Richard Garriott, back from space is now back in video games. Last week, his new venture Portalarium was announced. This is an adventure that comes with a challenge to you the Kotaku reader, and a tease of Ultima-meets-Farmville.
As we reported last week, Portalarium is a new venture from Garriott, aka "Lord British", the chief visionary behind the groundbreaking massively multiplayer online game Ultima Online and more recently the lead creator of failed science fiction MMO Tabula Rasa. Since leaving the company that made Tabula Rasa, the wealthy and adventurous Garriott paid his way to go into outer space on board a Russian rocket.
His gaming return is a bit of a plot twist though. When he was last in this realm he was promoting a giant video game. He's back promoting the less sexy idea of a portal that allows games to run across multiple web platforms and social networks.
That might seem like a less thrilling exploration for a man who relishes deep-sea diving and other far-flung adventures.
Well, no, Garriott told Kotaku. This fits. "There are moments when the time is right to go do something and those moments come, in my mind from moments of artistic challenge and interest and business challenge and interest. You kind of need both."
Some context, for the sceptics. Garriott knows people thought he was going the wrong way before: "I don't know if you know, out, Ultima Online, when we were pitching it and getting it started, no one wanted it," he said. "As it became a best-selling title, outselling all previous Ultimas combined, most traditional media looked at it and said, 'The graphics are three years old. It's a pretty crappy game' [but it]opened the door to what, in the last decade, has been the only growth area of gaming which was online gaming."
Now Garriott believes that casual games are taking over - and by casual games he means games that anyone can play at any time. That includes people who won't go to a store to buy a game, but want to hang out with their friends and play games their friends are playing online and send them a link to - no installation, no instructions, no headaches needed. Those potential "casual gamers" includes him, who plays many and most of his games on his iPhone these days.
And, believe it or not, that audience Garriott believes the kind of gaming model he's advocating is great for even includes those who might consider themselves Farmville-hating, console-loving, so-called hardcore gamers.
"Pick your favourite game," he said. "If your favourite game could have been delivered in a way to where you didn't have to make an up-front investment, you didn't have to read the instructions, you could just sit down and play it; it was available just by somebody sending you a link; and only after you played it and were hooked on it would you then have to pay for it, I guarantee you that would be a game you would find even better than your current favourite game. And yet you just would have met the criteria of what I think is important in this casual gamer framework." Frankly, Garriott said, his old colleagues who made Guild Wars achieved their success with their online game for meeting many of those standards.
All that said, the first game from Portalairum is... not a Lord British MMO... not Ultima Online all over again... it's a poker game: Sweet @$! Poker, to be specific.
He's back with a poker game? Just go look, Garriott said. "Just go compare the qualitative aspects of our poker game to the qualitative aspects of the ones that are already kicking the butts of every game they've ever played from a financial standpoint. And I believe it will be very clear from a little inspection why ours is tangibly easier to use, faster to load , faster to install, smoother graphics, everything. And that's purely because of the foundation we decided to build upon. Then you can extrapolate and go, 'OK, I know that a quality game can be produced even launched through one of these community portals. Well... as soon as they start making MMO-type games, that will be something I'll be interested in."
Garriott said his new venture will be producing a couple of in-house games and a couple of third-party games.
"Today we're talking about the Portalarium," Garriott said. "We have yet to announce quote-unquote my game.. what motivates me is to go back and make Ultima-esque, familiar Ultima-esque games. But I believe the right place is to do that on this platform."