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Interview with Richard Garriott

Dana Massey Posted:
Interviews 0

Legendary Game Designer Discusses His Latest Project

Many know the name Richard Garriott well. Now, deep into his second incarnation of Tabula Rasa, we try to get to know his game as well. Tabula Rasa mixes RPG growth with FPS action into a very unique setting. We came away from E3 with a lot of questions, and this interview answers them.

MMORPG.com: Obviously, in the last few months Tabula Rasa has undergone a great deal of change. What prompted this and why do you think it will be to the advantage of the end product?
Richard Garriott:

Last year after showing the game at E3 and reaching a critical mass of content we realized the game was not going to be as compelling and accessible as we wanted it to be. The art style, the unusual weapons, the static instanced spaces, and the combat mechanics all failed to excite people, including ourselves. We wanted to make a game with faster paced combat, characters and weapons players could better identify with, and finally a world where players could feel like they were having some kind of impact, albeit temporary. With that in mind we tuned our combat system to feel much more like a shooter in pace and interface while still keeping the game an RPG at it’s core so that your characters abilities that have built up over time are the main determinant in combat success. We also now have a suite of characters, clothing, armor, weapons, architecture, and enemies that we feel are much more accessible to our customers. I can look at something and immediately identify what it is now (ex. laser rifle, hospital, combat armor, stealth gear, gunship, etc.) whereas in the previous incarnation things like weapons in the form of drumsticks and PDA’s were too difficult to identify. We also have a game centered around persistent shared spaces (battlefields) where players can temporarily impact the state of versus our previous emphasis on static instanced spaces.

MMORPG.com: Richard, your experience in the industry is legendary. What have been the most important lessons you taken away from each of your two most high profile MMO projects Ultima Online and the ill-fated Ultima Online 2 that has helped shape this game?
Richard Garriott:

I was never on the UO2 team, but there is a good lesson there. We originally planned to do a non-ultima game after UO, as a UO2 would have to beat the ever growing and evolving UO1. But our parent company wanted us to do UO2. We noted that to make a UO2 better than UO1 would be a long hard project as it had to beat the growing UO features. Eventually others saw this too, and did not want to wait.

UO had many great lessons. Most of which were related to how little we knew about what would be a popular feature and what would be overlooked by the players. But likely the biggest lesson was how the community of players needed to be engaged more like a city’s citizens and less like customers. Citizens of a virtual world have the same issues, of tax rates, pot holes and community services that real communities do. When we launched UO, we were totally unprepared for the bureaucracy that would be required to deal with it well.

MMORPG.com: If you had to peg a single defining feature of Tabula Rasa what would it be and why?
Richard Garriott:

The dynamic play environment. Most MMO’s have static worlds that wait for the player to go out and farm for XP, while the creatures sit and wait for players to wander into their range of detection. Nothing happens until a player triggers it, and even then there is no trickle-down effect to other players. TR is different. TR creates worlds where the world evolves without any player involvement and the result of player actions can change the environment for all (albeit temporarily)!

MMORPG.com: Your game seeks to marry the character growth of an RPG with the action of a shooter. Can you explain how this works in a practical sense and why you chose this route?
Richard Garriott:

While TR wants the sense of tension of a shooter we are not trying to make an arcade game. We do not want arcade style combat where personal dexterity wins the day. We are still a game about attributes and advancement. We have a sticky targeting system that makes shooting at a target hopefully easy, and then it’s a die roll to determine outcome, just as in a traditional MMP. But each foe has unique movement, armament and AI approaches to deal with, so opponents are far more interesting than the traditional stand and see who has the best DOT (damage over time) that most MMP’s have at their core. With that said, there are a few shooter mechanics thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. One of my favorites is movement penalties for accuracy which is even different for each weapon. So in one case you may have a rocket launcher or sniper rifle that would require the character to stay very still for a certain amount of time in order to achieve maximum effect, while in another case you might have a flame thrower where the player can run around with almost no penalty to accuracy.

MMORPG.com: With the Ultima series you had a chance to create a deep and believable world over the course of several games. How do you attack the challenge of creating the world of Tabula Rasa from scratch to ensure players feel like it is their home?
Richard Garriott:

This has been the biggest challenge with TR. And, after some false starts, we feel we have crafted a compelling and desirable place for players to come play, live and fight! We accomplish this through large amounts of research and in-depth world crafting including things like an entirely original symbolic language that our angelic alien allies (the Eloh) use.

MMORPG.com: Your website mentions a “mysterious power known commonly as ‘Logos’”. Can you explain what this is and how it affects game play?
Richard Garriott:

Logos is the science of psychic powers that players will learn in TR. More than just “a magic system”, Logos is threaded deep into the lore and play of TR. Players will collect knowledge of the history of our world as they gain these powerful complements to their technological weaponry!

MMORPG.com: Your game boasts built in voice chat technology. Why did you choose to go this route, and does this mean that players can expect a headset in the box when they buy the game?
Richard Garriott:

We felt voice chat was necessary because we have such a fast paced combat system. We have made no final determination about whether we will be pushing a particular headset yet.

MMORPG.com: There is a large segment of the community that demands the game support solo play as much as group play. Where in the spectrum of solo friendly vs. group oriented do you think Tabula Rasa will fall?
Richard Garriott:

The TR team believes very strongly in being able to solo through much of our game. While we try and provide easy ways to team up and work together, we recognize that there are often times when players are interested in playing on their own time and on their own schedule. We want players to be able to progress on their own.

MMORPG.com: Another debate is the “virtual world” vs. the “on-demand fun” types of MMO gamer. Once again, where will Tabula Rasa sit?
Richard Garriott:

On-demand fun is our main focus as a project. That being said, my greatest personal joy comes from detailing the virtual world. So I hope we have both.

MMORPG.com: Tabula Rasa pits the players against an evil force called “The Bane”. How will this story unfold in terms of events, and player-influenced story progression? And does this mean that PvE is the sole focus of Tabula Rasa?
Richard Garriott:

PvE is definitely the focus of TR. We have a detailed and personal story arc that players will participate in that we hope harkens back to solo RPG’s. The difference and improvement being that in TR you can play with your friends!

Many thanks to Richard and the folks at NCSoft and Destination for making this happen.

As always we encourage you to modify your hype based off what you've read and join the debate in this comment thread.


Dana Massey