Richard Garriott on the Murder of Lord British

In the 9-hour interview I conducted with Ultima creator Richard Garriott de Cayeux, partly published in Online Game Pioneers at Work, he recounted the story of how his in-game avatar was murdered in Ultima Online during the beta.

Ramsay: I read about a story that you had an entertaining experience during the beta. Tell me about the assassination of Lord British.

Garriott: That was at the very end of the beta. That was like, literally, the last five minutes of the beta. Would you like my recounting of that story?

Ramsay: Sure.

Garriott: So, as the final day approached, first of all, we knew we were going to have to do a player wipe because, during the beta, people found exploits where they duplicated tons of gold. People had found all kinds of ways to steal the time we were done with the beta process. Since we were going to do a player wipe, we decided to have a big event for the finale and thank everyone who had been there in the beta. No one had been charged during the beta other than the $5 for the disc, and as soon as we launched for real, we were going to start charging people a subscription fee.

We decided to do this day-long event where Starr Long and I would go from town to town all over the whole world, seeing as many of the players as we could face-to-face. Then we'd do a broadcast where everyone in the whole world would hear what we had to say. And so we planned this long series of stops and we went from town to town, shaking hands with people, saying thank you, and so forth, and even the first parts of it were amazing.

The number of people who were online and in each of their favorite cities was just astounding for us to watch. I would hope that the people there also felt that it was special. So, they would do things in various towns. In some towns, it was just a free-for-all. In others, people were organized and they had lined up their groups like all of the fighters in one place and all of the magic users in another place, or arranged by color in columns, much like a militaristic revealing of the troops, you might say.

There were funny things that happened, too. In the city of Moonglow, a huge number of people all stood across from where we were going to stand to make our speech, and while we were there making our speeches, all of them took off every stitch of clothing they had, faced north, and away from us and bowed, which basically means they mooned us in Moonglow.

And then, finally, we meandered to the last stop and the last stop was Trinsic. On the outer wall of Trinsic, Starr Long and I stood amongst the final group we were speaking with. We were within minutes of the servers coming down. We had another programmer who literally had his finger on the button. At precisely on the hour, he was going to turn the whole thing off.

As Starr and I were there chatting, a person who at that moment was unknown to us cast a Fire Field spell up in the parapet where Starr and I were both standing, actually engulfing both Starr and me in flames. My first instinctive reaction was to step backwards out of the fire, so I stepped away. But when I stepped backwards, I couldn't see what's happening farther up the north edge of the screen, and I thought to myself, "Oh, I don't need to walk out of this fire. I'm Lord British. I'm immortal. It makes no difference." So, I stepped forward back into the fire, assuming it was harmless to me—and then fell over dead. All of a sudden, we realized the horror of this moment.

The reason why I died was because six months previous, the last time we did a wipe, I had forgotten to set the immortality flag on my character. For six months, we had never noticed because no one had ever tried to kill Lord British. I had never been involved in anything even remotely dangerous, and my stats were very high, so killing me was not trivial. I had just been merrily going about my life for six months thinking I was immortal, and I was not. And when you die, including me when I die, everyone becomes a ghost.

As a ghost, if you tried to talk to somebody, you just went, "Ooo." So, I was there just ooo'ing. No one else was in my office. Everyone else was spread out around the building. And we didn't bother to get on a phone conference because we could all chat in the game, but now not me.

So, now I'm cut off from the rest of the team, and the rest of the team is going, "Oh my god, Lord British is dead. What do we do about it?" And part of the staff was doing things like trying to resurrect me, and part of the QA was on conference with each other going, "Quick, somebody figure out how to get Richard resurrected."

The other part of the group that was there were there invisibly or visibly to watch the final moments of the game with a couple of thousand players. And, in these groups, they were going like, "Who did it? How can we figure out who killed Lord British?" Later, we went into the data logs and found out it was a person named Rainz, but at this moment, we had no way to tell who had created that Fire Field. So, immediately, the staff was going like, "Well, we've got to punish the person who did it. We've got to find a way to punish the person who killed Lord British." But they couldn't figure out who it was, so somewhere in that throng of chaos, someone came up with the idea: "If we can't figure out who killed Lord British, let's kill them all."

That idea was quickly adopted by the rest of staff immediately, just so right as I'm resurrected, the massacre had already begun. All of the invisible employees had turned themselves visible, and people started summoning demons and dragons. People started directly using kill spells to just kill one player right after the other. They were summoning lightning storms, and, basically, any manner of mayhem the employees could think of to unleash upon these people in the audience. And, of course, we, the employees, thought this was hilarious.

However, some of the people being massacred didn't think it was nearly as hilarious as we did. What was happening to them is that when they were being killed, their ghost was sent all the way back to a shrine miles away from the city. So, in these last two or three minutes, instead of getting to sit there in Trinsic and watch the beauty of the whole world collapse, they were getting cast out into the wilderness as ghosts. And so they're all wandering through the woods trying to find their way back while this massacre is going on throughout the city of Trinsic when finally kaboom, the whole server came down.

Ramsay: That sounds like a blast.

Garriott: It was. It was hilarious. But it did anger some of the players I must confess, but oh well.