Richard Garriott, mastermind of the Ultima
series and the ill-fated Tabula Rasa
, feels he’s written some of the best interactive dialog ever in games -– and that's no good thing for the industry.
Garriott was at DICE today discussing his long relationship with game narratives: "I as an artist, as a creator, and a gamer myself, my passion completely lies with creating and playing story-based content," he began. "As I review my 30 year career, I don't think the market has necessarily tended to reward that.”
Why? Because we keep changing the format, and it resets the play mechanic, and the platform, and everyone must start afresh, not only on the consumer side, but also on the game building side, according to Garriott.
His talk today comes just after the announcement of his new company Portalarium
, which will aim to stick with a universal browser medium. Portalarium's primary product will be a browser plug-in that effectively enables a unified platform on which its games can run within social networks.
"The vast majority of attempts to include story (in games) are failures," Garriott laments. Once, he says, a student asked him how to be a great interactive writer: "Do I know any great examples of interactive dialog writers? No. As a creator and gamer I’m passionate to find the solution to those, I just think if you’re looking at investing behind games, you have to be very careful about saying ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have story.’"
He continues: "If you spend a million dollars on it can you predict that the story will be any good, and will that story contribute to game sales?"
He wasn't advising the student that the business should not invest in story -- he wanted to illuminate the fact that story in games is an unknown quantity in terms of sales numbers, so is tough to sell to a publisher.
But when you do invest in story, don’t hire Hollywood, Garriott says. “I’ve hired very expensive Hollywood writers, and found they cannot write interactive dialog. Writing branching dialog is a skill unique to this industry.”
Returning to the discussion of the student who wanted to get into writing in games, Garriott admitted: “In spite of the fact that I don’t think I’m a good writer, I think that some of the best interactive dialog, I wrote! So that’s a double negative (for the industry).”
In terms of how to get there, Garriott pulled from his personal game playing past. "The first game I ever finished to completion that I didn’t make was Myst
," he said. Playing in that space, and exploring the world was the reward, whereas the puzzles were the hard work. In other games, it’s often the reverse. "When those elements become so integrated that you don’t see the difference,” he says, “that’s where we should be."