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Interview With Richard Garriott (a.k.a. Lord British)

Richard Cox Posted:
Interviews 0

Our own Richard Duffek (Kunou) was recently gifted with the rare opportunity to ask a few questions about Tabula Rasa of the legendary Richard Garriott - or "Lord British" as he is known to Ultima fans. The following interview should provide fans with some exciting information about this upcoming sci-fi/fantasy MMORPG title.

MMORPG.com: What inspirations are behind the game's storyline/fiction and game systems?
Garriott: There are many inspirations behind different aspects of fiction and storylines in Tabula Rasa, but here are some parts & pieces. For example, on the game's system side we have influences as diverse as Disneyworld theme park layouts, which is an inspiration for the compact massively multiplayer hubs connecting the easy-to-reach instantiated adventures, as well as many of our favorite games such as Diablo, Command & Conquer and some of our favorite features carried over from Ultima.

For fiction and backstory, our inspirations included things like a wide range of philosophy (especially Buddhism) and symbolic research on everything from Egyptian hieroglyphics to our modern-day internationally recognized iconic communication and ancient Chinese calligraphy - and even a little bit from a person named Winsor McCay and his work with Little Nemo in Slumberland.
MMORPG.com: What would you say is the most important lesson you've learned from past experience in game design?
Garriott: Probably the most important lesson carrying forward with Tabula Rasa are the things that did not work in the original release of UO such as how important stability is, how futile an automated ecology was, how some players will exploit any opportunities available to them for anti-social behavior, and how creating a virtual world that takes four hours to cross from one side to the other is not necessarily fun. On the positive side, we've seen that providing players with a rich toolbox of features with which to interact with the game world and others will far exceed the original vision of the creators.
MMORPG.COM: What thoughts went into deciding on a more futuristic setting as opposed to the more traditional fantasy setting which seems more popular?
Garriott: There were two reasons. One is that I'd already done that for the entire 20 years of my career and it was time to do something new. Secondly, we at NCsoft already had Lineage and we're working on Guild Wars. No one was doing anything science fiction-related, so we decided to go down a less traveled road.
MMORPG.COM: It seems like a lot of the traditional aspects of mmorpgs are being removed from Tabula Rasa, travel being a big one, don't you feel this will lessen the immersion factor of the game?
Garriott: We also have been paying close attention to immersion factors, so we have specifically architected a game that explained compressed travel time as part of the immersion. We fundamentally believe that getting rid of the drudgery of repetitive travel is a benefit to everyone at no cost to fun and immersion.
MMORPG.COM: The E3 presentation of Tabula Rasa came off as a HUGE success it seems. What do you feel was the most important thing you took away from that experience?
Garriott: E3 is a time for us to test-run a lot of our assumptions and aspects of the actual creation and so we always have a big pow-wow after E3 to be sure that we come away with the best learning. We were reinvigorated by the favorable reaction we'd received to certain aspects of the game such as ease of play, the compelling scripted missions, and the general setting, but as always occurs for us, there were also some parts that did not fly as well as we'd hoped. Principle among these was some of our avatar costumes and making sure people really felt like they were participating in a true galactic-scale conflict. While we are very glad that our customer base seemed to be so pleased, we decided to delay the launch to revamp the costumes in the game and expand the feeling of galactic battle involvement.
MMORPG.COM: You have stated in another interview recently that the biggest appeal of the massively multi-player universe is adventuring with your close friends at your side while still playing through a compelling participatory story arc. Have you played or are you currently playing any of the MMORPGs on the market?
Garriott: The last MMO that's captured my attention - and dollars - has been Toontown, which is a brilliant game that I still play occasionally. Even though there are team members around me who play a wide-range of MMO's, including way too much City of Heroes, Toontown is still my favorite. I think it's my favorite for the easy, 30-minute play cycles where I feel successful combined with really clever and compelling features associated with their fundamental architecture. By the way, if you go looking for me, my name is Fleabag.
MMORPG.COM: Are you worried in any way that by bringing so many innovations to the MMORPG genre at one time, in one game, will in any way scare away potential customers who are used to a tried and true system where they know what to expect?
Garriott: While I'm sure that in the hypothetical sense that's a risk, we hope that because our team is so experienced at game creation we'll avoid the potential problems before we go to market. For example, some of the recent changes were made to costumes because I felt that we tried to do something so different that precisely what we were doing was not entirely clear to players so we revised it.
MMORPG.COM: What do you feel is the biggest problem or shortcoming with the MMORPG genre?
Garriott: The biggest problem to date has been a lack of real innovation. The vast majority of games coming out have had improved graphics and somewhat improved interface but most have been a retooling of their predecessors in this young segment of the industry.

Since the first generation of games was so fraught with problems, in my mind, when we create more of the same on a bigger budget with bigger marketing dollars, we run the risk of enticing people into this gaming segment but leaving them with a bad taste in their mouths for what an MMO could be and we will all have a much harder time getting them to come back a second time. That is one of the reasons we've been so excited about the success of City of Heroes because we believe it kept enough of the tried and true features to be successful but then changed everything from the genre through a lot of the details of combat and economy in such a way that it made the game far more accessible to non-hardcore gamers. We have similar hopes for Guild Wars.
MMORPG.COM: Do you feel that the market is being flooded with MMORPGs lately which are destined to fail, or do you feel that the market has enough room in it for that many games?
Garriott: The online games market is not flooded. Strangely, I hear that all the time. The numbers each year say otherwise. Only about 1 out of 100 (or worse) packaged games are successful while about 1 in 10 MMO's are successful. The subscriber growth rates are, and continue to be, phenomenal. That being said, because MMO's take more time and more money, it remains a very high-risk business segment. For those who can do it well, it's very worthwhile.

With our first two US releases, NCsoft is already a top US publisher of games. Worldwide, with only three games, we are the #1 publisher of online games. We're making good on our commitment to be the leader in the field.
MMORPG.COM: I know this has been asked before, but as development has progressed since then the answer very well may have changed, but what is your favorite aspect of Tabula Rasa or what are you most impressed with so far?
Garriott: My current favorite aspect of TR is a part that hasn't been shown publicly yet because it's come online fairly recently, the persistent battlefields where you can really perceive the galactic war in which all of your missions take place. I think you will like this when you get to see it in the coming months or perhaps at E3.


Richard Cox