Lord British here! Welcome to my vision of the “Ultimate” Role Playing Game. In this 4-part blog, I will share my insights into what makes a great role playing game by reflecting on the past and looking towards the future. So, without further delay, we will begin where many great stories do, in a Kingdom long ago.
It begins before personal computers
I was attempting to make the “Ultimate” Role Playing Game before they were called Ultima and will continue long after they have been called Ultima.
I began my pursuit of creating the “Ultimate” Role Playing Game (Ultimate RPG) around 1974 while in high school. It’s been 36 years but it feels like yesterday. 1974 was an auspicious year for me. In 1974 my sister in law gave me a copy of The Lord of the Rings, the first fantasy fiction I had ever read, and I was instantly hooked. Soon after, I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons which had just been released. I quickly built one of the earliest and largest gaming groups which brought together 30-100 people most every Friday and Saturday for all night gaming sessions in many rooms throughout my parent’s home in Houston. My English reports in school became fictional fantasy writings about my first fantasy world Sosaria, the basis of my D&D campaigns, as well as many of my computer games. Finally, still years before the personal computer showed up on the scene; I discovered a lone computer teletype terminal, unused by any class at the time. I convinced the faculty to let me have my own class, with no teacher or plan, other than to teach myself how to program on it, and show them the results of my work for a grade and count it as my foreign language credit. Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (BASIC) is a foreign language to most people! Right? When the school agreed, my quest for the Ultimate Role Playing Game began in earnest! My quest continues to this day.
The first generations of my games were called D&D 1-28. These were games written on the schools teletype, stored on paper tape spools and run via an acoustic modem running on a distant PDP 11. They used alpha numeric characters for graphics. “A” was a giant ant, “$” was a treasure chest yet it was unmistakably, an Ultima like Ultimate RPG attempt, with text characters instead of the later familiar tile graphics. Graphic style is not the essential element of an Ultimate RPG.
The First Grand Era of Games – Solo Player Games
My first commercial game, one of the first commercial computer games at all, was Akalabeth. When the Apple ][ arrived on the scene, finally I could create with real time graphics! Fully realized 3D dungeons joined the top down outdoor scenes. Deep down this game was clearly rooted in the history of the 28 previous “D&D” games I wrote. Akalabeth was not made to be published; I made it merely for myself and my friends. It was John Mayer the manager of the Computerland store where I had a summer job, who encouraged me to spend the vast $200 to “publish” it on the store wall.
Beyond being quickly picked up by a national distributor and the success that meant, my first distributor Al Remmers of California Pacific suggested we drop Richard Garriott as the author and leave Lord British my in game character) instead. This ended up being more than just a quirky use of a pen name on the package, Lord British, is me as both the creator and as a resident representing the creation to the player from within the game. I joined and shared the experience alongside the player, something which would prove more valuable over time. Participating in the world alongside you, is a valuable part of an Ultimate RPG
And a bit of Trivia – Softalk Magazine ran a contest “Who is the real Lord British” wondering if it might be a person who lived in Los Angeles, named Beth… Also-Known-As-LA-Beth -> Akalabeth!
Please return tomorrow for part 2 of What is a Lord British “Ultimate” Role Playing Game?
a.k.a. Dr. Richard Garriott de Cayeux