As a teenager in Texas in 1977, Richard Garriott confounded his high school teachers with adventure games produced on paper tape using a mainframe computer. He would chase his dreams of computerized D&D-type adventures all the way to the pinnacle of the computer games industry.
While working at a local computer store in 1979, Garriott produced his most elaborate game world yet, titled Akalabeth. Only a few copies ended up selling, painstakingly packaged by hand in Ziplock bags, but one copy winded up in the hands of California Pacific Computer Company. They purchased the rights to distribute Akalabeth, and eventually sold 30,000 copies.
The same company sold Garriott’s next game, Ultima, in 1981, which later received the subtitle The First Age of Darkness. A tile-based RPG programmed in BASIC, it sold more than his first attempt but Garriott eventually soured on his relationship with his publisher and signed a deal with Sierra for the sequel, Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress, released in 1982. For Ultima III: Exodus, Garriott teamed with his father Owen and brother Robert, along with Chuck Bueche, to found a new company to produce the popular Ultima games: Origin Systems. The company signed a distribution deal with EA in 1984, the result being the groundbreaking Avatar trilogy.
And so it goes, as the Ultima games became one of the biggest franchises in gaming history. The Ultimas went 3D in Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss in 1992, and blazed a trail in the MMO genre with Ultima Online in 1997
Garriott himself blazed a trail into space in 2008 as a customer of private space trip facilitator Space Adventures; he was also a principle investor in the organization. The Ultima creator was simply following his father’s footsteps, as Owen Garriott himself was a NASA astronaut.
With his more Earthbound adventures, Richard Garriott has made an indelible impact on computer and video gaming. For more information on Lord British and Ultima, consult your local Dot Eaters article.