The Space-Family Garriott: An Interview with Lord and Lady British

Richard Lord British Garriott de Cayeux authored the famed Ultima series and is credited with creating the category of massively multiplayer games. A principal shaper of commercial spaceflight, he co-founded Space Adventures, the only company to arrange spaceflights for private citizens, and was the sixth private astronaut to live aboard the International Space Station. Laetitia Garriott de Cayeux is co-founder, President, and COO of Escape Dynamics, which is developing an electromagnetic externally-powered space launch system to send single-stage reusable rockets into LEO. Prior to this, she had a successful 15 year career in finance with Goldman Sachs, Renaissance Technologies, and then her own investment firm.

Daily Dragon (DD): [To Richard] What inspired you to start creating video games? What inspired the Ultima series?

Richard Garriott (RG): I began my career before the creation of personal computers. Thus my inspirations came from things like the Lord of the Rings and the original publication of D&D. After writing 28 “DnD” games for myself on a teletype I had access to in high school, I created Akalabeth, on an Apple ][, inspired by the game Escape! written by Silas Warner for Muse Games. With the success of that first game, which earned me more than my father did as an astronaut, I was compelled to create an entire virtual world, which began the Ultima series.

DD: How do you feel about game/movie cross-overs, such as Wing Commander? Does making movies add to/detract from the game-playing experience?

RG: When Chris Roberts presented his design for Wing Commander (1), we instantly knew he had a mega hit on his hand. The blending of film craft and game play CAN be undeniably powerful. However, this can also go very, very wrong. Chris happens to be a master game developer with a cinematic bent. He can blend them well, but I have seen many more filmed “interstitials” become a burden or unrelated, rather than add.

DD:  Do you feel MUDs were a precursor to MMORPGs? 

RG: Absolutely! Ultima Online was staffed with and borrowed from MUDs deeply! That being said, MUDs were built for the dial up era of hardest core players. To make the first true MMO, we had to not only bring AAA production values but create an experience which a more mass audience could understand and excel in.

DD:  What inspired the creation of Apogee of Fear?

RG: Years ago, Tracy Hickman showed me the prototype of a game he had made, where at a dinner party a group of friends could come and make a film in one take, in order, with no idea what the totality was, until they viewed the whole sequence at the end. He called this “Party Flics.” I thought (and still do) it was brilliant! Once I committed to my space flight, I thought I could pull this off in space with my crew mates, if only we had a great script. I called Tracy. He provided the script, the CG intro, the editing, the music, and all. HE deserves the credit for this masterpiece!

DD:  What was the first thing you felt/thought when you found out you’d be going into space?

RG: Ha! I had so many near misses… even when I did go, I had NASA threatening to try to cancel my activities in space. I was both enthralled and relieved when I finally made it!

DD: [To Laetitia] Did you find the path from economics and banking to president/co-founder of an advanced tech spaceflight company a natural path?

Laetitia Garriott (LG): Absolutely! I have actually always been interested in space and exploration. My grandfather, Andre Cailleux, was one the first planetary geologists and has a moon crater named after him, so you could say I did not fall far from the tree! However I always wanted to chart my own path in my own way. When I was a an economics student in the 1990s, I met and was greatly inspired by French-American mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot and his fractals theory and its application to help explain stock price movements, and that drove my decision to pursue a career in finance.  Note that fractals also shed light on the distribution of galaxies in the universe, so I could have gone into rocket-science then, and thus it felt quite natural when I eventually did!

DD: What inspired you to move from economics to space flight?

LG: I have always been fascinated by game-changing technologies and how these can radically change the world. When I had the chance to join the founding team of a company that was revolutionizing something as important as space launch, I had to do it!

DD: Do you plan on travelling to space?

LG: I would love to! But I would like to see first the technology improve, not only for getting into space, but also for living and working in space.

DD: You are a strong proponent of STEM education. Women are under-represented in STEM fields. Do you have any advice on how girls can maintain their interest in STEM during the critical years of middle and high-school? Are there support systems and programs they can use?

LG: Getting girls involved in STEM is certainly one of my big passions and there are a lot of ways to get them involved. For example, the National Museum of Mathematics, where I serve on the board, is a great place to get not only girls, but everyone interested and enthusiastic about math. The Challenger Centers for Space and Science Education, which Richard helped found, are also great resources for young people to get first-hand experience as a real life NASA scientist or engineer.

DD: How do you see any crossovers in Portalarium and Escape Dynamics? Do they represent only your interests in given areas, or are they intended to be complementary? 

RG & LG: We are both devoted to pushing the boundaries of possibility. Whether in exploration of the reality in which we live, of in crafting virtual realities to explore.

DD: Where do you see the future of space flight in 10 and 20 years? 

LG & RG: We see a huge advancement in space access over the next 10 years that will allow anyone to visit space for no more than the cost of a round the world plane ticket.  This is the beginning of a new era of space exploration!

DD: What do you enjoy about Dragon Con?

RG: I was the computer gaming Guest of Honor at Dragon Con 1! And from that time till now, DC remains my #1 experience for meeting both the people who follow my own work, which is both fulfilling and helpful, but also the place I meet future collaborators like Tracy Hickman, Lynn Abbey, Brian Brushwood, and so many more!

DD: What has been your best experience at Dragon Con?

LG: For my first Dragon Con, we brought our 3-month-old first baby, Kinga, dressed as a lobster, in a pot of vegetables, while Richard and I were dressed as chefs. While the entire event was amazing, participating in this way was a highlight.

DD: You are both involved in many organizations and causes. Do you have a favorite you’d like to mention?

RG: For me it would be the Challenger Center for Space Science Education that Laetitia mentioned earlier. I had the great joy to build on the tragedy of the loss of STS 51L with June Scobee, and the learning centers which I wrote the original design for has now expanded to become over 50 centers worldwide.

LG: For me, I would say the National Museum of Mathematics, where I serve on the board, and try to help push it to become a more accessible and more powerful tool for STEM!

You can find Richard throughout the weekend at Gaming (Hilton) and the Space Track (Hilton 309–310). Laetitia will be presenting in the Space Track (Hilton 309-310).

Author of the article

After a lifetime of science fiction and fantasy influences, the last twenty of which have been spent in IT, Geoff Termorshuizen is applying for his Ph.D. in Strategic Security after finishing a B.A in Political Science and M.Sc.'s in Cyber Security and MIS. He currently works as a technical consultant for ACI Worldwide, supporting security and financial payment systems. You can find him at Con either at the the DailyDragon room, or via the EFF track where he has presented panels on digital forensics, privacy, cyberwar, surveillance and technology related politics.