Lord British’s Ultimate RPG

This was Richard Garriott’s vision for the Ultimate RPG, as originally available on the Portalarium website back on 2013

I decided to reproduce it here for the sake of history, since I believe it’s an interesting topic on the history of computer games.

What is a Lord British “Ultimate” Role Playing Game?

It Begins Before Personal Computers

I was attempting to make the “Ultimate” Role Playing Game before they were called Ultima and will continue long after they have been called Ultima.

I began my pursuit of creating the “Ultimate” Role Playing Game (Ultimate RPG) around 1974 while in high school. It’s been 36 years but it feels like yesterday. 1974 was an auspicious year for me. In 1974 my sister-in-law gave me a copy of The Lord of the Rings, the first fantasy fiction I had ever read, and I was instantly hooked. Soon after, I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons which had just been released. I quickly built one of the earliest and largest gaming groups which brought together 30-100 people most every Friday and Saturday for all night gaming sessions in many rooms throughout my parent’s home in Houston. My English reports in school became fictional fantasy writings about my first fantasy world Sosaria, the basis of my D&D campaigns, as well as many of my computer games. Finally, still years before the personal computer showed up on the scene, I discovered a lone computer teletype terminal, unused by any class at the time. I convinced the faculty to let me have my own class, with no teacher or plan, other than to teach myself how to program on it, and show them the results of my work for a grade and count it as my foreign language credit. Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (BASIC) is a foreign language to most people! Right? When the school agreed, my quest for the Ultimate RPG began in earnest! My quest continues to this day.

The first generations of my games were called D&D 1-28. These were games written on the schools teletype, stored on paper tape spools and run via an acoustic modem running on a distant PDP 11. They used alpha numeric characters for graphics. “A” was a giant ant, “$” was a treasure chest yet it was unmistakably, an Ultima-like Ultimate RPG attempt, with text characters instead of the later familiar tile graphics. Graphic style is not the essential element of an Ultimate RPG.

The First Grand Era of Games – Solo Player Games

My first commercial game, one of the first commercial computer games ever, was Akalabeth. When the Apple ][ arrived on the scene, finally I could create my games with real time graphics! Fully realized 3D dungeons joined the top down outdoor scenes. Deep down this game was clearly rooted in the history of the 28 previous “D&D” games I wrote. Akalabeth was not made to be published. I made it merely for myself and my friends. It was John Mayer the manager of the Computerland store where I had a summer job, who encouraged me to spend the large sum (in those days for a high school senior) of $200 to “publish” it on the store wall

What happened next was a dizzying few months. A national game distributor on the west coast, California Pacific, quickly picked up my game and informed me they wanted to publish Akalabeth. Then the company’s president, Al Remmers, suggested we replace Richard Garriott as the author with my in-game character, Lord British. This ended up being more than just a quirky use of a pen name on the package. Lord British is me, as both the creator and as a resident representing the creation to the player from within the game I joined and shared the experience alongside the player, something which would prove more valuable over time. Participating in the world alongside you, is a valuable part of an Ultimate RPG.

{Trivia – Softalk Magazine ran a contest “Who is the real Lord British” wondering if it might be a person who lived in Los Angeles, named Beth… Also-Known-As-LA-Beth -> Akalabeth!}

Ultimas I, II & III – Learning to Craft a Game and a World

With the success of Akalabeth, I decided to start fresh with my first work intending it for public consumption. I began a game originally entitled Ultimatum! Built on much of the same code base as Akalabeth, it continued to refine the Richard Garriott virtual world building techniques. The game maps were largely based on the D&D worlds I created called Sosaria. When finished, we launched it under the name Ultima. The tile graphic world would become common and a useful tool in Ultimas to facilitate the detailed world interactions where you could touch and interact with everything you saw, not just the monsters that were pivotal to my design philosophy. Detailed world interactions are part of the essence of Ultimate RPG.

As a student of these great works of Tolkien and Gygax, I devoted even my earliest works to the creation of a reality deeper than merely fighting monsters, collecting treasure and leveling up, which was and has remained the mainstay of most every RPG experience! Complete histories, languages and writing scripts defined even these early attempts at an Ultimate RPG. Cultural history, unique languages and writing are part of the Ultimate RPG.


Ultima ][ introduced time travel. The past, present and future game play needed a familiar setting, so Earth became the playground of Ultima ][. Ultima comfortably embraced concepts as far flung as dinosaurs and space ships. Ultima ]I[ went back to Sosaria. The Ultimate RPG can live in many worlds and settings.

Ultima ][ was also one of the first games in the industry every shipped in a box, rather than a zip lock bag. After the collapse of California Pacific, numerous publishers were interested in publishing the next game in an already popular series. But when most heard my demands for a box, a cloth map and fictionally written manuals, their interest quickly faded. I believe that this devotion to making the game experience begin with the materials you had in hand, which grew to include, tarot cards, coins, amulets, magic stones and many other objects greatly deepened the bond between the player and the reality of the new world. Physical game components can deeply enrich a virtual world.

Ultima ]I[ was the first game we published through my own firm, Origin. This created another important opportunity in the quest for the Ultimate RPG. For the first time I received letters directly from you, the players. We began to form a relationship. I knew what you liked, hated and/or disagreed with or even missed what I had intended in a particular design. This created a deep personal introspection about my work, its content and its meaning.

The feedback and criticism I have received along this journey has been crucial to the crafting of the Ultimate RPG, and I continue to enjoy the direct connection I have with y’all, via social media, face to face at trade shows and my favorite…snail mail. When anyone has ever completed one of my games since Ultima III, they have always been told to “Report thy feat to Lord British.” And when people did, often in the secret languages of the games, I tried to respond to each one personally as well! Let’s keep that dialog going! Connecting with the audience is essential in crafting the Ultimate RPG.


Ultima IV, V, VI – The Hero’s Journey:

Reflecting Player Behavior in Values, Virtues and Social Issues

With Ultima IV I began my first strong effort to craft a unique world not drawn on movies, books or other games to the degree I had in my previous work. Thus the first incarnation of Britannia was born. Originality in world crafting became an important element to my designs, as did the social and virtuous context of the stories found within the game. I became a student of story crafting and the works of Joseph Campbell. Living and playing through detailed realistic worlds with stories about virtue and social issues, became the central essence of my Ultimate RPG.

Ultima V and VI continued in this vein. Reflecting to the player the results of their deeds is as important in an interactive story as it is in any linear story. It must touch the reader / player at a deep personal level to be compelling and relevant! Holding a mirror up to yourself is part of an Ultimate RPG.

While portals from Earth to my worlds were common—something I borrowed from my readings of the Chronicles of Narnia—it became essential starting with Ultima IV. In theory playing a role playing game as Conan the Barbarian is fine, but your success should be judged on how well you embody the beliefs of Conan. In Grand Theft Auto, you should be judged on how good of a thug you are. Since my story was intended to be the story of YOUR PERSONAL evolution as a person, it was important that you were you, not someone else! Fiction supporting your journey from Earth to the new world is part of The Ultimate RPG.

Ultima VII-IX – Unique & Internal Consistent Fiction

In Ultima VII, for the first time, I actually believed and planned on there being a game after the one I was working on, and thus planned characters and stories that would transcend a single game for the first time. While Ultima VII continued deepening the stories in Britannia, Ultima VIII explored a new realm with Pagan, and we concluded the trilogy of trilogies back in Britannia with Ultima IX.

In each of these games since Ultima IV, I have carefully removed overused and often plagiarized standard RPG elements like orcs and elves and instead tried to create a new, fully realized world of my own that had a sense of deep history and self-consistency. Anything that was not justified by the new reality was included. And new items were fully researched and justified. An original deep and consistent world is a critical part of the Ultimate RPG.


Far too often in magic and science fiction, a bad storyteller will solve the final problem with the last minute discovery of an unknown mystical power. This is just as bad as the adventure games I learned to dislike. In those games, unless you could guess that the designer thought it would be funny to only let you get past the yeti by throwing a cream pie in his face, the game was otherwise unsolvable. And so in the mid-numbered Ultimas I refined the designs of internally consistent pseudo science and magical concepts from reagents to linguistics. Logically constructed internally consistent fiction is part of an Ultimate RPG.


The Second Grand Era of Games – Massively Multiplayer

Starting with Ultima III, Ultimas regularly simulated multiplayer designs by providing you an artificial Non Player Character (NPC) party of friends to “share” the experience. {Trivia: Ultima III’s working title was Ultima 3D/4P. It was played in 3D dungeons with a party of four players, all of them operated by the one real person at the keyboard.} True multiplayer connectivity and richly detailed and varying interconnected roles were the chief contributions of Ultima Online! Multiplayer was a great boon to game play and popularity, but a great challenge from storytelling standpoint. Multiplayer is desirable and very challenging in any Ultimate RPG.

While there have been multiplayer games since the advent of computers, and Multi-User-Dungeons (MUDs) for many years, and the AOL dial up service and Bulletin Board Services (BBS) hosted numerous large multiplayer fantasy games, Ultima Online is regularly recognized as the first major success of the Massively Multiplayer Games era. Much to the dismay of some of those important earlier creators from whose work I learned and whose employees often joined my team, I am often referred to as the father of online gaming. A title I am very proud of in spite of the objections!

For the last decade most of the growth in the games space has been in the MMO space. While this has represented a great economic opportunity, it has also been a great creative challenge. Many players lament the story telling setback of the MMO era, where they are no longer the singular hero on the singular journey to ultimate personal success for themselves and the whole world. Yet I remain convinced, the Ultimate RPG can be made in the MMO medium.

Alongside the great challenge of making you feel ultimately unique, MMOs provide great player-to-player bonds that go far beyond what can be accomplished in a solo player game. I remember the depth of these bonds as players who met in the game got married in real life and people who died in the real world were deeply mourned and celebrated by their online friends whom they may never have met face-to-face. The power of real face-to-face interaction should not be passed over easily in the quest for the Ultimate RPG.

Most MMOs, like most solo player games, are not Ultimate RPGs, they have devolved into level grinds in beautiful but generic fantasy or sci-fi settings. While sales may be great, the Ultimate RPG is far from these examples.


Since I am no longer at the helm of UO, let’s look at where it has gone in my absence. Elves and ninjas have been added into the game, things I specifically had banned. This is only a small example of why and how Ultima has drifted away from Richard Garriott, but I have not drifted away from Ultima. Overused, irrelevant & reused RPG elements are not the essence of my Ultimate RPG.


It is clear to me that I, Richard Garriott, am an essential ingredient of at least the Ultimate Ultima, if not more broadly the Ultimate RPG. Perhaps one day, now that the people who pushed me out of EA more than a decade ago are long since gone, EA will recognize that together, we could rebuild that franchise in a way that they have failed to do in the intervening years. Richard Garriott is an essential ingredient in the Ultimate Ultima!

Now I wish I could still build in the previous world of Old Britannia. Yet until the powers at Electronic Arts see the wisdom of such a collaboration (some there do, and player pressure could help), I must plan to rebuild in a New Britannia. While in some ways it will mean I have more work to do (and you will have to wait longer to see that new world), the truth is I have lived in that world for more than 20 of my 35 years in game development, rebuilt many new worlds and look forward to the challenge of crafting this newest reality.

I would argue that Tabula Rasa strove to be a worthy Ultimate RPG. While the game was set in a new world, with new ideals, it attempted to live up to the above ideals. While we may have fallen short in some areas, I hope most can see that was our goal and we might have reached it in time. While it included real time combat, so had many Ultimas. Also, it was a future setting, as were many Ultimas. As I have said before many play styles and settings can be part of the Ultimate RPG.

The Third Grand Era of Games – Social & Mobile gaming

Today, with my new company Portalarium, and with the talents and skills of many who made Ultima an Ultimate RPG, we set forth to forge a “New Britannia,” a new world from scratch, internally self-consistent, deep and refined. We have lofty goals as an Ultimate RPG. An Ultimate RPG does not fear going where others fear or have failed.

Few believed I would find success during the years I took to craft Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar and its deeply introspective plot. Fewer yet believed in “MUltima” when we began that design journey, and it opened the doors to the MMO space. Many traditional gamers are concerned about the growth of the new social and mobile gaming and its impact on games with meaning and depth. They are doubtful that this era will provide them the Ultimate RPG experience they crave. But this new era has unearthed some powerful new tools that add to the value of an Ultimate RPG.

For example, let’s look at two hypothetical versions of Ultima Online. Version A is the version that was shipped. You drive to the store to buy it, pay $50, drive home, go through a lengthy install, subscribe for $10+ / month, create a character, get dropped into the virtual world, and about 4 hours later, you have explored the game far enough to know it’s amazing. Now imagine version B of the same game. You receive a link from a friend and click on it. You start to play immediately for free. The install and intro to the game has been written in a way that you understand the game within minutes…not hours. After you have played long enough to know it’s worth the money, you are asked to pay by whatever method you find acceptable. I would argue that with these otherwise identical games, version B would totally dominate, because it was in fact a better game and better game experience.

There are staggeringly important new features unearthed by some of the early movers in this space. Powerful new asynchronous tools allow friends in the real world to aid each other and “play” together without being forced to play online at the same time every day or risk falling out of the leveling curve and ultimately losing the ability to play with friends. Instead of paying huge upfront costs, it is better to let players try before they buy, and for those unwilling or unable to pay, it’s fair to ask them to help you bring others to the game in return for continued free play. Proper social tools are compatible with the Ultimate RPG.

So when traditional gamers look at all the “Ville” clones out there in the world, take heart! See not what is popular now, but rather what is happening in this new era that also would benefit them! A great game, like a great movie, need not be inaccessible to the masses. Great story and depth need not come at the cost of up front effort, pain and cost. Free to play does not mean the game has to be riddled with advertising and calls to spam your friends. But, for those unwilling or unable to pay fairly for what they now play, asking them to work for the developer and find us players is not unfair. Great games can and will be made in this new era, to the benefit of all, traditional and new players. We intend to be a leading maker of such games.

I continue to debate how much of the new world designs to discuss in public as we work. Some part of me wants the new direction to be as new as possible to you when it arrives fully realized. Another angle is that this world will ultimately be your world, and player participation could both help me in its crafting as well as clearly communicate its depth long before its ready. So, we will see. Likely a mix of secrecy and sharing will be the right path to tread.

Here is what I feel is safe to say: Lord British’s Ultimate Role Playing Game, which may be called “Akalabeth” or may be called “New Britannia” or may be called “a name I cannot yet say as it describes the setting I am considering and think I should keep secret at least until I know if it’s likely true,” will be an Ultimate RPG. You will have customized Avatar homesteads and real roles to play in a deep, beautifully realized highly interactive virtual world. It will have virtues and the hero’s journey reflected back to the player. It will have the best of synchronous and asynchronous features in use. Fiction will support your arrival from earth into this new world. I even hope to make maps, coins and other trinkets available to players of the game.

But, please be understanding. It took 25 years to craft all the detail in Ultima. The new world will start smaller, thinner and lighter. It will have fewer features than some or most MMOs. Critical elements of the story I have just told may be missing upon launch. But fear not, this is where we are headed. Come play with us in the brave new world. Help us grow it. Teach us about what you have learned in your years of playing. Invite in your new friends who are new to gaming. They will be a new spirit and provide new ideas about what to do. They will likely not tolerate bad instructions, bad interface or huge upfront fees, which is a good thing! We will teach and learn from them as well.

I hope you will support and join us in the creation of the best ever “Ultimate” Role Playing Game!

Thanks to you,

Lord British

a.k.a. Dr. Richard Garriott de Cayeux