Richard Garriot (Lord British)
Interviewed by Peter Ellison
Richard Garriot (Lord British)
Interviewed by Peter Ellison
Richard Garriot (Lord British) co-founder of Origin Systems is known for his creations of Ulitma I,II, and III. Richard and his partner, Charles Bueshe, in the past year have made quite an impact on the computer software market.
Q. When did you first become interested in computer programming?
A. It goes way back to my freshmen year in high school. Although I was living in Houston, my Dad got a fellowship from NASA, where he works as an Astronaut, to go back to Stanford University(where he used to be a professor) and take some updated electronic courses. The whole family moved out there for nine months, one school year. While I was out there, I went to a high school that was made up of primarily University professors` kids. Because of that, the school had a very high engineering oriented curriculum. That one school district had three big mainframe computers, just to itself. It had a HP-2000 an HP-3000 and the language department had its very own computer though they didn't even know what it was. What this all means, is that in the school I went to, virtually every classroom had a computer terminal in it and it was just about impossible to get involved to some degree in computers. That was quite a way back when most high schools didn't have any computers at all.
Q. What was the first computer that you owned?
A. The first one that I owned was an Apple, and I got it when I graduated from high school. My father and I split the cost on an AppleII. The AppleII plus came out about two weeks after I bought my first Apple, and since I was working at the time at a Computerland store, I traded my AppleII in for a AppleII plus immediately.
Q. Did you go to University after finishing high school?
A. Yes, I went to the University of Texas and have never completed my degree, but I was studying electrical engineering. I went for two and a half years and then transferred to the University of Houston, so that I could continue other work. Although I'm not in school right now, I would like to eventually finish my degree.
Q. What was the first program which you sold commercially and for what company?
A. The first program was called `Akalabeth`. The last three years in high school I was actually writing fantasy role playing games on the schools' computer, and during that time completed twenty-eight different ones. My school didn't have a teacher beyond first year to teach computers, so, actually, this was a course that I had all to myself, with basically no teacher and a guaranteed "A" grade. Then when I got my Apple, the first logical thing to do was to turn around and write one of these games I had written on the schools' computer, onto the personal computer. `Akalabeth` was actually a rewrite of my 28th school computer game. It was sold through a company by the name of California Pacific.
Q. When was Origin Systems started and by whom?
A. It was started exactly a year and one month ago by myself, and Chuck Bueshe, who is also a nationally published author. We both used to publish through Sierra On-line just before we started this company. Also, he was a roomate at college, so we've known one another for quite a while. Also amoung the founders of this company is my older brother, Robert Garriot, and my parents, who became fairly small investors.
Q. How big is the programming staff at Origin and are there any freelance programmers outside the company?
A. Technically everybody is freelance, including myself. Chuck(Charles Bueshe) and I actually work in the office, so we call ourselves resident freelancers. We're the only two resident freelancers, but we do have three outside freelancers who do both translations and some original work. Also Andy Greenburg, author of Wizardry(tm), is working for us. He is currently working on a new game called, `Ogre`. That should be ready in the next couple of months.
Q. How did you think of the name Lord British for a pen-name?
A. Lord British was a name which was given to me by accident. In my Sophmore year in high school, I went to the University of Oklahoma to take some summer high school non-credit courses. The first thing to do when I got to my dorm was to take my stuff and throw it on my bed. There were a few people that had come ahead of me and were already in the dorm. They came over and knocked at the door and I said,`Come in.` They came in and said, `Hi` and I said, `Hello`. They said, `Hello?` Nobody from around here says hello, you must be from Britian, so we'll call you British. The reason why the name stuck, was later I found out that I was really born in Cambridge, England. Although I only lived in England for one month of my life, its not like I could have picked up an English accent.
Q. Did Dungeons & Dragons inspire a lot of your ideas in the Ultima series?
A. Although Dungeons & Dragons was the first fantasy role playing game I learned, it wasn't the only game, because there are so many others quite similar. I think I was influenced by a great variety of them, although the fantasy role playing games like D & D, played a big role in it.
Q. How long did it take you to program UltimaI, UltimaII, and UltimaIII?
A. Each one seemed to take about the same amount of time, one year. Thats really been kind of luck, as they each tend to come out around Christmas time, which is a good time to come out, but it was never intentional, up until this year. Now that I'm working on UltimaIV, everybody is kind of expecting it by next Christmas and UltimaIV is a far bigger game than any of the previous Ultimas that I have written. It is somewhat debateable whether it will make it for Christmas this time.
Q. How long does it take Chuck to make the conversions'?
A. Chuck is a very fast converter. He does really good work and so Chuck can usually do a conversion in two to three months.
Q. When creating your games, do you first sit down and design all of the map before actually sitting down and programming it?
A. Even though that is the way your supposed to program, I don't. In fact I program very much on a real time basis, where I basically say, `Lets start in`. I virtually have little idea of what it will be like when I start in except what I usually try to do is vastly improve the graphics with each coming Ultima. I also have a pretty good idea on what I want to accomplish with the graphics. The very first thing that I do are the graphics. I start out by getting you to be able to move around a map. Then I make an editor that will allow me to make the map itself. Then I draw the continent, which the game is played on, very carefully. This whole process takes about one month. I then make a character that can move around on the newly created continent. I then see that he needs foes to fight, so I add monsters to the game. After this I create a town which he can go to and buy things. Then I realize this is all good, but he needs some quests to go on. So I add some different tasks which the player must accomplish. So I basically build the game as I'm going.
Q. Did you help Chuck in the converting of UltimaIII to the Atari?
A. Somewhat, whenever there was any need. Since he is only, somewhat, fifteen feet away from me, he can just give a holler. He really does every inch of work in the conversion, although he does have some questions to ask me, just because I write really sloppy code.
Q. After playing UltimaIII for over a month, we have had the game jam a few times. Has this problem been fixed?
A. The first few disks which were sent out had a few gliches in them, but as far as I know, these problems have now been fixed.
Q. The music for UltimaIII was very good. Did the same person do the music for the Apple version?
A. The music was initially done on the Apple and Chuck managed to get it working on the Atari.
Q. Was any special sound software used to create the music?
A. The fellow who composed the music to let it run on the Apple wrote almost all of his own editors, although he actually started out with the music system called, `the Alf Music System`. He would write it with the Alf system and then he would have to translate it into his style of code.
Q. Where do you get all of your innovative and creative ideas?
A. Many, many, many, different sources. I'm a big movie fan, and UltimaII is centered around the movie, `Time Bandits` and parallels the movie closely. That's actually the most I have ever drawn from a movie. I used to be really big into Dungeons & Dragons and that sort of stuff, of course, but we used to play very differently. We never really played by the rules, and we had very few encounters with creatures. Most of the time it was: you would enter a room and there was a puzzle to solve in the room, a technology oriented trap. I would get ideas from the different traps and puzzles that I would run, or people ran against me. You could say I plagerize everybody, in that, I take things from all areas of my life.
Q. In what direction do you see computer games going?
A. When I first got into computers, arcade games seemed to be where it was at. (the action shoot-em-up) The whole industry is now taking a very strong push into the direction where a game has to have a lot of strategy and role playing. It has to be a full-blown entertainment package. That is the way everybody is heading and, fortunately, is very close to where I have been. Each Ultima has sold at least triple the former Ultima and I'm very optimistic for UltimaIV. UltimaIII has been number two on Softsell best sellers list for quite a while.