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INTERVIEW - Richard Garriot, MMO Visonary, Part 2 of 2
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posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
date posted: 12:00 AM Wed Jul 17th, 2002
last revision: 12:00 AM Wed Jul 17th, 2002

Interview by Aaron Stanton

GF!: Moving on, are you involved with Lineage 2 at all?

Garriott: Yes. The majority of my work, like I said, is on Tabula Rasa, but next down the importance scale is for me to spend time on Lineage, be it one or two. We're trying to make sure we create a game that is a worldwide game, not merely an Asian game. With Lineage Forever, which Jake is working on, which is really the next big change. This is episode ten that we're on now, and once they get to twelve, we're actually doing a major revamp of Lineage 1, called Lineage Forever, that we're not even showing here. That's separate from Lineage 2, which is a whole different play dynamic than the world of Lineage, whereas the revamp that we're talking about is actually a full 3D game, but still a largely top down view rendered in 3D.

GF!: Is there anything you can tell me about Lineage Forever, even though you're not announcing it yet?

Garriott: Not much more that what I just told you. It's a complete client rewrite with the same server. Lineage 2 is all new code, server, and client. Everything, as well as new game play features, whereas Lineage Forever is a new client rewrite.

GF!: Is the look and feel of Lineage 2 going to make its way over into Lineage 1 at any point?

Garriott: No, actually what we're trying to do with Lineage is a little different. I actually think that the individual pieces of artwork in Lineage are beautiful. The problem with Lineage has been things like the animation is only four frames of animation for walking, which we've changed in episode 11. One of the problems we've had with Lineage is that we've now patched so much art in that, especially with the new twelve frames of animation, it is gigantic. The visual style we actually don't want to change, because we have four million players who are emotionally involved in the look and feel of this game. And one of the mistakes we'd made with, say, Ultima Online when we went to Third Dawn, where we made a lot of 3D characters?

GF!: For the record, four million players is by far the largest online gaming base, right?

Garriott: It's larger than all other online games in the world combined, probably times two.

So, we can't afford to offend these four million players, who are such a major economic resource for us, and so we're not going to tinker with the look and feel. By taking it over to the 3D, it means that the art becomes much more compact. For example, you only need a texture map for one frame of information, and the other twelve frames of information is just a delta on a skeleton, which is very compact compared to texture mapping. It is a necessary move for us to continue the evolution of this game, plus it happens to also be more fit for the U.S. market. I don't think that our style is inappropriate for the U.S. market, it's some of the technological aspects of it, and a lot of the user interface, and the newbie experience, which I think has prevented Lineage from being adopted quickly here in the United States.

GF!: It's the casual gamer vs. the hardcore gamer issue?

Garriott: Exactly.

GF!: Speaking of that sort of thing. Sony and Microsoft are heavily pressing online gaming as the next thing for the console. Are there any plans for NCsoft, who is basically a publisher of exclusively online games, to carry their expertise over to the other platforms?

Garriott: No, actually I don't think that this round of platforms are going to work for online games. I think the perfect first example is the rumor I've heard about Final Fantasy XI. You'll have to confirm this for yourself, because this is rumor that you're getting third hand, but my understanding based upon the Japanese press that I've talked to here at the show, and even the Japanese business people and competitors I've talked to at the show, have said that Final Fantasy XI isn't doing as well as hoped. Now Final Fantasy, in Japan, is the number one property in the games business, doing a massively multiplayer game for the number one console in its home territory, should be about as good a job as you're going to be able to do with massively multiplayer online. Final Fantasy XI, from what I can tell, is not doing well at all. So here's the way it's described to me. If you're a PS2 player, and you want to play Final Fantasy online, which there are obviously millions of people who probably do want to do, first you have to get the adapter. They sold in about 100,000 adapters, but they sold through very few. Already you've gone from millions to tens of thousands. After you have the adapter, you have to have your Playstation 2 at a place in your house where there is a network connection, and you have to know how to actually make that physical connection. Don't forget that most console players are used to putting in the CD and turning the thing on, and it works.

GF!: That's why they're buying consoles.

Garriott: That's why you're buying a console vs. a PC. So most of them do not know how to hook up something to the Internet. Next thing is that you actually have to have an ISP functioning, you have to have internet service, which is another barrier of entry. Then after that you have to be able to connect to Square [makers of Final Fantasy] and create an account on their hardware, including a credit card or whatever their billing structure is. After you've passed those tests, then you can play the game. So it turns out that very few people are getting through all of those hurtles. That's the main reason. The kicker is that I also think the game was not designed well. I've never played it, but based on the feedback I've heard, which is that people who play Final Fantasy games are used to grand cinematic, with a fairly simple, easy to play style.

GF!: And traditionally, Final Fantasy makes you the avatar. You and your characters, that's it.

Garriott: Yes, and so most of the reviewers that I've talked to have also played Final Fantasy XI and have said that it's a lot different than Final Fantasy. The game play is unlike what people would expect from a Final Fantasy game. I think that's a unique problem for Final Fantasy, not necessarily for other products.

GF!: Blizzard may have to hurdle the same sort of thing with World of Warcraft, but they seem to be doing fine.

Garriott: I think they're doing fine too. They're going to do fine.

GF!: I think they're holding over the right elements, and drawing from all their games, like Diablo, not just Warcraft.

Garriott: I think they're going to do great. I'm a fan, so I think they'll do fine.

GF!: On the consoles, would you say that Nintendo, then, is actually in a better position in the way that they're looking at future plans, not emphasizing online gaming as much.

Garriott: I think consoles and online are going to be a real challenge with this generation of machines. I think the only way that online and consoles will work, in my mind, is when a console has the adapter built in, which some do, I know, and then literally you plug it into a wall outlet, and everything else happens automatically. It understands the issues of connecting through the Internet and it handles that on its own; it connects to the game creator on its own, and it launches the game to the service on its own. It's got to be plug and play like people are accustomed to on consoles. That's why they're buying the consoles. If it requires that you have PC expertise, much less a keyboard, like the Final Fantasy one basically does, then you're only selecting PC owners.

GF!: Which brings up another point. Because consoles don't necessarily have keyboards, communication happens in other ways. For example, Microsoft is bundling a headset with their online package. Do you see that sort of thing taking off on the PC side of things?

Garriott: Sure, I think voice is a very compelling part of the future. It's also currently a huge bandwidth hog, and so broadband will defiantly make that much more useful. With broadband, though, I intend to do voice. I think it will be a big part of it.

GF!: Is that being incorporated into the project you guys are working on now?

Garriott: It's hotly debated. The director is my antagonist in this particular debate. I'm pro, he's con. His perspective is that a large part of the market isn't broadband yet, and so we'd be jumping the gun, and I'm still pushing because I'm more a full speed ahead, who cares how much it costs, and we'll figure out the bandwidth. We'll see how that one plays out.

GF!: If you were to choose an individual feature, not necessarily from the project you're working on right now, but a feature from all the projects you're involved with, what would you say personally is the coolest thing?

Garriott: I actually think that there is a feature in Lineage that is the best, fundamental MMP feature, and it's a feature you don't see until you get into the game a-ways, which is one of the things I'm trying to change about Lineage. If you think about most MMPs, they all try to offer other forms of activities, but what most people spend their time doing is leveling up, and then leveling up some more. Lineage has an infinitely better elder game than all the other online games so far. What that is, is that Lineage actually has regions of the game, territories -- continents, we'll call them , which then have regional control of the castle that the player groups can conquer, and once they own it, they can now adjust the taxation rates off all the shops in the entire region. This gives their group money, which they can then use to buy allies to help defend their territory. If they tax too high nobody trades in their zone, and they lose allies, people quickly try to overthrow them. If you set it too low, everyone loves your territory, everyone loves you as king, but you don't have enough money to protect yourself from the people who move in to take over. No one group can usually take a castle, and so if you don't make enough money you can't sustain your partnerships that helped you take and defend the castle. Technologically, that's a very simple feature. Design wise, it was a brilliant feature. It turns out that was what made all the Lineage's stickier. People play longer, in terms of months, than in any other online game. I think it is largely due to their elder game design.

GF!: So we can assume that you're patching that over into the projects your working on now, or some variation on it?

Garriott: We're going to have to think of some variation of it for Tabula Rasa. In fact, we don't really have one, because Tabula Rasa is not a game about PvP style conquest as is the theme of Lineage. With Tabula Rasa that is not the focus. The focus is actually more cooperative, and uncovering the mystery of this very powerful hub world that has been discovered, and about how and why these connections to outlying worlds exist. We will think of some variation of that, though.

GF!: Dealing with the graphical look and feel of? you notice I'm not trying to pronounce it because I don't want to butcher the name.

Garriott: Well, so you know, the name Tabula Rasa is a Latin word that means ˜blank slate' and if you look in the dictionary it will say it's, "A desire or need to start again." For us we're starting over in the post-Ultima era, which makes it a good working title, but it won't be our final title. Nobody knows what it means, and it's really hard to pronounce.

GF!: It sounds cool, though. As for the look and feel what are your intentions? For example, Blizzard is aiming for the bright colors atmosphere of Warcraft. Anarchy Online has a much darker look to it than that. What are you guys looking at?"

Garriott: Unfortunately I have very little to report on that front, both because it's very hard to describe, and because it's still evolving. That's actually turned out to be one of our hardest problems to face as a design team. We wanted it to be this off-earth thing. Well, how alien do we want it to be? Too alien is uncomfortable, but you don't want it to be Earth-like either. So you don't want it to be Earth-like, you don't want it to be alien. Uh-oh. What's that? And you don't want it to be futuristic square or triangular buildings, but we don't want it to be brick and mortar historical. Again, what is that? What is this non-standard future looking, but also not contemporary or historical? That's a tough call. That's probably been our biggest challenge figuring out the look and feel for the play environment. Over the last year we've done a lot of iteration and refining, and we finally, literally only a month or two ago, think we've finally found fundamental pieces of our architecture, fundamental parts of our flora and fauna, where we can say, "Ok, this is it."

GF!: If you could give me any kind of a brief comparison, what would you give me?

Garriott: I wouldn't. I can't. For one I'd be shot by the team if I represented it accurately, since we believe we just got it, and it's too tenuous, but also there are good odds it will change again.

GF!: That's fair. Final few questions then, probably. What interesting thing could you tell me that you haven't already said in one of your other hundred interviews you've given today?

Garriott: Wow. Yikes. That's too hard. Let's think, what can we do? Hmmmm. Well, this isn't exactly a great answer, but one of the things I'm most excited about is the role that our Austin office has taken on as far as NC worldwide. One of the things that we believe we brought to the table with our Austin office is all of the Ultima history, all the people who worked on it, and all the experts we developed. Of course, NCSoft has conquered Asia very well, and we've conquered the U.S. fairly well over the years, but one of the roles we're hoping to provide for our new global company is to not just develop a new product, but also attract new people. For example, Cryptic with City of Heroes. There's another new game that we have in the works that we've now signed on as of a couple months ago, I can't tell you the name, I'm not sure if we even have a name for it, but in about a month, within a few weeks, we'll know about it. It's another game that I'm very excited about. Again, not medieval sword and sorcery, not science fiction space opera. I know that's rather vague, but watch here, because we have another product to announce here shortly. It won't be shipping by next E3, we're saving it for next E3, but we'll announce it shortly after the show.

GF!: I know that I said that was going to be the last question, but one more. In general, how many titles does NCsoft currently produce?

Garriott: So we have Lineage, Lineage Forever , which will replace Lineage, Lineage II, Tabula Rasa, City of Heroes, the new game, and probably even in the long term only one or two more, until we get one out. We think that we want to be releasing between two and four products per year, ever. That would be the maximum.

GF!: Yes. Producing an online game is different than producing a single player product.

Garriott: Exactly. If you're EA, you can do one every month, or every week, but we also want to keep our support up.

GF!: Truly last question now, a little bit more personal. You're known for, of course, Lord British, but also for leading a very adventurous lifestyle. Are you planning anything in the works, and when are you heading for space?

Garriott: Oh yes, so space being the holy grail, that one's still a little bit way off. I have to have 15 or 20 million dollars to make that a reality, and that's going to be a while. However, I just got back from Antarctica where we went hunting meteorites, in January. And then in July I'm taking my girlfriend and her daughter down to Mid-Atlantic hydrothermal vents to go look at some of the earliest life forms on the planet.

Click here for Part 1...