E3 dips into the surreal for me at least once a day. Usually it's because I see someone I recognize in a meeting or walking down the halls, but then I realize I don't actually know them, I just feel like I do because I follow them on Twitter. Today E3 was surreal because I played Shroud of the Avatar with Richard Garriott and Starr Long, the father of Ultima and the director of Ultima Online. We played online, from the E3 show floor, and when Garriott said hi in-game to a Kickstarter backer, I got a glimpse at the cult of Lord British that still exists to this day.
Since Garriott launched the Shroud of the Avatar Kickstarter in March 2013, the game has grown into a rough pre-alpha successor to Ultima Online. It's a no-shits-given old school MMO, and Garriott enthusiastically talked about how there's no quest log to tell you exactly where to go at all times, no exclamation marks over NPC heads. Player houses are a huge feature of the game, and new systems are gradually coming online with monthly updates. Since the Kickstarter's initial 22,000 backers, Shroud of the Avatar's website has pulled in another 13,000 loyal devotees.
I took a quick tourist trip through a town in Shroud of the Avatar, checking out player houses and fighting my way through a local sewer. I was invincible, which is the only reason the swarms of skeletons inside didn't flay me alive. It's obviously a rough early build of a game--the framerate hovers in the mid-20s and a treasure chest poofed out of existence when I tried to open it--but there are clearly already gamers totally devoted to the world.
Starr Long pointed out one player who had used their plot of land to build a maze using potted plants rather than a house. When I saw another player named Lord Kismet enter a user-created castle, I decided to follow him and say hi. Then I thought: what would he say if he knew I was playing Shroud of the Avatar with Richard Garriott? Would he care?
I followed him into the house and typed in dramatic all caps GUESS WHO IS HERE NOW KISMET? Then I let Garriott take over. He typed who he was. The reaction was better than I possibly could have hoped for.
Lord Kismet bows.
I don't think I'll have a moment as surreal as this one for the rest of E3--seeing, firsthand, how much games like Garriott's have meant to the people who've played them. Maybe there are Shadow of the Avatar players who don't know who Lord British is, who wouldn't react with the obvious mix of surprise and glee and thankfulness expressed in Kismet's emotes and few lines of text.
But I got the feeling that just about anyone we walked up to in the game world would have the same reaction. Standing beside me, he's just Richard Garriott, excited to be showing this game off at E3 for the first time. In-game, he's still Lord British, and you better believe he still gets /bows.
For more on Shroud of the Avatar, check out my interview with Richard Garriott and Starr Long .