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."