Few names are as storied in the hallowed halls of game lore as Richard Garriott, or Lord British, if you're like that. The creator of the Ultima series, founder of Origin and wearer of ruffled cuffs is now working on an MMOG, Tabula Rasa, which, he hopes, will expand gaming's horizons and bring to reality his singular vision of making games in which morality has meaning and characters are more than just extensions of the player's mouse.
The Escapist recently spoke with Garriott about his past, his present, his plans for the future and why he thinks most games just aren't good enough.
The Escapist: Tell us about your early goals for Brittania and the Ultima series.
Richard Garriott: When you use the word Britannia, that of course to me implies Ultima IV. Because, prior to Ultima IV, really was the era that I describe as "Richard Garriott learns to program the computer and make games in their simplest form." And so the ideas that were put into the Ultima series pre-Ultima IV really were a scattershot of things that I saw in entertainment that inspired me at the time.
I can give you very direct influences of things that were happening around me or to me at the time. The cloth maps and time travel that showed up in Ultima II really were directly inspired by the movie Time Bandits. Similarly, if you look at Ultima I, [it] wasn't even strictly speaking medieval fantasy. It had spaceships and lightswords; that really was everything from Star Wars through Tolkien crammed into one game. It really wasn't until Ultima IV that I finally sat down and said that I now at least believe I can do the physical aspects of making a game, I now need to pay much closer attention to the content. Not only do I want to do a better job of the content, but I want to do content that is my own content. And that is when I began to create and craft the world of Britannia.
What's interesting about the creation of virtual worlds is that there [are] sensory aspects, and I've pursued that in the limitations of the technology we see by trying to make the world as reactive as possible. If I see a telephone on the desk, it shouldn't be just a prop, I should be able to pick it up and dial a number, and if I dial random numbers, I should occasionally get someone. Or, you know, if there is a cannon and there's a door and I fire the cannon and it's a wooden door, it sure as heck should break that door. If I'm going to stop that I better find a steel door to try and resist it, if you know what I mean. And so I tried to make sure that world was very completely and realistically simulated to the degree that we could.
But then there's the second aspect of what makes a virtual reality interesting or relevant, which is "Why am I there, why do I want to be there, why do I care to be there and why is it important to be there?" And so I tried to attack that problem, especially starting with Ultima IV, where I came to the realization or decision that a major problem I saw in most gaming - especially most fantasy roleplaying gaming - is that they all still, to this day, have the same general plot. Which is, you're the hero and you know that because you're told so in the introduction. Your job is to kill the bad guy, and you know that because you're told so in the introduction.
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.