Q&A with Richard Garriott of SotA

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 | 15

An original gangsta' of computer RPG's and notable creator of the first and greatest MMORPG of all time, Richard Garriott has decided to take a break from mundane activities like going into outer-freaking space and answer a few burning questions I have.

"Jackpot." -Everyone

If you're unfamiliar with his recent activities, Garriott has successfully kickstarted a spiritual successor to the Ultima series called Shroud of the Avatar, and aims to create a landing-pad for the downtrodden MMORPG apologist (that's you). If you want to find out more about Shroud of the Avatar, check out their website because they're being extremely transparent with their progress.

Miguelito: I feel like the term MMORPG is being grotesquely misused on two separate fronts. A role playing game isn't a rat killing simulator (what role is that?), but worse than that, I believe (with the rare exception of EvE Online) MMORPG's are becoming far less 'massively multiplayer'. Despite giant leaps in technology that should make it easier to bring people together, why do you think the standard has shifted towards sandboxing players apart? Can a game really be a MMO when content is designed to be consumed by restrictive group sizes? Exactly how massively multiplayer is Shroud of the Avatar?

Garriott: I agree with your assessment that most MMO’s these days are too much the same. WoW and before that EQ, both of which are truly GREAT games, became the model that most others are now built in. In this model everyone is a combatant, who may also have a side crafting interest. After spending time creating a character and making permanent decisions about class before you have ever played, you are dropped into a familiar looking space…A medieval town with the usual shops, “!” over the heads of anyone important, menu conversations that you quickly click through to get info pumped into your quest log, quest logs that out arrows on the map to follow to the next rat quest, then once a few pelts are in your pocket, you return to repeat.

In these models players may get together to party or raid, but there is less commonly a true interdependence between hunters, gatherers, crafters, and adventurers. I personally do NOT think Party / raid size is NEARLY as important as to how and why people get together.

SotA will allow many dozens of people in a scene together, we think this will be plenty large enough, and we could likely support more if needed.
All I read was, "I agree".

Miguelito: The Elder Scrolls series historically provides players with freedom (within their scope) to interact with the world as one sees fit, but they had the foresight to restrict players from effectively destroying the world in the Online version for the sake of others (much like why the apocalypse spell didn't find its way into Ultima Online). In many ways, single-player and co-op games allow for more actual freedom. Does that make them better 'games'? Did you ever consider making your Ultimate RPG an offline one?

Garriott: It is true that solo/co-op and multiplayer all allow differing features better than each other for their environment. It is my belief, we can bring much of the solo player experience forward into a multiplayer game. Though importantly SotA can be played fully offline.
I hope so, but why play offline when multiplayer offers an infinite amount of unscripted content?

Miguelito: The trending e-sports culture demands balance in combat! How do you feel about the complex relationship between balance and novelty? Is it more important for a game to have numerous equivalent combat options, or for a game to have an array of profoundly different options that can't be compared or balanced?

Garriott: I have a strong preference for differing options that cannot be compared easily. Strangely I use the original Command and Conquer as a touch stone. I remember oh so well, playing against our CFO, and each of us alternatively developing better strategies to defeat each other, and eventually coming to the Rock-Paper-Scissors style stale mate of trying to predict each other. Then we played against our QA department and realized how bad we still were.
He gets it. Balance can't really apply when comparing someone who makes fire-resistance potions to someone who shoots fire OUT OF THEIR EYES.

Miguelito: Combat in MMORPG's sucks anyway. My tinker used to blow up his enemies with cunning and purple potions. When are we going to see a game that allows alternative PVP options to a toe-to-toe fight?

Garriott: I hope we offer you such opportunities!
Good. Twitch reflexes shouldn't be the only measure of success in an MMORPG.

Miguelito: Part of playing a role is having options on what role you're actually playing. How do you cultivate a deep experience for pacifists and sissies who would like nothing more than to chill with some sheep or at a tavern all day? Is it up to them to define success, or do players need clear incentives?

Garriott: We VERY much support as diverse roles as possible. Especially the non-combat advancement types. I find most RP types need less “guidance”, but we will still provide them some RP intrigue.
Hand-holding begets hand-holding. If a simulation is strong enough, many things feel rewarding without achievement badges popping up every 5 seconds.

Miguelito: As graphics improved, so did the demand to focus on aesthetics. Do you miss the MUD days where most features that would be impossible in a modern MMORPG were a matter of a day's coding and some colorful(figurative) descriptions? Is that why we're seeing so many 2d indie games with creative and interesting feature-sets?

Garriott: Absolutely. In fact, in my life, I have “finished” about 2 dozen games. The most recent was “A Dark Room”. It’s a great game, made me think of my original DND1 from 1977… only A Dark Room was actually good!
Subjectivity aside, many reviews immediately dismiss strong games with solid systems because of polygon-count. It's time for this to change.

Miguelito: The term 'WoW clone' gets thrown around a lot, which seems like a tremendous compliment to Blizzard. What is it about those guys, where they seem to strike (financial) gold with everything they touch? Are there lessons that can be taken from their long-term success without stifling innovation?

Garriott: I love Blizzard’s games. I think they do a FAR better job than most (including me) on the balance of challenge – reward cycle. They also do a great job of art direction. While many of their features are now very overused by copycats, so they too will need to invent some new paradigms, I have full faith and confidence in their abilities. Fortunately for me, I do not consider that we do or ever have made Blizzard clones. In fact, I would argue they have also built a lot from our foundation. Still I always learn from and am inspired by their work.
This type of copycat syndrome might be a result of decisions coming from money-men and not gamers. MMORPG's should be among the most innovative games, but that pendulum has been on the back-swing for some time now. The success of games like SotA and ArcheAge are pivotal for changing this landscape.

Miguelito: The Shards of the Gem of Immortality seem to have been pilfered by some rogues and taken to their 'Citadel'. How pissed is the wizard Mondain, or is he flattered?

Garriott: I love how terms from Ultima have found their way into the gaming lexicon. “Avatar” has become a standard because of Ultima, so has “Shards” for server copies. Even non-gaming users of duplicated server data bases call the dupes “Shards” and are unaware that they came from Ultima Online! I have nothing but good wishes for Citadel and their Shards game. So does Mondain!
This seems contrary to what I know about Mondain's personality.

Miguelito: Crowd-funding seems to have become anathema to some. With the invention of 'stretch-goals', do you think it's tempting for some nefarious developers to continue to collect unnecessary funds, while simultaneously using those funds as an excuse to prolong the development process? Wouldn't that be a pretty shitty thing to do?

Garriott: SotA would not exist without crowd funding, so clearly I am a supporter. BUT, yes it absolutely can be abused! I hope we do not. I am sure our audience will let us know, if they think we do! We are pretty well on track with our original deliverables.
That's the thing about the internet. Some *ahem* people always seem to assume the worst about everything.

Miguelito: What advantage does being beholden to 'backers' hold over traditional publishing avenues?

Garriott: Beholding to the people you are delivering TO, is WAY better than a company’s intermediaries such as sales and marketing who are usually not even gamers. Many times, I have been told to change direction by non-gamers who held the keys to my future. Now, I only must please those who are or will be paying for the work!
This is a tragic problem with game development today. Non-gamers try and treat games like any other product, but they can't possibly understand gaming culture without being ingrained.

Miguelito: What's your favorite video-game of all time that you didn't make?

Garriott: My favorite games (in approximate chronological order) are: Myst, Command & Conquer, Warcraft, Medal of Honor, Battlefield 1942, World of Warcraft, Alice, Plants vs Zombies, Kingdom Rush, and recently A Dark Room.
Like most early gamers, your list seems to evolve early with notable titles, and then regress to independent games as the industry grew more commercialized. We should ask Science to look into this.

Miguelito: In an alternative reality where Origin still exists in its original capacity, which Ultima would you most like to do an 'HD' remake of? And don't say Final Fantasy 7. That's not an Ultima.

Garriott: Ultima IV! Then Ultima VII Then Fix Ultima VIII. Then UO2. We are doing the “spiritual” version of this revamp now!
Okay good. I was afraid you were going to say Final Fantasy 7.

Miguelito: What is your favorite feature of Shroud of the Avatar, realized or conceptual?

Garriott: #1 - Selective Multiplayer, #2 – Really Player Driven Economy, #3 – Virtue Driven Quests and Player Behavior Tests
As a person with a psychology degree, I am always intrigued by behavioral studies. Please tell me you're going to track the data of all players... in a non-creepy way.

Miguelito: This Texas weather is crazy. That's not really a question.

Garriott: Yes, it is! Don’t visit in July / August. But the rest of the year is usually nice!
As a decendent of a long line of Texan farmers who was born in the heat of July, I got used to the heat. The strange snow flurries in spring are what bother me.

Miguelito: In a couple of sentences, what would your pitch for SotA be to someone who knows absolutely nothing about you or the Ultima series (god forbid)?

Garriott: For the Youngsters in the audience… Shroud of the Avatar is a new type of multiplayer RPG, from the creator of computer RPG’s, the inventor of the term “Avatar” and the creator of the genre of MMORPG’s. While most MMORPG’s are crafted in the style of EQ and WoW, Lord British is leading his team to reinvent RPG’s again, with features like: Selective Multiplayer (from solo player to massively multiplayer), fully realized classless role playing and combat professions backed up by a totally player driven economy and player built towns, encouraged but optional PVP, conversation driven quests without the brain dead trappings of most MMOs (no exclamations over NPCs, no quest log, no arrows on map, no level grinding!
Attention youngsters! You will now support this game.

Thanks again to Lord British for taking the time out of his day to make me feel a LOT more important than we all know I am. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below so I can call you names (as is the custom).


  1. Great interview! ..although they still understated how horrible the summer is here..hehe

  2. Love this interview. Shroud of the Avatar looks to be a great game being developed!

  3. Yeah, but you can pretty much swim year round!

  4. Offline option? How does that work in a persistent online world (you know, the whole point of the genre)? You can lvl up offline and then sync to the server?

    "SoTA will allow many dozens of people in a scene together". Key word allow. Sounds like more instanced garbage.

    Statements like "selective multiplayer" (wut?) and "we can bring much of the solo player experience forward" scare me, but his acknowledgement of the downsides of the current model where every player is a combatant are encouraging.

    Its been a while, maybe too long, since Garriot was anything more than a footnote in the industry. Lets pray he's not just broke and cashing in on what little rep he has left.

    Help us Lord British, you're our only hope.

  5. Offline players can never interact with online players or their world, but the game can also be played 'solo online' which puts them in the same persistent world without anyone being visible. It sounds like they're trying to make a game that appeals to both fans of classic Ultimas and Ultima Online alike without forcing them to actually experience each other.

    I'm not sure how 'selective' multiplayer will behave exactly, outside the solo and MMO options, but hopefully the game itself is strong enough where the players don't try and ruin it for everyone.

  6. Come in UO Evolution! Just got back playing UO on this shard and it's awesomely well balanced.

  7. Ok, so what is your alias on the SotA forums?

    How do you cope with the term 'carebear' being impermissible and bannable offense?

  8. Don't tell Richard, but I'm not active in the community. Carebear has become a term that, in the MMO community, is as vulgar as it is variable. I've never seen it being used in a productive sense, but censorship is for bitches. Fuck censorship.

  9. I love your blog! I can't wait for the new generation of MMOs. Shards, Life is Feudal, SotA.. so many games with potential are in the making.

  10. I remember thinking in 2006 that Darkfall Online was going to change MMORPG's forever. Since then, I reign in my hype whenever possible. At least with SotA there is a track record.

  11. Well Aventurine has obviously changed something in the last months. They are communicating with the players and listen to their ideas. Also, there is a roadmap for future patches. I quit Darkfall a year ago, maybe I will give it a try again in a month or so.

  12. Aventurine communicated with their vocal minority before, and it resulted horrible garbage.

  13. Played the game the first 5-7 years it was around. Browsing the web and just decided to do a search and found myself here. Interesting to see it's still around in some form. Best memories are from the seer events coordinated within the private groups.

  14. The game looks like it will probably be pretty good. It's just a shame that more mmorpgs aren't designed specifically for first person view. Players are far more likely to find themselves immersed in the virtual worlds and their characters when they are actually IN their characters. I miss the days where it was normal to type/speak "face to face" with people in mmorpgs.

    I'm almost to the point where I don't even want to bother trying out yet another mmorpg if it's designed for third person or isometric view with "support" for first person view. I hope the oculus rift ends up causing some major changes in the mmorpg industry.

    What do you think about FPV Miguelito?

  15. I don't know if the perspective matters that much. Ultima Online was far more immersive to me than the exclusively first-person Mortal Online. Could be age though...


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