Richard Garriott Wants To Rebuild Ultima

By Craig Pearson on November 11th, 2011 at 12:37 pm.

REPLICANT!
Lord British, aka Richard Garriott, aka the creator of clasic RPG series Ultima: he’s been to space, which makes me instantly worry about him being some sort of replicant. It seems that since he’s been back on Earth he’s been pondering his next game. In a lenghty post on Facebook, he’s announced his intention to make the “Ultimate RPG”, distilling everything he’s learned in 36 years of game design into the new project, his New Britannia.

My favourite bit in the three thousand word article is this snippet on how he started out using PCs in the first place.

“I discovered a lone computer teletype terminal, unused by any class at the time. I convinced the faculty to let me have my own class, with no teacher or plan, other than to teach myself how to program on it, and show them the results of my work for a grade and count it as my foreign language credit. Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (BASIC) is a foreign language to most people! Right? When the school agreed, my quest for the Ultimate RPG began in earnest!”

Sure, I’ll gently mock a man for going to space, but convincing a faculty that programming is another language is frankly genius. Garriott’s PoV is fascinating. He’s been a part of some of the most important PC games of all time, Ultima and Ultima Online. He’s created worlds and sold enough games to build his own castles. He knows little things like including cloth maps and requesting and answering player mail is as much part of the experience as levelling. But it’s been more than a decade since he’s been part of the series he created, and he’s lamented their direction since his departure.

“Since I am no longer at the helm of UO, let’s look at where it has gone in my absence. Elves and ninjas have been added into the game, things I specifically had banned. This is only a small example of why and how Ultima has drifted away from Richard Garriott, but I have not drifted away from Ultima. Overused, irrelevant & reused RPG elements are not the essence of my Ultimate RPG.”

So now he’s looking to create a “New Britannia”.

“Now I wish I could still build in the previous world of Old Britannia. Yet until the powers at Electronic Arts see the wisdom of such a collaboration (some there do, and player pressure could help), I must plan to rebuild in a New Britannia. While in some ways it will mean I have more work to do (and you will have to wait longer to see that new world), the truth is I have lived in that world for more than 20 of my 35 years in game development, rebuilt many new worlds and look forward to the challenge of crafting this newest reality.”

Games have changed since he left us to go to space, leaving the dead MMO world of Tabula Rasa. But he’s not inflexible. He’s looking to create a game that’ll feel part of a world that’s awash with free-to-play games and casual, Facebook RPGs, as well as building on his past greats.

“When traditional gamers look at all the “Ville” clones out there in the world, take heart! See not what is popular now, but rather what is happening in this new era that also would benefit them! A great game, like a great movie, need not be inaccessible to the masses. Great story and depth need not come at the cost of up front effort, pain and cost. Free to play does not mean the game has to be riddled with advertising and calls to spam your friends. But, for those unwilling or unable to pay fairly for what they now play, asking them to work for the developer and find us players is not unfair. Great games can and will be made in this new era, to the benefit of all, traditional and new players. We intend to be a leading maker of such games.”

Which is heartening. There’s a lot that can be gleamed from the success of those games, even if it’s in the form of a rejection of their grindy aesthetics and bringing their elements into a more traditional game. “New Brittannia” remains theortical while Garriott and his team start the world-building process. He clearly wants to return to Ultima, but if he can’t expect it to retain a strong flavour of that world.

“Here is what I feel is safe to say: Lord British’s Ultimate Role Playing Game, which may be called “Akalabeth” or may be called “New Britannia” or may be called “a name I cannot yet say as it describes the setting I am considering and think I should keep secret at least until I know if it’s likely true,” will be an Ultimate RPG. You will have customized Avatar homesteads and real roles to play in a deep, beautifully realized highly interactive virtual world. It will have virtues and the hero’s journey reflected back to the player. It will have the best of synchronous and asynchronous features in use. Fiction will support your arrival from earth into this new world. I even hope to make maps, coins and other trinkets available to players of the game.”

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67 Comments »

  1. Rii says:

    But who will rebuild Richard Garriott?

  2. JackDandy says:

    Right now, he’s hard at work.. on making Facebook poker games.

    I’ve started playing the Ultima series from 4-onwards not too long ago, and I can see how influential they are, but I hope ol’ British still has some of that magic in his Crown Jewels.
    Right now, I’m not convinced at all.

    EDIT: Although, when I think about it… Remember Stainless? They made Carmageddon 2, and then faded into obscurity, making licensed/casual games for a decade… Only to return, with their Carmageddon license back in possession (after making enough money to purchase it back), ready to make a true honest sequel. It might be Garriot’s plan with his new studio, as well.

    • Inigo says:

      It’s still no guarantee that either game will be any good, however.

    • ZIGS says:

      And Garriot doesn’t need a decade making licensed/casual games because he’s already filthy rich

  3. RakeShark says:

    “Overused, irrelevant & reused RPG elements are not the essence of my Ultimate RPG.”

    It seems he’s more concerned about story telling, lore, and setting than mechanics.

    And truth be told, mechanics make or break a RPG. The fluff only makes it tolerable or not.

    • Premium User Badge

      Biscuitry says:

      That’s true up to a point, but elements such as story do not exist in a vacuum. A good story/lore/setting can make a good game great, or elevate a poor game to mediocrity. A fractured, inconsistent world can send a mechanically sound game tumbling to its doom.

    • Lobotomist says:

      I also thought that is the way when i played Tabula Rasa.

      Rumours was that all he did all day was trying to make fully functional alien language to be used in game (and indeed there was lot of talk about it in many previews)

      I agree. That sounded a bit spaced out

      But when Tabula Rasa was closed. I realized (and over the years afterwards) that its true strenght was GAMEPLAY

      First of (And anyone who played will tell you) : It was only MMO i ever played – where actual GAMEPLAY was fun. You didnt need exp “ding” or quests or anything. Simply going around and killing monsters was FUN.

      And the world was alive. Mobs didnt just spawn. They actually landed in dropships and attacked points on the map. Patrolled. Invaded. And NPC soldiers fought them for territory. (and player help was evident)

      It was way way beyond its time. And in fact , beyond what we have now.

      Sure the game was small and it lacked content.
      But it had something you can not gain with no ammount of content, graphic or voice acting (wink wink)

      It had GAMEPLAY!

      So that is Gariott for me.

      Simply genius game designer.
      So he wants to do extra and make intricate lore.
      Why not ?

    • InternetBatman says:

      What’s the practical difference between a broken RPG and an intolerable one?

    • Dawngreeter says:

      “First of (And anyone who played will tell you) : It was only MMO i ever played – where actual GAMEPLAY was fun.”

      No it wasn’t. It was exactly as every other grindy MMO. I can’t distinguish it from any other crap MMO I played. There are other MMOs where actual GAMEPLAY is fun, though.

      “Mobs didnt just spawn.”

      Yes they did. All the time. One particular type of monster spawned by “landing”, all the others spawned like in every. other. mmo. ever.

      I’d dissect further, but it’s pointless. Tabula Rasa was only interesting before it existed. Some nice ideas you could imagine being implemented in a unique and interesting game. But the ideas fell flat, the game was tedious, boring and apart from “actually shooting but not really” mechanics, it was just like every other game, only less fun on most counts. Character progression was horrible, skills were horrible, quests were horrible. Everything was horrible. It’s clearly evident that the man behind it was a megalomaniac dreaming a fucking world into existence without bothering to check if it made sense outside his head.

      I expect the same from this.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      @internetbatman:

      A broken (but otherwise great) RPG is one where you want to play it and can find ways around the brokenness (or exploit certain aspects of the brokenness that you like). Furthermore, brokenness can be fixed with a patch.

      An intolerable game is one you want to delete from your Steam account, but can’t, so you segregate it in it’s own category of shame away from the games you don’t regret paying for. (Or, if you didn’t get it on a download service, you just nuke it and try to forget about it until some brings it up again.)

      That’s the difference.

    • Miodrag Kovachevic says:

      “And truth be told, mechanics make or break a RPG. The fluff only makes it tolerable or not.”

      The Elder Scrolls were always broken in terms of mechanics, even if you exclude the bugs that plagued the series. The fluff is pretty much what makes those games so addictive.

    • Tuco says:

      @Miodrag: Yeah, and in fact The Elder Scrolls games were simply shit.

    • Unaco says:

      @ Tuco,

      They might not be to your tastes, but Notch and Mojang worked really hard on that game, and, with it being a CCG, it is very niche. You might not like it, but you probably shouldn’t be so insulting.

    • Arglebargle says:

      On the Tabula Rasa thing: The game was changed and revamped a number of times, and early plans were shelved or minimized more than once. Garriott has had great difficulty getting things out on time and under budget. At the end of the TR development, he was a figurehead only and NCSoft had sent in replacement managers. Exactly what features each was responsible for is anyone’s guess now.

      Though the language thing was a Garriott idea.

      Maybe he will rekindle the magic: One can hope, as it would be better for everybody….

    • Lobotomist says:

      @Dawngreeter

      Obviously not everyone has same tastes.

      Still Tabula Rasa is on No1. spot of “MMOs that you like to see ressurected” List , in latest poll they had.

      So I guess some people do feel it was good. Despite many problems that did plague it.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      Well it’s a good thing it came ahead of such bastions of quality among dead MMOs as Auto Assault and LEGO MMO.

    • Premium User Badge

      P7uen says:

      @Unaco: You made my day, I shall sleep happy now, dreaming of a lawyer somewhere desperately pasting links to people shouting “SEE?!?!?!”

    • Stevostin says:

      And truth be told, mechanics make or break a RPG. The fluff only makes it tolerable or not.

      Nearly all RPGs have broken mechanics. If you don’t find them, you’re not looking hard enough, that’s all. If you’re here for the mechanics, go play a game where a lot of the budget is actually spend in mechanics, stuff like MMH or a wargame or even an RTS. Mechanics in an RPG are here to be enjoyable and reflect back on your action IMO. It requires smart design and presentation but thinking for one second it will be more important than the world setting or the characters or freedom of action really misses the point entirely in my book. Now of course if by RPG you think Roguelikes or Diablolikes, your point makes sense all of a sudden.

    • Bart Stewart says:

      On the subject of invented languages, recall that the first Ultima Underworld (into which Garriott presumably had some input) featured its own unique “lizardman” language.Taking the time to learn it actually led to an in-game benefit, in addition to it being fun purely as a puzzle to solve.

      I still recall that feature of UU with great pleaure. Stuff like that is not “fluff” to me.

  4. pilouuuu says:

    Ultimate Ultima?

  5. arioch says:

    I would dearly love a true followup to Ultima VII but I have to admit I am sceptical that Mr Garriot is capable of making great RPGs any more.

    But I will always remain hopeful – Ultima IV-VII are among the most involving, gripping and memorable games I have ever experienced… Sadly it’s the final fantasy VII effect though – Every game he ever makes will be compared to the previous Ultima’s and most likely fail to meet the overly high expectations.

  6. Vexing Vision says:

    This is not going to end well. Horribly entertaining, yes, but not well. I’ll certainly be along for the ride.

  7. aircool says:

    It’ll be like watching John Lydon do a rendition of God Save The Queen, then take umbrage as someone gobs on him.

    • Premium User Badge

      Llewyn says:

      If you’re going to draw hypocrisy analogies then I’d have thought – given the megalomania involved – that Julian Assange seeking to block publication of an unauthorised biography might be more appropriate?

    • aircool says:

      Damnit.. I’m going to have to rummage around on the internet to understand that one.

  8. JackShandy says:

    Fuck Yeah. A crazy old billionaire decides to make the ultimate Ultima-style RPG? Sounds like a miracle to me.

  9. InternetBatman says:

    He should work with Exult then.

  10. Premium User Badge

    AmateurScience says:

    Staring eyes surely?

    • Snargelfargen says:

      His grandiose statements and stream-of-consciousness writing style are a little weird. Reminds me a lot of stuff written by schizophrenics.

  11. godgoo says:

    Reminded me to re-listen to his episode of The Moth podcast, in which he tells the story of his space travel (in a round-about way). It’s a good listen, you can hear it here:

    http://jwbookarchive.posterous.com/richard-garriott-the-overview-effect-the-moth

    • YourMessageHere says:

      The first I heard about him and his space travel diversions was on a plane to China, where one of the films on offer was about “Legendary videogame designer Richard Garriot’s dream to reach outer space” or something similar. I didn’t watch it; I just thought “hmm, what a dick,” as memories returned of all the stories about Ion Storm and their silliness with money. Perhaps if he’d not spent as much as he must have on launching himself out of the atmosphere and back in, he’d be able to do a little more than make facebook posts.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Garriott more than made that up by trouncing NCSoft in the courts for their errant ways.

    • Premium User Badge

      c-Row says:

      @YourMessageHere

      Spending his own righteous-earned money to fulfill himself a life-long dream? Yeah, what a douche.

    • Wizardry says:

      You guys do know his father was an astronaut, right? I’m sure his dad told him all sorts of exciting stories about space when he was a kid. Going to space wasn’t something he did for prestige. Going to space was something he had to do to fulfil his dream.

    • godgoo says:

      @YourMessageHere
      If you take the time to listen to the podcast it may change your view of him, He gives quite a bit of emotional background to your perceived carelessness with money.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      @godgoo:

      No, no, no. You don’t understand. He’s wealthy, therefore we must hate him.

    • Wizardry says:

      The vast majority of Richard Garriott haters haven’t played the Ultima games. Funny that.

    • DrGonzo says:

      As he said jokingly. He is OBSCENELY rich, to a disgusting level. Of course that’s enough to hate him. The fact that is seen as something to aspire to in our society is very worrying to me.

  12. djbriandamage says:

    “convincing a faculty that programming is another language is frankly genius.”

    As a Technical Writer I’ve often considered my job to be “programming in English”. (which is why I insist on putting the period outside the quotes, grammar be damned)

    • Premium User Badge

      Dare_Wreck says:

      Well, putting the period outside the quotes is appropriate for British English.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      As well as for logic.

    • dontnormally says:

      (which is why I insist on putting the period outside the quotes, grammar be damned)“.

      THANK YOU.
      Syntax > grammar.

  13. MadTinkerer says:

    I think it’s sad that Richard Garriot De Kayak is destined to fail. I’ve enjoyed his games in the past, but he’s doomed. He’s jumped the shark. He’ll never quite reclaim the magic.

    It’s not just because of the shape of Ultima IX, lacking many features of previous Ultima games. I liked U9 in spite of that.

    It’s because of his gigantic ego which has swollen larger than his talent and he in completely unable to see past it. Exactly like John Romero. Until he realizes that Richard Garriot and Lord British were only useful branding / Easter Eggs, and not the most essential elements of the Ultima games, he’ll never succeed at making a great RPG again.

    Heck, considering that most of the games in the series (including Ultima VII) don’t actually involve the virtues in the game’s code, I’d say the virtues aren’t even an essential part of the games, even if they’re a neat part of the lore.

    Heck, the whole everything in eight parts (sometimes three parts) thing doesn’t matter. There’s always extra areas that don’t fit into the template, such as Buccaneer’s Den.

    The way I’d make a new Ultima game is thus: A bunch of towns and a bunch of dungeons. Everything procedurally generated so that each player’s world is different. The structure of the plot and gameplay would be the same each time: travel to one city and solve their problems and get a hook to move onto another city and eventually save the world. You would have to beat most, but not all of the dungeons. You would have companions as well as non-combative supporting cast. You would have a plethora of antagonists.

    The magic formula to make all this work is a entity-relationship database that tells the computer what actions are appropriate for each character in the various situations. The database would record, among other things, the actual relationships of the characters and creatures to everything else in the world so that the computer would generate characters that acted believably. Protagonists would dislike Antagonists. Monsters would dislike anyone not of their species. Predator Species would go after Prey Species. The King would seek to support Heroes and punish Criminals. Evil Spies would act nice until their cover is blown and then fight or flee.

    Rather than eight companions, the party would be a more manageable Five Man Band with optional extras. The player character would be The Hero, with four other characters filling in the other roles. This information would be worked into the above database so that the computer can figure out how the story arcs will affect each of the characters according to their archetypes (and other factors). The optional extra characters would be able to join, but not be held essential to the main plot, and would have their separate story arcs.

    Anyway, that and the simulation aspects of the game (night/day cycle with NPC schedules, crafting*, items having weight, items having owners, the need to eat and rest after fights) are what I consider essential to a new Ultima game. The branding doesn’t matter. The philosophy is nice but irrelevant to what players want to do. In fact, we could make up a database table for the computer to pick out new sets of three virtues or whatever to have as the main motifs for each generated world.

    *Which everyone does now, but the Ultima games started it.

    • Stevostin says:

      “The way I’d make a new Ultima game is thus:”

      You should do it then, instead of blaming Ulima’s creator to do what he wants instead of what you want, don’t you think ?

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Why don’t I do it? I don’t have the budget or rights. Yet.

      And my earlier point is that he can’t do what he wants because his ego is getting in the way. I wish he was still capable of producing amazing games, but he’s obviously stuck in his own cult of personality.

      He still has the potential to do a whole new ambitious RPG, if he realizes that “It is clear to me that I, Richard Garriott, am an essential ingredient of at least the Ultimate Ultima, if not more broadly the Ultimate RPG.” is complete bullshit. If he goes into the next project with that attitude, it will be like a train wreck caused by a driver who is looking in the mirror while driving the train. I really, really wish he would get over himself so he could successfully complete a grand ambitious RPG again.

  14. KingJason13 says:

    I, for one, want him to at least try…

  15. chabuhi says:

    Well, call me a lemming, but I for one am willing to follow Lord British off a cliff … or, perhaps merely a curb. Yes, I will follow him off a treacherously steep curb.

    It’s sad, I know, but I like shiny things.

  16. archimandrite says:

    But how can it be the Ultimate RPG if it won’t have elves or ninjas?

    • Josh W says:

      They’re both good at hiding, so if you never see any… Realism.

  17. Lusit says:

    “or may be called “a name I cannot yet say as it describes the setting I am considering and think I should keep secret at least until I know if it’s likely true”

    ULTIMA ULTIMA ULTIMA ULTIMA ULTIMA ULTIMA ULTIMA.

    ULTIMA?

    ULTIMA.

    I hope.

  18. Robin says:

    Yes please.

  19. Zarunil says:

    I’d kill to relive the feeling I had when I played Ultima VII and VIII for the first time.

    Go Lord British!

  20. The Pink Ninja says:

    Exactly what would make an Ultima game special in today’s crowded fantasy RPG market?

    • Wizardry says:

      The fact that RPGs today are absolutely shit and full of action elements? Not saying that a new Ultima won’t have action elements, it probably will, especially considering the last few Ultimas did, but I’m sure you get my point. Perhaps.

    • vecordae says:

      Given Mister Gariott’s intimations that the New Brittania will be more user accessible than some of his older work, I would place Good Money ™ on combat being more “actiony” and less “party-levely-turned-basey”

    • Eolirin says:

      Well of course it won’t be turn based; the Ultima series has been realtime from 7 onward.

  21. Kittim says:

    LOL,

    “When traditional gamers look at all the “Ville” clones out there in the world, take heart!”
    I read that as
    “When traditional gamers look at all the “Vile” clones out there in the world, take heart!”

  22. Urthman says:

    As broken as Ultima 9 was, it was really the first example of whatever genre Oblivion and Skyrim (and Gothic and Risen and Divinity 2…) are.

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      I don’t quite get what you’re saying here.

      Ultima IX came out in 1999, but it was far from the first open-world RPG… TES: Daggerfall came out in 1996 and TES: Arena came out in 1994. Ultima Underworld was the first true 3D RPG, and that was released in 1992.

  23. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    This is superb news. I keep hearing how Ultima games were a unique experience, super engaging on a completely different level or whatever, and it makes me envious that I wasn’t around to play them and we don’t have anything like that with graphics, gameplay and interface acceptable in 2011.
    There’s no guarantee that it will turn out good, but I’m glad to hear that he’s trying at least.