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Pakko De La Torre // Creative Director

Richard Garriott and Todd Porter Are Creating a New, NFT-Based MMORPG – The Ultima Codex

Richard Garriott and Todd Porter Are Creating a New, NFT-Based MMORPG – The Ultima Codex

It is nearly two weeks after April Fool’s Day, so it would appear that this news — as reported by PCGamesN — is not, in fact, having us on:

Richard Garriott, known to Ultima fans as ‘Lord British,’ is making another MMO – but this time, it’s going to be built using blockchain technology.

Garriott is working with long-time collaborator Todd Porter, and the pair say they’re well aware of the problems crypto brings with it, both in terms of the technology itself and its reputation with players.

Let’s maybe take a moment to take a look at who Todd Porter is, in case the name isn’t familiar. No, he’s not the child actor; according to his LinkedIn bio, he got his start in the games industry working as a game designer for Knights of Legend, and a designer/musician/writer for Ultima 6. He also worked on Wing Commander, though he doesn’t give any details as to his role on that team.

After leaving Origin Systems, he helped co-found Ion Storm, and was at that studio for four years before leaving game development for a variety of other ventures (including, but not limited to, audio/video conversion tools, server-based digital photo processing software, and casino and horse track operations). Starting in 2016, he began stepping into what we’d now call metaverse-related developments, first as a director for the Creator Program at IMVU, then as the founder of Advanced Imagination, and then as a vice president for the company that develops TapTop (a virtual tabletop gaming platform). In 2017, he helped found CornBilt Games (a board game company). And since earlier this year, he has been the CEO and CPO at DeMeta, a division of DeHorizon (which bills itself as a “metaverse game ecosystem” company, its software built atop — you guessed it — blockchain technology).

Now, there have been a few games built on one blockchain or another; you may have heard of Axie Infinity in the news lately. Legends of Aria — developed by Citadel Studios, which studio was founded by former Ultima Online veterans — is also making the jump to blockchain in the near future. But as you might expect, Garriott and Porter think that current attempts to build games on the blockchain have been…lacking:

“There’s not really any good NFT games right now, in my opinion,” Porter tells us. “I’ve not seen anything that I felt has really held up any gameplay.” Garriott agrees, and says part of that is down to the fact that it’s still early days – there hasn’t been enough time since NFTs became a major fad for anyone to develop a strong title based on the technology.

The game Garriott and Porter are working on is in the early stages of production and doesn’t have an official name yet, but it’ll be a modern spin on the familiar Ultima format – a top-down, isometric fantasy RPG. Porter says they’ve secured traditional sources of funding for the game’s development, but will supplement that with an NFT-based land sale. Players interested in owning part of the game will be able to purchase specific chunks of it as NFTs.

The concept art Garriott and Porter shared with PCGamesN shows detailed square plots of land that look like they’ve been dug up and lifted off the surface of a miniature fantasy world, complete with layers of topsoil and the underlying rock. Some concept art even shows the land packaged in attractive gilt gift boxes.

Owners will be able to build shops or inns on their property, or even create a portal to a dungeon level they’ve created.

If this sounds a bit like Shroud of the Avatar…well, it probably should. PCGamesN doesn’t mention that particular game in their article, though they do call out Ultima Online, which pioneered the style of MMORPG that allowed players to create in-game content of that sort. Ultima Online also had a robust in-game economy centred around both player-crafted items and in-game discoverable objects (“rares”). And there are many other MMORPGs today that have in-game economies…so what benefit does adding crypto bring?

The value blockchain adds, as Garriott and Porter explain it, is that it provides a unified system for players to become financially involved in the game, from what is traditionally the crowdfunding stage through to the post-launch live service phase. In the past, developers and publishers have had to rely on a small constellation of separate platforms to handle the various stages of fundraising and monetisation – Kickstarter for raising capital, eBay for grey market player trades, Steam or another storefront selling the game itself.

“[Using blockchain] lets us unify that whole path,” Garriott says. “It lets us make sure that path is persistent and could be managed outside of our games when people say they want to be trading things on, hypothetically, eBay or some other crypto exchange or within the game. Fundamentally, we should be agnostic, which we are in this case.”

Colour me skeptical on this one. On the one hand, I’d like to be excited about Richard Garriott stepping back into game development yet again…but on the other hand, I have a sizeable distrust of cryptocurrencies and NFTs. There are already numerous examples one could point to of in-game economies being ruined (or nearly ruined) by e.g. third-party item and currency sellers; I don’t see how bringing those economies to the blockchain — thereby expanding their ability to be transacted upon external to the game itself — would solve that issue (though I can see how it might make it worse).

Still, the crypto scene does have a lot of money racing around in it at the moment. So, unlike with Shroud of the Avatar, it’s possible that this hitherto-unannounced MMORPG could end up attracting significant financial backing…hopefully, in a fiat currency.

The First Age of Update: Apparently, Chris Spears (of Shroud of the Avatar/Catnip Games fame) is also working on this game, alongside Garriott and Porter. While still working on Shroud.

(Hat tip: Sergorn Dragon)

This content was originally published here.