Why I love Ultima but am worried about Shroud of the Avatar

I’m a big Ultima fan. My first Ultima game was Ultima IV back in my freshman or sophomore year of high school. It was my first expose to an RPG and it was awesome. The cool 8bit graphics. The cute midi sounds. But the story was epic. I kept a notebook with all of the things i found (there were no in-game journals back then). If you didn’t know how to do something, there was no internet filled with cheats. You had to figure it out or ask your friends if they knew. That was it. But i got through the game. I found all the hidden things. I replayed it 2 or 3 times as different character classes.

And never once did i own any property. I was an adventurer. Everything i needed was in my backpack. Some food, some weapons, some reagents. If i wanted a bed to sleep in or a nice meal, i’d find an inn or tavern. Those were the good old days.

After that, i played Ultima III, then Ultima VI (somehow I skipped Ultima V – i must have been pretty busy with school or something). Along comes Ultima VII (more than one of them even). Then Ultima VIII, then a retro pack with all the past games, so i played Ultima 0, 1, and 2. Still never quite got around to 5. Oh well. Of course i played Ultima IX. And finally a few years later, I even signed up to be a beta tester for Ultima Online.

Sadly, after a day or so, i couldn’t take it anymore. Running around digging for gold, chopping down trees, trying to build up skill points. It was kind of boring and i soon lost interest. I hear it got better. I don’t know – i didn’t bother to go back.

But now here we are, several years later (a decade perhaps?) and Richard is at it again. He starts a kickstarter for a new Ultima inspired game: Shroud of the Avatar. How awesome. Another chance to visit one of my favorite all time RPG series. Naturally i sign up so i can play the early beta a year before the game gets released. I follow the updates on a semi-regular basis. I don’t troll the forums for all the minutia (i have a day job now you know), but i keep up on what’s going on. And this is where things start to make me nervous.

For the last several weeks or months, all the talk and excitement has been about virtual property, virtual homes and castles and all the cool furniture you can put in your house. Really? REALLY? I’m an adventurer. I want to go out and slay dragons, rescue damsels, fight evil wizards and save the world. I don’t want to have to worry about bandits robbing my house, paying taxes on property in some city, keeping the grass mowed, and keeping up with the Jonses. That would completely suck the life out of this game.

I’ve played other games where you owned property. Most notably NeverWinter Nights and DragonAge. You don’t start off as a land owner, but if you get far enough in the game you end up with a castle and you have to take care of it. You have to pay for upkeep and defenses and workforce labor, and … those are pretty much the point in the game where i stop playing and move on to something else.

I sincerely hope that Shroud of the Avatar doesn’t require a home to be a fun game. If i can’t carry it in my pack, i don’t want it. It’s extra cruft that will hinder my fun, not enhance it. Having said that, of course i’m still going to give it a try, but the first time i’m forced to buy a house somewhere to continue progressing is the day i stop playing.

Life is an adventure – Just say YES

I was just reading an interview with Richard Garriott (the first 2nd generation astronaut) in which he was talking about his trip into space. But he also spent some time discussing how he got to be in the position he’s in. As a young boy his dad was an astronaut with NASA and flew aboard Skylab! (He also did a shuttle mission later on). His mom was an artist. He was an impressionable teenager when Dungeons and Dragons came on the scene and the first personal computers made an appearance. He was perfectly positioned to become what he’s become – the premier fantasy game designer of the 80’s and 90’s.

He’s gone on African safaris, jungle adventures canoing down the Amazon, hunting for meteorites in Antarctica, visited the Titanic at the bottom of the ocean — just to name a few. Add now he’s been to space. But it’s not just his opportunities that have given him this chance. Sure – he had the silver spoon, so to speak, but he didn’t just sit around and go to Harvard. He decided to say “yes i want to do all this crazy stuff.”

It reminds me of the movie that came out last year (2008) with Jim Carrey – “Yes man“, in which Jim’s character goes to a seminar and afterwards says yes to every opportunity that comes his way – no matter what it is. It changes his life.

In my own life, i’ve had some opportunities. Nothing as spectacular as “hey, do you want to go into space” maybe, but still – chances to do things. It’s sometimes hard for me to say yes. I like the status-quo. I’m not super adventurous. But i want to be. Maybe not to the extend Jim Carrey was (i mean, the old lady next door? *shudder*), but more so than i am. I think i’ll work on saying yes a little more often and see what kind of adventure life takes me on.

Lord British and the Immortality Drive

I was listening to a podcast today which was an interview of a true “geek hero” of mine: Richard Garriott. I suppose a little history is in order. Richard, aka “Lord British” is well known for creating the Ultima series of games. These were amazing for their time, and even today they are worth replaying now and again. Sure the graphics have aged, but the storylines never get old. I have very fond memories of the hours and months that i used to put into these games as i was growing up. I’m not a big game player, but i loved every minute of Ultima. And the few games that i do tend to play nowadays always seem to be similar (in concept) to Ultima in one way or another.

Moving on. Richard made his millions and did very well for himself. Since then he’s used his money to do some amazing things, such as go on African safari’s, ride to the bottom of the ocean on research subs (more than once), take a few trips to Antarctica. Little things like that. And recently he followed his father’s footsteps and went into space. The podcast tells the amazing story about how he was told as a young boy that he’d never be able to be an astronaut due to his poor eyesight. He determined he’d make it anyway. And now he has. Bravo! He’s someone who made the most of his opportunities, and did it in a way that didn’t suck. :)

Personally i’m a big believer … if you are lucky enough by whatever means to find your way into an extraordinarily unique and valuable location or circumstance … wherever it might be … i find that the experience is far richer, and far more fulfilling, and far more personally interesting when you can go beyond that [tourism] and find ways to bring back real value from that experience. And i don’t mean specifically commercial value as in making money, i mean value as in scientific value, or find knowledge that you can bring back and share with people that adds meaning to the experience you’ve just had.

He also mentioned that after a zero-g flight with Stephen Hawking, that the two have been working on ways to extend mankind’s reach beyond earth in case of the untimely demise of the human species (you know – asteroid impact, supernova explosion, alien invasion, zombie apocalypse, whatever the case might be). He put together a program called Operation Immortality, which is “a time capsule with the digitized DNA of select video game players and space aficionados