Houston’s Richard Garriott, 21, is proud of his father, astronaut Owen Garriott, who is due to fly on NASA’s ninth space shuttle mission next year. But Richard has been doing some soaring of his own. Akalabeth and Ultima II, two popular home computer games he designed in the last two years, have brought him a six-figure royalty income and a contract with Sierra On-Line Systems, an Oakhurst, Calif. software specialist. A third Garriott game, Ultima III, is due to hit computer shops soon.
A medieval history buff, Garriott is a junior majoring in computer science at the University of Houston. He writes his game programs under the name “Lord British” and describes them as “computerized versions of Dungeons and Dragons.” All involve a main character who “travels around, fighting dragons, getting locked in dungeons and stuff.” A colleague at Sierra notes that Garriott’s games go beyond Pac-Man and its kin because they require intellectual input, not just manual dexterity. “They’re more like chess,” he maintains.
As a high school senior in Houston three years ago, Garriott got his father to help him buy a $1,500 Apple II. When Richard announced he was going to design a game, his dad bet him $50 he couldn’t. “That was what kicked me into doing it,” he says. His first product, Akalabeth, was sent off to a publisher of computer games by the manager of the Houston computer store where Richard was then moonlighting. Akalabeth alone, he says, is “paying for my college education.” Akalabeth and Ultima II, sold by mail order and in stores, cost $34.95 and $59.95 respectively.
Garriott is now designing a third Ultima game on his trusty Apple II, which is souped up with $10,000 worth of modifications. Richard puts most of his loot into real estate (he and his father own some houses), money market funds and IRA and Keogh accounts, keeping enough walking-around cash to splurge on movies and restaurants. Someday he wants to build a house with a library, a secret room and passageway—”although I know it sounds juvenile.” He also dreams of something that puzzles his fellow medievalists but makes his dad proud: “I would really love to go into space.”