Everyone knows about Richard
Garriott, how he started programming games for the Apple II, how
Ultima became the first honest-to-goodness franchise in the game
industry, how Origin "created worlds," including Wing Commander
and spin-offs like Ultima Underworld.
Everyone knows how Garriott
convinced Electronic Arts to fund Ultima Online, which would
be the first great Massively Multiplayer Online game, how he later left
EA, and became a vital part of Korean online pioneer NCsoft's plan to
capture the American market, and how his second MMO, Tabula Rasa,
launched at the end of last year.
Everyone knows about Garriott's
larger-than-life pursuits: his dream of going into space, how he went
to the South Pole, the wreck of the Titanic, how he boxes regularly
and participates in community events, lives in a remarkable castle in
Austin, and is building an even grander sequel to Britannia Manor.
That's because most interviews
with Richard Garriott ask all the same questions. "Usually
they are quite traditional," is how he puts it. The
man is no stranger to interviews -- in fact, the same day that Gamasutra
conducted its in-depth chat, he was being shadowed by an editor from
Focus, Germany's equivalent of Newsweek, who wanted to see
a day in the life of the game developing Texan.
"The questions you've
asked today are not the usual drift," Garriott told Gamasutra.
And below, he explains why game developers aren't artists, but could
be, why he only speed-reads games, and how the PC in your pocket just
might be the next great platform...
Are you tired of talking
Richard Garriott: No, because
I'm actually still excited about the MMO space. As you've probably heard
me say before, the MMO genre -- even though it's ten years old, the
most anybody's ever made is two, because the retool cycle is so long.
I think the industry is still in it's infancy. I'm still quite excited
about it. So no, I'm not tired of talking about it yet.
Are games art?
RG: Are games art? They can,
and I think, should be. How much "art" there is in a game
is up to the developer.
There's a lot of games which I'll describe as
just pulp, but absolutely: I think there's lots of great art in games.
A lot of my favorite games, actually, are the ones we think of as the
most artistic. Games like Myst, or American McGee's Alice,
So are game developers actually
artists, or are they just code monkeys trying to bat about aesthetics?
RG: Well, to make a game now
requires such a large staff that you have all walks of life involved
in there. I was just listening to NPR radio in the car on the way home
from the airport last night, and they had a carpenter who had just gone
off strike and was getting back to work on Broadway.
I would not consider
that carpenter -- he was probably not what you would call an artist,
he was probably literally a carpenter. And the same thing's true in
We have people you might consider
the carpenters of the game building -- who would not care, or [even]
be too concerned if they were described as artists. On the other hand,
I think a lot of the designers and a lot of the artists probably do
aspire to be creating things that would be considered great art.
Many people in the industry
feel strongly, like you do, that games are art - but does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?
RG: Well, no. If you think
about the purpose of most people in this business, I think most of them
are in the business as a business. They're here to make money. They're
here to find something that becomes popular, and therefore sells well.
However, I think if you look
at the measure of what it takes to become popular, I think there's a
variety of factors that make games become popular.
I think it takes a combination
of things. For example, addictive game mechanics. The kind of "pull
the lever on the slot machine and occasionally get a return," which
I would not call art, as much as a science.
But another thing that can
create popularity in a game is to be attractive -- which could just
be nice aesthetics. But another one would be to be compelling. I think
what makes this compelling at a more human level is when you can touch
people at an emotional or psychological level -- which I would consider