Richard Garriott's teletype D&D ported

June 30th, 2014 11:17 AM
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In March 2013, Richard Garriott, aka Lord British, aka the Tony Stark of gaming, announced his return to Ultima with a spiritual successor called Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues. This computer role-playing game, which will be playable both online and off, is scheduled for release in 2015. But we don't need to wait until then to see Lord British return to his roots.

This April, Garriott released the source code for his 1977 game called D&D #1, a precursor to Akalabeth, which itself was a precursor to Ultima. The code is BASIC and was written for a teletype machine. But it wasn't solely the code's historical significance that motivated its release. As a promotion for Shroud of the Avatar, Garriott announced a contest to port this ancient game to either Unity or a Web browser interface. Winners would receive the equivalent of the $500 backer tier from Shroud's Kickstarter. As always, the snarky team at LoadingReadyRun has the details:

I marvel that this programming contest could be seen as a challenge. Admittedly, the original game, roughly 1,112 lines of code, dwarfs a similar game I wrote in in 1996, a mere 624 lines of Applesoft. But a game for a teletype machine has to be even more basic than one for the Apple II, and development tools such as Unity make far more complex games even easier to develop than a BASIC game was 35 years ago. How hard could it be to port, or even develop from scratch, a new D&D #1?

Turns out a straight port might not be enough to win; it's the flair each developer implemented that earned them recognition. Sean Fahey recently alerted me that the contest winners had been announced, and that across the two categories were 24 entrants and six winners. Mundi King produced the winning Web port, though I've not been able to get past the initial prompts, being stymied by passive-aggressive "WHO SAID YOU COULD PLAY" responses. I prefer Santiago Zapata's runner-up entry, which sports an authentic interface:

Richard Flemming won the Unity version, which can also be run in your browser but requires a plugin. Flemming called the original "1,500 lines of single-letter variable names, magic numbers, and spaghetti logic."

These ports are neat bridges between Ultima's origin and future—and a timely one, given Juiced.GS's recent cover story on the fiftieth anniversary of BASIC. Though I'm not likely to spend much time playing these ports, I'm heartened to know that a new generation has the freedom to enjoy Garriott's legacy across the ages.

If you want to hear Garriott speak further about Ultima, he was interviewed by Greg Kasavin and Felicia Day at this month's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).

Lord British returns to Ultima

March 11th, 2013 9:02 AM
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Kickstarter has been a boon not only for indie developers, but for established game designers looking to return to the virtual worlds upon which their careers were founded. Shadowgate, Space Quest, Wasteland, and Leisure Suit Larry are just a few of the franchises that got their start on the Apple II and are now slated for a well-funded modern resurrection.

But none of these games carry the impact, the longevity, or the fame as the Ultima series. Lord British has heeded the call of the fans and is turning to Kickstarter to return to Britannia.

On Friday, March 6, at 10 AM CST, Richard Garriott joined fellow Austin gaming company Rooster Teeth to host a live announcement:

The punchline was Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, a new computer role-playing game that lacks the Ultima brand that Garriott can no longer claim, but which only his team owns the legacy to.

The announcement didn't need the full hour that the above video runs, but the extra time gave Garriott and hosts Burnie Burns and Gus Sorola time to reflect on how Garriott built this empire. Working in a computer store at the age of 19, Garriott began selling Akalabeth, making twice as much money in one year as his astronaut father. Garriott brought along several artifacts from those early days, including the Apple II Plus on which he developed Akalabeth. Highlights from that interview are in this gallery of screen captures from the above video.

As much fun as the reminiscing was, it wasn't hard to forget that it was a thinly veiled sales pitch. Garriott wants one million of our dollars via Kickstarter:

Donation levels include the $10 "Guilt Pledge" ("If you ever pirated an Ultima game or used an exploit to grief other players in Ultima Online, here's your chance to repent! For your $10 donation, you will receive a clear conscience and Lord British's undying gratitude") to the $10,000 "Lord of the Manor", which comes with one of 12 known copies of Akalabeth. For those of us with humbler wallets, $40 gets you early access (December 2013) to the final game (October 2014), while $125 will also get you a cloth map feelie — just like the old Ultimas!

It's been a long time since I've been a role-playing gamer, and even longer since I've done so on a computer instead of a video game console. Yet I didn't hesitate to fork over my money to Lord British. Some folks may not be sold on this heir to the Ultima empire:

But there's no denying that Garriott has earned a chance to return to his world. As Benj Edwards tweeted:

Buy Richard Garriott's house

October 20th, 2011 12:58 PM
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Britannia may be the fictional setting of the Ultima game series, but that shouldn't stop you from buying property there. For the cool sum of $4.1 million USD, Brittania Manor, the home of Richard Garriott, aka Lord British, can be yours.

Located at 8207 Two Coves Drive in Austin, Texas, the 5,900-square-foot mansion, currently for sale through RE/MAX, features all the essential amenities, including a pool, an observatory, a grotto, a waterfall, a sauna, a gazebo, and a five-car garage. The castle, built in 1987, appears to be in an excellent state of upkeep.

Britannia Manor is famous for its biennial haunted mansions, for which Mr. Garriott spared no expense. But assuming the house isn't truly haunted, it raises the question: why is the house for sale? Surely someone who can afford a trip to outer space isn't hurting for money. Maybe Mr. Garriott needs to fund his geocaching adventures?

(Hat tip to Jason Scott and Nathan Bernier)

Tributes to Steve Jobs

October 10th, 2011 10:10 AM
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Between last week's video and a special episode of the Open Apple podcast, I've said all I can about Steve Jobs' passing. But many others have shared more eloquent thoughts than mine, and I'd like to share some of my favorites here.

The Open Apple shownotes link to several celebrities' social media tributes. Among those not mentioned are Richard Garriott, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.

On the visual front, there have been many artistic interpretations, including from the New Yorker and XKCD.


No replacements found


There's always the hope that if you sit and watch for long enough, the beachball will vanish and the thing it interrupted will return.


New Yorker


Pailheads


BoingBoing.net temporarily reskinned their site with a familiar look.

Boing Boing

Several celebrities have offered video tributes, including liberal show hosts Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.

Read the rest of this entry »

Academic Ultima

October 7th, 2010 12:20 PM
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Before my current job at Computerworld, I taught 11th grade tech writing at a math and science charter school. My fellow teachers had an open door policy that allowed me to observe their classes, and I developed a rapport with the computer science teacher. When an emergency called her away from class one day, she asked me to fill in but left me no lesson plan. Fortunately, I'd already installed both Adventure and VisiCalc for just such an emergency. The resulting lesson in computer history was reported in Juiced.GS, though I never did get the opportunity to explore Adventure with my students.

But other educators have had the opportunity to use electronic entertainment as a learning tool. Besides the use of interactive fiction in a classroom setting, as detailed in Get Lamp, Michael Abbott has taken a more ambitious approach to virtual adventuring by introducing his students to Richard Garriott's seminal role-playing game, Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar.

In his blog, the teacher doesn't outline his learning objectives, other than puzzle-solving and note-taking. I hope his goals were not much loftier than that, because it seems these students disappointed him:

It mostly came down to issues of user-interface, navigation, combat, and a general lack of clarity about what to do and how to do it. … it [wa]sn't much fun for them. They want a radar in the corner of the screen. They want mission logs. They want fun combat. They want an in-game tutorial. They want a game that doesn't feel like so much work.

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

That looks like a lot of reading!
Photo courtesy Blake Patterson.

I'm unsure how many of these obstacles were inherent to the game, and how many were symbolic of a generational gap. Today, I often want a game that immerses me within the first five minutes, and which I can put down after ten. That means either simple gameplay (in the case of classics like Pac-Man or Qix) or familiar gameplay (like Dragon Quest VIII, an RPG I played hours on end for a total of 80, but whose mechanics had remained largely unchanged since the franchise's origin in 1986).

I was not always predisposed against learning curves. I grew up playing and enjoying Ultima, but not on the Apple II. I was and am primarily a console gamer, and I played these games' Nintendo adaptations, which vexed me with none of the issues that these students encountered. I wondered how dramatically different the NES version had been that maybe it had eased my entry into Britannia. Sure enough, one blog commenter wrote:

… have you considered giving people the NES port of Ultima IV? It faithfully retains the ethical systems design of Garriott's original while reimagining the visual aesthetics and interface design according to the conventions of JRPGs. It was how I played Ultima IV back in the day, and it's still probably a lot more in line with modern RPG convention than the original PC Ultima IV.

But I'd wager that most alumni of Ultima IV experienced it on the computer, which apparently did not preclude its success, so surely its original interface was not insurmountable. More likely is the change in gaming mores over the decades. In the book Dungeons & Dreamers, authors Brad King and John Borland relate the detail and intricacy with which the developers of Ultima Online imbued their world. Ecology, economy, and more were devised to create a world that lived and breathed along with the players. When it finally launched — the world was shot to hell. Gamers traveled into the countryside, burning trees and killing animals. No plane could long host such chaos, so the developers had to go back to the drawing board. I suspect Mr. Abbott's students would likely have contributed to that headache.

Nonetheless, I hope the blog's conclusion does not spell the end of this exercise: "I love great old games like Ultima IV, but I can no longer assume the game will make its case for greatness all by itself." Just as we have courses in art and music appreciation, it's important to understand and appreciate the origin of Ultima and other video game hallmarks. Today's gaming industry was not born in a vacuum, and just as the bold experiments of yesteryear determined the future of the genre, they still have much to teach today's gamers and programmers about what works, what doesn't, and why things are the way they are. Finding a context in which to teach that lesson is, much like the games themselves, worth the effort.

(Hat tip to Richard Garriott)

Geocaching with Lord British

September 16th, 2010 12:51 PM
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At KansasFest 2009, Ryan Suenaga presented a session entitled "Geocaching for Noobs by a Noob", in which he gave an overview of the pastime known as geocaching. This hobby requires using a GPS-eabled device to find hidden treasures that other players have planted and then logged the coordinates of at Geocaching.com.

Ryan isn't the only Apple II user with an interest in geocaching. Richard Garriott — aka Lord British, the creator of the Ultima RPG series — is also an avid geocacher, proving a love for gaming that extends beyond the electronic. But Garriott, who never does anything halfheartedly, has taken this sport to new heights — and depths!

In October 2008, when Garriott became the first second-generation astronaut, he took the opportunity to plant a geocache on the outside of the International Space Station. At an altitude of 250 miles, it became the world's highest geocache. Five years earlier, he'd left a geocache at the Rainbow Hydrothermal Vents, at the time the world's deepest geocache at 2300 meters below sea level.

Recognizing that most terrestrial geocachers would find these troves beyond their reach, Garriott has manifested his love of gaming in this real-world haunted cache. The description for the Mystery Cache Necropolis of Britannia Manor III indicates that this cache has eight chapters, a dozen secret instructions, and numerous hints and codes — an adventure worthy of an Ultima veteran. If you still can't figure it out, you can even join the Facebook group for this specific cache and get help from over two hundred other fans.

If you have a Geocaching.com account, you can view Lord British's profile and all the caches he's made or found.

Although this activity does not require an Apple II, it's evidence of the creativity the Apple II can inspire in its founding programmers, even three decades later.

(Hat tip to Bitmob)