Yesterday, our sister magazine The Escapist published an interview we did with Richard Garriott on mythology and story in video games. He provided a fascinating look at a subject he is uniquely qualified to comment on, but he also had a lot more to say.

Today, we give you the first part of a two part series where we reveal what else Garriott had to say during that chat. In today’s portion, you can read Garriott’s thoughts on the roots of the Ultima series, the future of MMOs, the concept of the Avatar and why Tabula Rasa changed directions so dramatically. Tomorrow, we’ll return with more words from Garriott.


Richard Garriott: The Rest of the Interview, Part One
Answers by Richard Garriott
Questions by Dana Massey

On The Creation of the Ultima Series…
Richard Garriott: You’ll notice in the Ultima series, by the way, I purged from the Ultima series things that were classical archetypes that I had borrowed from other great works of fiction. So not only did it really focus on medieval fantasy, just as a category in general, but starting with Ultima IV and all through the rest of the time that the Ultimas were under my shepherdship, we removed everything like Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits and all of the classical trappings that were in my mind just lifted out of other people’s tales, but still the vast majority fantasy games include to this day.

Instead, I sat down and said I really want to craft my own reality and I want to do it in a Tolkien style way. What I mean by that Tolkien design philosophy, we sat down and really said, I need to know and document for myself more about the history, culture, language and the subtext of the stories themselves that I might tell than will ever come out in the main story thread. And only once I really understood those foundational features do I really get a chance to sit down and write the story of this game, this individual story thread that the player will participate in. That was the foundational thinking.

Escapist: OK, those were where you went, is there anywhere you ever wanted to go with the series that you never got to?

Richard Garriott: Absolutely. These games as you know take us years to develop and so there are generally a lot more ideas than you ever get to put into a game. In particular, even though everyone always thinks of me as a medieval fantasy guy, as you can tell from those earlier games, I’m just as enthusiastic about science fiction and frankly even old west, like the movie Westworld, which I thought was hot stuff when I was quite a bit younger. I’d be very happy playing in almost any fictional genre or time period setting. For me though, the common thread is two aspects. It’s the highly detailed world crafting, trying to make sure that the world we create is as believable, diverse and rich as possible. And then the second aspects is what I will call the creation of the ‘why am I there and why do I care?’ In other words, what is the story-based emotional hook that keeps you as a player desiring to go to this virtual world. I’m a big virtual reality fan, as well as I’m a big virtual reality skeptic. In the sense of, wouldn’t I love to be able to just plug in and go play in a virtual world? Yes. But do I think the hardware to make that practical in a lot of the high end movies, do I think that’s going to happen anytime soon? Absolutely not.

Escapist: What about the idea of the Avatar, which is I would say a less defined character than you would see in a lot of similar games, where you are usually presented with a character who has his own personality, backstory and such. Whereas in Ultima, it was more like it was the actual player transplanted into the game. Is that part of that part of [your desire to focus on the journey]?

Richard Garriott: Yes. When I was developing the concept of the Avatar, I had to find this interesting combination of what personality motivating philosophies can I think of that first of all sound right or sound defensible at the very least, sound holistically, from just a straight philosophical standpoint, but at the same time I had to solve also what kind of ethical or philosophical stance can I make that also makes for good gameplay physically. One of my big problems with games that get derived out of, say, Dungeons and Dragons is that Dungeons and Dragons has a large number of character attributes, including wisdom, constitution and charisma, and a lot of these attributes just get paralleled into computer games, much to their failing in my mind. As a general rule, I’m a big believer that anything you cannot test for repeatedly and from a variety of different angles is a kind of useless thing to track in a game. If you put in charisma and the only place that charisma ever made any difference is the price you’re charged in a shop, the higher your charisma, maybe you negotiate better and get a lower price in the shop. You know, if that’s the only place charisma ever shows up in a game, it’s probably not worth having as a character attribute and so instead it gets rolled into your intelligence that might gets used for multiple uses. But the same thing true when you try and tell stories that include things like these ethical parables I tried to put into the Ultima series. If you’re going to bother tracking something about a person, like how honest are they, it is difficult to set up any kind of automated observation – especially when people know its in there, because then they’re going to try to purposefully game the system – and so unless there is a variety of fairly sophisticated tests in there to test someone’s honesty, it makes it kind of difficult or hardly worth it. And so I had to simultaneously create what I call a believable philosophy and a gameable philosophy. I think that’s one of my favorite wins or favorite aspects of the Ultima series is that I think I did a pretty good job of that.

Regarding Tabula Rasa’s restart…
Richard Garriott: The big thing that we did change, however, was the visual representation of the world. When we decided to create the aesthetic look of our world, we originally tried to do this hybrid Western-Asian visual and animation style for our characters and things of this nature. What we found was we really compromised ourselves into a corner. It wasn’t Western enough for us to get super jazzed about it and it wasn’t Eastern enough for them to get super jazzed about it. And we found that we fell in this awkward center position that people on neither side of the ocean were particularly compelled by. We scrapped quite a substantial chunk of art and started over with a look and feel that we much stronger confidence in here in the West and actually, frankly, because it was not the compromised look they even like it better in the East. We will then once we get the game out here in the States we will make some visual modifications to optimize it for Asia.


Click here for part two of this interview.

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