The Ultimate RPG that Richard Garriott is making could, literally, become Ultima Online 2.
The estranged Ultima Online creator told Eurogamer he was talking to Electronic Arts “even now” about working together again.
“Sure,” answered Garriott, when asked whether Ultimate RPG could become UO2. “Yeah – theoretically that would be possible.
“We’ve actually talked to Electronic Arts about [Garriott leading Ultima Online again]. I would love to have access to the Ultima property. We’ve had discussions at very high levels with Electronic Arts about access to the property.
“We’re in discussions with Electronic Arts even now about a possible marketing and distribution relationships and things of this nature.
“I have a great fondness for Electronic Arts – I still think they’re one of the best, most powerful and competent sales and marketing and distribution companies in the business.”
But Garriott’s enthusiasm is matched only in part by EA.
“Electronic Arts is a big company,” he said. “There are some parts of the organisation that would love and embrace and clearly understand the logic of ‘wouldn’t it be great to work together on an Ultima’.
“And then there are other parts of the organisation who – I’m actually not sure where the resistance comes from, but it must be people who either have their own ideas about where the product should go, or have their own ideas about whether or nor I should be involved in it. And I don’t know where the counter-forces come from.
“So far we’ve not put a deal together, but of course, yeah, I would be very open to it.”
Regardless of whether an EA deal is struck, Garriott said Ultimate RPG will “clearly” be a spiritual successor to Ultima Online.
“What essentially makes an Ultima an Ultima is the principles of design,” Garriott explained. “And I’m very confident that when players sit down with this new world they will very quickly recognise that, whether or not we end up doing any deal with Electronic Arts.
“This is clearly the spiritual successor of the Ultima series.”
Richard Garriott, creator, Ultima series
“This is clearly the spiritual successor of the Ultima series,” he said.
A successor, but not a sequel – Garriott is keen for the setting to move on.
“If you look back at Ultimas 1, 2, 3 – they weren’t related to the rest [of the games]. Five of the later six games were all in literally the exact same world with the exact same characters and cities,” he recalled.
“I actually think it’s time to move on from that regardless, so even if we were to have access to the properties of my historical work, I don’t think I would change my current plans. I’m very confident of the current plans as the right way to evolve my creation, regardless.”
That setting will still be fantasy, although Garriott’s understanding of fantasy spans science fiction as well as pointy-eared elves.
“Throughout my career I’ve constantly been told by publishers around me, by sales and marketing around me, when they believe fantasy versus science fiction versus modern was alive or dead,” he recalled.
“When we first became a part of EA, I remember them telling that, ‘Richard, you better give up on all this fantasy stuff because no adult male wants to run around dressed as a man in tights. You really need to abandon that and do something more like The Matrix. That’s the only possible way there’s going to be success in this genre.’
“What I’m doing with the new world is I’m letting the story define the setting,” he explained.
“It’s really not exactly traditional in any particular way. I’m also not trying to be nearly as wildly unique as we attempted with our first tries on Tabula Rasa, which were so unique – which is one of the reasons I don’t believe people got it early on.
“It is a world that is not Lord of the Rings, it is not Harry Potter, it’s not Narnia, but a unique fantasy environment.”
“I’m trying to be very cognisant with visual iconography that people can relate to instantly. I’m also trying to tune it to make sure that it is truly a unique property, which means it is a world that is not Lord of the Rings, it is not Harry Potter, it’s not Narnia, but a unique fantasy environment.”
The evolution of setting from Ultima Online to Ultmate RPG doesn’t necessarily mean 3D. Ultima Online’s isometric presentation will likely be preserved, Garriott revealed.
“We’re going to be building it in tools that would give us the option to go either way [3D or isometric]. But our current assumption is it would be isometric,” he said.
“All the tools we’ve been building to date, all the world building – they assume that it’s isometric. But feasibly that decision could evolve, but pretty quickly that will be set in stone in a way that you can’t change and presumably isometric.”
Richard Garriott’s Ultimate RPG will be free to play, quick to access and straddle today’s biggest platforms.
“We are platform agnostic,” Garriott explained. “We will do social media, we will do downloadable executable, we will do web browser and we will do mobile, iPhone, iPad, Android.
“Our intention is to do the same game across all those. I don’t want to do the game where it plays on everything except your iPhone and we’ll do some miniature trading game or some hamstrung version. That’s not my interest.”
Garriott doesn’t want Ultimate RPG to be another FarmVille. But he is “fascinated” at how Facebook has made games about running a virtual businesses, like a farm, popular. The freedom to pursue life solely as blacksmith existed within Ultima Online, but has been neutered in games like World of Warcraft “where every player involved is first and foremost a combatant”, said Garriott.
“Ultima Online had a diversity of ways to play that has never even frankly been attempted to be repeated in the games on the arc from EverQuest through World of Warcraft,” said Garriott.
Garriott wants Ultimate RPG to support synchronous and asynchronous multiplayer – one of the “great discoveries” of the “Ville” era of Facebook games.
“You need to give people positive ways they can impact each other both in a high bandwidth, high touch way if they’re both online at the same time. But also make sure that even if we’re not online at the same time … we need to be able to interact with each other even if we have very different play habits and time frames,” Garriott explained.
“Ultima Online had a diversity of ways to play that has never even frankly been attempted to be repeated in the games on the arc from EverQuest through World of Warcraft.”
Garriott also wants you engaged in Ultimate RPG from the off. He realises that, as you’re not shelling out £40 up front, he’s got to work harder to keep you playing. It will be his “biggest challenge”, he admitted.
“The next generation of virtual world game will not work if what it basically is, is a sophisticated free-to-play MMO-light that I have to spend five hours before I really know if the game’s for me,” Garriott said.
His company Portalarium, which consists of 25 people, will build Ultimate RPG while people are playing it – a model “closer to the Minecraft route” than Star Wars: The Old Republic.
“Building a giant MMO, for example the Star Wars MMO – which I really have no idea how good, bad or otherwise that was going to be – has been an enormous amount of money and time,” Garriott said.
“If I were the investors or the publishers, it’s just scary – it’s a lot of work and it’s really scary. And that’s definitely not the way that we are intending to go even if they have great success. I hope they’re very successful – I know they’ve put a ton of work into it and I hear very good things. But that’s not the route we’re choosing.
“As soon as we have a viable game, we will immediately get it into players’ hands so that they can be a part of that creation process.
“There are players in Ultima Online who have never left and who are devout believers in the Ultima process and the Ultima properties,” he added. “I want to bring some fraction of both those new players and those traditional players in early to make sure that I can test these assumptions – platitudes – I’ve been stating. The real way to refine them is in concert with the players.”
Which leaves the question of when Ultimate RPG will be ready to play – in 2012, 2013?
“One of those. Who knows? As soon as possible, but a year or two,” said Garriott.
“We’d be very excited if we could do it in a year. And if it took two years, then so be it.”