“For me the same passion that drives games, which for me is an exploration of the unknown, is the same thing that drives me to do space exploration,” said Richard Garriott in a 2011 D.I.C.E. Summit talk that largely covered his experiences as one of the first private citizens ever to orbit the earth in a space station, which he did in 2008.
For Ultima franchise creator and Origin Software founder Garriott, that commonality is in find and discovering new worlds or experiences, and then devising ways to show them to others.
“I consider myself of course an interactive storyteller, as I’m sure all of us do in our new medium,” he said. “For me, my journey to get there is fairly clearly been caused by this interesting backdrop I have with my father being an astronaut himself.”
His mother was an artist, as well, so “I had the perfect backdrop to be one of the first people to step across the line when personal computers first came out,” he claimed.
Garriott outlined his career a little, interestingly speaking of games in three eras. He considered the first era of games to be single player. Massively multiplayer games are “what I consider the second great era of gaming,” he said.
The veteran developer emphasized that while single player games aren’t dead, massively multiplayer games are played by millions more people. The third era he considers to be social gaming, stating that he’s “building my new empire so to speak,” in the social space.
“With the income I’ve generated out of a lifetime in this business, what I’ve done with the assets I’ve created, in addition to creating virtual worlds, I like to go explore this universe in which we live, and I feel this informs my work in the digital realm,” said Garriott, who has also been to Antarctica, the Titanic, the Amazon, and more.
Garriott first committed to his flight in 2007. “I was scheduled to be the first civilian to go into space, but that was right when the stock market crashed, so I had to sell my seat,” he admitted, saying that he had to generate more wealth first.
Discussing his actual time in space, he recounted amusing anecdotes of difficulty with toilets, and how re-entry into the atmosphere is actually much quieter and smoother than it is when shown in movies or television.
While up there, he had hoped to play his then-active game Tabula Rasa with fans from space, but NASA was worried that hackers would hack their way back up to the station, so it never happened – nor did a planned “first Rock Band in space” session.
The vision of the future that the film 2001 inspired never came to pass, he said. But in his opinion, the 2001 vision of the future that the Apollo helped inspire is a lot of what inspires people to go into games.
As far as the future of space travel, Garriott sees it coming from the private sector, notably John Carmack of id Software, with his company Armadillo Aerospace. “His next stage is to be able to send people into space on a vertical takeoff vertical landing orbit,” said Garriott, who revealed that he is now helping fund Carmack’s venture by funneling in money from investors who want to eventually take a space flight.
“I am a passionate believer that humanity’s destiny is to live beyond the confines of the earth,” said Garriot. “And it’s going to be us that do it! It’s not going to be big government groups, it’s going to be people like our community.”