When I was 13 years old, in 1985, I discovered Ultima IV. This was a top-down role-playing computer game. It was unlike any other game I’d ever played. For one thing, the world was richly detailed and interactive. For another, even more important, the game was not about killing monsters. It was about 8 virtues that you, as the character, had to preserve. If you stole gold from someone, that affected your honesty. If you ran away from a fight, that affected your courage. If you bragged to a villager, it affected your humility. It was a paradigm-shifting experience for me. I loved playing the game. And I loved the sequels that followed.
The game was created by Richard Garriott, a.k.a. Lord British. Last week, I read Garriott’s new book, Explore/Create: My Life In Pursuit of New Frontiers, Hidden Worlds, and the Creative Spark. The book is a delightful journey through the life of someone who has done more than just create virtual worlds, but someone who has seen more of our world than most people alive today ever will.
Garriott’s book, as the title suggests, alternates between two big parts of his life: exploration, and creation. Garriott has been to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, and toured the Titanic. He was also a space tourist, flying on a Russian Soyuz rocket for a 2-week stay on the International Space Station. (Garriott’s father, Owen Garriott, was a NASA astronaut, spending 60 days on Skylab, and flying the Space Shuttle.)
But Garriott also had a creative vision, and was the brains behind some of the best computers games ever created, including the Ultima series of games.
The book is packed with anecdotes from Garriott’s experiences, from performing magic tricks for moonwalkers like Ed Mitchell, to the evolution of the 8 virtues in the Ultima games. While I enjoyed the exploration parts of the book, I loved the “create” sections. I loved learning how the Ultima games came to be, loved learning how features were added, and how the games grew and evolved over time.
Explore/Create is a fun read, especially for anyone with the explorer bug, or anyone who loves computer role-playing games.
A few years ago, I learned that Garriott was Kickstarting a new game, Shroud of the Avatar, which would be a 21st century descendant of the Ultima games. I became an early backer, and watching the game evolve over time as it gets closer and closer to release has been a joy. As a backer, I have access to early releases, and have played the game with the Little Man, who also seems to get as much joy out of it as I do.
If you are interested in exploration, creation, a polymath, and old-school RPGs, I recommend Garriott’s book. It’s a treat.