Richard Garriott on MMORPGs

This is a fun little interview with Richard Garriott.

The interesting part:

I substantially believe that Tabula Rasa, the game I’m working on right now, is a dramatic departure from all other [massively multiplayer games] that have come before and will revitalize this segment again.

If you look at all online games up until the most recent big ones like World of Warcraft, they are fundamentally in the same model as Ultima Online and EverQuest were in the earliest days. It’s just that World of Warcraft is really nicely done. The user interface is expertly crafted, and the visuals are expertly crafted, but the model of its structure is not unusual even after seven years of development since Ultima Online.

I personally find that kind of disappointing and am a bit dumbfounded that people have strayed from that first model so little. Tabula Rasa does not feel at all like one of these current online games. My criticism of all online games to date is that they are all very slow. They’re all a level grind. They all reward extraordinary devotion to the game and not much else. And so, even though the segment is still growing at about 100 percent per year, and has since the day Ultima Online launched, I still think that they have only touched on the smallest beginning of a threshold of where it can [exist] as an art form. I hope to prove that with the release of Tabula Rasa.

I sure hope he manages to make something new with MMORPGs, because the genre needs it.

I know this will eventually turn in to a WoW thread, and I’m sorry for that. But Tabula Rasa is the only MMO on the horizon that I expect to at least try something different.

Is Tabula Rasa vaporware?

Couple years back I thought Tabula Rasa’s main selling point would that there would be a sort of grouping hub and lots of instanced content – in short, sounded rather like Guild Wars turned out to be. I wonder in what other ways Garriott and Long are planning to mix things up. I’ll certainly be crossing my fingers since I am a Lord British fan… I hope the game can achieve some success in an already crowded market.

Does seem like that. Hasn’t been much news on it. That just makes me hope for more. I suspect it will have a large presence at E3 this year, maybe even with a beta not long after.

As one of the staunch WoW defenders: Honestly I’m really excited about it. When he was working on UO2 (the original iteration of UO2 …), I was completely convinced it was going to be the next big thing. I hope he can deliver on every point he boasts.

“I’m stunned that these people have not created a whole new paradigm, I am the man who can do it, this game will literally reshape the way you think about the world.”

Thank god this type of talk turned out so well with Black and White.

Well, it’s a game from NCSoft, the most prolific MMORPG publisher to date, and the man who delivered the first MMORPG that was even remotely on schedule, in addition to more than ten iterations of one of the best PC roleplaying series of all time, so yeah, probably.

EA may have cancelled UO2 and screwed him over, but I think Richard Garriot is the Queen Bitch of roleplaying games. If he says that he can do it, then he can do it. He don’t make false claims.

I wish other RPG designers would grasp the following:

Ultima VII represented the pinnacle of virtual world simulation where I really felt I had done the best job of interactive storytelling and of world detailing to create a play space and a play environment and reasons to be there.

This makes me wish that he hadn’t decided to pursue the virtual-world-simulation stuff exclusively in the multiplayer realm, as I feel there’s still all sorts of potential to take it further in single player RPGs. But Garriott does seem to have lost his interest in single player RPGS after Ultima Online.

Yeah, rarely does this type of stuff come to fruition, but it’s good to know that some people are at least trying.

Admittedly, so did a lot of us. Playing alongside real people makes the experience feel so much more important that multiplayer function is almost a tool that should not be cast aside.

It’s an insightful dissection of the CPRG mechanics and their attendant cliches, to be sure; but I think it gives rather short shrift to the fact that those same mechanics are innately appealing or they wouldn’t have persisted so long. It’s fashionable to bash loot/leveling but I think it’s a classic gameplay mechanic, just as “shooting moving objects” is. Also, I am concerned that people will take up the clarion call and start giving us more “story” CRPGs in which we have to read oodles of text and watch cutscenes. That is not the best way IMO; I am more interested in Garriott’s world-simulation ideas.

As for Ultima IV, it is an interesting game when you look back on it. The moral stuff was certainly innovative but I don’t think it actually contributed a whole lot in solid gameplay terms. You have no choices about which path to follow – it was the avatar’s way or the highway – and except for a couple of cute minigames (donate blood, give money to beggars), mostly you became Virtuous by doing the same thing every other CRPG has you do – which is slaughter monsters by the bucketload, and level up. True there was no Foozle to fight at the end, but there was still a damned tough dungeon you had to hack your way through (and in one sitting, no less). By the way, the landscape in Ultima IV became so clogged with random monsters that it got hard to go from point A to point B without getting into lots of unwanted fights.

What made me love Ultima IV was the way it took the CRPG mechanics Garriott had mastered with Ultima III, and enlarged the scope. The first NPC conversation system, however crude. Reagents for casting spells. An enormous map that you could get lost in; where, while sailing from the continent to Buccaneer’s Den, you would see a couple of screens of nothing but blue ocean. Dungeons with interesting encounter rooms that gave them more of a raison-d’etre than just a pointless maze. In short, it was the virtual world stuff more than the narrative/moral/literary qualities (though I realize these two things are not mutually exclusive and there is some overlap); and he took it even further in Ultima V with the day/night cycles, the NPC scheduling, and so on.

I guess. Having played WoW for the last year, it’s not like I wasn’t sucked into that too. But I still find something more immersive about the single player RPG, if only because there are no real-world intrusions into the fantasy, and “gaming the system” doesn’t become so de rigeur that there is a whole jargon for it.

The game made the most of the tech available at the time. Remember that game is over 20 years old now. Imagine what a game designer with Garriott’s vision and attention to detail could do with today’s technology. But I guess maybe the masses don’t expect much beyond Dungeon Siege 2.

Man, I loved Ultima IV. Totally revolutionary for all the reasons Gordon describes. There was such a sense of purpose to that game.

If only there was a way to hide the mechanics of an activity people love. Gaming the system is just what happens when a person goes from a fan, a casual player, to something of an expert. Compared to the way you used to play, you might seem jaded, but these are things you learned from experience and from consulting other players. You wanted more control, you wanted to get more fight out of your dog, so you put your brain to work and you clicked out a solution. If you can figure out a way to convince participants in an activity to want to stay in the dark, I could use your help with this cult I’m starting…

Sure, he could only work with what he had, and each Ultima very clearly builds on what the previous one had done. I just mean to say that the moral stuff in U4 was at best a “pointer” to what could be done some other day, whereas in other ways (the gameplay stuff I described) I think U4 realized its potential more effectively at the time.

If someone can find a way to make a literary or moral or “artistic” CRPG that doesn’t involve me reading text more than actually playing the game* then I’m all for it.

*I realize that for some people reading text can constitute “playing the game” (viz Infocom), but what I like about CRPGs generally has to do more with the hands-on aspects of them.

Heh. Well, I could always stay relatively clueless in single player RPGs. In an MMO like WoW, developing a good “game the system” vocabulary is mandatory if you don’t want the scorn of your peers.

Oh man. I had the pleasure of having dinner with the entire UO2 team at E3 2001 (I was working on NWN at the time, and so was invited to the “MMORPG dinner”). After the two hours of eating was up, I was fully convinced that they were making what would become the greatest game ever made.

Unfortunately, as soon as I was back home after E3, the news was out that they all got canned and the project cut. Which was a shame, because they obviously had no idea it was coming when they were at E3.

Yes, the NPCs in single player games don’t ruin your immersion by talking about football games or calling you ‘dood’ either :-).