Richard Garriot's Gaming Talk
The Business of Making Great Games
The games industry has no shortage of soap opera material. Stories
like The Death of Ultima IX, The ego's at Id, and Stormy weather
at Ion Storm, are prime examples of the great material that developers
in our industry give the press to write about. What ever happened
to the days of clever individuals relentlessly, selfishly pursuing
unique visions of entertainment, and creating these visions without
regard to who believed in them before they were completed?
A few things happened. First, there are the realities of the game
companies as a maturing business, where distribution and marketing
weigh in as at least equals with individual creative talent. Second,
the prima-donna egos that are born with early successes create unhealthy
working conditions and poor business decisions. Third, inexperienced
management brought about by the emergence of a new industry with
new challenges makes new rounds of leadership mistakes. Additionally,
there is this pervasive belief that many of the new participants
in this industry have that they have the right stuff and that they
deserve the big bucks and that they deserve it right now. This belief
causes stress and instability in companies. Beyond all that, there
is still plenty of stupid money pouring in from venture capitalists
and outside companies who are late to the game, but willing to waste
their dollars trying. All this adds up to an unstable mix of rash
thinking, ignorant mistakes, blame, yet still a few great success
Years ago, back in the mid 70's, I began writing games as a personal
creative outlet. I had the artistic interest of my mother, without
the fine art skills. I had the scientific and technical interests
of my father, but not the deep scholastic interest. I had acquired
a theatrical presentation interest honed through participation in
years of community theater and particularly from my studies under
Claire Harmon. Lastly, I acquired an instant deep interest in the
creation of fantasy worlds through "The Lord of the Rings"
given to me by my sister in law, and the discovery of Dungeons and
Dragons in the first few years if its existence. Put all this together,
and I began creating fantasy worlds in earnest, as I still do to
this day. I created Ultima like games (in fact many, very small
ones), throughout high school. I built larger and larger Haunted
Houses, as I do still to this day. This love of creation, and my
artistic and technical background has been essential to my career
in the games industry. Note that profit was not on the list. I still
spend hundreds of thousands of dollars building Haunted Houses that
we open for free to the public. They are funded by my past successes
The games business has become a glamour business like the movie
industry. People love to participate in activities that appear to
be all fun and games to execute, and create a fun compelling result.
And if there appears to be easy money, well, then this really attracts
a lot of people, without regard to their skills and dedication.
Making games was and still is fun. Early on, I must admit making
games and lots of money for little skill and effort was easy. Making
games now is still very hard work. Publishing a profitable game
is even harder. Getting rich in short order is all but impossible.
Yet, getting to the top of this industry for the properly motivated
and skilled person, and then reaping healthy rewards and even great
wealth is still much easier than in most industries. Yet way too
many people, teams, and companies believe they deserve huge rewards
for second tier results achieved through early efforts.
First lets focus on building a great game. Then we can worry about
selling it. Great games are few and far between. When you add up
the essential elements needed to produce a great game, it becomes
Most teams I have seen at most studios lack the first essential
ingredient, a true visionary. Most teams are a mix of green resources
and "B" resources. Usually the "B" leadership
has never led a top tier product successfully. This is the most
common formula for mediocrity. Not to say that new visionaries don't
emerge from the wilderness, but this is far from a bankable proposition.
Some great managers can grow green creatives into great creative
leaders, but our industry, due to its youth has few such managers.
Generally teams need at least one great creative visionary to see
ahead of the pack as to what form of entertainment might be achievable
and desirable in the years ahead.
Beyond this, you need a great team. The nominal skill set that
a team needs from every participant gets higher each year. Few teams
have a stable of aces, but fewer and fewer winning projects can
afford to have anything else. Not only is it hard to find this stable
of aces, but it's even harder to keep them together. So many people
remember the old days when it only required one or two aces and
they all feel that they deserve to be the top dog and thus are prone
to go their separate ways in an attempt to achieve individual success.
An experienced working relationship is another critical need in
this industry. If you look at the very mature movie industry you
see that the roles have been so well defined that a lighting designer
can come in and use standard equipment and a standard process to
add value to a film shoot. The games industry is different. Until
a team has completed a full game cycle together it has little chance
of being able to create its best work, to exploit the best skills
of its members, or to predict the time required to take a project
to completion. And as teams often lose members from one project
to the next, rarely is a stable multi-project team found. But the
companies that do this well succeed much more often. Consider id
building Doom or Westwood building C&C: both of these companies
had moderate success with prequels and then built the masterpieces
with largely the same stable teams.
One of the reasons for this is how fast the rules are changing
in our industry. Great games require a good deal of experimentation,
and we are shooting for moving targets of machine capabilities and
gamer expectations. As most jobs in our industry are not cookie
cutter fill-ins, it takes time for a team to gel and be able to
anticipate each other's moves.
It has been sad to see that as our industry matures, people seem
to always believe the old adage, the grass is always greener on
the other side. People now move quickly from company to company,
in search of more money and the top job. Because there is so much
money still poring into out industry, getting more money by changing
jobs in this biz is very easy, with little regard to one's actual
capabilities. Eventually, people who move from company to company
do get the bad reputation they deserve, but this usually takes a
few moves. The most important damage is to our industry as a whole,
as the teams they leave are now hurt and the teams they join are
often too green. Furthermore, the mover is often accepting a position
over his/her head, thus compounding the suffering of all. But, they
did get more money and advancement..
This not only happens with individuals but whole teams at a time.
In my mind, G.o.D. is a prime example of this effect taken to extremes.
They fail to realize the important job that powerful worldwide distributors
do for them. They fail to realize how few (if any) of their products
will be top 10 worthy and how only a few distributors have enough
clout with retailers to help realize the potential of a possible
In the online world, things may be different. New forms of distribution
usually do create new players. Like Amazon.com, they would not exist
if not for a new form of distribution. I'd be far more enthusiastic
about a new company who sold a new type of entertainment that sold
through the web.
So my advice to individual developers and teams is this. Keep your
teams together. Even a 'B' team will do better after their 1st full
product together. Build teams flush with 'stars' in every field.
Don't be satisfied with anything less around you from your leadership
through every support staff member.
My advice to people hoping to get into the games biz, is to first
become well educated. Be that at school or on your own, strong skills
are a must from the beginning.
My advice to anyone in the games biz, is to find a company dedicated
to its people and the highest standards of quality. Stay there!
Richard Garriott / Lord British
Symbols and symbolism in Ultimas
Pentagrams, Religion, Zionists and Prejudice
I often receive letters either asking about the sources of certain
symbolisms and messages in Ultimas, or expressing concern about
events or symbols in Ultima that are in conflict with some peoples
personal values. I do not expect the following tome to win me friends
in certain circles, in fact I may offend a few people, perhaps even
a few at Origin. At the very least, I expect it will generate some
lively responses. It is important to understand that I am not a
religious person. I have no religious or supernatural beliefs of
any kind. In fact you could say, I don't "believe in"
anything. Rather, I use the reliable aspects of reality as a tool
for exploration and understanding, view the unknown with great curiosity
and adventure, and anything that appears supernatural or incongruous
with a healthy dose of skepticism and at best a reason to go back
and check earlier assumptions. What follows is sort of a retrospective
of the evolution of how and why certain symbols and situations are
included in Ultimas.
Back in 1982 when we founded Origin an interesting thing happened.
For the first time I received what some might call Fan Mail.
I suspect people may have written to me before at my earlier publishers,
but these notes never reached me. Its funny that most letters
start fairly complimentary of any game further back than whichever
was the last one, but quickly turn to what I/we did wrong in the
most current release and how we could improve it. As U3 was the
first time I received such, it was strange to acclimate too. Now
though, I look forward to it as an important aspect of improving
Back in the 1980s, role-playing games like Ultima
and D&D were under a huge amount of criticism from religious
groups and others who felt that role playing and pretend magic were
an invitation to the devil, and role players were slowly turning
themselves over to the dark side. One of the favorite letters Ive
ever received was a strongly worded note calling me The Satanic
Perverter of Americas Youth! (This person had not played
or even seen an Ultima, they had only seen an Origin ad.) At the
time I was rather shocked. At the time, I wasnt sure how to
respond to such a charge. Clearly I didnt agree.
We founded Origin in my parents garage, but quickly moved
to the northeast for a few cold years. (That is another story.)
Having dropped out of college to play games for a living, living
on my own for the first time, getting to the age where I began to
think about my place in the world and being called the satanic perverter
of Americas youth, all added up to a very introspective year.
Though obviously role-playing is not satanic, and combat games
do not cause murders, I do think there is a connection between play
habits and real life habits. All you have to do is watch small kids
who hit each other after playing a combat game to see this. Role-playing
is used at all ages as a teaching tool. Children role-play to learn
basic social skills, teens role-play in many classes, I've even
role-played tough management situations, to learn how to deal with
them. Role-playing does have a powerful way of touching people.
The plot lines in most RPGs are basically the same old drivel,
over and over again. I call it the standard RPG plot. I think you
will find it familiar: You start the game as the great hero. (You
know this because you are told so in the instructions.) You job
is to kill the big evil guy. (Also, from the instructions.) You
pillage and plunder everyone and everything to become strong for
your final battle. (Of course the supposed bad guy is doing no evil
right now, but you sure are.) When ready at last, you kill the bad
guy who has been sitting there peacefully waiting.
Well, after 3 games of my own that retold this story, combined
with all that introspection, I was ready for something more. I felt
that role-playing would be even stronger in a more realistic setting.
I felt that people are basically good, not merely for fear of some
divine being, but because it was logical. Thus was born the modern
Ultima design. I was really worried before we released Ultima IV:
Quest of the Avatar, that people might think Id gone off the
philosophical deep end, but instead, it was my first best selling
Ultimas since then have had a deep sense of ethics, which I carefully
separate from morals. By my definition, Ethics are logically based,
while Morals are religion based. Thus, if you object to pre-marital
sex because it is against Gods laws, thats Morality;
if you oppose it because of the risk of unwanted pregnancies, thats
an Ethic. I do not subscribe to any Morals, yet believe I am a very
The Virtues in Ultima are Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice,
Sacrifice, Honor, Spirituality, and Humility. A fictional collection,
to be sure. A good basis for ethical behavior, yes. A good series
of thoughts to use to provoke personal introspection, yes. My entire
personal belief system, no. Some have asked, what I meant by Spirituality,
as it often is used in a religious context. In this case I mean
for it to mean the concept of introspection about ones inner values
and the deeds they manifest. I do not mean ones soul or piety.
I do consider myself a very spiritual person. However, to this day,
I still get the occasional Die heathen or Satan
I quickly learned that I could not appease the religious right
since I am not religious, and do not share their editorial approach
to fiction in general. It has been interesting to note the various
lines people draw as to how much is too much. Some say playing an
RPG is bad enough, some say just dont pretend to do magic,
some say just avoid Pentagrams and similar symbols. Me, I have no
line. Worse yet, I seem to have developed a bit of a sadistic retaliation
streak in response to their attacks.
Most people who would be offended by role-playing are not generally
buying role-playing games. So, if I poke fun at these people, whom
I feel to be closed minded, within the game, well.... Years ago
I started playing with the edge of good taste. I put a 666 on my
office door, my car, my phone extension and other places. I dont
actually believe in any of it, but it is interesting to watch other
Ultima is full of stories with a mythical theme and often shares
a sense of parable that is found in places like the Old Testament.
I am told that Ultima Parables are very much like parables found
in other cultures. (As I am an unread, illiterate bum, I wouldnt
know first hand.) With this in mind I am very happy with the positive
undercurrent that exists in Ultimas. But dont get me wrong
I love lots of games that have far less lofty inclinations.
It has been interesting to test the limits of peoples comfort
zones down through the years. Over time I have grown to believe
that testing peoples comfort zones makes them think about
their closely held beliefs. I think this is always a good thing,
as I think no one should believe anything dogmatically, especially
if their reason for a belief is how they were raised which is where
most people gain such beliefs. Let me share some of the stories
of testing the comfort zone down through the years, at first inadvertently,
later by design.
When Origin was founded in 1982, I finally had control over all
aspects of the game including the manuals. I had always dreamed
of creating an experience that felt real from the moment you opened
the box. For the magic books, I wanted them to feel real, so I went
to the bookstore and bought a bunch of real magic books.
Boy, what a disappointment. I hoped for books, which read like arcane
yet meaningful tomes, yet what I found was a bunch of boring text
that was not very inspirational. So, I decided I could do better
myself. I wrote spells that felt as real as I could imagine them.
I created reagents, language and symbolism that to me felt real.
We even put the most powerful spells behind a sealed tab, which
read, open only when you are ready, for powerful evil can
befall the weak.
I had a spell where you had to prick your finger and add a few
drops of your own blood to the potion. This was my first line crossing.
My family members, (who were my business partners,) were afraid
that children would actually try this at home, so they made me cut
it out. Then when we went to print these manuals, some local print
shops wouldnt print them, as they thought they were satanic.
Then a few years after the release of U3 we got an angry letter
from a Rabbi, who said that we had included a graphic which was
the never-to-be-written-name of God. (As I thumb through the book
now, I cant tell which symbol that was.)
The next time I discovered a comfort zone was during U4. While
creating dungeon rooms, 256 of them, it was hard to continually
think of compelling new spaces. All I had to work with was furniture,
monsters, treasure and the ability to use something and change out
a few tiles in response. So, any thing that seemed clever gave me
much satisfaction. So, I did orc rooms, wizard chambers, torture
then a few that I was fairly proud of. For example
a room near the end of the game, where I put 1 of each of the 8
player types, knowing that the player would also have these 8 in
his/her party. Thus the player might wonder what to do, fight or
flee. (Dont forget this game was about proving yourself to
be an Avatar, so be good!) One of the next I thought of was a room
with cages full of children and a lever in the middle. If you pulled
the lever, the children were released. The children were, of course,
monsters and thus would attack you. As you were the Avatar I knew
this would cause a dilemma as to how to handle the situation, as
the players knew that their deeds were often recorded by the game.
I was quite happy having thought of some rooms I hoped would spark
Well, one day, my brother, (the GM of Origin), called me into his
office. It seemed that a play tester had written him a letter stating
that he refused to work for a company that so clearly supported
child abuse, and demanded I remove the room full of monster children.
Amazingly, my brother agreed with him! Even my parents got involved
in the debate and cautioned me against this rooms inclusion
for fear of media and public outcry and pleaded with me to remove
it. I argued that this was exactly the kind of provocation I was
going for and was set in my belief that it should stay. Besides,
I argued, you could put them to sleep, you could charm them, and
there were many ways to avoid having to kill or hurt the children.
The room stayed in. No one had a problem with it. But ever since
then Ultimas have had an event involving killing children.
More recently, there was the fiery pentagram on the front of U8.
That caused quite a stir. Some stores wouldn't carry it. Some stores
ads had the center removed. Numerous players called foul. To me
classical imagery provokes thoughts and meaning that have value
to the realistic feel that I want Ultima to have. So, they stay.
Over 10 years ago, I created an artifact in one of the museums
in Britannia. It was merely skeleton, the same as was used when
a creature died. I labeled this one, "The Bones of Zog"
and included an explanation to the effect that Zog was an ancient
Britannian who had cast the armageddon spell and wiped out all life
on the planet at that time. More recently, The UO Live team was
looking for a good name for a new doomsday cult in UO, so they called
them Zog. Well, sometime between these uses, some dumb obscure anti-Semitic
group has called themselves something like the Zionist occupation
group. So when we used our zog, some people protested loudly. Unfortunately,
I was out of town at the time. Origin changed zog to
the FOA, followers of armageddon. I would not have made
this decision, as our game had nothing to do with a few peoples
sensitivities over an obscure unrelated cult.
On the other hand, we have had some real incursions of hate groups
into our virtual world. They are not welcome. They have, and will
always be, banned upon identification. Our virtual worlds should,
just as our real world should, have no tolerance for these close
minded people. Just as I will not have the religious extremes effect
our art, nor will we let these extremists do so, either. Both are
closed minded groups and do not share the spirit of Ultimas, which
is the path of constant learning, constant thinking, challenging
yourself, and challenging your own beliefs.
I hope this sheds some light on the how's and why's certain things
are included and excluded from Ultimas.
I have a friend who was telling a client about Heather's and my
travels to the Antarctic and the Titanic. This woman expressed her
concern that clearly we were still searching for the meaning of
life, that could only be found in God. Which reminded me of a bumper
sticker I had made in High School in response to all the "I
Found it" stickers that were popular at the time. Mine read,
"I'm not even looking for it!" Really though, to me life
is a grand adventure, and I hope we are building grand adventures
Some people do get it. I am reminded of a letter I received after
U4. A woman wrote me after she and her daughter played the game.
She was pleased to see how her daughter, saw direct cause and effect
of good and bad deeds without having to make those mistakes in the
real world. She felt that her daughter had truly learned and grown
through the experience. Ultima IV was a highlight for me. I hope
the work we are putting into Ultima IX: Ascension will have similar
depth and impact.
Well, that seems to be more than enough for one letter. Now its
time to think about my new castle. Today, Halloween, we broke ground.
Its address will be 13 Rue De La Morte (Road of the Dead); it overlooks
Dead Monkey Cove. Happy Halloween!
- Richard Garriott a.k.a. Lord British
CGW's News of Ultima's Death has been greatly exaggerated.
What could have been an interesting article on the trials and tribulations
of game creation, instead became tabloid journalism, and a forum
for one ex-employee. I know all of you realize that it is very unlikely
that you will ever hear much of anything good from a company's ex-employees.
Either they quit because they were unhappy or they were fired which
will make them
unhappy. Such persons are thus a dubious source
of information on our current status and our goals. Unfortunately,
this pattern of negative attitude towards Ultima has gone on for
years at CGW. The most recent article was inaccurate, misleading,
and of questionable merit. Major national magazines should strive
for true journalism if they wish to remain credible to their audience.
From now on, if you really want the scoop on Ultimas, please peruse
our website at www.ultima-ascension.com, or even Email me directly
Ultima Ascension is late
very late. All of the best Ultima's
have been. Ultima's 0-3 had no schedule. Ultima IV was two years
late. Ultima's 5-7 we're about a year late each. So, Ultima IX,
which is many years late, should be great! Really though, Ultima
Ascension has seen its share of difficulties, but is now healthier
than any Ultima has been in years.
This seems like a good time to talk about my attitudes on Ultima
game design and why I believe it is so hard to find designers up
to the task of designing Ultimas in this rapidly maturing industry
with team sizes, budgets and technology advancing so rapidly.
I believe that a great game design must be crafted. A truly great
game design must be worked and honed to achieve a level of polish,
impact and worthiness. Easily arrived at answers are usually predictable,
uninspiring and rarely compelling. All too many RPG designers feel
that D&D rules and a collection of monsters and puzzles makes
for a great role-playing game. Some of you may prefer this formula,
but I do not.
I consider myself a role-playing purest. Role-playing, especially
on the computer is never easy. I have had the luxury of entering
this field when games were small and have grown with the products.
So I have developed methods to observe and analyze designs in progress
that I feel help to insure strong resulting interactive stories
in which to role-play.
Many people are attracted to the game industry because they have
their great game design idea. Personally, I truly feel that game
ideas are a dime a dozen. The hard part is in the details of how
you execute on those big ideas and how you choose a collection of
ideas that make a truly great game.
Game designers in general have an interesting career challenge.
Judging a good coder is fairly easy. Does it work? Is the code versatile,
supportable, debugable? For artists, can they use the tools and
show you the final product, which you can evaluate. But how can
you look at the resume of a burgeoning designer and know if they
can design? How can you find out if they can understand the high
concepts that drive an Ultima? That is much more difficult to answer.
Computer game design is a non-trivial operation. It is a craft,
which requires careful planning, lots of labor and insight that
can either come naturally or is learned through years of trial and
error. Since this has been my labor of love for nearly 25 years,
I feel I have learned much, and yet have much to learn. For me the
best results have come when we have tested our assumptions repeatedly,
modified when appropriate, researched answers to insure results
that would be unexpected. We even use particular strategies, (which
I'd love to share someday, perhaps a later address,) as to how a
design is recorded, expressed and analyzed.
As team sizes have grown, so has the creation process and our demands
of new skills on the part of team members. With all this in mind,
perhaps it can be seen why finding both a great game designer and
especially one that can share in my vision of Ultima year after
year, can be particularly difficult.
Down through the years, I have worked with many people who shared
parts of the Ultima dream with me. In the earliest days people such
as Ken Arnold not only shared the vision but also added greatly
in numerous ways including the early music which I often still have
melodies stuck in my head. Herman Miller, who is still a principal
team member, not only shares the vision, but leads with added depth
of things like the gargoyle language and much more than just the
code he writes.
Perhaps the most important and definitely the hardest role is to
fill, is the role of being my design partner on any Ultima. Down
through the years, I have had periodic high hopes but have still
only found a few people who seem to have the design and leadership
talents, share the vision of Ultima, and can tolerate me. One such
individual is Starr Long. He, backed up by Raph Koster and hopefully
now Damion Schubert, know how to design an Ultima. In fact, they
are leading us into new areas, which are beyond my 20 years of experience.
Its like we are starting over again in the Aplle ][ days. Except
the teams, budgets, competition and responsibilities are lots bigger.
(So, maybe its not much like the old days
ah well.) Seth Mendelsohn,
my design partner on Ascension, and I are very much of one mind
as to the future of lineage Ultimas. With them and the rest of our
extremely talented teams, our products will speak for us.
Another thing we are working hard to improve is our support of
the online community. In the past we have failed to provide you
with regular accurate information on our status and our planning.
We are making changes now to insure that you hear details of our
status and plans faster and more fully. Even though we believe Origin
can easily be the leader in online community development, we are
still struggling with how to best organize the company to support
it. For example: We have 3 teams in LB productions working on Ultima
products directly. We have a game master group running UO live and
we have a web group that is part of marketing and builds the web
sites that surround these product. The problem, as I see it, has
been coordination and planning. Between the 3 teams, the GM's and
the web team there was not a single individual driving our consistent
support of the Ultima community. So I am happy to announce the hiring
of Carly Staehlin-Taylor as our new Minister of Information. Many
of you have already met her. Carly come to us from our friends Crack
dot Com. There she ran one of the most vibrant community support
efforts I've seen. She will doing things like:
Insuring we know the needs, wishes and concerns of the community.
Insuring we respond regularly to the community.
Forging a single Ultima community strategy that will give you all
the best support across the whole product line.
Remember, our entire team reads many of the news groups, we do hear
your concerns, and we will get better at responding to them.
One of the things I am most proud of is the longevity and growth
of the Ultima series. In the last 20 years, computers have changed,
tastes have changed (the players and our own). In the end don't
forget Ultima, Origin and I have been together nearly 20 years.
In that time you have to expect some bumps in the road.
In 20+ years of game development I have never seen a wholly stable
team or company. Frankly, I feel I am one of the few constants of
the industry. I still work at the same company I have for 15 years.
I still create the longest running computer game series in history.
The other game series that rival Ultima's longevity have changed
development leadership and strategy down through the years. Ultima's
are and have been, since the days before they we're called Ultima,
been striving to become a completely believable virtual world. Frankly,
I don't care how people categorize that RPG, adventure or whatever.
I am very excited about this Ultima; the team is exited about this
Ultima. Sure we didn't plan on it dragging on for years, but those
are the cards we were dealt this time through. No one is more eager
to get it finished than we are, but not at the cost of creating
Your servant, Richard Garriott / Lord British
Loyal friends and citizens of Britannia,
I come to speak to you today of our next great work in progress,
Ultima: Ascension. Just prior to E3 we launched the Ultima: Ascension
web site. As part of our community building plans, I hope this to
be the beginning of a regular series of posts where I can present
our thoughts and plans for UA. Think of this as a State of the Union
address, of sorts. I plan to post things that you might find interesting,
clear up rampant misinformation and speculation, respond to areas
of particular interest and exchange design feedback.
You may notice some information in this document that is similar
to the FAQ that we posted recently. That's because I wrote this
about 3 weeks ago, and regrettably, we have been slow getting it
out. (I think we have solved the time-to-publish issue for the future.)
Let me begin by making a few broad comments about what we intend
for Ultima: Ascension to be: a masterpiece. We will craft this game
until the game play is fun and compelling throughout. We will craft
it until it is easy to play and understand. Ascension will have
the depth and meaning you'd expect from the climactic conclusion
of the trilogy of trilogies. In many ways UA will be unlike any
Ultimas which have come before, so those who are hoping that it
will be a rehash of their favorite Ultima of the past will, well,
hopefully adjust. Ascension will not be an action game like Tomb
Raider, an arcade game like Doom or a strategy game like Heroes
of Might and Magic II. It will be an Ultima. It will be an immersive,
virtual world that will focus on you travelling to a very real place
known as Britannia. Ascension will give you a compelling reason
to be there and an epic cause to fight for. It will be an adventure
in the sense of having adventurous elements around every corner,
and it will be a role-playing game in the sense that you will be
expected to play the role of the Avatar.
Perhaps I should mention my definitions for "role-playing"
and "adventure games," as I sense that I do not share
the same definitions by which many games are pitched. Back when
I used to play D&D, a good game master was defined as a great
interactive storyteller. No one cared about the "rules"-all
that mattered was the "thought." As D&D grew in popularity,
all too often the absence of a good storyteller caused people to
argue about damage and weapon details rather than immersing themselves
in the experience. In my mind, the term "role-playing"
is attached to what I consider statistics management games. For
example, Diablo is not what I consider a true role-playing game.
I would call it an inventory management and stats-based fantasy
hack and slash. A great game perhaps, but not the role-playing game
I want to build. Heroes of Might and Magic II is another great game
I have played for dozens of hours, but not by my definition a role
playing game. I would call it a fantasy themed statistics-based
strategy game. The same goes for most all of the Japanese style
RPG's like Zelda, etc. Only Final Fantasy 7 strives to be role-playing,
though it still has a stats-based game at its core. Now you may
say I am splitting hairs, but I want you to understand what we are
striving for in Ascension. Our goal is to make a role-playing game
where you, your mind and your id travels and adventures in the compelling
and realistic place we call Britannia.
(BTW - You should know this is not a marketing piece by the fact
that I am willing to mention other company's products by name
In the absence of clear information, people have latched on to
the little bits they hear and see and extrapolate their worst fears
from there. This is natural in the best of cases, but since it has
been so long since we have seen a lineage Ultima, and Pagan's release
was, shall we say, a bit rough, people have justification for concern.
Hopefully, this dialog will help.
Those of you who have been following Ultima for some time know
that my goal has always been to create a living, breathing virtual
world in which we can live. I have often commented that I hoped
Ultima X would be a "true virtual reality" with all the
VR hardware to go along with it. Unfortunately, hardware has not
kept pace, but Ultimas have grown closer and closer to being a well
simulated, virtual place to live.
Beyond creating a virtual world, I want to create an experience
where it is you, not your alter ego or the puppet you control, who
goes to Britannia. That's why I have included things like cloth
maps, tangible trinkets and manuals that always speak to the reality
of Britannia-not of your computer. That's why the game often begins
with you on earth finding a portal to Britannia. Character creation
often polls you about your personal beliefs in order to create a
character that is, in essence, you. A character whose actions you,
the real you, are responsible for.
Since Ultima IV, I've taken great efforts to include compelling
story in the game, which requires tough personal choices for the
player to make. Not that I have a problem with a good bash and kill
game, mind you, but I did those for the first 10 years of my career
and for the second 10, I have enjoyed these ethical dilemma plays.
For the third 10, we will have to see.
Many have expressed concern regarding our decision to make Ultima:
Ascension a more broadly accessible game. Again, I can understand
player's concerns that we will ruin their favorite playground by
"lightening it up," but this is not our intention. However,
as Ultimas have become more and more complex, they have also become
more and more daunting in which to get started. This has had the
net effect of turning people away from the game before they have
even had a chance to appreciate it. I now feel this is a critical
problem for the Ultima series.
The good news is that I do not think that accessibility comes at
the cost of true Ultima depth. Think about C&C and Warcraft.
Both of these are great games with plenty of depth. However, they
have different controls and units. So it's a good thing that they
both start you out with only a unit or two and let you master early
principles before overwhelming you with the full technology trees.
Consider Ultima Online instead. In UO you are met, day one, with
40+ skills to try to differentiate before you can play at all. So,
in the Ultimas we design today, we are keeping the depth, but presenting
it one piece at a time rather than overwhelming the player from
Now, let us move onto the broader feature set. The following feature
list was one we created for an internal design review some months
back. I have removed some secret plot info that was in the list.
Please understand that this list represents our current goals and
may yet change, but I think it will fill in a few gaps in your understanding
of what we are trying to achieve.
Ultima: Ascension will be Immersive
Detailed, high polygon count rich world - 3D hardware favored
All objects Full 3D, no "sunflowering bitmaps"
Truly seamless virtual world, not levels
Variable multiple point and moving light sources
Free moving 6 degree of movement camera in 3rd person perspective,
1st an option
Camera zoom in for animated conversations, out for ship and horse
Detailed physics system - falling items, angular momentum, floating,
640x480 16 bit color or 8 bit
Full Dolby 3D surround
Reactive realistic physical environment
wind swings hanging objects which react with sound effects
translucent waves lap up onto the beach
Water wheels turn gear works as do wind mills, etc.
Doors swing open and drawers slide out.
Wind, Rain, Fog and Snow
Player created items from raw goods - bread, cloth, potions
Full Speech for all characters
Ultima: Ascension will be Accessible
First minutes of game play are a narrated tutorial
Ultra simple, expandable interface - begins mouse only, expands
with reassignable keys
New RPG game rules, not overwhelmed with stats and skills at the
Combat skills that the player learns during play
High pace of play, real time tactical combat that is not an arcade
Automatic diary and mapping
Systematic challenges and rewards, careful increase as plot unfolds
Beautiful reward cinematics
Carefully conceived world scope, no pointless giant wanders, big
enough to be Britannia
World wide languages supported
Ultima: Ascension will be a True Ultima epic
Richard Garriott, creator if the Ultima Series, is intimately involved
in design and creation
Return to Britannia with familiar characters and places
(Censored story elements.)
(Censored story elements.)
(Censored story elements.)
Now let me address some specific areas of concern and their current
One of the most commonly asked questions concerns "the party."
Players have often described their desire to travel again with the
companions of the Avatar. I also share this desire to have strong
personalities as your sidekick while you travel throughout Britannia.
However, the classical interpretation of a party has not shown to
add the value we expected it to. As Britannia has become far more
real that ever before, rather than symbolically as before, the experience
has fundamentally changed. Britannia is alive in ways we had only
dreamed of before. We have succeeded well in creating an immersive,
virtual world in which to live. When we stepped back to manage the
affairs of the party members, it became a major break in the suspension
of disbelief within the game. Adding to this is the difficulty with
the party members following you through the complex 3-D geometry.
Also, foes needed to be multiplied by the number of party members
to make a fair battle. I felt that the gains of making Britannia
a real place far outweighed the cost of building a less compelling
party inventory management game with lower poly detail.
However, I still wish to keep what I thought was the great aspect
of the party, which is, party members added cool color and depth
to your experience by commenting along your journeys and participating
in their own ways. Our plan is to have the companions still in the
game, still with you, but not as robots that shadow your every move.
Instead, they have their own wills and their own agendas. They will
often travel with you for short stints, or on specific activities.
They will meet with you often and do deeds for you and help you
do the many tasks that will be required to complete your quests.
What we will do is make them even more real, as we are doing with
the rest of Britannia.
Jumping and climbing are topics that often stir people as well.
Our plan is this. We are creating a full 3D environment with 3D
obstacles to navigate. Climbing and jumping is a part of this. However,
unlike Ultima 8 where jumping towards a moving object was hard to
predict, in Ascension, you jump to the spot that you specify. Thus,
it changes from an arcade action to one of planning and analysis.
In the end you will have to try it to understand. I think those
who saw it at E3 were pleased, and that was still in an early form.
You will have to decide for yourself when you see it.
Action! No, we are not creating an action game. When people saw
"action adventure," on some of our E3 materials, this
choice of wording left many with an unintended impression. We are
creating a game with a high pace of play and constant tension element.
What I mean by this is best described using Ultima Underworld as
an example. One of my favorite features of Underworld was that sense
of tension at all times. NPC and monster threats were closely interwoven.
It took place in a dungeon after all. Right outside the door of
where an NPC might have been located could lurk a monster, so you
always had to be on your guard. In many "lineage" Ultimas
(what I call Ultimas with a # after them), we have created sedentary
towns surrounded by often gigantic, aimless wanders to get to the
deep dark dungeon and back. In Ascension we are trying to weave
the tension into all aspects of the game as we did in Underworld.
Ultimately, we have created a world that has such strife within
it, it is reasonable that monsters or at least bad guys might be
right around the corner.
Inventory. For E3 we hacked-in function key short cuts to access
spells and a few inventory items. Some speculated that this was
how the game was designed. However, we plan to have a full inventory
system akin to, but hopefully improved from, that which has come
before including containers, backpack, new short-cut belt, spell
book, etc. Nuff said.
Baking Bread. In the game right now, you can weave cloth, spin
yarn and a number of other raw goods to finished product activities.
I assure you the world-sim of Ultima is very healthy. What we are
doing is focusing our efforts on things that are fun to do and not
mere exercises in simulation that are boring or tedious. We are
trying to really punch up the interactivity in more exciting and
dynamic areas. Fortunately, this method of using raw goods to create
finished goods is easy to do and so there will be plenty.
Some have asked how big this Ultima will be, so let me bracket
it. Bigger than U8-smaller wandering wilderness spaces than U7.
How we are creating the main continent is a bit different this time
to insure neither too large nor too small a space. We are first
building each city in a separate map. Then we can paste them together
at what feels like a good distance. In the past when I built them
on the same map to start with-when we had no cut and paste tool-the
distances between events often became gigantic! When we moved to
3D, we found that a small distance between events often seemed much
farther than we had imagined it would. (By the way that also happen
in Ultima 7, and we overcompensated for Ultima 8.) I think this
time we have a good stratey on this.
How about areas we are rethinking and plan on improving pre-ship?
First and foremost, our character animation system. We feel that
it ran okay for E3, but we are doing dramatic (read rewrite) revisions
to it to be the best possible quality. We want to make our magic
effects, which we feel are one of our strong suits, even stronger.
Our 3D special effects, which we also think we do well, still have
numerous enhancements to make. As I mentioned, the inventory system
has yet to be created. We are re-thinking some of our stats and
skills details. We are still tweaking numerous plot elements to
be sure they create the right mental problems for the Avatar to
Some of you may have heard a rumor that the world comes to an end
in Ascension, well
Now let me say a few things about our team. We have a truly world
class team that include many of the best and brightest in our industry.
The team includes three programmers who I've worked with for nearly
a decade each (Herman, Gary, Chuck), great new additions from places
such as Westwood and 3DO (Dave, Jim), including the former lead
programmer of C&C (Bill). Great artists whom I've worked with
for years (Bev, Jennifer, Scott, Scott, Bob, Michael, Cari), those
who have come to us from great teams inside of Origin (Art, Victor)
and the art director for many of the Quest games for Sierra (Andy).
Add to that my design partner Seth, Jeff our exec producer we stole
from Paramount, along with myself, and you have a team very much
up to the task of making this the very best Ultima ever.
Finally, let me tell you what I am personally doing on UA. Since
we hired Jeff Anderson to replace me as executive producer, I am
now free to dig into the design details like I did in the old days.
As director, I can assure you that I am very involved in UA. In
fact, I built much of the map we showed at E3 and I coded many of
the conversations. (I have not coded in 10 years.) I am having a
blast, and I believe I am now in a far better position to help make
sure this Ultima is a masterpiece!
In any case, I hope this clears up some of the confusion. I expect
it will cause some debate. Remember that we are creating this game
for you, so your input is valued. Please, for me, keep the flames
to a minimum so that I can enjoy this dialog as well and be excited
to keep it up, rather than run in fear. ;)
Specific things I'd like to see discussed online, or other forms
of feedback, is character creation, character statistics, character
skills, inventory management, true role-playing vs. stats/inventory
management. I will be scanning the Ultima sites in search of quality
discussions of this information. I look forward to continuing this
dialog in the near future.
Additionally, I have a new email address that was created for you
to give me feedback directly. I may not be able to respond to everyone
with a personal response, but I will pull interesting emails and
respond to them in future posts. I will also try to set up a system
by which you will at least know I am indeed receiving and reading
your comments. That new address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for your time.
See ya soon in UO,
Lord British a.k.a. Richard Garriott