Richard Garriott Interview

The folks at Industry Gamers have published the second part of their interview with "gaming industry legend" Richard Garriott, the man behind the beloved Ultima franchise, which touches upon his work on the RPG franchise, his thoughts on game development team roles and more. Here's a generous snip:
IG: Did you use artists on any of the earlier ones?

RGC: No, I did all the art, I did all the sound effects, I wrote every line of text, I wrote every line of code, I wrote all the manuals, the prequels and all the way up though Ultima 4 were almost entirely solo endeavors, in every aspect. It was a one-man band.

IG: Once more pixels were available it started to get more difficult, I guess.

RGC: In particular, once the graphical quality became sufficient to make use of a real artist, versus (Draw on graph paper then have to convert to binary, and convert that to hexadecimal, then type in the hexadecimal then have to figure out how to move that around on the screen.) Once there were art tools and paint tools and sufficient resolution to use them, then immediately artists became not only useful but essential.

Every artist we've ever hired has been a better artist than myself. Interestingly when we started hiring programmers, around the time of Ultima V, I believe I was at least as good a programmer as any other programmer. Over time now I no longer program and every programmer we hire is now a better programmer than me. In the field of design I am fairly critical of the vast majority of people who get into game design. What I mean by that is, some people have a magical art talent they picked up as a kid and then refined through education and then have a good portfolio of great art they've made, so you can hire them with confidence that they're a good artist. There's some that were nerdy enough as a kid to hack into computers and then go school and refine their coding technique so they can produce code samples and you can hire them with great confidence that you've hired a great programmer. Then there's the people who are neither artists nor programmers but still like to make games so they become designers. In my mind it is rare that anybody who gets into the field of design is actually better as a designer than all the programmers and all the artists, if you know what I mean. They have no background or skill or qualification that makes them better than the programmers and the artists, they just aren't a programmer and they aren't an artist as often as not.

What makes me a powerful designer is I did write all the code once upon a time. I did draw all the art once upon a time. And I was the only designer for many, many years. So now, even though I think there are clearly other great designers in the field of computer games, I think it is extraordinarily rare and I would argue that amongst all the teams I ever used to work on the one skill where I still remain at the top of the heap is design.