Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues has raised more than $2.03 million in a crowdfunding campaign, blowing past the original goal of $1 million.
That means the legendary computer gamemaker will get a shot to return to his roots as Lord British, as he hasn’t made a fantasy role-playing game in 15 years. Through his new game startup Portalarium, Garriott will now under take the task of satisfying his 23,096 backers for the campaign.
“I am incredibly grateful to all the fans who backed us during the Kickstarter campaign,” said Garriott. “And those fans are now part of our design and development process going forward with Shroud of the Avatar. We will be listening to all of them as we go about making the kind of fantasy RPG that I really enjoyed making in the earlier part of my career. But this is really only the start. We will continue to keep our own crowdfunding store open to bring in more funds to help us add even more features to the game.”
Garriott, who is famous for creating the popular Ultima series of RPGs (now owned by Electronic Arts), raised more than $1.9 million on Kickstarter and additional funds on ShroudoftheAvatar.com. Fans who didn’t make a pledge in time can still donate to via the game site.
“The Kickstarter backers will forever have certain perks that will remain exclusive to that part of our campaign,” said Garriott. “People who visit the game store now will see many Kickstarter-like tiers to back the project. But we will continue to add new items to the game that will be available for purchase by both our Kickstarter backers and new backers. The exciting part is that a lot of what we will be adding going forward will be based on feedback from our fans; items and features that they are already telling us they want to see in the game.”
During the campaign, Garriott announced that New York Times best-selling author Tracy Hickman — a co-author of the original Dragonlance saga — has joined the team as lead story designer. Stretch goals include a serialized prequel novel based on the Shroud of the Avatar storyline. Hickman will write that. Portalarium will also add a pet system with animal taming, guild houses and banks, city theaters for player performances, castle merchants with unique merchandise, and more.
The game is expected to launch in 2014. The new game will feature a variety of innovations that Garriott has been cooking up over the past 15 years. It will have a new approach to multiplayer. Rather than playing with a gigantic number of strangers in the fantasy universe, Garriott will limit who you can see to people who are already your friends or might be in your circle of acquaintances. If none of your friends happens to be online while you are playing, Shroud will show you more strangers as you try to fulfill your mission.
Garriott was an early player of Dungeons & Dragons and created his first games on paper as dungeons. In high school, he turned in one of his stories in as a creative writing project, and he got an A. His first computer game for the Apple II was Akalabeth: World of Doom, published in 1979 for the Apple II and sold in stores on disks in plastic bags. While still in high school, he created the game in seven weeks and made $150,000 from it. That was more than twice the money that his father, Owen Garriott, made in a year as a NASA astronaut. Garriott then created Ultima and his company Origin Systems, which he ran with his brother, Robert. They sold Origin to EA in 1992.
To make Shroud of the Avatar, he returned to that old style of writing a narrative and documenting all of the details of the world. He created the backstory, the map, and all of the magic items and their locations in the world. His artists have turned his map of the region (which he plans to call New Britannia), into a beautiful, Civilization-style map. The Forsaken Virtues episode takes place in just one small section of the world. Like his earlier Ultima work, Garriott credits J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings for his inspiration.
In 1997, Garriott led the development of Ultima Online, a major MMO that broke a lot of new ground. Even the sections of the world were embued with myths. When the Stranger shattered the Gem of Immortality, the “shards” broke off into different miniature versions of Britannia. Those shards are still the term for sections of virtual worlds today.
After Ultima Online, Garriott tried to make a sequel virtual world. But that failed. And then events conspired to take him away from fantasy role-playing games for a long time.
He left EA to start Destination Games and became part of South Korea’s NCsoft. There, he embarked on what should have been his greatest accomplishment. Garriott spent seven years creating the sci-fi MMO Tabula Rasa. It launched in 2007 but failed to garner a sustainable audience. In 2008, he left NCsoft and took a hell of a sidequest.
Following in his father’s footsteps, he invested in a commercial space ventures, Space Adventures, and signed up to become the first private citizen to fly into space. But he lost a lot of wealth in 2001 after the dot-com bubble burst, and he sold his seat to Dennis Tito. But after Garriott left NCsoft, he went to Russia and trained to be an astronaut aboard a Soyuz rocket. He flew into space with his father coaching him. The whole remarkable journey cost him $30 million, and this adventure was chronicled in a documentary, Man on a Mission.
After he returned, he won a $28 million judgment against NCsoft for breach of contract. NCsoft forced him to sell his stock within 90 days rather than allowing him to do so over 10 years as his contract stipulated in case he were fired. Garriott used the money to start Portalarium, with a focus on Facebook games. Portalarium raised funding and made social games for poker and collecting. But the collecting game, Ultimate Collector, got stuck in development iterations with its publisher, Zynga. The publishing process took so long that Portalarium had to lay off some of its staff, and the title has since been published.
Since then, Garriott has plotted his return to RPGs via Kickstarter.