Why Did Ultima's Avatar Screw Up Everything?

Jay "Rampant Coyote" Barnson, the developer of Frayed Knights and its upcoming sequel, has penned a new blog post, conceived partially as a response to Richard Cobbet's recent PC Gamer piece on the Ultima series. In the post, Barnson wonders why exactly the series' protagonist ended up causing so much chaos while trying to do good, and whether Richard Garriott and the Origin developers even intended the players to notice. While the subject easily lends itself to jokes, this analysis is actually fairly interesting:

My personal belief is that Richard Garriott had already done the (save the world) story three times with new characters the Girlfriend of the Big Bad, and the Computer-Child of the Big Bad in Ultima I III. Ultima IV was a departure from that, and a much celebrated one at that. From that point further, however, there was the problem of putting the world back in peril so the Avatar was needed. But then there's also the concern about how that world ever lasted past five generations without the Avatar's help, because it's constantly in peril (well, every 200 years or so).

The natural answer, when starting anew, is to build the new peril off of what has already come before. In other words, instead of a brand-new earth-shattering event, it's more of a revision or evolution of a peril that had come before. Since the games left very few (loose ends) at the end of each one, a new game had to tug some new ones loose to be tied into the narrative.

Garriott was also very careful to make each installment a stand-alone game. So while he could pull story and world elements from one game to the next, he couldn't leave major plot threads hanging, or depend on the audience to have played the previous games. But a good chunk of his audience had played the previous games, and so he couldn't just start over completely from scratch and ignore what had happened before.

The result of this is that much of the Avatar's hard work from the previous game was undone or subverted for the next game(s). It wasn't a plan going forward. It was just the result of trying not to have a totally new Disaster of the Year befalling the world. I believe the Guardian was created to be a major recurring villain that might be defeated rather than destroyed for a while.

At one point, the plan was to abandon Britannia and have all the new games after The Black Gate happen in different worlds. I guess this was a viable alternative instead of Britannia suffering new world-shattering disasters with each installment, the series could be about the Avatar racing to a different place to stop The Guardian or whomever from doing their Great Evil upon another world. I wonder if this plan wasn't partly in place and experimented with in the Worlds of Ultima games (based on the Ultima VI engine). But for the fans, Ultima meant Britannia as much as it meant the Avatar. While we permitted some excursions by our world-hopping alter ego, we wanted the same world, only different.