claim any interest in another WoW, or really any other game which just has the same thing as I can get with Diablo II or Titan Quest, with minor differences. I want the story element, and I want there to be consequences to the game's persistent world through my/our actions. Ideally I would love to see a game being dynamic enough that it's different servers are quite actually very different from each other.

Example ->

Server 1's Town 1 Players are able to get some amazing prices, at least for a while because they chose to help the upper class stay in power for the discounts they offered. They never really bothered to check out what the upper class had in mind to do with the power. And as such the players chose to ignore the plight of the lower class, which caused a loss in affordable health care for the poor, which in turn caused the outbreak of a plague in that city.

Server 2's Town 2 is completely unrecognizable from Server 1's because when the players arrived they chose to help the town grow and prosper. The increased trade activity pulled in new businesses and travelers from other places in the game world. This town wasn't ever affected by a plague because it was found early and treated quickly by healers.

In this case there is a clear better option - But the reason that It would be awesome, is that you don't know the consequences before it. In this case the consequences might have been illuminated somewhat by talking to the NPCs or discussion with the other players. But the effects should be permanent, and the resulting world should be changed. The story and in fact the world should branch off dramatically, with new choices being created continuously as consequences for the decisions the server made.

Implementation ideas include : Single very large battles whose outcome is not determined from the start, battles between factions in the game, possibly played partially by the game development team. Voting systems where the elected officials are chosen. The biggest part is hiring a staff to constantly change the world based on the actions of the players.

Hey everyone - There is more if you want some further reading, we're posting the rest of the interview in two parts over on WarCry:

http://www.warcry.com/news/view/73107-Richard-Garriott-Interview-Part-1

TomBeraha:
In this case there is a clear better option - But the reason that It would be awesome, is that you don't know the consequences before it. In this case the consequences might have been illuminated somewhat by talking to the NPCs

I'm gonna interrupt you right there and say that if the game explicitly suggests that this option is better than the other, then it is no longer a matter of the consequences of actions, and instead becomes an exercise in bludgeoning the player over the head with the developer's viewpoint.

It's fine if one option is better than the other. But if the game outright tells you that one is better, then there's no real choice, and it's patronizing to pretend otherwise. It's like saying of Super Mario Bros. that the player has a choice between clearing the level and dying.

Scopique:
MMOs are a poor vehicle for telling a story. While all MMOs HAVE a story, the players are usually so busy squabbling over mechanics or questing for loot that they couldn't care less about WHY they're doing it.

Kind of like real life. Funny that the problem with telling a story in an MMO is the same problem with getting people in real life to focus on things they can't own and control, or to just follow their own interests and not get obsessed with the 'mechanics' of real life.

Seems the difficulty in constructing an MMO that allows for player choice and storytelling is that the more realistic the game world is, the less room there will be for player choice and storytelling.

Bongo Bill:
I'm gonna interrupt you right there and say that if the game explicitly suggests that this option is better than the other, then it is no longer a matter of the consequences of actions, and instead becomes an exercise in bludgeoning the player over the head with the developer's viewpoint.

One thing that Garriott tried to make clear that may not have come through in the interview is that in most cases both options will show you the unintended consequences. So if you turn in the drug dealers, there are consequences. If you don't, there are consequences. The idea is to challenge previously held beliefs, the assumption being you'd do what you believe and then see the consequences. Not necessarily to preach right and wrong.

That said, I did get the impression that in some situations there will be an obvious "right" and "wrong" as well.

Bongo Bill:

TomBeraha:
In this case there is a clear better option - But the reason that It would be awesome, is that you don't know the consequences before it. In this case the consequences might have been illuminated somewhat by talking to the NPCs

I'm gonna interrupt you right there and say that if the game explicitly suggests that this option is better than the other, then it is no longer a matter of the consequences of actions, and instead becomes an exercise in bludgeoning the player over the head with the developer's viewpoint.

It's fine if one option is better than the other. But if the game outright tells you that one is better, then there's no real choice, and it's patronizing to pretend otherwise. It's like saying of Super Mario Bros. that the player has a choice between clearing the level and dying.

I was thinking more of you might find out that the poor of the city aren't a big issue for the nobility - but it becomes up to the player base to decide if they care about the poor either, they have tangible rewards attached to what the nobility want, but less obvious ones to the other. It's not as though I'm suggesting someone saying "If you help elect this government the poor will become sickly etc etc" I'm thinking more on the lines of competing newspapers circulated and written by people who actually think one way is better than the other, or at least are capable of making an effective argument for either. Have the actual decision be made by the actions of the gameplayers, with paid employees trying to persuade them from different angles. I would love to see Dynamic NPC's that are played by the staff of the game whose job it is is to be the storytellers.

I wasn't suggesting that the game should explicitly tell you the consequences, just give you an idea of why it might be a good or bad idea. Nor do I suggest that there should be anything remotely resembling a consensus by the people of the world. If you were to play and talk to all of them you should hopefully be able to garner a full and complete picture of the situation at hand, and could argue for an intelligent course of action - but it's not just your choice, and you'd have to talk to the other players. I envision speakers talking on the soap box to explain their point of view on an upcoming choice.

Richard Garriott is simply put an inspiration. I love his philosophical perspective on everything and the way he chooses to share he's views with complete benevolence. It's like he is a modern day profit but rather then preeching his doctrine and then taking a position at the head of a church intent on manipulationg everyone into coming around to their way of thinking he simply shares a broad view of the issue with as many people as possible and then sits back and watches while they make their develop their own inturpriations of his teachings and go about dealing with the new perspective they provide in their own way. I can't help but have nothing but respect for a man like that.

On a related note, have any of you caught the latest PC Gamer Video Podcast? It shows a tour of Garriott's house, which is absolutely incredible.

 

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