Richard Garriott on Tabula Rasa and Ultima
Richard Garriott aka Lord British of Ultima fame is one of the most accomplished veterans in computer gaming history. Now he is also known as General British -- his brand-new Tabula Rasa is a Science-Fiction MMO.
Richard Garriott began his career with the dungeon game Akalabeth, which he sold in little plastic bags. Today he can afford to travel to the bottom of the sea or into orbit as one of the first space tourists of Earth. The RPG Ultima made him rich and famous, the company he founded with his brother Robert, Origin Systems, was one of the technology leaders in the gaming industry. In 1992, the brothers sold Origin to EA. Ultima Online, the first commercially successful MMORPG, came out in 1997. In 2000, they left to found Destination Games, which quickly was acquired by MMO giant nc Soft (Lineage). For six years, Richard and his old Ultima Online colleague Starr Long and many former Origin developers have been working on Tabula Rasa, which came out yesterday.
GG: Richard, the scenario of Tabula Rasa is quite different from nearly everything you’ve done as a designer in the last decades. What’s the reason for that?
Richard Garriott: You’re right, the medieval fantasy genre of the Ultima series dominated the first 20 years of my career. But what people may not know, if you look back at the early Ultimas, 1 to 3, I was just as inspired by Science Fiction as I was by medieval fantasy.
GG: You’re talking about the space flight sequences in Ultima 2, for example? You could also yield a laser pistol...
Role playing games will be the common thread of my future games, too.
Richard Garriott: Exactly. The reason I chose the medieval fantasy genre, frankly, was that at that time my programming skills were very suited for tile based games, that just made a historical setting technically easier than a futuristic setting. Because that would have required more 3D skills than I had, back in those days. So I always had an interest in Science Fiction, which I couldn’t explore until I moved on from the Ultima series. But I am still interested in historical settings, and hypothetically I could also explore some other fictional genres. But the one thing which is sure is that role playing games – in a very detailed world – will be the common thread of my future games, too.
GG: How big was your involvement in the creation of Ultima Online?
Richard Garriott: The producer and director of UO was Starr Long, who really is the person that deserves the most credit for Ultima Online. However, I was still very involved throughout that project as a designer. And we have a very similar relationship on Tabula Rasa, where it is Starr who’s managing the team, managing the purse and the process of getting the game done. But even as I am the so called spiritual figurehead of the team or in the role of creative director, I am also a designer directly on the project itself. For example, I designed the Logos language that we use in the game. And also some of the main story threads.
Garriotts "Logos" has hundreds of symbols that are used for "spells", but they also form a simple iconic language.