You were showing us your display of Asian-culture characters... How do you go about developing a game for multiple cultures?
Garriott: When we first started building the game we thought that since we have such expertise in the Asian market and the US and European markets in the company, we felt that surely we could come up with one game which is powerful for everyone concurrently. Over time, it’s interesting to see what happened.
For example, when we tried to do temples, putting in a curved roofline, which you may think of as an Asian roof-style, we would constantly get commentary back from our Asian office saying “We see what you’re trying to do... but it really doesn’t look right.” Eventually they told us why. Imagine we were trying to make a nice European castle, and instead of giving it straight edges, we gave it marshmallow ones, so it was a little puffy. Puffy battlements. We would look at that as comical, but they would look at it as a castle.
When you’re trying to make things that are Eastern, without the experience of growing up within the culture, you miss by just enough that this problem manifests itself... We ultimately decided we should do games that we know - US games, frankly, that we’re very comfortable and confident with, and make sure that we appreciate it, then go and try and work out how to translate it into other cultures.
We’re not entirely convinced aiming for pan-cultural ideas is a good thing. Isn’t there a risk of monoculture?
Garriott: I think it’s desirable to have diversity in art. It enriches everyone to see it. However, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with something having universal appeal. Think about why these cultures were different anyway - it’s because they were isolated. It makes sense if the real innovation in France happened visually and the real innovation in - say - the US happened in certain aspects of game mechanics, it would make sense that those unique ideas and advantages would get repeated and built on before those cultures met.
However, once you’re sharing your games, it’s quite reasonable that people will grow to appreciate certain bits of art. Then, while there’s a downside to the homogenization of the cultural aspects of gameplay, you now have twice as many innovators in the metapool of creators - both groups are becoming experts in each other’s fields - and there are twice as many opportunities for advancement and learning from each other. I actually think that in many ways the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.
And when one culture does take another’s ideas, it metabolizes them into something different.
Garriott: Korea originally wasn’t interested in any first-person style game. They just wanted a game with a top-down view, and you’d click where you wanted to walk over to. It’s because everyone is playing in these PC games rooms, and they want to have their other hand free to be smoking a cigarette or be around their girlfriend, who for some strange reason is willing to hang around all day watching their boyfriend play these games. When you tried to do a 3D game with WASD controls, it required too physical a connection... so people just weren’t interested.