Read Excerpt From RPG Legend Richard Garriott's Memoir

Sneak peek at 'Explore/Create' reveals more about the creation of 'Ultima'

Credit: HarperCollins

Richard Garriott is kind of a big deal in the world of games. Back in 1981 he created Ultima, a role-playing game that spawned a series that is still considered a touchstone for developers and players. Right now he's at work on a spiritual successor to the Ultima games, Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, but in his spare time he's also visited the International Space Station, performed the first Zero-G wedding and turned his home Britannia Manor into a haunted house and museum. 

Garriott's memoir Explore/Create: My Life in Pursuit of New Frontiers, Hidden Worlds, and the Creative Spark goes on sale on January 10 and covers his career creating games, his interest in space travel, visits to the Titanic and Antarctica as well as offering readers insights that might apply to their more earthbound lives.

From Chapter 7: IV-Play, Or The New Rules of Engagement
"When I wrote Ultima I, I wanted the game to be something more than players wandering around 3D dungeons killing things. But while we had successfully added some pretty cool visual elements and interactions for the era, these fan letters made it clear the game hadn’t progressed as I’d hoped. Two things became obvious to me: First, if there is going to be a bad guy, he needs to actually be bad in a way far beyond what the player is told in the introduction. He has to be an active presence. If I am a player seeking advice from confidants throughout the world, the bad guy should be looking for these people and killing them. He should be responding to my actions and making my journey far more difficult. Rather than simply existing and waiting for me, he should be trying to do terrible things to me and the people I care about as I progress toward a final confrontation.

Second, I was surprised that the people playing these games did not play with the moral compass they followed in the real world. Presumably, they were law-abiding, kindhearted people in their day-to-day lives, but in this fantasy world they enjoyed being someone else. That was understandable, as my games didn’t respond directly to their behavior; there were no rewards for being a moral person and no particular penalties for being an evil wizard.

Five years into a very successful career I had an important decision to make. My other games had borrowed liberally from existing fantasy stories: None of them were particularly original, other than the fact that they were being told in a computer game format. I had adapted the basic plot structure from The Lord of the Rings. Players were able to move back and forth in time as did the characters in Time Bandits. I had borrowed elements from my own D&D games and from Narnia. Ultima II became the first game ever sold in a box because I wanted to include a cloth map like that in Time Bandits, and wanted to disguise the instructions as an elaborate history of my world.

'Ultima II' became the first game ever sold in a box because I wanted to include a cloth map like that in 'Time Bandits'

All of these stories had inspired me. But if I was ever going to compete with the writers I most respected, I knew I couldn’t continue stealing from D&D, The Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Star Wars, and Time Bandits. Games, I realized, had the potential to be much more than a pleasant diversion; done well, they could be as much an art form as books and movies.

I wanted to write a game about virtue, a game in which the player was judged not only by the fact that they had risen to power, but by the path they had taken to get there and the lessons they had learned along the way. There would not be a traditional bad guy. And rather than the player just stomping through the land wreaking havoc, I wanted to hold a mirror up to the player’s behavior. I wanted to force them to be virtuous in order to win the game. Rather than merely killing monsters, I wanted to weave an enriching story that the player unraveled through his or her own behavior. And show them, through their own actions, that maybe they weren’t as virtuous as they thought."