By Harold Goldberg
It’s a cold, pre-Spring night at the Explorer’s Club and the livin’ is wild. I never expected to roam freely around this private enclave on the Upper East Side. The rich, dark mahogany. The prevalent, elegant taxidermy. The very smell of history. And yak meatballs. Probably, I first heard about the Explorer’s Club at the age of six, perhaps in a cartoon or school newspaper. And as I read about this ardent group of uber travelers over the decades, members always seemed to indulge the ultimate in adventurous field expeditions for the betterment of science — and, coincidentally, bragging rights.
On this night, the club introduced a few members of the media to technologists and their inventions, which would be part of its annual dinner and awards ceremony. Richard Garriott, the latest New York Videogame Critics Circle Legend Award winner, was there with his new book, Explore/Create. And to the left was a spacesuit similar to the one the great Ultima creator wore when he traveled to the International Space Station in October, 2008.
Garriott said the suits he and his astronaut father donned for space were in a traveling exhibition, so “this one is smaller, a Japanese woman’s suit.” It was a tiny suit, the right size for a person who is about five feet tall. Garriott also spoke about an expedition he embarked upon in the Antarctic. Once there, the group leader decided to go rogue and reset the itinerary. The prospect of a change became a great conundrum for the Explorers. So Garriott stepped in and took over, righting the ship, so to speak.
But what about the felled group leader? “I don’t remember any kind of argument from him,” explained Garriott. “He just accepted the change and we moved forward.” Garriott also mentioned that he’d had an office at the Explorer’s Club and that’s where he’d done a fair amount of his work on Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, his fantasy sandbox MMO that was crowd-funded to the tune of $1.9 million.
At the room’s other end was Thor Gunnarsson, ready for demos with a Vive VR setup. The Solfar Studios co-founder is a former CCP developer who worked on Eve Online, the long-lasting space-situated MMORPG created in Iceland. But here in Manhattan, he was showing off “Everest VR,” an experience that lets virtual participants take well over a dozen routes up Everest just like Edmund Hillary and the great trekkers of the past. You can move from your Base Camp to the treacherous Khumbu Icefall, where the glacier moves so fast that a crevasse can open in hours, and ice towers can crack and fall in moments. Simply put, the views are staggering. “We have updated it a lot,” said Gunnarsson. “The latest is God Mode,” the views of which are so awesomely detailed and expansive, you feel you’re in control of everything you see (hence, the God reference).
I wished there had been a game element to “Everest VR,” although the spectacular views compensated for the lack of gameplay. Then, I had a minor revelation as I traversed the floors of The Explorers Club, peering into the dark nooks and crannies, seeing the Explorers Club flag that was brought to the moon and the wall of explorers’ photos from then and now (Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are recent inductees). An emperor penguin, over four feet tall and slightly creepy at night, presided over the Trophy Room, which holds a trove of museum-quality pieces: a lion skin donated by then Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, mammoth tusks and an enormous sperm whale penis. The minor revelation: there’s a deep level from an Uncharted game, or even more, an old school adventure game that should take place at The Explorers Club. It only seems right.
-Harold Goldberg is the Founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.
Thor – talked about Iceland scene, formerly of Eve. I would’ve wanted more gameplay elements.
Garriott – talked about space suit and working on his games from an office at the EC.
The trophy room.