Richard Garriott: Unite 2013 Keynote

Richard Garriott was one of the keynote speakers at the Unite 2013 conference in Vancouver, Canada today:

If you want to skip ahead to Garriott’s presentation, click here; it begins around the 1:56:30 mark.

Some notes on the presentation: Garriott can’t overstate the importance of Unity, even going so far as to proclaim (via a slide) that the “creation and broad adoption of Unity is a watershed event in the history of gaming!”

He begins by looking at the history of game development, focusing on technical changes in the systems that could run games. He notes that until the advent of hardware rendering, the constraints developers operated under really didn’t change that much (e.g. graphics got more complex and image resolution increased, but the storage and memory requirements for that imagery scaled in kind, as did system capabilities in general.)

Of course, the advent of hardware rendering and, more broadly, 3D gaming, meant that other complexities were introduced which made matters difficult for developers: game costs went up, content creation took longer, development times increased.

Unity, to Garriott’s mind, fixes many of these issues, shortcutting the first “many years” and “many dollars” of the development process. As well, the robust community surrounding Unity is something he sees as a huge advantage, since it gives developers like Portalarium significant boosts forward…and the ability to focus almost solely on content, on making the game great (as it were). Portalarium’s tech team, for example, is only about half the size of what such a team would normally be.

Unity, Garriott continues, also allows for rapid prototyping, and even allows small teams to complete at the AAA level…to say nothing of the condensation in time frame; Garriott expects that Shroud of the Avatar can be completed in eighteen months thanks to the use of Unity, whereas it might have taken three to five years normally had Portalarium opted to build their own engine.

He also goes on to list several things he believes RPGs should always include: social relevance, pronounceable names, simplified “truthiness” of the game’s universe, cultural evidence, and iconic imagery. (Wing Commander fans, take note of the Dralthi at the 2:09:35 mark!)

Garriott’s “third era of gaming” concept has, of course, been reformed from the social/mobile focus it had only a year ago to instead focus on the “selective multiplayer” concept. And yes, this makes an appearance in the presentation. Garriott talks again about the ones/tens/hundreds of millions of players in the single/multi/social-mobile gaming scenes (respectively), and gets into how Portalarium are trying to leverage the advantages of the social gaming scene in a multiplayer RPG.

As the talk winds down, he shifts his focus to discuss the Unity Asset Store, and how Portalarium modify existing art if they need to, and then returning it, in its improved form, back to the original developer. He’s not worried about these shared assets appearing in other games, at least not as far as scenery is concerned. And he re-iterates that even Portalarium’s internally-developed content will (after a delay) end up on the Asset Store. And in the end, he notes, pretty much everyone is going to get independent credit for what they individually achieve with the shared content.