Ultima, Garriott and the Future of Games

Shroud_01Richard Garriott is one of the most fascinating men of our time. The son of an Apollo astronaut who flew on Skylab, Richard was one of the true pioneers in computer games. In the 1970s when home computers were as rare as sightings of Big Foot, Richard was closeted (literally) with a little Apple computer, floppy drives and an imagination that was set on fire by Dungeons & Dragons games. He wrote computer games because he wanted to play them and no one else was writing them at the time. His mother taught him about art perspective so that he could create some of the first computer games that functioned in virtual three dimensional space.

I had in those days an Atari 800 computing system with a 4 inch floppy drive and dreams of fantasy of my own. I eventually graduated to other Ataris and then to my beloved Mac + but in those days when I wanted to game, I would reach for Ultima in one of its incarnations.  My vision of what games could be was formed in no small part by Richard.

It was not until years later than we met. By then I was an established creator of D&D adventure modules and a newly-minted author of fantasy books. Richard had long been established as a force in computer games. We both met Tom Clancy at the same time, laughed about it later and discovered that we shared a common vision: one where games could go beyond entertainment to become thought-provoking experiences with ethical and moral dilemmas to ponder and experience.

Times have changed a great deal since those days but computer games have not changed that much in the interim. As Richard put it to me, graphics and sound have made quantum leaps over those intervening years but the game experience itself has become formalized, standardized and varies little from game to game even in its user interface. Games have gotten prettier — the they don’t play any better. Game designers I worked with used to call this ‘chrome’; something that makes the product shine but doesn’t improve the engine, transmission or functional features of the car. Computer games over the years had been putting increasingly sleeker bodies on the same chassis, engine and drive train of a 1985 Ford Taurus.

Until now.

Richard has been to the bottom of the ocean to visit the Titanic. He has soared into the heavens to the International Space Station, orbited the earth for ten days and returned in a Soyuz capsule. He has searched for extraterrestrial life in Antarctica and explored  the Amazon basin. Richard has seen success, failure and success after failure. And he knows GAMES beyond the pretty chrome of rendering engines and Dolby sound.

That is why I am so excited about his new project ‘Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues’. He is returning to those wonderful roots of Ultima but bringing it beyond our time into something unique and new. Not just pretty pictures (although the game will certainly have a lot of that, too) but a new approach to gaming itself.

And he want you to help him make it happen. The project is being funded on Kickstarter which means that you can play a part in making it happen.

Kickstarter is something you’re going to hear a lot more about from me in the coming months. Laura and I will be launching our own Kickstarter project here in the next couple of months to invite you to be a part of our new game. Our good friend Howard Taylor has a Kickstarter project right now which features an XDM coin which you should check out.

But before we do anything else, I hope you’ll join me in supporting Richard’s visionary project.

It’s a whole new game.

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