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Richard Garriott’s big life of adventure detailed in ‘Explore/Create’

The globe-trotting (and space-visiting) game designer of the ‘Ultima’ series shares how exploration sparks creativity


If you are going to title a book about your life “Explore/Create,” a kind of memoir that ties together the threads of how life experience fuels creative output, you’d better have:

A. Interesting life experiences, and

B. A body of creative work worth mentioning.

Richard Garriott, who for many years has loomed large in the Austin video-game design scene, has had an incredible amount of adventure in his life and success in digital entertainment. He was a teen indie game designer before co-founding Origin Systems, one of Austin’s most successful video-game companies.

Origin Systems, which was eventually bought by Electronic Arts, ushered in a golden age of computer gaming with franchises such as “Ultima” and “Wing Commander,” games still fondly remembered, played and highly ranked in lists of the top digital games of all time.

But perhaps less known to gamers and casual observers of Garriott is that he’s never stopped exploring the world and what’s outside of it. The son of astronaut Owen Garriott, Richard has visited the wreckage of the RMS Titanic, been outside Earth’s atmosphere as a guest to the International Space Station and hunted for meteorites in Antarctica.

The book, written with David Fisher (“Bill O’ Reilly’s Legends & Lies”; “Leonard”), hit bookshelves Jan. 10 and is divided into chapters about exploration and creativity, as the title suggests.

He’ll be speaking about the book and signing copies of it at BookPeople on Sunday.

The book details at times the way these big life experiences have helped shape his video-game work, up to and including “Shroud of the Avatar,” a big episodic role-playing game he’s been working on at his company, Portalarium.

He has an enormous capacity for natural curiosity, but he also chalks up many of the experiences in the book to research that has informed his games.

“I don’t believe you can do anything original in a particular field without deeply researching outside of that field, which you may be able to use in this new field,” Garriott said in a phone interview. “The broader you cast that net, the more places you look for inspiration and ideas, the better. If you don’t preserve time for your lead designers and your lead creative people to take a broader view of the world, I think the product suffers.”

He said he made the realization after his games, which started as fantasies inspired by J.R.R. Tolkein and Dungeons & Dragons, began to develop their own voice and dig deeper into ethics and human virtues rather than simply leading players through a dungeon crawl that ends with the defeat of a big baddie.

“The reason why that transformation occurred was my devotion to research,” Garriott said.

Some of the stories in “Explore/Create” are ones he’s told on panels or on video before, now told in much more detail. For those who’ve followed Garriott’s career for a long time, it can be easy to forget the sheer number of things he’s gotten into, from the period when he was putting on elaborate, legendary haunted houses at his home in Austin to the very long, expensive journey it took to become one of the first private citizens shot into space in 2008.

With all his stories, though, it didn’t occur to him to collect them as a book until he worked with the program “The Moth” in 2011 for a live presentation of a story about his space experience.

Garriott, a frequent off-the-cuff public speaker, said he was challenged by the prospect of a 10-minute presentation with no notes or PowerPoint slides. “I don’t ever memorize something for 10 minutes,” he said. “It turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve had. It’s still the best talk I’ve ever given.”

That talk led to contact with a publisher and the formation of the structure that would make up “Explore/Create.”

Garriott’s voracious appetite for knowledge and new experiences also led to adventures in geocaching, skydiving and an ongoing interest in languages (which became a big part of his space combat game “Tabula Rasa.”)

But he says his biggest adventure of late has been a little more domestic; he got married just shy of his 50th birthday in 2011 to Laetitia de Cayeux, and added “de Cayeux” to his name. And now he has two children as his family splits time between Austin and New York City.

He recently built with his 4-year-old a swing set made of giant LEGO bricks and last Halloween began adding audio effects, animations and a fog machine to his home, which may signal a more family-friendly return to his haunted house ambitions. “Thus it has begun,” he joked.

Last year he co-authored with famed fantasy writer Tracy Hickman a book that ties in with “Shroud of the Avatar” called “The Sword of Midras,” a work he says he’s extremely proud of. And he still talks with some of the other big names in games he worked with at Origin, exchanging ideas and concepts.

With Chris Roberts, who is working in a $141 million space game called “Star Citizen,” he’s exchanged digital objects; some of them will appear in “Shroud.”

And with Warren Spector, who left academia to work on “System Shock 3,” there’ll be some shared backstory between their games, he said.

“We make sure that our worlds are still related,” Garriott said. “We all support each other and love each other. Maybe us old Originites might find a way to get back together.”



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