The Tracks of His Games
Richard Garriott gets introspective on his past creations
Posted on 09/21/1999
CONTEST: Ultima Ascension
FEATURE: Revisiting Britannia
FEATURE: Richard Garriott
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INTERVIEW: Lord British Speaks
INTERVIEW: Lord British Speaks
INTERVIEW: Lord British Speaks
INTERVIEW: Lord British Speaks
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PREVIEW: Ultima IX: Ascension
PREVIEW: Ultima IX: Ascension
PREVIEW: Ultima IX: Ascension
PREVIEW: Ultima IX: Ascension
PREVIEW: Ultima IX: Ascension
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TIPS: Ultima IX: Ascension
Richard Garriott created his first game, Akalabeth, in 1979, and the first Ultima game in 1980. With Ultima IX: Ascension on track for a November, 1999 release, we asked him to give a few brief anecdotes about the creation of all eight (nine if you count Akalabeth, which he does) of the past Ultima games. Broken into three categories, here are his thoughts:

Part I: Richard Garriott Learns to Make a Game

Ultima 0: Akalabeth (1979)
"It really is Ultima 0. Literally, if I go into a dungeon, the exact same code is used in Ultima I. The only thing we added was the bitmapped graphics for the outdoor areas. I created Akalabeth for me, in the summer after my senior year in high school when I was working at a ComputerLand store. The owner convinced me to self-publish the game, so I went out and produced 200 ziplock bags, coversheets and printed manuals. [He takes a box of the actual original games off the shelf.] None of these have disks because they were expensive, and I'd only copy them when I needed them. I created 16 of them, and sold 15 in the store. I manufactured the 16th, and here it is. Then a publisher in California got hold of it and purchased the publishing rights.

But I hand manufactured one more the other day because I'm on e-bay all of the time, checking out Ultima Online accounts that are for sale for thousands of dollars, and I wondered, "How much would an original Akalabeth go for?" My account is Lord British so I'll get on there and see what it's worth.

Shot One

Ultima I (1980)
"It was written in BASIC. It's like 3000 lines of code in total. [The entire game] takes less memory than one texture in the current game."

Shot Two

Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress (1982)
"This is the potpourri of games. It had Earth, multiple time zones, fantasy past, science-fiction future, traveling to the nine planets, 3D Star Wars-ian space travel, 2D Star Trek-style docking, 3D dungeons… way too much."

Shot Three
Ultima III: Exodus (1983)
"This was the first game I thought was really well structured. I finally said, 'I really know how to make a game now.' It kind of brought to a close the 'Richard Garriott learns to make a game by himself' trilogy."

Part II: Emerging Ambitions And Personal Introspection

Shot Four
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (1985)
"This introduced the virtues. Though a few people did a few things, it mostly felt like I was doing it by myself. It was an extremely personal game for me; soul-searching, thinking about why I was making games, and the content of the game became king—the story, etc.—not just the mechanics."

Shot Five
Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny (1988)
"It's extremely difficult to make the transition from being the sole creator to it being a collaborative creation. With this game, I had to learn to stop telling people what to do and how to do it and give them the vision of what we're trying to create. It was a difficult game."

Shot Six
Ultima VI: The False Prophet (1990)
"The end of what I call the 'goody-two-shoes' games. There were no big evil bad guys in Ultimas IV, V and VI. There was no counterpoint to the Avatar. They were all games about personal introspection."

Part III: The Final Trilogy and One Misstep

Shot Seven
Ultima VII: The Black Gate (1992)
"Back to the dark side. I wanted to explore the negative sides of your personal psyche. I wanted to put you in a situation where there really was a bad guy. It's also the first time I planned an entire trilogy from the start."

Shot Eight
Ultima VIII: Pagan (1994)
"The important lesson of this game is that every Ultima has been late except for two, and this is one of them. The reason it wasn't late is because it was the first project with a public company, and they were screaming 'quarter, quarter, if we don't make this quarter the stock price is going to crater,' which it never does. So I sacrificed everything to appease stockholders, which was a mistake. We probably shipped it three months unfinished."

Shot Nine
Ultima IX: Ascension

Ultima IX: Ascension (1999)
"This is really Ultima IX Revision II, where Revision I died when we dropped the bitmap game and sent the team to work on Ultima Online."

©1999 Strategy Plus, Inc.

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