Q&A: An audience with Lord British

GameSpot asks Richard Garriott about his induction into the AIAS Hall of Fame, his proudest moments, and whether his biggest contributions are behind him.

GameSpot: So, what did you think when your name came up as the next Hall of Famer?

Richard Garriott: Well, of course, I was incredibly honored, and also quite surprised, considering it hadn't really crossed my mind. Fortunately, I think being one of the "old fogies" of the computer games industry has proven to have its value when things like this are concerned. In this case, I feel like I was very much at the right age at the right time.

If you look at my earliest works that were done in basic on an Apple II, they were not particularly sophisticated programs. They were just pretty much the only ones available for their day. So, I got to get a little bit of a head start on most of my more modern contemporaries.

GS: Do you think being in the game industry on the ground floor contributed to your being called out?

RG: Yeah, there's no question. I have an advantage being "early in," so to speak. There's no question that, from a very young age, I was devoted to figuring out everything there was to know about the internals of this new technology that had arrived on my desktop. Much more than anyone else I knew. Even though there were no others before me, at least not many, to follow or learn from, there were plenty in what I'll call my generation who did get that same opportunity. But the tenacity with which I kind of dug into it and peeked and poked around at every single memory address within the machine was a fairly unique activity. I mean that literally. I knew effectively every byte of code within that machine and what every memory address did.

Back in those days, I was working alone and the graphics were simple enough that I could develop my own graphics. The sound effects were simple enough I could develop all my own sound, and so I really did do work on all aspects of game development, which again has been an advantage for me now throughout the rest of my career in that a youngster who joins the business nowadays has very little hope of becoming a master in multiple fields because the machines are so complex now. And I find that has remained an advantage to me down through the years. I have developed art. I have developed sound. I have written the scripts and the text. I have built the maps. I've written all the code, and this has allowed me to really juggle the parts and pieces of game design and game development with a deeper level of understanding that a lot of my younger contemporaries have a much more difficult time doing these days.

GS: Of your achievements to date, which are you the most proud of?

RG: Hmm. I have three games that I'm really the most proud of. They're Ultima IV, Ultima VII, and Ultima Online. I think what you'll see--especially in the first two examples-- that I'm most proud of, is trying to imbue in the computer games not just game mechanics, but also a sense of literary storytelling. To try to create settings and characters and reasons to be there and things to do while you're there that go beyond "fight the next monster, collect the next level of treasure, cash it in and then level up.

GS: Does any one of those projects stand out above the others?

RG: Iif I had to pick one, I'd pick Ultima IV as kind of the turning point for me. Previous to Ultima IV, my games were, in my mind, the same in many ways as my competitors' games.

If you look at most games, especially fantasy role-playing games, the storylines, even through to this day, remain largely the same. You're the great hero. And you know that because you're told so in the introduction. Your goal--that you're also told about in the instructions--is to kill the evil bad guy. And then you begin to play the game where the evil bad guy generally does nothing through the whole game except wait for you to come into his castle and kill him.

What the players generally do in these games is they actually pillage and plunder and do whatever they can, cheat in whatever way that they can, not necessarily very heroically, in order to become as powerful as they need to be to go kill a bad guy who hasn't really done anything through your time in the game.

And after I told that story three times, I said, "OK now, enough is enough." This is not very interesting as a creator, and I'm kind of treading on the same ground repeatedly. I began to notice how players weren't living the heroic life. I really felt that the game would be more interesting and more relevant if I could figure out a way to imbue these games with a deeper content. And that's what started me off on the path of Ultima IV.

Ultima VII represented the pinnacle of virtual world simulation where I really felt I had done the best job of interactive storytelling and of world detailing to create a play space and a play environment and reasons to be there. I felt that was the most masterfully executed of the Ultima series, so to speak. From a refinement standpoint, though Ultima IV was for me kind of a watershed, it was still quite simplistic in its structure as a game.

And then, of course, moving forward to Ultima Online, there had been multiplayer games since the beginning of computers, but they were all very simplistic. Ultima Online was really the first kind of big bet into the online games arena. And it was a bet that myself and Starr Long both felt strongly would work. No one within Origin or Electronic Arts really had faith that this would work, and it literally took us years to get approval to even build a prototype to prove that we could make a game like this and that it would be popular.

GS: So how was it that you found out that you were going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame?

RG: I got a call from [AIAS executive director Joseph Olin], who just said, "Hey, I'd like to talk with you for a minute." And he's the one that let me know first. Then he had apparently already called my brother Robert to discuss with him about his interest or willingness to be the presenter, which I think is also great, just because my brother has been my business partner through the vast majority of my career and deserves a great deal of credit for my success. I would not have survived, and these products would not have survived, without him. So I think it's nice that they have also talked with him about being part of that day.

GS: Who else in the game development field do you see joining you in the Hall in coming years?

RG: Wow! That's a tough question. I'd have to give that more thought than just an off-the-cuff answer, I'm afraid. There was a magazine that asked me to put together my top 100 games here recently, and so I've already done a sort of the most notables. But individual people… What's interesting about the era I grew up through--I started when the games were done by one person. And so that one person's name was directly associated with the product, and you could directly, easily tell what that one person's contribution was.

But as we run out of old-timers like me who have long histories to observe, we'll get into some of the younger group who have been developing a modest 10 or 15 years versus 25. In the last half of the existence of this games business, it's been more and more difficult to tell who to ascribe the praise to within development teams because companies have kind of gone away from promoting the people. And so that will be an interesting problem. But I couldn't actually say [who is next].

GS: Looking at the previous inductees to the Hall of Fame, pretty much all of them are still very active. At the same time, though, the Hall of Fame induction in most fields is kind of a career retrospective. I'm wondering if you worry or concern yourself at all that maybe your largest impact upon the industry has already been made.

RG: That thought has at least crossed my mind, and, interestingly, I don't think so. And the reason why I don't think so is because Ultima Online wasn't that long ago. You could have made that argument previous to Ultima Online.

I substantially believe that Tabula Rasa, the game I'm working on right now, is a dramatic departure from all other [massively multiplayer games] that have come before and will revitalize this segment again.

If you look at all online games up until the most recent big ones like World of Warcraft, they are fundamentally in the same model as Ultima Online and EverQuest were in the earliest days. It's just that World of Warcraft is really nicely done. The user interface is expertly crafted, and the visuals are expertly crafted, but the model of its structure is not unusual even after seven years of development since Ultima Online.

I personally find that kind of disappointing and am a bit dumbfounded that people have strayed from that first model so little. Tabula Rasa does not feel at all like one of these current online games. My criticism of all online games to date is that they are all very slow. They're all a level grind. They all reward extraordinary devotion to the game and not much else. And so, even though the segment is still growing at about 100 percent per year, and has since the day Ultima Online launched, I still think that they have only touched on the smallest beginning of a threshold of where it can [exist] as an art form. I hope to prove that with the release of Tabula Rasa.

GS: Thank you very much.

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44 comments
joyer
joyer

apparently theres an ultima collection that was released a few years ago that i intend on tracking down... i never got much of a chance to play the ultima games until ea got it and thats apparently when it lost its magic... i wouldve done almost anything to play ultima online when it came out.... ahhh well im just happy hes got his own cash n still making games

Blazer88
Blazer88

Well deserved I agree it's good to hear from him too Would be nice to see him Control of his Baby again too (Ultima) EA does nothing for the property and doesn't deserve to have it. I miss real rpg's alot,...guess that's why I liked Elder Scrolls 3 so much,cause the go your own way style is like gone in todays single player RPG's. Got to say that I will be buying Tabula Rasa, cause I want to support his work. Not gonna knock on todays MMOROG's they are differnt kind of game altogether and only have small resemblance to the things real RPG's should have.But todays gamers I think have a hard time playing anything that doesn't hold thier hand all the way through anyways,..or isn't a twitch game.

PutU2REM
PutU2REM

Richard Garriot, only owner of lunar property ... that's hilarious. Not only is he a revolutionary game developer, he's a nutcase. Lord British is *definitely* my kind of guy. :)

kaziechameleon
kaziechameleon

i really didn't play old rpg's, i was more into flight sims, and doom, and decent, and wolfenstien 3d. yeah that stuff sustained me till half life. peace

dlowrey
dlowrey

I started the Ultima series playing Ultima IV on a Commodore 64. It is still my favorite game of the series. Every action had a consequence, so while you COULD loot someone's house, maybe it wasn't such a good idea because it tarnished your reputation. The other great thing about Ultima IV is it wasn't linear. There were many "quests" and goals, and while there were dependencies such as you had to complete quest B before you could complete quest Q, if you got stuck or tired with B, you could go and work on quest H for a while.... Ultima Online rocked, until it became popular and the idiots started playing...

wills_b
wills_b

Bit of a tangent, but I remember years and years ago reading an article about Richard Garriott, and it was amazing! When he sold his share of Origin, he made a huge amount of money, and seems to have had an amazing time with it. Apparently his interests are in suits of armour, and space, so he has armour all around his house, as well as some astronauts suits. His house is supposedly full of secret passages, as well as a movable platform between his two living rooms. Perhaps most interesting of all though, is that he bought one of the original moon buggys off Nasa. However, Nasa obviously don't bring the moon buggys back with them, so he owned one of those still sitting on the moon. I believe, at the time of the article, that made him the only owner of private property on the moon. Now, say what you want about his games, but there is a man with some cool facts about him...

PutU2REM
PutU2REM

I've never played an Ultima game (and I regret it), but I'm glad to hear that someone important agrees with me on the "level grind" thing. MMORPG's and CRPG's are taking over PC gaming, and I can't stand either. It's all theoretically very cool, but boring as hell as currently practiced. Hope "Tabula Rasa" changes all that.

GaaraZanta
GaaraZanta

Yeah I can't believe someone put Peter M as a great, no Hideo?, no Sid Meier, no Will Wright, whats wrong with you man, anyway Lord B rocks, kudos to him for getting in.

dryden555
dryden555

Glad he said world of warcraft is pretty to look at but a level grind. He would be correct. The big question is whether his new online game is as "genre-breaking" as he says it is.

Puppy0
Puppy0

I, like most he read and posted on this article, love Lord British and all of his games. I remember buying UO when it first came out and building my character up and buying a castle... Why can't you buy property in Any new game? It was the coolest idea! My first house in UO was like a hub for all the friends that were playing with me. We put a bunch of chairs in there and then we would go out together and kill people and put all their items in the chests in our house so when one of us died we would simply go home, suite up, and head back out. I remember putting on mining macros overnight because I loved blacksmithing... I love this man and I love all the games he has made, even though I could never finish Ultima IX because of its bugs. I played VII all the way through again just a few months ago... a the good old days. Congrats Garriott, and I look forward to an exciting, dynamic, and excellent new experience from Tabula Rasa.

Thanos_of_MW
Thanos_of_MW

Well deserved. I still have all of his Ultima games although I doubt I still have a machine that will run the older ones :) Nice to see he is still making quality games.

Netherscourge
Netherscourge

He's cool - but he sure does TOOT HIS OWN HORN....

ufopuller
ufopuller

Ya, but what was his score in Wolfeinstein 3D?

Badges
Badges

Richard Garriot is a classical man vs whomever kind of guy. I played 4,5 6, 7 8 Ultimas, as well as Ultima Online and ascention (which rocks on my amd 64 with 1gb memory and a 256mb fx 6200 heh). His team's attention to detail and ability to force moral choices remains his strong point. I am looking forward to Tabula Rasa, and have always felt that leveling should not be an end in itself as it is in many games. The journey to 60 or 75 etc. Is just as important in my view. Most developers, use the carrot stick approach to game development, and then design a large end game sequence with special items just for those that have perservered through the trials and tribulations of the adiquately named GRIND. Dieing 9 times in Molten Core or Zul G in wow or what ever the current dungeon/dragon is in EQ. Is ultimately a tiring and frustrating experience just to get a tier 1 item that looks cool and makes you look like you have smoke coming from your ass. Challenging content and group events can be made at any level if the dev's want to. Frankly, not everyone has 6 hours to devote to a raid. I would like to see more creative ways of grouping and level design. Such as teleport stones that select a team based on skill/level/class and teleport them or replace members as needed for instanced dungeons. Badges

BigDanG
BigDanG

I never gave Ultima VII the time it deserved when I first got it (mostly because it had to be played in a pure DOS environment outside of Windows 95, and driver issues), but there was so much to that game far ahead of its time. When Sega fans were going crazy that the characters in Shenmue operated on their own schedules and appeared at different locations, U7 did it first with time of day modeled as well. Even today, most RPGs have characters that just stand around only waiting for you to talk to them. The concept of being virtuous was also trailblazing. The game punishes you for extending your treasure hunts into other people's private homes. Even KOTOR didn't assign light and dark points for being a such a thief. Only when the farmer in Two Rivers in Jade Empire questioned me about his lost savings I felt like BioWare was catching up to what Lord British had done a decade ago. Even though I'd never gotten too far in the game, I always remember it for all the things I wish other games would do.

Data463
Data463

Wait, did I see someone say "Peter M" and "greats in the industry" in the same sentence? Was that Peter Molyneux? You do realize he's the mastermind behind that stinking residual of camel ass called Fable, right? Just checking. Good to see Lord B. is still in the game.

Targzissian
Targzissian

I still have the boxes for Ultima's I through IX sitting on my shelf, along with their illustrated player guides and cloth maps (starting with Ultima III). I played the first five on our old Apple 2+, then switched to IBM clones (AKA PCs) for VI through IX. I can't play the old ones any more, but at the time they were more compelling to me than any game that exists today. I have spent the past decade of my life trying to recapture the feelings I had when playing the middle Ultimas. Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny had a vast gameworld, and seemed much larger than today's RPG worlds because your imagination fleshed out all the details. Richard Garriott is a genius. All hail Lord British! I am eagerly awaiting Tabula Rasa, but my expectations are not too high. I hope he still has some major contributions ahead of him.

acesion
acesion

Richard Garrot is my Favorite dev i own all of his games though i still havent beaten one cause there is soo much you can do in the game i hope that he decides to make the world feel as real as Ultima 7 did i mean i have 2 sisters and they would play it because they liked the "simish" fell of it where you could do what you want cut wheat, milk cows then make bread and then sell that to people for cash it was the ultimate realistic experience allowing you to pick up just about every item in the game from forks to rocks and other games such as The Elder scrolls may try to imitate it but it doesnt have the dynamics which his games had. I hope he makes UO2 cause when i look back on the screenshots of the game i still think they look as good as the games comming out now and it also had alot more inovation then them he should also come out with a single player game mabee a remake of ultima and have it on consols i would buy it for sure.

BrandXSavior
BrandXSavior

Ultima VII is the game I routinely proclaim as my all time favorite. I really wish Garriott still owned the rights to the Ultima franchise as I would love to see his approach on an all new CRPG based on the series. I’ve been keeping tabs on Tabula Rasa’s development for the last few years and will certainly check it out once it’s available.

FuguNabe
FuguNabe

Well deserved hall of famer. Ultima series really have made western fantasy RPG come along way. I'm kinda interested in his next project.

Angel_Belial
Angel_Belial

Awesome - congratulations to him. Never played Ultima Online myself, but I like Richard Garriott's ideas and visions for the ways in which he wants his games to be different. I'm interested to see more on Tabula Rasa now.

VictusMaximus
VictusMaximus

LancerVI hit the nail on the head. Wing Commander, Darklands (outstanding call) and all the rest of the old school games set a standard today's games don't come close to. I spent long hours in front of the Ultima and Bard's Tale I, II and III games on a Commodore 128 I still own. Lord British's Ultima series made fantasy games fresh and original, a feat that has yet to be repeated. He deserves far more kudos than he's received. Here's hoping his latest effort brings back the good ole days.

sonicare
sonicare

He deserves it. Ultima IV was revolutionary for its time. There simply was no game that could compare to its depth.

snowgrey
snowgrey

I was 11 years old when Akalabeth came out on the Apple II. Rasterized graphics, and get this, 3D-ish dungeons! It was SO much cooler than 'Adventure' on the Atari 2600, which was the only thing to compare it to. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akalabeth Richard did something with that game which (to me, at that point in time) would be the equivolent of the first 'jack your brain' into the CPU socket experience, if such a thing existed today. It was THAT stunning, and profetic. Games since then have been a gradual let down for me, even considering their exponetial improvement in graphic quality. The 'adventure' hasn't really improved all that much. I've been in the game industry now for about 15 years. I've never actually met Richard Garriott. If you (the reader) should meet him some day, shake his hand for me, and thank him for doing something really, really cool.

nuit_b
nuit_b

Wow.... I agree, its painful to see someone say "who is lord british" thats like saying who is "miyamoto" or who is "peter M" they are the greats in this industry, this new generation. no respect. damn PS and Xbox to hell

molivers7
molivers7

I wish he'd show Sony/LA how to make a real MMORPG. Congrats on the HOF bid though.

Royas
Royas

Always good to hear from Lord British. I have many fond memories of Ultimas 1-6. Frankly, him not being involved with the Ultima franchise any longer is the single worst thing to happen to that brand. Breaks my heart to see someone like jaefrmbk2k above ask who Lord British is. He's an original, love him or hate him, he is an original, and well deserving of a place in the Hall of Fame.

cjfuka
cjfuka

Ultima was most immerisive game on the market I played it for 3 years straight. CORP POR CORP POR CORP POR CORP POR CORP POR CORP POR

DarkBalta_basic
DarkBalta_basic

People need to not listen to what game sites said about Ultima Online when it first came out, i believe gamespot gave it a 4.9 and it got similar scores from other reviewers.. Fact is, Ultima Online was far and away the most original MMO to date, literally, if it were released today in its original form (Or perhaps up until the form it was in till about 2002) it would be far and away the biggest departure from the level grind MMOs are known for now. Ultima Online was the best game of all time, for the time Garriot had full control of it (about 1997-2002) Challenging and rewarding, exciting, compelling, more socialization then one can imagine, (it encouraged friendship far, far, far more than ANY mmo has to date, but, at the same time bred rivalries and wars like you wouldnt believe) a truely working economic system, the best done pvsp in any game to date.. simply, it was just about perfect, but sadly, most of the population of PC players weren't able to take the heat, so to speak, and thus it was dubbed down to a wanna be EQ/WoW by EA

sywell
sywell

It's good to hear some words about/from Lord B. again. I have the best of memories of ULTIMA IV. My daughter and I played it together on an 8088 back in the '80's. It was a great experience for both of us.

fierro316
fierro316

I'm happy that Richard Garriot got the award, he is one of gaming's greatest minds. I wish he comes back to UO. Long live Lord British!

StealthyBurrito
StealthyBurrito

Yeah Garriot, you show those guys at Blizzard how to make a real MMORPG. A REAL MAN'S MMORPG.

jaefrmbk2k
jaefrmbk2k

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

SpiritHex
SpiritHex

I'd recommend Ultima 6 or 7 to anyone who hasn't played any Ultimas, although they're rather difficult to play nowadays (not cinematic enough) What makes ultimas interesting stems from the richness it offered, in it's story and gaming interaction. Gariott made ultimas very believable by carefully paying close attention to small details, much like Tolkien has done in his writings. Gaming companies should revisit older Ultima classics to understand what made them so good. There's a lot to learn from Ultimas!

Raeldor
Raeldor

Awesome. Richard Garriot is my hero. Can't wait to see Tabula Rasa. Congratulations, Richard!

Rothgarr
Rothgarr

Now if EA would just hand UO back to Garriott so that he could make UO2 and do it RIGHT.

frankeyser
frankeyser

yes level grinding does get old... but i cant stop doing it...