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Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues
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Shroud of the Avatar - Richard Garriott Interview

We sat down with Honor Award recipient Richard "Lord British" Garriott at Gamelab to talk about his long career, his new game Shroud of the Avatar, space adventures, and more.

Audio transcription

"Gamelab 2017 Honor Award is Richard Garriott, and we're honored to have you here with us. Thank you for joining us.
Absolutely, my pleasure to be with you. It's a great event and a great venue, so happy to be with you.
Other than getting this Honor Award, you're here to talk about creating and growing IPs."

"What's the main message you've shared with the audience?
To me, if you think about what makes games sell, and we're all here to make games, we need to sell them or we don't live to make the next game.
That usually takes a combination of great game mechanics, which I think all games need, compelling audio and visual, which is really why somebody looks at a game in the first place."

"But in my mind, the third pillar is intellectual property, and of those three, it's the only one that can be protected. It's the only one that lasts.
The game mechanic, if you think about the game Bejeweled, there's millions and millions of copies or similar types of games out there.
If you think of the best visuals, which games do you think have the best visuals?
Computers get better every year, and so that's a race you have to keep running each game to stay on top. It's very hard to remain on top."

"But if you make a great intellectual property, it will help carry you through all those other changes in the games industry.
You're also credited as the creator of the avatar concept or the term. What do you think of that term or that concept nowadays, and how are you treating that with Shroud of the Avatar?
Prior to my fourth game, the fourth Ultima, which was called Quest of the Avatar, the reason why I used that term, came up with that term, and the reason why it also spread, is prior to Ultima IV, your character in a game was called your character. But that character could be a role you were playing, which was not you."

"So if you were playing a game, for example, about being Conan the Barbarian, you should win or lose based on how well you pretend that you are and act like Conan would act.
But as soon as I realized I wanted to tell stories about virtue, and I wanted to judge you, the player, based on how virtuously you behaved, it became important to me that you're not playing Conan the Barbarian, you're playing yourself. And even if that means you've gone through and changed into a beefy warrior when you're a skinny little computer nerd or whatever, you may have undergone a variety of physical changes, but it was important that it was your soul inside of that avatar."

"I borrowed that word from Hindu religion. It was a Sanskrit word that meant the human manifestation of a deity on Earth. So if Vishnu, the elephant god, came to Earth as a human, that was Vishnu's avatar. And so I said, perfect, that's what I needed, I adopted the word, and of course now everybody uses it.
But for my new game, Shroud of the Avatar, I'm sort of reclaiming the word in some sense, because even though it's spread and everybody uses it now, I'm really trying to go back and showcase, like I did with Ultima 4, a character creation process where you don't roll dice, you don't do sliders, I interview you, the player, to find out how you should begin this game, where you should begin this game. I've built a game that's all about virtue tests."

"I'm trying to seduce the player to behaving badly and then show them why behaving badly is not the way to get ahead in our game.
And so I'm hoping I'm sort of reproving, in a modern context, why I adopted the word avatar in the first place.
How's the game shaping up so far?
Great. We're doing it in a very different way than usual. We crowdfunded the game 43 months ago, 44 months ago."

"We've been releasing it monthly to all of our backers, so they've had a chance to weigh in, or vote in a sense, or contact us anyway on what they've liked or not liked, all the way along through the development process. But we're finally now very close to releasing, so just a few months, hopefully before the end of this year, we'll get a chance to release version 1 of Shroud of the Avatar."

"Looking forward to it. Now, you mentioned Ultima, of course, and with Ultima Online, perhaps it was one of the first times we could do business inside the virtual world.
We could buy land and do business in it. Before, we were chatting with John Nevedi, who's an expert on business in the virtual world.
Of course, he's a president. How do you think that's going to evolve? Do you buy his message? Do you think we're getting jobs in the virtual space?
Do you think we're doing big business in the virtual space?
Well, I think we have to, and here's why I think we have to. As soon as you have an online world, my development team is too small by orders of magnitude, and will always be too small, to create content fast enough to keep up with the player consumption of content."

"The virtual world is by necessity dependent upon player-created content. Now, the problem with most player-created content is it's not very good.
Most players are not professional world builders, so if you look at their houses, much less if they were to make adventures, the vast majority of it is not good.
And so, early virtual worlds that didn't think of it as a business are filled with junk that players have left behind that is not particularly interesting, that you have to wade through to find rare moments of interesting content."

"The real world isn't that way, and the reason the real world hasn't weeded out is because, for example, if I wanted to own where this hotel and convention center is, I'd have to pay taxes to sustain it, I'd have to pay a lot of money to build it, and so to pay off those taxes and to pay off the infrastructure, the investment to build it, I'd better run a good business here, or it will go out of business, it'll be sold and torn down and erased, and something that is more economically viable will come in."

"And so you have to have that in the virtual world also. It has to be there, because that's the only way to clean up the junk.
And the only way to clean up the junk is to reward the people that do good content.
And so you need to have the excuse to reabsorb content that is not economically self-sufficient, and you need to reward the one out of a thousand people out there that actually can do great content."

"Interesting to hear, really interesting. What's now a changing topic? What's a real astronaut's take on space themes?
Well, you know, space games and space movies kind of fall into two categories in my mind.
It depends on, are you literally just trying to make a game or an entertaining movie, or are you trying to make a simulation?
And then is that simulation meant to be like a flight simulator, realistic, or just something that is inspired by reality?
And I think both are very good. I mean, I can appreciate things that are just games, but I can also appreciate things that do a good job of reality crafting."

"And so on the reality-ish side, the more real side, things like the Kerbal Space Program, which is sort of ostensibly for kids, but adults like it too, because it does a good job of sort of emulating the broad strokes of reality.
So if you're not familiar with how hard it is to get into space or keep things in space, go play the Kerbal Space Program."

"You'll both enjoy it, and you'll really have a deeper appreciation for the reality of the problem.
But then it's also perfectly great. You know, I like space games.
And whether that's my friend Chris Roberts, who did the Wing Commander series in the past and is working on Star Citizen now, those are clearly fantasies, but great fantasies."

"I mean, there are certain things about space like momentum.
If you're flying a spaceship in space, you can turn it around, but you'll be moving backwards in the wrong direction.
But it's harder to control. It's not as much fun to control compared to if space really was viscous, and therefore when I turn 90 degrees, my movement turned 90 degrees."

"And so having automatic systems that are inertial dampeners to make that manageable for you as the player is clearly the right decision for a game.
So that's why it differs from Kerbal Space Program, which uses momentum.
Speaking about space fantasy, what do you think of the broader space fantasy?
For example, in Mass Effect, the way you can travel through space."

"These kind of concepts that we love to play with, but perhaps are a bit far away in the real thing.
Yeah, so when you talk about science fiction and science fiction breakthroughs, it's always nice to use a breakthrough that at least has some rational basis that we can at least fantasize about, if not do fantasy calculations around."

"And again, I go back, like I do with space simulations, you break it up into two types.
I mean, is it literally just for a game or is it really trying to teach me something?
And as I look at those, it's pretty common to have breakthroughs in space-based science fiction to do faster-than-light travel.
And at least there are some really far-out theories about how you could do that."

"Although, if you think about wormholes or faster-than-light travel, both of which are mathematically demonstrated as potentially possible, they also require energy levels that it would take, for example, the destruction of an entire star, to absorb the entire energy lifespan of a star, to open a tiny wormhole very briefly."

"And proponents would say, well, at least there's an opening.
And so maybe in the future you'll find a way to do it with less energy.
And maybe that's true. But for me, it pushes it pretty far out.
What's the most believable theory we can be seeing in the near future?
Well, I think that in the near future, the closest to reality is something."

"There's a gentleman named Yuri Milner who's funding something called Starshot, where they're going to actually take a very small one-gram payload with a light sail and use high-powered lasers or microwaves to send it at 10% of the speed of light to a very nearby star.
But at least it would get there in our lifetime."

"And if you can do it with something that's one gram, you can do it with something that's 10 grams, or 100 grams, or 1,000 grams. It just takes more and more energy to push it.
And so we will be able to move objects at a significant percentage of the speed of light.
I just think, unfortunately, the speed of light still remains a pretty insurmountable barrier."

"We won't go faster than the speed of light any time soon.
But if you then take that to something that's more near-term, for example, space elevators.
There's a theory of a space elevator, which is with carbon fiber nanotubes, you can create a rope that is strong enough to climb that can go from the surface of the Earth to an asteroid orbiting the Earth at a geosynchronous location."

"So as the Earth rotates one rotation, the asteroid will have rotated one rotation, and a rope can go from that asteroid all the way to the ground.
So again, that's one of these things that works mathematically.
It shows up in science fiction movies. It shows up in science fiction books."

"It shows up in science fiction games.
But unfortunately, the mass that is required to put that into orbit is many orders of magnitude larger than the mass that we've launched in the history of humanity.
And so it is, while the math works, the practicalities are still far away."

"Back to the real world, back to the things we can do now in space.
What are you currently doing with Space Adventures?
Well, two things. One is we're now selling seats to go around the Moon.
And so, you know, if you want to plan your trip to space today, you could book, but they're not yet flying, a suborbital trip for a few hundred thousand dollars."

"It's a lot cheap.
You can go to orbit for maybe $50 million.
You can go around the Moon for maybe $150 million.
So that's today."

"And so while those all sound, and they are, incredibly expensive, the good news is that the price is starting to come down, and it should come down very quickly.
So, for example, Elon Musk thinks he can get the price of a person to orbit, instead of $50 million, he thinks he can get down to one or two."

"And it's still one or two million, so it's still a lot of money.
But, for example, on my own flight, I earned more than a few million dollars with work I did in space.
And so if I could make a profit with my own time in space, I'm going back often.
And I'll bet a lot of you here would too, just because, you know, who wouldn't if you get paid to go."

"And so the good news is that, you know, entrepreneurial activity in space is really going to be a booming business here just in the next few years.
Speaking about entrepreneurial, you, of course, started several companies.
Some of those are Origin or Destination Games."

"How do you feel looking back what they were back in the day and what they are now?
Well, you know, if you look at, for example, Origin in particular, you know, Origin was Camelot.
You know, it wasn't perfect by any means, but we were doing a lot of things right.
I mean, we were devoted to the artistic purity of creating, you know, visionary worlds for people to go play in."

"We celebrated our individual members of our teams very well, I believe.
And we created sort of a game developer's utopia that lasted about 10 years.
The only reason it didn't continue to this day was really because the retail shelf space battles, you know, became insurmountable for a company."

"As big as we were, we weren't big enough to really tackle that particular challenge.
And so, but, you know, every era of games has sort of had its own magic, and I feel that way today too.
Today, you know, crowdfunding is sort of magic.
We're working, you know, arm and arm with the community to help them help us make the game they want."

"And it's really, it's a great experience.
Okay, closing one.
What's your take on virtual reality?
What do you think, where do you think it's heading?
I think you're not very convinced so far."

"Yes, unfortunately I'm not.
And to give it some color, you know, I'm a huge VR fan.
I desperately want virtual reality to happen.
You know, I bought VR hardware back to the Apple two days when it was really bad."

"You know, tiny little monitors, terrible latency, very low resolution flicker, made you sick immediately.
You know, and the hardware today is obviously vastly, vastly superior.
Yet, my concerns are that it's cool.
I mean, almost every demo I see in VR is cool."

"I mean, I enjoy it.
I love showing it to my kids.
My kids enjoy it.
But what I haven't seen, and I'm concerned that we can't see now, is a thing which won't make me sick if I move smoothly through it."

"I'm not happy with the teleport around.
I think you need to explore physically.
I think you need to have hands that you can see and that have good dexterity.
You know, I need to be able to pick up individual items, you know, from the table."

"I need to not have to have somebody help me get on and off all the gear and get it all set up.
You know, I need to have, there's all these parts and pieces that some of them we can maybe solve.
Like, I didn't even mention, like, the user interface in VR, I think, is pretty clunky still most of the time.
And, you know, maybe some software engineers will fix that."

"What I'm concerned about is that it's still, the list is still so long.
And I don't see anyone making a ton of money in it.
You know, there's billions going into making it and millions going into the software.
But there's not enough people buying that software, even what exists, to make a compelling case for VR is here today."

"And so I think we might have to still wait, you know, another generation or two.
You know, I think the best VR right now is location-based VR.
Places like, there's a group doing something called The Void, which is an entertainment center that lets you put on gear that when you, the room you suit up in looks the same in reality as it does in virtual reality."

"And then you move through physical sets and interact with physical objects so you can pick up the object because it's a real object.
And that's just mapped to look like this.
Mixed VR and AR."

"And practical sets.
And that, I think, works great.
But it's very expensive to implement.
It's not going to be in your home."

"It's a very different kind of business model than what most people think of as we're all going to be in VR from our homes all the time.
All right. Thank you very much for your time, Richard.
Enjoy your time in Barcelona."

"Thank you very much. Gracias.
Microsoft Mechanics www.microsoft.com"

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