Lord British: About Tabula Rasa… and Ultima 8…

“since Ultima Online was a fair time back and Tabula Rasa had its troubles, it makes perfect sense that people would go, ‘I’m cautious as to what my expectations are.'”

Dr. Richard A. Garriott de Cayeux, EuroGamer Interview III – Exodus

As noted at Massively (thanks Syp), the interviews with Lord British continue over at EuroGamer, this time focused on what went wrong with Tabula Rasa and Ultima VIII.

Not his best work

I swear, I thought he was done.  He sounded done.  He probably should have been done.  But apparently he was not done, and I’m on the Ultimate RPG train, so I am going to stick with it!

Anyway, Lord British takes full blame for both games not being up to par.  Sort of.

“Too bad, spilt milk,” he rued, “I get the blame – I get the appropriate blame, I’m the top of the food chain. It was my decisions. But that’s my excuse or rationalisation.”

And then he does go on to rationalize… or rationalise.

Essentially, it was the same problem in both cases, being forced to ship before they were done.

With Ultima VIII, the big problem was, in his view, the sports-game-centric mentality of EA, which insisted that they ship the game when they said they were going to ship.  This lead to a giant miss in the market according to Lord British.

…if we’d really just finished it properly – even the movement, the jumping that was in the game – had we done it less hacked and more accurately, we would have had a Diablo-style success a year or so before Diablo.

There but for the EA mindset, they could have beat Blizzard and their hugely successful Diablo to the punch.  I wonder if Rob Pardo is going to publicly scold him now for ceding the hack and slash RPG to Blizzard ala something Lord British said recently.

Missed opportunities though?  Was Ultima VIII really a potential competitor to Diablo?  I never made it to Ultima VIII, so I couldn’t tell you, but it seems unlikely to me.

And then there was the tale of NCsoft and Tabula Rasa.  According to Lord British, the team blew the first two years of work and had to start again from scratch, something about which NCsoft was not happy.

And whenever you start a game that is two years out of position, you’re basically already up a creek, if you know what I mean. Because what the company is not going to do is forgive the two years and forgive the millions of dollars that have already been spent. You basically are two years late and what’s taking you so long – let’s get the game out.

I’ve read more detailed insights into what transpired.  To say NCsoft was impatient is a bit of a simplification.  And from the outside it looked bad as well, what with Lord British in orbit while Arieki and Foreas burned.  15 months was all NCsoft could put up with before closing the game down.  And, in an all time class move, they fired Lord British while he was in space.  I wonder if that was a first.  He should have that on his list of accomplishments.

All of this wraps up with another mention of Lord British’s goal of the Ultimate RPG, his company’s current venture, Ultimate Collector: Garage Sale, and the previously mentioned new development processes and dedication to modern platforms such as Facebook and mobile devices.

I guess he felt the need to clear the air on past issues… though Ultima VIII was shipped more than 17 years ago, so it might be time to just let go… and he did steer clear some of his past strange statements.  He managed to stay pretty much on message while trying to explain away what went wrong with these two releases.

I’m just not sure that the end message (big bad companies made me do it) was all that helpful or if he needed to bring this up at all.  I think he would have been better off if he had stopped at the previous interview and his professing great fondness for EA, an expression somewhat undone by this interview.

10 thoughts on “Lord British: About Tabula Rasa… and Ultima 8…

  1. Tesh

    I think it’s fair to call out corporate interference. The industry is rife with it, but it’s too easy to dismiss the complaints of underlings.


  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Tesh – Oh, yes, I have had my share of “gun to the head” releases and “political” betas. It is a fact of life. It is like the myth of the “go/no go” meeting. In an organization over a certain size, the answer is always “go” no matter what is said in the meeting.

    Of course, I’ve also had the case of the underling coming to me two days before a release saying he needs six more weeks after their status has been green for the last three months. I had a rule on my team to discourage that. You could not ask for more time added to the project than what was left on the project. Essentially, you couldn’t be off your “time left” estimate by more that 100%. This was to encourage, successfully I might add, people to get problems out in the open early.

    I am just bemused about this interview because it really didn’t tell us anything new, dug at old scars, and somewhat undid what he was just saying in the previous interview. And it all came across, to me at least, as his idea, that he wanted to get this all off his chest. And while that may be my own mental spin, I cannot see that this interview did him or Portalarium much good.


  3. SynCaine

    Kinda hard to blame NCSoft for TR isn’t it? Like hi, you got nothing done in two years with millions of dollars. How exactly is that NCSoft’s fault?

    And isn’t trying to make Ultima VIII a Diablo game an insult to Ultima? Not exactly sticking with what fans loved about the series there…


  4. bhagpuss

    I have no patience at all with this “It’ll be done when it’s done” attitude. What’s wrong with “It’ll be done when we said it would be done”?

    For all the inevitable Olympics stories about everything being unfinished and needing months or even years more work, the Olympics always actually starts exactly when it is supposed to. Is making a video game really harder than organizing the biggest sporting event in the world?


  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – Well, I suppose it was NCsoft’s fault because they didn’t shut the project down when they had nothing to show for it after two years and millions of dollars.

    Of course, I am sure somebody told them there was work that could be salvaged, a good game that could come of it, and there is always the inclination to not throw away dollars and time invested. That is the generally a sign of a mature company, that they know not every project has to ship and when to cut those that won’t.

    And thank you for succinctly stating what I was trying to get across on the whole Ultima VIII as Diablo aspect.

    @Bhagpuss – The hard part with software development is knowing when to cut features. I have seen projects tumble completely out of control because the project manager could not let go of a single, minor feature… or the dev was just a day or two from solving the problem with that feature for a six month stretch… or both.

    The Olymipcs go off because they HAVE to go off and the specs are very clear. A software project can always ship next week and there is always a dozen more cool features we could pile on if we just had a bit more time.


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  7. Ian Webster

    I have to confess that I don’t understand half of what you say; you are speaking about a world I have only viewed from outside as I have watched others game. But you you say it so beautifully I have been compelled to scroll through your blog. Glad you stopped by mine.


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