Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 28, 2013

Email: Spoony and Richard Garriot

The highest stretchgoal of the Shroud of the Avatar Kickstarter campaign was an interview with Richard Garriot by Spoony, and now the first episode has been released: (Preview
Is it just me, or is there some air of elitism coming from Garriot? i liked what I played of the Ultima series so far (4, 5, and Underworld), but there are certainly things I can do without, like the requirement to go full OCD with taking notes. In Ultima 5 I have to write down for each town, dwelling, lighthouse or castle each characters’s name and profession, because someone somewhere might tell me to find someone who makes sails and by that point I will have no idea anymore who that refers to (that actually happens in the game, I’m not exaggerating). From a role-playing perspective this would not be much of a problem if I lived in that world, but I have a real life running, I might take a few months break from the game, so unless I went all out OCD and wrote down every trivial detail I’ll have no idea where I left off. Here is what my Ultima V journal looks like and i haven’t even beaten the game yet:

Even with this journal I’m sure there is things I missed, because something someone said got buried somewhere. From the SotA video shown it looks like typing will be back. That’s just BS, there is no real challenge in typing, it’s just more pointless busywork. It’s like Garriot is intentionally going backwards from ultima VI and VII which introduced highlighting and later even clicking. There has to be some sort of middle ground between being spoonfed everything like a drooling idiot and having to actually live a second life in a virtual world.

I do like the idea behind the Emps. When we imagine alien life, we imagine it to work similar to life on earth, but what if on all the other planets life is non-violent? How horrifying would out planet appear to those aliens, a planet entirely dominated by creatures killing and then assimilating other creatures, where the course of evolution lead to more and more effective killers? Parts of our anatomy that appear perfectly normal to us, such as teeth, fingernails or the digestive tract would appear completely horrifying and unnatural to them. We would be like monsters  from the Cthulu mythos to them. And now imagine such a peaceful species living in our world; poor things.

I completely agree on the topic of boss monsters. When you think about it, it really makes no sense, they just sit there in their death fortress waiting for you to come by and fight it like any other monster. In Final Fantasy you face metaphysical concepts like Chaos or the Cloud of Darkness and you just destroy it by hitting it with regular swords and spears. It’s not true that Garriot’s games don’t have bosses, but they don’t have standard bosses. For example in Ultima Underworld Tyball could be considered a boss, but when you defeat him it’s not over yet, you still need to get rid of the demon. How do you kill the demon? By hitting it over the head like some sort of big red goblin? No, it’s a demon, you throw a bunch of holy stuff into his lava pool. One could say that the journey itself is the true boss. Was Bowser ever hard to defeat in Super Mario Bros.? No, the challenge was in getting to him. That one Hammer Bro. in the final castle was a much more dangerous foe than Bowser himself. In a way it’s more realistic that way. If you were in a war and your goal was to capture some enemy general then the hardest part would be to get to the general, but once you got there the general wouldn’t turn into some sort of killer cyborg, it would be just one guy.

Even when Ultima games have a clear villain the villain is not just sitting there waiting for you to come by and kill him. The Shadowlords were actively hunting you (which was a really cool feature) and the demon in Underworld was trapped so he had no choice but to wait. And defeating the villain can not be done through a head-on confrontation, you have to use your brain. This is what makes the game more interesting, you can’t just rely on your stats to win the game for you.

The second video takes a look at the cover artworks for the Ultima games: (Preview

The first thing he says is the same quote you put up on PostConsole, hmmm… Despite their age the Ultima games are still being sold and played to this day. I wasn’t even born when Ultima IV came out and after all these years I think it still holds up. What matters in a game is not its programming and the system it’s running on, unless you have direct nostalgia for that time, but it’s the content that matters. We have seen many times what modern source ports can do for older games, including Exult for Ultima VII and especially Nuvie for Ultima VI with its improved user interface. No, it is not easy to make the best game ever made, no matter how much technology improves, content will always outweigh it. The only sure way for games to survive the ever changing compute technology is to give people access to the source code, so the game can live on every new generation.

These are great interviews. Richard Garriot is certainly an interesting person. I like that he can laugh at himself. Spoony was extremely vicious in some of his videos. I don’t see Garriot folding his arms going, “I am GAME GOD! Obey! Worship!” Stupid PC Gamer and their ‘Game God’ cover and articles.

The quote on PostConsole being the same as what Garriot said is because the entire BIG PICTURE of everything about me and this site is a repudiation of that quote. The goodness of games is not intertwined to their hardware. Take Shakespeare. His medium of minimalistic plays surrounded by three sides of the audience is entirely extinct. 17th Century English is also obsolete. Yet, Shakespeare lives on. How is this possible? Isaac Asimov observed that the English language would keep being pulled back to Shakespeare (all major English actors and writers are fluent in Shakespearean acting and reading). The plays are remade exactly as they were in that time period or re-imagined for modern times.

Above: Hamlet keeps being re-imagined.

The Iliad and The Odyssey were oral tales not meant to be on paper. Who does oral storytelling anymore?

The quote Garriot was reciting from that author is garbage. Writing, as a medium, changes formats. Plays change formats. There is no such thing as a permanent format. The true impact of any show is what is going on inside the audience’s head. In their head is the fields of imagination.

While I’m not saying Ultima or any other video game can be compared to those great works, I do see how Ultima influenced and helped make the RPG genre. I’m playing Skyrim now, and I see Ultima. The scene at the beginning where you are captured and have to watch a beheading, that was Ultima VIII. Perhaps I am Kup from Transformers where everything now reminds me of something else, but video games are transcending their hardware. They are transcending their generations. Today’s kids play Pac-Man just like kids did thirty years ago.

This dilemma of game developers thinking video games are intrinsically intertwined to their hardware is something the early game developers suffer from believing (such as Garriot or Miyamoto). While it is fruitful to interview these developers, I think the heart of the mystery lays inside the hearts and minds of the original players. Something captivated them about the game that sparked the franchise. What was it?

The issue of Metroid: Other M is this dilemma head-on. Nintendo may say that Sakamoto owns Metroid, but Sakamoto cannot just do anything with Meroid. His ‘Pink Metroid’ hit a wall to what fans consider to be the definition of Metroid. Every install base has certain expectations of what the game series provides. Sakamoto only looked within himself and thought ‘nostalgia’ cameos would satisfy fans. He was extremely wrong. This applies to all mediums as well. The customers are unable to express themselves clearly, but their behavior needs to be looked at. Nintendo should have asked, “Why do people keep worshiping 2d Mario and keep buying the games?” instead of demanding, “This 3d Mario uses modern Nintendo hardware! You must buy it immediately! Any reason why you don’t buy it MUST be due to lack of accessibility. It is Mario you want; it doesn’t matter if it is 3d or not.” But it does matter. Those of us who made Zelda a franchise know that the series is not about ‘puzzles’ and ‘terrible NPC dialogue’. What about the exquisite swordplay that was portrayed so well in Zelda 1, 2, and 3?  What about the rich, sprawling overworld? What about the RPG elements? Nintendo doesn’t just not listen, they think fans want ‘nostalgia’ crap so they throw in things like a ‘sword that shoots’ or put in an homage to Ocarina of Time. It is insulting to say the least.

The plus side of an established series is an established install base. The downside of an established series is that expectations are already in place of how the game should act and feel. Nintendo thinks it can get the plus side while removing the down side. It can’t. That is why their IPs are facing crisis. I can tell you right now that the expectation of a 2d Mario gamer is not just ‘arcade platforming’ as NSMB U suggests. 2d Mario not only presented new hardware capabilities (including popularizing blue skies and background music), 2d Mario explored the fantasy worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom. When you bought a Mario game, you were getting a new chapter in that exploration. Nintendo would then use this content as levels for Mario Kart or scenes in Mario sports games.

Ultima games were very memorable in how they pushed the limits. They also pushed the limits in hardware. It is easier for me to find a computer today to play Crysis at max graphical settings than it was to play Ultima VII when it was released. While most PC game companies such as Blizzard target a low hardware ceiling to maximize the install base, every Origin game aimed at top hardware or hardware not even out yet. We can thank Wing Commander for popularizing the sound card in PCs. While World of Warcraft’s release came out around the same time as popularization of broadband, think back with Ultima Online when most people were still on modems. The hardware install base didn’t exist for such a game to work, but the trend was on their side which made it a success.

I don’t remember ever feeling disturbed or challenged by Ultima’s content (e.g. killing children). I just remember being immersed in the world. What I found most striking with Ultima, compared to other games, is how the NPCs were handled. Aside from them having full schedules and being written as three dimensional characters, the NPCs were interesting because they were being pulled from opposite directions of evil on one side and the Virtues on the other. This effect is most present in Ultima VII. It’s like all of society was rotting, and it was rotting the people as well. It was very eerie, yet the writing was able to pull it off. You could sense the Guardian debasing the people. Ultima VIII and IX did not have fully realized NPCs which I believe largely hurt those games.

Anyway, interesting interviews. Thank you for sending it!


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