Richard Garriott, astronaut & former colleague.

It was once written of Richard Garriott, (a.k.a. Lord British, creator of the “Ultima” series of role-playing games) that he was “happy to bask in the reflected glow of his father’s fame.” His dad is NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, who flew missions to SkyLab as well as early Space Shuttle missions. In about 14 hours, Richard will be flying from the Baikonur Cosmodrome into space, to arrive at the International Space Station in a few days. He’s fulfilling a lifelong dream, one I never knew we shared, and I wish him… well, I don’t have the words to express what an awe-inspiring experience a week on the ISS could be, but I hope he realizes all his desires for the trip, and that he comes home safely.

In a way, I have basked in the reflected glow of Richard’s fame. I knew and worked side-by-side with Richard for a handful of years in the mid-1980s. I co-wrote an adaptation of Steve Jackson’s “Ogre” board game for his company Origin Systems, and I had my hand in Ultima IV, Ultima V, and a rewrite of Ultima I. My office shared a wall with Richard’s (when the offices were still in NH), and I still live in the house I bought to be near Origin so long ago. For a while I was his right-hand man, always within earshot and always ready to write and refine the tools he used to create his games.

So, even though we knew each other as young men (he was in his early 20s, I in my late 20s) he had a lasting effect on the arc of my life. I always believed I had a hit game in me, if I ever had the chance to design one. Unfortunately, Origin moved to Austin, Texas, and though I probably had a job there if I wanted it, moving wasn’t an option for me. So, against my wishes, my time in the computer gaming industry came to a close. Richard hated what he called in an interview “the frozen northern wastelands,” and that was that.

I was very surprised to learn in later years that another of my Origin colleagues, back then a cocky but likable kid of 19 with a wife, a child, and a beat-up Yugo, would later find fame and wealth in his own right. John Romero and I have gotten back in touch in the last few years, and though he’s had to weather some storms in his life, he’s approachable and genuine. Who could have guessed back then that John, of all the hopeful programmers, would be Lady Luck’s next choice? Which really isn’t a fair thing to say, by the way… Luck won’t get you far without the kind of talent John has, or the hard work he has done. At 19, he had written and published more games than I had by 29, and he was just warming up.

It was bittersweet when I first learned of Richard’s impending space flight. He was news, and so it was hard to avoid for a few weeks last year. Remembering Richard was uncomfortable for the sense of loss it evoked. Still, he was quite young, and perhaps a bit spoiled and sheltered by his considerable wealth at such an early age. I like to think things would have been different had we all been older and wiser.

In the end, I have had a very full life of my own, with a wonderful daughter and grandchildren, and a rewarding career in biotechnology software. My most gratifying career accomplishment was a team effort which introduced a new cancer screening test. Over 80% of women in the US get this test annually, and internationally the numbers are growing. My “awe-inspiring experience,” though private and rightly so, is the satisfaction I feel for making a difference in women’s lives, and the lives of their families and loves ones. I have had the privilege of bringing good to the world. I don’t have $25M to spend for a week’s vacation in space, but when I look back, and look at today… well, I can’t imagine things turning out any better than they did. Thanks Richard and Robert, for all you did for me. Good journeys.

Explore posts in the same categories: Astronomy, Steve's Affinities

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