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SWG and Ultima Online’s Raph Koster rides again

I can see why, when you approach a certain age, that you feel a growing need — a pressure — to produce one last impactful legacy for your life. Even if you’ve already accomplished much and are known for it, there might be that urge to prove that you still have it in you. The compulsion to take all of your past achievements and accumulated knowledge and do something even better.

Creation is a fire that burns in some people’s bones, and it can’t be easily quenched by middle (or elder) age. It’s why I can understand how Mark Jacobs, Chris Roberts, John Smedley, Richard Garriott, and many other veteran MMO developers might try again. And again. And again. Now we can toss in Raph Koster to that list, even though he’s a man who has nothing left to prove about his skill and expertise when it comes to virtual worlds.

Last week was jam-packed with heavy hitting industry announcements — Tencent is moving in on Funcom! Mike O’Brien left ArenaNet! — the news that Raph Koster had founded a new studio with the intent to create a next generation MMORPG had me most riveted. I long since thought that Raph had retired to a speaking and consulting circuit, but I guess that fire was burning hot, because the mind behind Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online (as well as EverQuest II, Crowfall, and Metaplace) decided that it wasn’t just Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Harrison Ford who could don iconic outfits for one more ride. Actually, Raph isn’t even that old, just four more years than I, and I haven’t made a single MMORPG in my life.

It’s certainly exciting news, and this unnamed game instantly rocketed to the top of my most anticipated MMO projects. Raph has been examining the industry in-depth over the last couple of decades, and there are few people out there who have such a wealth of knowledge and insight as he does. Of course, his generation of MMOs has come and gone, and that type of wide open sandbox hasn’t been the norm for a while now. It’s trying to make a comeback, however, and he might have a shot to bring the best to the table.

Right now it’s all talk, but it is Big Talk. It’s the kind of talk that belittles the murderbox design that many MMOs have fallen into and promises much wider and more free frontiers for gaming. To be honest, I’ve heard such sentiments from many up-and-coming MMO developers over the last decade, but I’ll give more of a benefit of the doubt to Koster for his pedigree.

“Building online communities,” “community-driven,” “a game played in short sessions doesn’t need to be shallow,” “we are seeing demand for ‘sandboxy’ play all over the place,” and “I’d say that our goal is to make a sandbox that looks forward rather than one that looks backwards.”

It’s interesting. Count me in. We’re in for a long wait on this one (Koster says at least a few years out), but seeing him, Scott Hartsman, and others coming together to work on a new sandbox MMORPG is an occasion to sit up and feel kind of hopeful for the industry’s future.

3 thoughts on “SWG and Ultima Online’s Raph Koster rides again

  1. Hang on, is Scott Hartsman involved in Raph’s new project? Do you have a link for that?

    And personally i want more murderboxes… er dikuMUD-inspired MMORPGS – not yet more “do all the work yourself” sandboxes.

  2. Hmm. Less murderbox, more MMO. And that from who designed the original SWG. It might have had plenty of flaws and could have used some more gestation time, but it definitely was unique and had awesome features which i’d like to see around again. (Although i don’t expect them to be around again. The general community these days would probably consider them to be too complicated and reject them. )

    All in all, I am interested. 🙂

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