By Harold Goldberg
Outside, the wet snow feels like cold pigeon crap hitting my face. I run into the brownstone nearby, trying to free myself of those half-freezing glops from hell. Moments later Richard Garriott, astronaut and Ultima creator, is showing off his repository of prehistoric and futuristic things. So along one wall, there’s an homage to earth’s history from the Big Bang to a the future of space flight. There’s even a rock from the moon. Like a curator previewing a gallery opening, Garriott carefully opens a glass door to reveal prehistoric fossils placed carefully on dust-free white shelving.
Moments later, I hold a fossilized T-Rex tooth in my hands. It’s my own wrinkle in time. I feel taken aback – and transported back to another eon. In another room, there’s taxidermy of a wolf’s head, maw wide open with a squiggly tongue seemingly giving a Bronx cheer. But inside its skull is a small bowl. “It’s a pipe,” says Garriott. “I bring it out when we have people over sometimes.”
On display upstairs in a corner is an exorcism kit lined with purple velvet. Across the room is a long-deceased two-headed, fuzzy, yellow chick. Near that is a giant, lethal-looking pepper grinding apparatus with a crank bigger than one on an old Ford Model T. And then there’s Blomberg’s vampire killing kit from complete with the professor’s serum. Was the kit a hoax? Did vampire hunters ever use it? Who knows? Within Garriott’s lair is his own Museum of Natural History. It’s wondrous. I wanted to sit and stare for hours upon hours.
I’m on the East Side to visit the New York Game Awards’ Legend Award winner because his long-awaited, partially crowded-funded “Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues” is about to be released on March 27th.
Above is the podcast we recorded. We speak about everything from the surprises the game has in store for fans to the process of game-making to the angry trolls who have tried to halt the Shroud’s momentum.
While I haven’t yet played, the detail I see as Richard drives is stunning. When I witness a cracked moon and a gargantuan, black asteroid heading for the planet on which you exist, it reminds me of Melancholia, the psychologically twisted yet all-too-real film about the days leading up to our earth’s end by Lars Von Trier starring Kirsten Dunst.
Except Garriott’s fantasy continent of Novia is a place in which you can live and play with others (or by yourself). That arsonist asteroid might throw a flaming red meteorite onto the house you’ve carefully built. Or, you might find Garriott’s very first game on a teletype machine. Or you might discover The Oracle which is based on Laetitia, Garriott’s wife. Then, on the wall of a virtual home is the cover of a real-life album by Shooter Jennings that includes a trippy, spoken word track by Garriott himself.
“It’s all kind of meta,” says Garriott, his eyes still fixed on the monitor.
But it’s time to let Richard Garriott speak for himself in our latest New York Videogame Critics Circle Podcast. Enjoy!
Journalist and author Harold Goldberg is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Twitter: @haroldgoldberg