About Me

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Seattle, Washington, United States
I'm an old time roleplayer who became a soldier who became a veteran who became a developer who became a dba who became a manager who never gave up his dream of a better world. Even if I have to create it myself.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lord British Strikes Again

The latest kickstarter bonanza? Richard Garriott, aka Lord British, is spawning a new game called Shroud of the Avatar. The game is supposed to herald back to the Ultima approach of computer gaming, where there is more story than level grind.

I'm not saying you should go fund this, that's your business. I want to talk about my own experiences with Lord British.

I entered the Ultima series with Exodus (Ultima III). I spent a couple of years trying to beat it on my Apple ][e, generally getting very little progress, until I found a walkthrough in a magazine that finally let me understand all the crazy stuff. Like lining up moon phases to make a secret town appear, what the marks were for, how to get to Ambrosia, that sort of stuff.

I still have no idea how anyone finished that game without a walkthrough, but despite that it is one of my favorite computer gaming experiences of all time.

A lot of my enjoyment had to do with an esoteric fantasy feeling. The cloth map, the latin-sounding spells (I could cast a Pontori like noone else), the magic secrets, and oh did I mention the cloth map?

No other game I had ever seen had such fun toys and they immersed me. Not long after beating Ultima III, I discovered D&D, and the rest is history. And, yea, I played a couple of other Ultima games along the way.

Years later, when I was working as a developer in the video game industry, I got to meet Richard Garriott because his company hired our company. It was pretty exciting for me and I played it as cool as I could; but, really, how do you react to meeting someone that had such a huge impact on your life? After all, playing Ultima led me to spend much of my life playing fantasy roleplaying games, and even inspired me to join the video games industry for a while.

Unlike many folks we put on pedestals, he was actually a pretty cool guy. His head was in the clouds, but he was a ton of fun to talk with, being both creative and well-spoken.

Of course, then he got to go fly into space in 2008, following in his father's footsteps, who was a NASA astronaut. Space travel is another dream many of us share, and doing that added even more cool points to a guy that already had more than any one person should be allowed.

Good luck on the latest project, Lord British!


  1. A pleasure to be reminded. These games and their creators gave us a lot and I sometimes wonder if they didn't see further than we do now.

  2. Fond memories of that game. I remember playing it until the wee hours on my Commodore 64 far too often and one night, just before I was about to turn it off I thought, "Before I go to bed, I'm going to let that whirlpool hit my ship." (assuming I'd meet a watery grave). But, little did I know....

    1. Yes... and then realizing you don't have enough gold to use the shrines up :)

  3. I, too, was a big fan of Richard Garriott. I played a lot of Ultima VII back in the day (you could put different armor on and it showed on your character!). I also played Ultima Online more than any other game in my life (who remembers the assassination of Lord British - http://lorehound.com/news/top-5-most-memorable-events-in-mmorpg-history/).

    That said, Richard Garriott is the definition of golden age developers who never transitioned to modern game development. Look at all the games he made after UO: Ultima IX, City of Heroes, Tabula Rasa. Terrible stuff. Peter Molyneux is in the same bag. Even Sid Meier hasn't done anything new, and just tweaked his old games over the years.

    The CRPG genre has changed a lot since its inception, so I don't have high hopes up for this new RPG.

    Not that it won't stop me from kickstarting it. :-). Between this, Dreamfall and most importantly, Torment, I reckon I've done my part for the indie community.

    1. I played some Ultima VII. Twas ok but never had the magic of III for me (probably because III was my first experience in the genre).

      Agreed on Tabula Rasa but to be fair on CoH, his company was the publisher but not the designers... so difficult to judge on that. I knew some of the CoH guys and they were fairly different minded on their approaches.

      I'm not sure I would say Peter Molyneux belongs to that list; Black and White is the biggest thing I remember him for and that game was only good for the first 30 minutes or so. After that it was horrible. Sid Meier... oh how I lost time to Civ...

    2. I might add John Carmack to the list, though.

    3. I'll give you that on CoH, but yeah, my point still stands.

      Peter Molyneux did Populous and Syndicate and all the other Bullfrog games before they were eaten by EA. Populous was especially revolutionary for its time.

      John Carmack was and still is a God in anyone's book. He was never a game designer per se, he just built great game engines. Still does, to this day! Also he makes rockets.

    4. Ah, I forgot about Populous... yea, not bad, but sort of like B&W it was strong early on and weaker as gameplay continued to higher levels. I'd say he has some great theory, but some poor implementation.

      The best video game of all time is Ms. Pac-Man anyways, so this whole conversation is tangential.

  4. Heard of Lord Brittish back in the day of computer game magazines when they had free cassettes on the covers and pages of coding for you to enter to recreate your own game on the Commodore 64 or ZX Spectrum, only to discover after 4 hours of entering code there was a mistake.

    I' ve often wondered why this gentleman has never really hit the 'big time' in the games market? And why did his last MMO venture fail?

    I hope he makes it this time round. Great post, sir.

    A question though, if I may: are you still in the games industry, and if not, what made you leave?

    1. I remember doing the same thing with my Apple ][e. There was a magazine that had code in it for a fantasy game, I sure wish I could remember its name now, but I faithfully typed it in only to have to debug it for typos and such.

      I left the games industry primarily because it's lots of unpaid overtime for less than average salary, all of which is caused by a pervasive culture of extremely poor management skills in the industry. Project management skills are unheard of which is why so many games can't possibly be delivered to any sort of budget or timeline.

      At one point it got so bad that I found myself in the hospital with electrodes hooked up to me for heart trouble. The doctor basically asked me if it was worth it and, of course, the answer was no!


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