War Stories: Lord British created an ecology for Ultima Online but no one saw it

We’re re-surfacing a few videos from days past over the Christmas 2018 break to give folks a chance to see them anew. This video, which includes footage of Richard Garriott taking rip from a bong made out of a stuffed wolf’s head, is one of our favorites.

Richard Garriott: game designer, astronaut, master haunted house maintainer.

In the ’80s and especially the early ’90s, Garriott was part of the first “rock star” cadre of game developers (along with other huge names like John Carmack, John Romero, and, of course, Chris Roberts, who worked for Garriott at a little company classic PC gamers might be familiar with) that transformed PC gaming from beeps and line art to full interactive experiences. And, after that, he flew to the International Space Station just because he could.

So when we were looking for a good interview to start off a new video series on developers who faced down interesting technical challenges, it was hard to come up with a more suitable candidate than Lord British himself.

Fortunately, Garriott was reasonably familiar with Ars and was happy to invite us to his New York home—because for Lord British, telling war stories involves talking about and talking about is a lot easier if you actually have all the games at hand. On their original platforms. In Richard Garriott’s freaking house.

No plan survives contact with the users

If we sound a little starstruck, it’s because… Our Apollo series represents one kind of huge video project: huge, multi-part, taking a year to pull together. By contrast, this video is the kickoff to a different kind—one we can do a lot more easily and regularly but which still benefits greatly from being done in video format (still pictures don’t do justice to how awesome it is to have the creator of tell stories about ).

And the specific war story being discussed? It’s about the launch of and it has a familiar refrain: the best laid plans of devs and men gang aft agley as soon as the users show up. The launch of in 1997 saw Garriott and crew scrambling to implement the basic systems of one of the founding MMORPG titles, and twenty years ago, the rules and conventions of the genre as we know it today were still very much up in the air. Garriott had to make a lot of guesses about what exactly players might want to in the game and spent a considerable amount of time building what he thought was the perfect “virtual ecology.” Of course, the game’s players had different ideas—users rarely tend to go where you want them to go, especially in games.

We sincerely hope you all have at least a fraction as much fun watching this as we had making it, and we can’t wait to bring you more of these.

(As an aside, if anyone is looking to pick up the games for some nostalgia, they’re currently on sale at GOG.)

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