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  An Interview with Legendary Developer Richard Garriott  

Starting from Scatch
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An Exclusive GDC 2006 Interview with Richard Garriott

Richard Garriott has been around the block in the gaming industry more than once. The legendary designer behind the Ultima series is now with NCSoft Inc. and has been busy developing a little MMO called Tabula Rasa. During the convention, he received a Lifetime Achievement award conducted a lecture on the restructuring of Tabula Rasa.

Richard was kind enough to donate an hour of his time to field questions from the MMO community on Thursday. This is part one of the interview.

Question: The symbol language you've developed for Tabula Rasa is very intriguing. While there's no question it adds greater depth to the game world, do you believe a significant number of players will actually take the time required to learn them?

Richard Garriott: First of all, it's important to point out that it's not important to do at all. And all if I did was put it up as a backdrop in the game and nothing else, I would still do it because I think the richness and believability it provides the world - even if a tiny number of people did it - I would still think is worthwhile.

However, what I've done is incorporate it much more deeply into the game than that -- where yes I believe most every player will learn to read this. And the reason why I believe that is it's nothing they're forced to do, it will just happen by virtue of playing the game. Because one of the aspects of the game I was how the symbolic language is something players will discover through gameplay.

[Players] start with a blank tablet and they collect stones that have the symbols on them. When they put them in their tablet it basically becomes a primer for understanding the language. As you collect the stones, and you go around in the game, if you mouse-over objects written in the symbolic language that have the symbols you own are translated.

There's lot of puzzles in the game - you know like how in Lord of the Rings the entrance to Mines of Moria you have to speak friend [in Elvish] to enter - well we have similar constructs in our game where understanding this language opens gateways or makes objects usable when you know how to translate them. This language is actually not complicated. Everyone on my team is already reading and writing even though no one has sat down and studied it. It just kind of happens naturally through gameplay, so I think everyone will know how to read and write it.

Question: What really drove you to create the language? Was it the language barrier you saw between the Asian and North American markets?

Richard Garriott: What is it about the game that tells you it has a real history and culture? To move away from symbolic language for a minute, what makes a good science fiction versus fantasy? In fantasy you can have the 11th hour where you discover a magic wand that solves all the problems because its magic. In a science fiction you don't do that. In a science fiction you generally live within the laws of reality, plus one or two scientific breakthroughs that become the core features that's in the game.

We don't have space ships that travel faster than light. Instead there are these portals - wormholes - but as opposed to just claiming that they existed I actually worked the science out for why and how they exist.

So with languages it's just a piece of foundational material to make this world real. But as soon as started down this path - of course I'd done it before with runic [UO language system] - but it was immediately obvious to me that runic would not be appropriate. I immediately also discovered that why runic was not appropriate and something symbolic would be appropriate in addition to the real world reasons that it solves a gameplay problem.

If I am the Eloh (which is our futuristic alien race you help in this game) and I'm the first intergalactic culture that goes around and visits all these planets of less developed cultures, many of whom are very primitive, and so I'm not sticking around and wait for them to evolve, instead I'm going to leave something behind. And you'd want to leave something behind that was as easy as possible to understand.

So the same reason we send the Voyager space probes out we try to put information in them [in the case its encountered by alien life] that's as easy to understand as possible.

So I thought, the problem of the fiction of the game and the problem of the real world are very much in synch with each other. So that's when I set off to create this universal language.

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Do you think you'll ever get too old for video gaming?

Absolutely, we all have to grow up sometime.

Maybe, when real life demands more of my time.

No way, video gaming will always be an entertainment option for me.

Never, I'm looking forward to pwning my grandkids.

I don't know


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