How Richard Garriott Got Games

Original author: David L. Craddock
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Richard Garriott took for granted that the parents of any child of his age flew into outer space. This was commonplace for him. “That was until I went to the University of Texas, where I met people whom I can now describe as“ residents of Sesame Street, ”” he says.

“I never really thought about people who viewed Sesame Street as my neighbors until we had to move to Austin. Then I realized:“ Wait a minute. My childhood at NASA was fantastic, and the science fiction “Sesame Street“ was actually a reality. "For me it was a pretty strong cultural shock."

Although Garriott was born in 1961 in Cambridge (England), the main stage of personality formation came to life in Houston, Texas. Its residential area was practically a continuation of the Lyndon Johnson Space Center, NASA's Houston base. Most of its neighbors are astronauts, contractors, and NASA engineers. Among them were Joe Engle, one of the first astronauts to join the Space Shuttle manned aircraft launch program, and Robert Gibson, better known to friends as Hoot. He was on the STS-27 astronaut team, which in just four days made 68 orbits around the Earth.

Of all the space travelers Garriot had met, not one inspired him more reverence than his father. In 1973, NASA selected Owen to participate in Skylab 3, the second manned flight to Skylab's first U.S. space station. He was absent 60 days. Downstairs in the earth’s firmament, his wife Helen and four of his children watched him through a loudspeaker of a one-way communication system. In the speakers, Helen and children could listen to communication sessions transmitted from outer space. “We even hosted government meetings, so we weren’t shocked when we heard about the malfunctions,” Richard recalls.

In other houses, kitchen tables were littered with bills, magazines, and textbooks. In the Garriots' house, space artifacts and equipment were randomly scattered around the rooms. “In my childhood there were things that in retrospect seem simply amazing. But at that time they seemed common not only for our family, but for most families in the neighborhood. ”

Helen Garriott's forces were not only enough to cope with the whole economy, while her husband worked on the earth (and on the Earth). When her children needed help with their projects - for example, with the construction of a treehouse or with the construction of an Indian tipi - Helen rolled up her sleeves. In addition to possessing many other talents, Helen was a professional artist and handyman in various forms of art. Every summer, she taught Richard a new form of art: in one year drawing, in the second - pottery, and got to the point that she taught him how to collect fountains and showed the basics of silver work.

From the age of eleven, Richard wore a silver snake jewelry around his neck - the result of his summer studies. “It was one-piece because it was my first job and I did not know how to make a fastener,” he says. “In fact, a clasp is a rather complex element. I still have not been able to do it. "

Magic cars

Shortly before Richard's transition to high school, NASA gave Owen a new assignment. Prior to responding to a NASA invitation in the 1960s, Owen studied electrical engineering at Stanford. Now his employer wanted him to return to graduate school for a year. The family packed their bags and moved to Palo Alto (California), in a major city near the university.

Entering Gann High School, Garriott discovered that many of her students were descendants of people from Stanford. Therefore, the school had access to samples of equipment still unknown to the rest of the world. Thanks to its connections, Gann School had a miracle of progress - a simple teletype remotely connected to the CDC Cyber ​​mainframe, located somewhere else.

“It's hard for me to remember how often it was used,” says Garriott. “It seems that it was used in linguistics lessons: if a student studied a foreign language, part of the testing was carried out on this teletype. But in my eyes he instantly turned into a magical car. Even at that time there were no programming lessons for such machines, but I had to linger after school or between classes to sit at a computer and write code for it. ”

At the end of the school year, Garriot Sr.'s education came to an end and the family returned to Houston. Garriott had a whole summer of boredom. He had just begun to get used to working at the terminal, and now he had to go to school, in which there was nothing like it. Owen and Helen noticed his son's interest and put him in a seven-week computer camp held in 1974 by their alma mater at the University of Oklahoma. “This was my first major departure from home,” he says. Nervous on his first day, Garriott set about unpacking himself. There was a knock on the door. Opening it, he saw a crowd of children greeting him: "Hello." He replied with a more formal "Hello." Laughing, the boys said that he speaks like a British. From that day on, they began to call him British.

Richard Garriott

“As they found out later, I was actually born in Cambridge and I had a British passport,” says Garriott. “That is, in fact, I am British. But I lived there for only one or two months and I did not have a British accent. I grew up in Houston, next to NASA, and all my neighbors came from different countries from around the world, so none of us had a local southern accent. My softer accent for the southerners seemed real British. Therefore, they called me that, but the nickname attached to me precisely for this reason. ”

That summer, Garriott and his friends studied not only computers. Like many other teenagers who grew up in the mid-late 1970s, they were sucked into the desperate world of Dungeons & Dragons TSR. "In D&D gamesLord British is my character, ”says Richard. “We played all night, and in the afternoon we studied computers and math.”

Garriott's training ended in a novel. “That summer became important to me in so many ways,” he says. “For the first time I lived far from home, and for the first time I lived in a dormitory for boys and girls. Can you imagine what could have happened in seven weeks of a blended learning program with a bunch of high school students living separately from their parents. ”

Two months later, Garriott entered the second year of Clear Creek High School and found out good news. The school was a simple teletype. The summer of programming and role-playing games filled him with determination. He was ready to study, but did not succeed in most subjects, interrupting from the "three" to the "four". The exception was science fairs. Ever since kindergarten and throughout his studies, he participated in competitions with projects that surprised even judges. Growing up, he began to participate in fairs of the district, state and international level, achieving even more.

Entering the Clear Creek administration office, Garriott made a proposal, backed up by his proven ability to lead independent projects. “After returning to Houston, I said at the faculty that I want to continue working with the machine. There was no [computer programming] in the curriculum. Therefore, I asked for permission to study BASIC as a foreign language. ”

The faculty blessed him. In secondary and high school, Garriott, with other students who were allowed to adjust the learning process to their strengths, began their own journey. Finally, Garriott managed to find a great way to fulfill his love of fantasy adventures and computers. “At this point, my training in computers went from admiration for the machine directly to the implementation of games on computers. Shortly before this, my brother’s wife gave me the honor of the Lord of the Rings . I played Dungeons & Dragons . I started to learn an unusual teletype, the same one that I used at the University of Oklahoma. So I decided to create games. ”

In the last three years of high school, Garriott undertook his own expedition into the world of game programming. “If at the end of the semester I showed the teachers what I promised to do at the beginning of the semester, they said 'Sounds great, here is your five.' That is what I did. He studied independently. ”

Dungeons and Dragons

Garriot had no choice but to become both a teacher and a student in his own programming lessons. No teacher knew what to do with teletype, except how to turn it on and download programs. To replenish the knowledge gained at the camp, he searched shop window displays for Byte magazines ! and Creative Computing , and then carefully studied the texts of the programs there. Each one contained a nugget of information that could be added to a growing bag of knowledge, for example, algorithms for sorting data by certain parameters.

Even though typos were often found in texts, debugging became another way of learning. “When you drive a program into a computer and some commands work incorrectly or there are typos in them,” he says. "You have to debug them yourself, that is, to understand them."

Along with self-training, Garriott created the design of DND1 , his first role-playing game. Inspired by Dungeons & Dragons DND1was a simple walker through the dungeons: we enter the dungeon, kill monsters, collect treasures. Teletypes could not print images, so instead of graphics, he used text symbols: stars were walls, spaces were floor tiles, dollar signs were treasures, and capital letters denoted monsters, for example “A” was a huge ant.

DND1 received teams of players and printed the results on a roll of paper. In the center of the grid representing the dungeon, a tiny dot was printed - the player’s character. The tip text read “What do you want to do next?”. Players could move in one of four directions, attack or view inventory. “After entering the command, the printer reprinted this small 10 by 10 grid,” recalls Garriott. “It seems like one move took about ten seconds.”

The main reason for this expectation between moves was the time needed to update and print the dungeon layouts. Teletypes contacted a minicomputer located off campus, and since several terminals could be connected to it at the same time, each of them had to wait for the machine to process its commands and send back new data. The process was so slow that Garriott decided to turn to a more primitive, but faster coding method.

“I wrote [games] in notebooks. I still have all these notebooks, signed as DND1 , DND2 , DND3and so on, ”says Richard. “Often I wrote down ten or twenty pages of the program, and only then I thought:“ There is something deeply erroneous in such a decision. I thought that I would solve one big problem, and as a result I came to new ones, and I have to start all over again "".

Before the start of the last school year, Garriott bought a new notebook and wrote it on the cover of "DND28 . " Around the time he added the finishing touches, he had the opportunity to transfer to a new computer. “Once I ended up in the office of the president of the school, and there was Apple II. I asked: “what is this?” He explained that this is a new computer, which was released recently. "

Struck, Garriott asked for permission to use the computer and got it. His one-hour language lesson moved to the office where he sat typing DND28 on AppleSoft BASIC. Floppy disks were a rare and valuable resource, which is why it saved the code on cassette tape.

That summer, Garriott graduated and got a job at ComputerLand's retail chain, specializing in the new PC market. When he did not tell customers about the benefits of owning a PC, he sat down at the free Apple II and continued to work on DND28 .

Limited access to Apple II exacerbated the complexity of Garriott. He worked for one at school and another day in his spare time at ComputerLand. He really needed his own Apple II. He discussed this issue with his father. Owen listened to what his son managed to achieve on the terminals and on Apple II. He widened his eyes a little in surprise when Richard talked about his latest version of DND , consisting of 1,500 lines of code. Judging by what he knew about computers, it was more than most commercial software. When Richard completed his speech, Owen processed the information and issued an answer.

“My father said,“ Richard, you know, you took on the monumental task. I’m not sure that you can handle such a volume. " I replied: “Why do you underestimate me? Not only can I handle it, my program will work right away! ""


Owen accepted the challenge and gave his son room to maneuver. If Richard manages to make a new and improved version of the game with a minimum amount of debugging, Owen will share with him the cost of Apple II in half. Richard succeeded, and Owen was true to his word. Having collected salary checks, Richard combined his money with his father’s share and bought Apple IIe, the most modern and powerful in this line of computers. “The first remark in the code was DND28b ,” says Richard, explaining that the REM (short for remark) construction in BASIC means commentary for people reading the code and ignored by the computer.

“So Akalabeth came about . That is, there is a direct succession from DND1 to Akalabeth , and to the rest of the games in the seriesUltima . There is a direct connection between all my work, starting in the 1970s. ”

The game has evolved greatly from its initial form, replacing text characters with color graphics - a new way to improve immersion in the game. “I took DND28 and decided to change its text graphics with a top view to a perspective view with corridors.” “It has turned into a DND28b . DND28b is literally Akalabeth , which for me remains Ultima 0.

Garriott planned to build dungeons from line-based graphics. Walls, floors, doors, and enemies were drawn as one-color contours. Creating architecture and characters from wireframes required much more thought than simply arranging XY coordinates to draw ceilings and floors. He wanted to create a realistic perspective, depending on the distance: the door next to the player’s location should have been larger than the distant ones. Still remembering at high school the concepts of sine and cosine, he pondered the problem and wrote trigonometric functions to solve it.

Garriott painted each image on graph paper to know exactly where to store the image in Apple II's memory.

To double-check his work, he turned for help to his beloved artist. “First of all, I went to my mother and said:“ Mom, I want to draw a dungeon, as if I were inside, how would you draw it on a canvas? ”And my mother showed me the geometric techniques that she used.” Helen drew a line on a piece of paper and asked Richard to imagine that it was the horizon. Then she drew a few vertical lines that were supposed to indicate telephone poles, but Garriott's brain interpreted them as doors along the corridor, and explained to him the mathematics needed to calculate the exact distance between the "pillars" and draw them on the screen.

Helen's geometric calculations were consistent with what he managed to obtain using trigonometry. To make sure that he was right, Richard turned to Owen. “He took advantage of matanalysis,” says Richard. “He took the same picture drawn by his mother and deduced a series of equations that yielded the same results as mine. So I became convinced of the correctness of my trigonometric formulas. With the help of these equations I had to manually calculate and place the pixels on the screen. "

Each pixel had to be placed on the screen exactly where it was required. It was necessary to calculate many intersecting lines, such as the places where walls and ceilings converged. “This equipment was created by Steve Wozniak,” says Garriott. “When you create equipment, your goal is to minimize its price, and not to simplify the writing of programs. Although I used very tricky ways to effectively use hardware, [drawing] graphics on the Apple II was monstrously difficult. "

This excerpt is from Break Out: How the Apple II Launched the PC Gaming Revolution by Schiffer Publishing, sold on Amazon . The book presents a chronicle of the creation of more than a dozen revolutionary games for the PC, interviews with developers and details of how these games affected their followers are given.

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