Any time Richard Garriott makes an announcement it instantly becomes MMO news. The Lord British who gave us Ultima still remains one of the biggest influences in gaming. This decade, Garriott had some tough times with the game called Tabula Rasa. While it had some very innovative game ideas, it never took off among fans and was closed down. So, moving into the next decade Garriott has started working with a company named Portalarium. He is reunited with some of his old Origins team and has targeted social networks as a platform for new game ideas. Now, Facebook games are nothing new, however, Portalarium is looking to bring depth into social networks where they hope to bridge the gap between hardcore games and social games into one medium.
We spoke with Dallas Snell, Chairman, Fred Schmidt, CEO, and Stephen Nichols about the approach Portalarium will take in bringing games to the world. Dallas started out by telling us that "We want to make fun, high quality games. We're not here just to crank out games." If anyone remembers back in the Origins days, the games made were always good. Few of their titles ever lacked depth or satisfying gameplay. The social networks are the differing factor. Now, through Facebook, many people have become reunited with their old high school friends, old RPG groups, and players from aroudn the world. Portalarium wants to get them into games together.
Dallas explained that "Relationships are the King for social games, if they are king then good content is Queen.' It is this combination that will give players easy access to social games which will eventually become more in depth and reach to a much broader audience. In looking at a game like Farmville you see many of the elements that made Ultima Online so appealing to players. Gardens, housing, farms, all of these things have helped Farmville become a success. Now, the key is to add depth to this system. To bring in some of the fantasy worlds that Richard Garriott and his co-creators have made in the past. Imagine logging into Facebook to find all three hundred of your friends running around in a fantasy world. The possibilities grow from there.
The main trick to all this is the technology. Right now the default enabler is Flash. The team plans to move beyond Flash and into an area where the next technologies can take over. So that developers can use engines like Torque, Unity, or Unreal to build games on the Internet. "We want to give control back to the developers," says Dallas. This will allow games to be made and linked across multiple platforms. As access to broadband internet connections becomes more available the days of buying boxed games will eventually go away. Players will be logging into social networks more and more to get the games they wany to play. The Portalarium Player allows developers to bring in games that are created with different engines. This technology will be the power used to connect the lighter social networks with the heavier more in depth game design parts like the Tork or Unity engines.
Portalarium sees this as a way for the smaller development teams to reemerge. "It is a return to the early gaming days," says Dallas. The idea is there to bring higher production standards to social network games. Portalarium plans to begin by launching different smaller games that can then be linked into a larger game world. They hope to have some announcements about games in the future when Richard Garriott can start to talk about the projects that are being developed.
For now Portalarium is in the process of building up their technology and working to bridge the gap between online games and social networks bringing the world even closer. You can check out their first offering Sweet @$! Poker right now. Though small, the game is a sign of things to come. As we move further into the new decade, we see social gaming and online systems continuiously growing. Perhaps some days in the future, we will be checking our Facebook updates and playing some Ultima at the same time.