GF!: Moving on, are you involved
with Lineage 2 at all?
Garriott: Yes. The
majority of my work, like I said, is on Tabula Rasa, but next down the importance scale is
for me to spend time on Lineage, be it one or two. Were trying to make sure we
create a game that is a worldwide game, not merely an Asian game. With Lineage Forever,
which Jake is working on, which is really the next big change. This is episode ten that
were on now, and once they get to twelve, were actually doing a major revamp
of Lineage 1, called Lineage Forever, that were not even showing here. Thats
separate from Lineage 2, which is a whole different play dynamic than the world of
Lineage, whereas the revamp that were talking about is actually a full 3D game, but
still a largely top down view rendered in 3D.
GF!: Is there anything you can tell me about Lineage Forever, even though youre
not announcing it yet?
Garriott: Not much more that what I just told you. Its a complete client rewrite
with the same server. Lineage 2 is all new code, server, and client. Everything, as well
as new game play features, whereas Lineage Forever is a new client rewrite.
GF!: Is the look and feel of Lineage 2 going to make its way over into Lineage 1 at any
No, actually what were trying to do with Lineage is a little different. I actually
think that the individual pieces of artwork in Lineage are beautiful. The problem with
Lineage has been things like the animation is only four frames of animation for walking,
which weve changed in episode 11. One of the problems weve had with Lineage is
that weve now patched so much art in that, especially with the new twelve frames of
animation, it is gigantic. The visual style we actually dont want to change, because
we have four million players who are emotionally involved in the look and feel of this
game. And one of the mistakes wed made with, say, Ultima Online when we went to
Third Dawn, where we made a lot of 3D characters
GF!: For the record, four million players is by far the largest online gaming base,
Garriott: Its larger than all other online games in the world combined, probably
So, we cant afford to offend these four million players, who are such a major
economic resource for us, and so were not going to tinker with the look and feel. By
taking it over to the 3D, it means that the art becomes much more compact. For example,
you only need a texture map for one frame of information, and the other twelve frames of
information is just a delta on a skeleton, which is very compact compared to texture
mapping. It is a necessary move for us to continue the evolution of this game, plus it
happens to also be more fit for the U.S. market. I dont think that our style is
inappropriate for the U.S. market, its some of the technological aspects of it, and
a lot of the user interface, and the newbie experience, which I think has prevented
Lineage from being adopted quickly here in the United States.
GF!: Its the casual gamer vs. the hardcore gamer issue?
GF!: Speaking of that sort of thing. Sony and Microsoft are heavily pressing online
gaming as the next thing for the console. Are there any plans for NCsoft, who is basically
a publisher of exclusively online games, to carry their expertise over to the other
Garriott: No, actually I dont think that this round of platforms are going to
work for online games. I think the perfect first example is the rumor Ive heard
about Final Fantasy XI. Youll have to confirm this for yourself, because this is
rumor that youre getting third hand, but my understanding based upon the
Japanese press that Ive talked to here at the show, and even the Japanese business
people and competitors Ive talked to at the show, have said that Final Fantasy XI
isnt doing as well as hoped. Now Final Fantasy, in Japan, is the number one property
in the games business, doing a massively multiplayer game for the number one console in
its home territory, should be about as good a job as youre going to be able to do
with massively multiplayer online. Final Fantasy XI, from what I can tell, is not doing
well at all. So heres the way its described to me. If youre a PS2
player, and you want to play Final Fantasy online, which there are obviously millions of
people who probably do want to do, first you have to get the adapter. They sold in about
100,000 adapters, but they sold through very few. Already youve gone from millions
to tens of thousands. After you have the adapter, you have to have your Playstation 2 at a
place in your house where there is a network connection, and you have to know how to
actually make that physical connection. Dont forget that most console players are
used to putting in the CD and turning the thing on, and it works.
GF!: Thats why theyre buying consoles.
Garriott: Thats why youre buying a console vs. a PC. So most of them do not
know how to hook up something to the Internet. Next thing is that you actually have to
have an ISP functioning, you have to have internet service, which is another barrier of
entry. Then after that you have to be able to connect to Square [makers of Final Fantasy]
and create an account on their hardware, including a credit card or whatever their billing
structure is. After youve passed those tests, then you can play the game. So it
turns out that very few people are getting through all of those hurtles. Thats the
main reason. The kicker is that I also think the game was not designed well. Ive
never played it, but based on the feedback Ive heard, which is that people who play
Final Fantasy games are used to grand cinematic, with a fairly simple, easy to play style.
GF!: And traditionally, Final Fantasy makes you the avatar. You and your characters,
Garriott: Yes, and so most of the reviewers that Ive talked to have also played
Final Fantasy XI and have said that its a lot different than Final Fantasy. The game
play is unlike what people would expect from a Final Fantasy game. I think thats a
unique problem for Final Fantasy, not necessarily for other products.
GF!: Blizzard may have to hurdle the same sort of thing with World of Warcraft, but
they seem to be doing fine.
Garriott: I think theyre doing fine too. Theyre going to do fine.
GF!: I think theyre holding over the right elements, and drawing from all their
games, like Diablo, not just Warcraft.
Garriott: I think theyre going to do great. Im a fan, so I think
theyll do fine.
GF!: On the consoles, would you say that Nintendo, then, is actually in a better
position in the way that theyre looking at future plans, not emphasizing online
gaming as much.
Garriott: I think consoles and online are going to be a real challenge with this
generation of machines. I think the only way that online and consoles will work, in my
mind, is when a console has the adapter built in, which some do, I know, and then
literally you plug it into a wall outlet, and everything else happens automatically. It
understands the issues of connecting through the Internet and it handles that on its own;
it connects to the game creator on its own, and it launches the game to the service on its
own. Its got to be plug and play like people are accustomed to on consoles.
Thats why theyre buying the consoles. If it requires that you have PC
expertise, much less a keyboard, like the Final Fantasy one basically does, then
youre only selecting PC owners.
GF!: Which brings up another point. Because consoles dont necessarily have
keyboards, communication happens in other ways. For example, Microsoft is bundling a
headset with their online package. Do you see that sort of thing taking off on the PC side
Garriott: Sure, I think voice is a very compelling part of the future. Its also
currently a huge bandwidth hog, and so broadband will defiantly make that much more
useful. With broadband, though, I intend to do voice. I think it will be a big part of it.
GF!: Is that being incorporated into the project you guys are working on now?
Garriott: Its hotly debated. The director is my antagonist in this particular
debate. Im pro, hes con. His perspective is that a large part of the market
isnt broadband yet, and so wed be jumping the gun, and Im still pushing
because Im more a full speed ahead, who cares how much it costs, and well
figure out the bandwidth. Well see how that one plays out.
GF!: If you were to choose an individual feature, not necessarily from the project
youre working on right now, but a feature from all the projects youre involved
with, what would you say personally is the coolest thing?
Garriott: I actually think that there is a feature in Lineage that is the best,
fundamental MMP feature, and its a feature you dont see until you get into the
game a-ways, which is one of the things Im trying to change about Lineage. If you
think about most MMPs, they all try to offer other forms of activities, but what most
people spend their time doing is leveling up, and then leveling up some more. Lineage has
an infinitely better elder game than all the other online games so far. What that is, is
that Lineage actually has regions of the game, territories -- continents, well call
them which then have regional control of the castle that the player groups can
conquer, and once they own it, they can now adjust the taxation rates off all the shops in
the entire region. This gives their group money, which they can then use to buy allies to
help defend their territory. If they tax too high nobody trades in their zone, and they
lose allies, people quickly try to overthrow them. If you set it too low, everyone loves
your territory, everyone loves you as king, but you dont have enough money to
protect yourself from the people who move in to take over. No one group can usually take a
castle, and so if you dont make enough money you cant sustain your
partnerships that helped you take and defend the castle. Technologically, thats a
very simple feature. Design wise, it was a brilliant feature. It turns out that was what
made all the Lineages stickier. People play longer, in terms of months, than in any
other online game. I think it is largely due to their elder game design.
GF!: So we can assume that youre patching that over into the projects your
working on now, or some variation on it?
Garriott: Were going to have to think of some variation of it for Tabula Rasa. In
fact, we dont really have one, because Tabula Rasa is not a game about PvP style
conquest as is the theme of Lineage. With Tabula Rasa that is not the focus. The focus is
actually more cooperative, and uncovering the mystery of this very powerful hub world that
has been discovered, and about how and why these connections to outlying worlds exist. We
will think of some variation of that, though.
GF!: Dealing with the graphical look and feel of
you notice Im not trying
to pronounce it because I dont want to butcher the name.
Garriott: Well, so you know, the name Tabula Rasa is a Latin word that means
blank slate and if you look in the dictionary it will say its, "A
desire or need to start again." For us were starting over in the post-Ultima
era, which makes it a good working title, but it wont be our final title. Nobody
knows what it means, and its really hard to pronounce.
GF!: It sounds cool, though. As for the look and feel what are your intentions? For
example, Blizzard is aiming for the bright colors atmosphere of Warcraft. Anarchy Online
has a much darker look to it than that. What are you guys looking at?"
Garriott: Unfortunately I have very little to report on that front, both because
its very hard to describe, and because its still evolving. Thats
actually turned out to be one of our hardest problems to face as a design team. We wanted
it to be this off-earth thing. Well, how alien do we want it to be? Too alien is
uncomfortable, but you dont want it to be Earth-like either. So you dont want
it to be Earth-like, you dont want it to be alien. Uh-oh. Whats that? And you
dont want it to be futuristic square or triangular buildings, but we dont want
it to be brick and mortar historical. Again, what is that? What is this non-standard
future looking, but also not contemporary or historical? Thats a tough call.
Thats probably been our biggest challenge figuring out the look and feel for the
play environment. Over the last year weve done a lot of iteration and refining, and
we finally, literally only a month or two ago, think weve finally found fundamental
pieces of our architecture, fundamental parts of our flora and fauna, where we can say,
"Ok, this is it."
GF!: If you could give me any kind of a brief comparison, what would you give me?
Garriott: I wouldnt. I cant. For one Id be shot by the team if I
represented it accurately, since we believe we just got it, and its too tenuous, but
also there are good odds it will change again.
GF!: Thats fair. Final few questions then, probably. What interesting thing could
you tell me that you havent already said in one of your other hundred interviews
youve given today?
Garriott: Wow. Yikes. Thats too hard. Lets think, what can we do? Hmmmm.
Well, this isnt exactly a great answer, but one of the things Im most excited
about is the role that our Austin office has taken on as far as NC worldwide. One of the
things that we believe we brought to the table with our Austin office is all of the Ultima
history, all the people who worked on it, and all the experts we developed. Of course,
NCSoft has conquered Asia very well, and weve conquered the U.S. fairly well over
the years, but one of the roles were hoping to provide for our new global company is
to not just develop a new product, but also attract new people. For example, Cryptic with
City of Heroes. Theres another new game that we have in the works that weve
now signed on as of a couple months ago, I cant tell you the name, Im not sure
if we even have a name for it, but in about a month, within a few weeks, well know
about it. Its another game that Im very excited about. Again, not medieval
sword and sorcery, not science fiction space opera. I know thats rather vague, but
watch here, because we have another product to announce here shortly. It wont be
shipping by next E3, were saving it for next E3, but well announce it shortly
after the show.
GF!: I know that I said that was going to be the last question, but one more. In
general, how many titles does NCsoft currently produce?
Garriott: So we have Lineage, Lineage Forever which will replace Lineage,
Lineage II, Tabula Rasa, City of Heroes, the new game, and probably even in the long term
only one or two more, until we get one out. We think that we want to be releasing between
two and four products per year, ever. That would be the maximum.
GF!: Yes. Producing an online game is different than producing a single player product.
Garriott: Exactly. If youre EA, you can do one every month, or every week, but we
also want to keep our support up.
Truly last question now, a little bit more personal. Youre known for, of course,
Lord British, but also for leading a very adventurous lifestyle. Are you planning anything
in the works, and when are you heading for space?
Garriott: Oh yes, so space being the holy grail, that ones still a little bit way
off. I have to have 15 or 20 million dollars to make that a reality, and thats going
to be a while. However, I just got back from Antarctica where we went hunting meteorites,
in January. And then in July Im taking my girlfriend and her daughter down to
Mid-Atlantic hydrothermal vents to go look at some of the earliest life forms on the