Stratics had the pleasure of conversing with Richard “Lord British” Garriott regarding his highly anticipated title, Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues. What follows is a written transcript of the first part of a three-part interview.
Greg a.k.a. Nexus introduces himself as the Stratics host.
Nexus: You reached out and we made contact about the announcement on your game moving to full steam development. Everyone has known it as Ultimate RPG to this point; you have now released a name to us Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues. We have seen the artwork that you gave us and it’s really going back to your RPG roots.
Nexus: I just wanted to see how it makes you feel going back to this time. Because for me these are the games I grew up with your old RPGs with the dark dungeon crawling.
RG: It’s been 15 years since I stepped away from the Ultima franchise and at first I was reluctant to go back and compete with myself. At least that was originally why I stepped away. I have debated about when to come back to traditional fantasy RPGs. Now seemed like the right time to do it. Now it is far enough away in the past. What is interesting is I would have expected more people to be building products in what I will call the Ultima model. In fact most other RPGs have been chasing the Everquest through World of Warcraft (WoW) model, I will call them, which are all about level grinding in an MMO space and I thought that left me a great opportunity, since people hadn’t build upon much the great foundational work I had done through the Ultima series. So I thought if anyone can go back to it, if anyone can build it, I’m the guy to do it.
Nexus: I’m sure there are tons of people that will agree with that, you are the person to do it. You are one of the early pioneers in games of this type. It is really good to see someone that was such an important part of it, come back to it. Something that has been pretty much one of your trademarks is putting a morality system in your games. Nobody else does this for the most part. With all that is going on with violence in games and so forth this is really important. Do you consider this the reason why you are so interested in the morality system, where players have to make choices based on morals?
RG: Absolutely. Well in fact I should describe the reason why I started that. When I started Akalabeth, Ultima 1 and Ultima 2 those were all published by other companies. Ultima 3 was the first game I published and so it was the first time I got letters back from people that played the game. So all the previous games I assumed people were playing the game the same way I played the game I wrote or that my friends would play in front of me. As soon as I started to get letters back from people I realized they were playing it completely differently than I had anticipated.
Ultimas 1 through 3 had the generic role-playing game plot of you are the hero because you are told so in the instructions. Your job is to kill the bad guy who is not going to do anything but wait for you at the end and what players do in the meantime is min / max their activities to become as powerful as possible as quickly as possible to go kill the guy that has never done anything in the game. What they do when they are min / maxing is what I will call morally ambiguous. First they do the quest lines, then they go kill every villager, steal from every shop, kill me. I sat back and said what am I really reinforcing with this game play, people are not really playing as the hero. If I was one of the villagers and the way that player was min / maxing themselves was to wipe out my family I probably wouldn’t help them on their journey to success.
That’s what started me saying, I want to create a game, which of course became Ultima 4 where I am still going to leave these temptations in, like they have been in all my previous games and RPGs, but since it is a computer it knows when you are lying, it knows when you are cheating, it knows when you are being heroic or cowardly. It’s going to keep track of all those things so the people who are actually looking for a hero will support you or not based on if you are playing as a hero.
Nexus: So this is something you are really working towards for your Shroud of the Avatar game? I know you mentioned it is going to have a system similar to what we have seen in the past.
Nexus: I really enjoy that as everyone else is, as you said, is following the Everquest / WoW model. Nobody else is looking at these things. It’s really important, in a sense. Does it give you a feeling developers have a responsibility to consumer advice?
RG: What I find interesting about that is I am a believer what we are creating is art. In the movie industry you can create a movie about anything you want from murder to stopping the murders, can glorify the murderers; nothing wrong with that as a piece of art. However if what you are really trying to create is relevant literature and in my mind RPGs at their best are relevant literature, then to pattern after Joseph Campbell’s Heroes Journey or any of the classic arcs of young potential hero who is inadequate to face the challenge of saving the world has to learn about their selves and learn not just to overcome the physical obstacles in the world but overcome their own failings to rise to the challenge and ultimately aspire to rise to the challenge and save the world or whatever it might be. That classic arc is powerful and has survived the test of time for a reason. It’s because it resonates with the human spirit and adds to the human spirit in an important and relevant way. A lot of games don’t do that it’s really about how big an explosion I can make. Fortunately the tools and technology of today are good enough to allow that. There will be plenty of good explosions, and magic effects in game which can be acquired through powerful tools. Our focus is on hand crafted, ethical parables and virtues that reflect to you your behavior.
Nexus: The sandbox type system not being locked to a task or quest chain that is your thing. Fascinating some things make so much sense you’ve hit on that others think are not profitable.
RG: Critical as I am of what I call the state of RPGs which I am, it didn’t come without cause in my mind. I don’t think it all came out of laziness or profiteering. So if I give you a little story arc. In the early Ultimas you might have to go to Trinsic to speak to a woman in a red dress about some pearls, well you had to note this all down; go to Trinsic, women in red dress, pearls. There was no chance of picking up after several months so automation came in so notepad wasn’t so required, technical level note keeping, however this went too far. Look at the last couple years, very large $100 mil MMOs with full features, beautiful, but failed. Pattern of most MMOs these days, boot, and choose class, permanently deciding what class before even seeing game. Next create character, eye color hair color etc. Another 30 minutes, finally drop into game, drop into town, and see the exclamation point over persons head. Click on obvious choices until everything is in the quest log. Follow the exclamation mark to farm level 1 monsters, level 2, repeat. We are not going to make it too hardcore but it won’t be so obvious. You will have to follow up on information; much more like a reality situation.
Nexus: That was the big thing with table top RPGs, it must have been a big thing in your life. Everyone talks about games being clones of each other but none are really clones of Ultima. Looking at the video of the guy running through a town, you mentioned housing, are players going to have a house in a town?
RG: Shroud of the Avatar has a 2 scale map: the outdoor map is for travel then zooming into instances along the way, or mobile instances; a gypsy wagon, your friends or a monster group. Just like the middle or earlier Ultimas when you encounter a point of interest or mobile style encounter. Town or combat both zoom in to a similar technology, a third-person over the shoulder camera.
We have a variety of kinds of towns and cities and villages. Villages are a little bit larger and spread out with room for houses but only a handful of game driven services which may make you come in and out of it on your own. So it is a relatively cheap place to have a house but if you want to be a blacksmith it is not a great place to be a blacksmith because it is more of a neighborhood and farming community and not a high traffic zone. If you go to the other extreme which is the cities compared to towns, we are going to put a lot of the fundamental infrastructure in, on which the game will operate whether it is auction houses or the bank or whatever it might be. So there is a lot of traffic in and out. But there will be very few plots of land and they will be much more expensive for bigger houses. So it will be up to you as the player to decide what can you afford.
You will even be able to sell your house at one location, the house will collapse and remove itself from the world so you can move it to another city and deploy it again with all your stuff and decorations still within it.