High Score (2020) s01e03 Episode Script

Role Players

[woman] I have always liked the idea
of adventure.
I just have this really deep curiosity.
It just doesn't seem to quit.
My imagination was always taking me
to all these places.
I would dream about it,
and I'd make up worlds.
With the games I designed,
the whole idea is
to make you feel like you're there,
that you could explore.
I just wanted to be swept away.
[upbeat electronic music playing]
[man] I met Roberta
when we were in high school.
I was very interested in girls
at the time.
And I liked her.
It was kind of love at first sight.
We got married four days after
I turned 18
and have been together ever since.
[Roberta] We are very different.
Ken is more serious.
He's a little bit more methodical.
[Ken] When there's an adventure
to be had, Roberta hears about it.
Then all of a sudden,
that's something we just have to do.
[narrator] This is Roberta Williams.
And starting in the late '70s,
she and her husband Ken
would take video games
into a new dimension.
[Roberta] He is Mr. Computer.
When we first went out, he had just
enrolled in a computer science class.
So that year, a lot of our dates
were in computer rooms.
That gave me my introduction
into computers.
[narrator] In the early 1970s,
computers weren't gaming machines.
They ran calculations,
contained databases
Not exactly pillow talk material.
Unless you're Ken and Roberta.
[Ken] One day
when I brought home a computer,
she took an interest in a game
that I was playing
and all of a sudden
a whole different Roberta emerged.
[Roberta] The game that was on it
was called Colossal Cave
which was the beginnings
of the adventure games
where you are actively involved
with the story.
[narrator] Colossal Cave Adventure
was written by a computer programmer
named Will Crowther in 1976,
well before there was such a thing
as computer graphics.
And for most,
a mouse was still just a rodent.
So the game was played through words.
The player typed in basic commands
and the screen would respond back.
It was a new genre of gaming:
the text adventure.
It was always, "What do you want to do?"
Okay, you're in a clearing,
and the well, it's really deep
but you see a rope going down
into the well.
So you would go, "Get rope."
And then as you're standing there,
suddenly up on the text it would say,
"You see a little dwarf coming
your direction."
[narrator] The game offered something
that was truly unique at the time: choice.
But if you didn't do anything,
he could bring out an arrow
and shoot you dead and you're dead.
That's it, end of story.
You have to start all over again.
[narrator] And that choice was
just the thing for an adventurous spirit.
I would go to bed and think about it.
How am I going to get past this dragon?
'Cause there's a cavern
behind this dragon
and I must go there.
How do I get past the dragon?
I got very taken with this game.
To the point was that's all I was doing.
And, in about a month
I finished it.
And I remember thinking, "You know what?
I think I can do this.
I think I can write a game.
I really want to write a game.
I'm going to write a game."
[narrator] It took a novice like Roberta
to ask the big questions:
Could games be more than blasting aliens
out of the sky
and an endless back-and-forth
of a pong ball?
Could they invite players into new worlds
to tell an interactive story?
It would take some true storytellers
with a taste for the theatrical,
shall we say,
to figure it out.
Ah, there you are.
Welcome to Britannia Manor.
You're probably wondering who I am.
Would you like to hear a few tales?
[chuckles] Very good.
Well, it all began with
a pair of polyhedral dice.
As you open the door,
you see a large darkened room
with a vast iron chest
sitting right in the middle.
What do you do?
[narrator] This is Richard Garriott.
I lead the party in and I open the chest.
[narrator] This is also Richard Garriott.
This is him again.
And one more time.
As you can see, Richard likes to wear
many different hats literally.
He's a deep-sea diver
who has visited the Titanic
an explorer of the Amazon
and he's even been to space.
He's also an iconic game developer
and something called a dungeon master.
As you open the chest,
a bounty of treasures
pour out around you onto the floor.
[narrator] What you're watching right now
is a game of Dungeons & Dragons,
a board game that took basements by storm
in the mid-70s
and inspired a generation
of future game designers.
It's exactly how computer games like
Colossal Cave Adventure were conceived.
Not in a computer, but on a table top.
The four doors around the room open
and in stream masses of goblins.
You have a free form dialogue
between a game master,
who is describing
what you might see in a fantasy setting,
and the players,
who have decision-making skills,
react to the story that is being told.
[narrator] The game is complicated.
There are rule books
hundreds of pages long,
crazy-looking dice,
and the same game can last for years.
What's important to know
is that it's a role-playing game.
And one that became quite popular.
It began as a cult phenomenon.
Then it caught on.
Now a new game is sweeping the country.
While herds of nerds adored the game
[man] But there's nothing there
or anything?
[narrator] vanquishing hell spawn
and conjuring black magic
yeah, that had parents freaking out.
[reporter] Dungeons & Dragons
has been called
the most effective introduction
to the occult in the history of man.
[man] I do not think that many parents
are aware of what's inside the game.
I mean, the gruesomeness of this game
and the occult link to it…
[narrator] And then Hollywood
tried to cash in on the controversy
with a TV movie
about an eerily similar game
Mazes and Monsters is a far-out game
swords, poison, spells.
future Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks.
JJ, what am I doing here?
[narrator] To be clear, Dungeons & Dragons
was never about satanic worship.
It was about storytelling.
And, at the time, a 16-year-old Richard
was eager to combine
that love of storytelling
with a new piece of technology.
It was the forerunner of what would become
the modern computer
and it was called the teletype.
There was no video display.
It was a spool of paper
where you could continue to print
the output from whatever
my interaction might be.
Teletypes were used for boring stuff
like data processing,
but some people were trying
to make games with them
and Richard wanted to give it a shot.
[Richard] The high school I attended
actually had two teletypes
and there was no class
in the entire school that used it.
No teacher that knew how to use it.
So I convinced the school to let me have
that classroom to myself
for one full period every day.
The number of options you had
were quite limited.
Asterisks for walls, spaces for corridors,
dollar signs for treasure,
the capital letter A for a giant ant.
You could move north or south or east
or west or maybe pick up that treasure.
Uh, but that was about it.
Every time you would make a move,
you'd have to wait ten seconds
to see how the monsters had moved
and where you had moved inside the space.
But it worked.
The computer could do this work.
It could actually create an experience
that, instead of being the game master,
I could actually be
a participant in, myself.
I began to sit down and go, like,
"Well, I'm going to write a fantasy game
like I'm enjoying playing."
I would create these notebooks
of each game as I was writing it.
[narrator] It was a great idea,
but come on, is it really that fun
beating up the letter A?
If any computer was going to be
a serious gaming machine
for high adventure and fantasy,
then it needed something special
that no one had figured out…
[Roberta] I had no idea
how to start to write a game.
But I think I need
some big pieces of paper.
And I remember sitting there, pen in hand.
I had never done this before.
So what am I writing?
What is this? What am I doing?
And the first thought
that came to my head was,
"What games have I played?"
I came up with the game of Clue.
But it has to be a story, too.
It can't just be just a board game.
I sort of started developing the idea
of creating this world to explore
with a flow chart.
Things to do, things to run into.
Characters that come along,
and some are good, some are bad.
You have to open up the world
so you could feel like you're there.
The way you do that
is to give people the decisions
of where they can go.
I was drawing it,
and building it, little by little,
and I could see it develop,
and I could add more
secret passages,
trapdoors, and murders.
When I had written my game,
and it was on this big piece of paper
and I have no place else to go,
because I can't program this.
It's a design document.
I need a programmer.
I need Ken.
Now, meantime, while I'm doing this,
Ken had the idea
that he would start this company.
I wanted to build a company
that would be kind of a, um,
Microsoft style of background
and was hard at work on that.
So, I did a little scheme.
I made reservations
for him and I to go to dinner.
Ken always loves to go out to eat.
And he was pleasantly surprised.
And I was in high, high salesman mode.
[Ken] She was talking loudly
and people at other tables
were looking at us like we were crazy.
[Roberta] First he was kind of like
[Ken] 'Cause she was talking about murder
and who was going to die
and how they were going to die.
It was just kind of a weird conversation.
[Roberta] Finally, he said,
"Everybody else has already done
text interactive stories
or adventure games.
You know what we need to do?"
And I said, "What?"
"We need to go beyond that.
We need to add graphics to it."
And I was like [gasps]
"Oh, my God. Oh, my God.
He's gonna do it. He's gonna do it" 
[narrator] There was just one problem.
What Ken proposed had never been done.
[Ken] I love a good technical challenge,
and since computers were new,
everything was new and cool.
[narrator] Games back then
came on a floppy disk,
the USB drives of their time.
But they only had about 360K of storage.
That's just a few seconds
of a streaming song.
Forget about pictures.
These days it would be easy.
I mean, it's--
But it was a different world then.
So rather than just
digitizing the pictures,
I had the idea of using
the end points of lines as graphics.
That allowed me to fit all the pictures,
the whole game, on one floppy.
Mystery House was the very, very first
computer game that had graphics.
It was a huge leap technologically.
[narrator] The images were simple
nothing fancy.
But to see this on a personal computer
was a revelation.
This is the beginning of something big.
[narrator] Up until Mystery House
was released,
most gamers got their fix at the arcades
or in front of an Atari.
a new player had entered the industry.
My Apple is my manager.
[announcer] There are more people
in more places
doing more things with Apples
than with any other
personal computer in the world.
[narrator] A machine once relegated
to word processing and simple spreadsheets
suddenly became a portal
into a whole new magical realm.
The Apple II would go on to sell
over five million units around the world
and set the stage for a new term
[announcer] The most personal computer.
[narrator] the home computer.
[Richard] The Apple II ran a lot faster.
It had a real time video display.
There were huge advantages to it.
Immediately I realized
instead of just doing a top-down map
like on the teletype,
I could do, in theory,
a perspective view into the world.
I actually cleared out
the closet of my bedroom,
because I wanted to have a dark,
24-hour-a-day place to sit there
in front of my glowing monitor.
Day and night, continuing to evolve,
step-by-step, this game.
[narrator] When it was finally done,
Richard named the game Akalabeth
and earned $150,000 in royalties.
Not bad for six weeks of work
in high school.
But he still wasn't satisfied.
Akalabeth was a widget, a toy,
a piece of self expression
and an exploration.
It was just, what can I do?
What is possible?
And Ultima was the first time I sat back
and tried to craft
an entire role-playing experience
on a computer.
[narrator] Let's pause there for a second
and dive into some gaming lingo.
Role playing.
Here to explain role playing games,
RPGs for short,
is renowned developer Becky Heineman.
Role playing games are very attractive
because it allows you
to play a character of your own creation.
The biggest appeal to this game is
that it doesn't create characters for you.
You create the characters.
You play as somebody
you would aspire to be, good or bad,
but you can't become in real life.
[narrator] Before RPGs,
most popular games followed a formula.
Players control a ship in space,
blowing up asteroids.
A ship in space,
blowing up space invaders.
No story arc. No exploration.
Just shoot stuff and make it go boom.
But Richard wanted
to do something different.
Enter his new game, Ultima,
which was more than just
mindless explosions.
[Richard] Some of the ways that Ultima
was quite unique back in the 1980s
was that you would start
through creating a character.
Your character would have attributes,
like strength and dexterity and stamina.
Whatever it might be.
It had characters and story.
It had places where, once you had gone out
on a battle and fought,
that you could return to a city or a town,
where you could replenish your supplies,
rest up, heal up, those sorts of things.
And so I sort of saw it as a world,
a living, breathing fantasy universe
to play as a player.
[narrator] In an industry that had always
assigned players a character to play,
a game like Ultima
allowed you to build one.
It created an open world
where you could then venture forth
on epic quests
and equip different weapons
and armor to aid you on your adventure.
[Richard] With Ultima
in a very real way, you know,
I was finally beginning to flex
a little bit of those game master roots.
You're now being involved in a narrative
where I have laid out
the fundamentals of the narrative,
but a lot of the details
are filled in by you, the player.
[narrator] To be brutally honest,
the game hasn't aged gracefully.
But without this
you wouldn't have these
[dramatic music playing]
In a short period of time,
creators like Richard and Roberta
had taken computer games
from simple text on screen
to crude graphics to character creation.
The genre was evolving,
trying to perfect itself
within the limits of technology,
and building upon each innovation.
And the next big breakthrough
would be found in Japan.
Not at a keyboard
but at the tip of a paintbrush.
[Amano in Japanese]
I'm always imagining things.
I feel like
I'm always deep in imagination.
I feel like I'm in that realm,
not in reality.
[narrator in English] Yoshitaka Amano is
an artist known for his unique characters.
Early in his career,
he brought them to life
in popular anime series
and illustrated manga.
But his style evolved past the cutesy,
wide-eyed anime look
and into something otherworldly.
[Amano in Japanese] I thought it would be
interesting to draw a fantasy world.
I think it's better
to create new characters
based entirely on your own imagination.
There's really no end
once you get started.
I think of each character
as its own color.
I'll add things when a picture needs
a little extra panache.
I'd draw an extra little animal.
You want
their defining features to stand out.
The next step is to breathe life
into them, so to speak.
[narrator in English] In 1987, Amano would
be challenged with an entirely new medium:
video games.
[Amano in Japanese] People didn't really
understand what video games entailed.
It had a niche, outsider vibe.
[narrator in English] At the time,
the process of designing games
wasn't exactly seen as high art.
But a new project in development
piqued Amano's interest.
[Amano in Japanese] Final Fantasy
was the first video game I worked on.
It's an imaginary world,
so someone has to create visuals
based on their imagination.
[narrator in English]
The company behind Final Fantasy
wanted to make an RPG inspired by Ultima,
but they needed an artist's touch
to make it stand out.
In stepped Amano.
[Amano in Japanese]
And my job was to create characters.
We wanted to create
an entirely new world
with characters that don't exist
in the real world.
[narrator in English]
There were heroes and monsters,
dark evils and faraway lands
promising adventure and wonder,
but it had to be shrunk down to size.
[Amano in Japanese] My job ends
once I've drawn the character on paper.
Then I pass the baton off to someone else.
Someone else drops the characters
into the game.
[narrator in English] Amano's fantastical
drawings ended up looking like
[Amano in Japanese] Even if they
have short, stubby proportions
I thought they turned out cute.
Anything becomes cute like this.
[narrator in English]
In the beginning, that was okay.
Players could look at a stubby character
and, using their imagination,
remember Amano's masterpieces.
These creatures and characters
are what gave the original Final Fantasy
its incredible longevity.
Now, there are dozens of sequels,
prequels, and spin-offs of the game.
[Amano in Japanese] In the case of a game
like Final Fantasy
the characters evolve
with each new game released.
They take on a life of their own.
[narrator in English] They may take on
a life of their own, but with each version
of the game, the characters look more
and more like Amano's originals.
It was becoming easier to lose yourself
in the world of the game.
To feel sympathy for a character
when things went wrong,
and suspense and fear
when facing down a challenging final boss.
Or, in some cases,
the exhilaration
of uncovering some lost treasure.
[man] I've always liked searching things.
When I was a kid I would go to cemeteries,
I would go to old abandoned buildings
and find treasure.
[narrator] Like a character from an RPG,
Ryan Best is on a mission.
But his quest is unfolding
in the real world.
It started 40 years ago,
when he taught himself to code
and created a computer role playing game.
But the game has since disappeared.
[Ryan] I've searched all of my hard drives
from every source that I knew.
The game's lost to history
at this point and
I'm afraid it's never to be seen again.
Ryan's game wasn't a commercial success.
In fact, most people probably
have never heard of it,
much less played it.
But for those who did,
the RPG was an outlet
both for Ryan and those in his community.
[Ryan] I moved to San Francisco
probably in 1988,
and I wanted to get more close
to the gay and lesbian center
of San Francisco, which was really big.
You'd see guys walking down the street
holding hands
and women doing the same.
It was freeing.
But this was during the AIDS crisis.
And so gay men stared dying.
[narrator] It was the late 1980s
and Ryan watched helplessly
as the US government
failed to act on the crisis.
I think that abstinence has been lacking
in much of the education.
[narrator] And some blamed the victims.
The right wing conservatives
really latched onto this
and said that it was God's retribution
for being gay.
At the time, we had all
of these preachers going on TV
filled with hatred
towards the gay and lesbian community.
The gay people are giving their blood
knowing that it is contaminating people
and, to me,
that is irresponsible and immoral.
Pat Buchanan, he was like enemy number one
of the gay and lesbian community,
just for all of the hatred he was spewing.
The homosexuals have declared war
on human nature,
or declared war on human nature,
nature's exacting an awful retribution.
And if there's any good
that came out of all this hatred, is
it helped the rest of the community
come together and fight.
[Ryan] We had groups protesting.
I really thought of trying to do
something else
to really fulfill me internally.
I decided I'm going to do
a gay and lesbian role playing spoof.
For Ryan, coding was his form of protest.
He called the game GayBlade.
And wow.
[Ryan] The monsters in the dungeon
were things like preachers
with bags of money,
giant crabs.
Basically the people and the creatures
that in my mind had picked on me.
'Cause yes, it's true. I had crabs
once in high school. [chuckles]
So crabs went into the game.
But giant ones.
Weapons became press on nails.
Until the final scene,
where it's really difficult
to win against
Pat Buchanan.
It was hilarious. It was wacky and funny.
And when I was finished with the game,
it was like therapy for me.
A lot of the anger that
I'd carried with me for years was gone.
And it was very freeing.
[narrator] GayBlade was
a big, fabulous snub to the man,
a catharsis.
It cloaked social issues and morality
in the disguise of a fantasy game.
RPGs were allowing players
to be their most altruistic self,
but they also allowed
inner demons to escape.
[Richard] While I was creating
these games,
I assumed and planned
that you are the great hero,
who is here to save the world
from the great evil.
But when I would watch
what people would be doing
to actually play the game,
they were anything but heroic.
The surest path through all the games
was not to be the virtuous person,
but was rather to steal
from all the shops,
kill all the characters,
and basically be morally ambiguous at best
to defeat the big, evil bad guy.
But along the way, you were actually being
a pretty bad guy yourself.
And that to me was a real shock.
I was somewhat horrified
that I was creating
this little band of rogues
that were not living
the aspirational virtuous fantasy
I had imagined they were playing.
And so I set out to fix that.
Ultima IV was a radical departure
in how I rethought gaming,
frankly from the ground up.
I wanted to write this game that says,
you know,
you have to be a person of virtue
or you couldn't win the game.
Not only do you have to be
a person of virtue,
it's important that it's you,
not your alter ego.
If I'm going to judge you harshly,
based upon you deciding
to steal from that shop,
I want you to feel like you personally
have stolen from that shop.
[narrator] What Richard is talking about
is giving the player a conscience
in the game.
And that moral inspiration
came from an unlikely place.
No, not there.
No, not there either.
Ah, yes, here.
-[woman] Shh!
-[narrator] Oh!
[whispers] Here, in the library.
[Richard] In my research,
I had come across this interesting word.
And that word was "avatar."
If you look up in the encyclopedia
the word "avatar,"
it's the incarnation on Earth
of a deity in human form.
And I thought, "Oh, this is perfect."
It transports you, the perhaps skinny
little computer nerd from Earth,
who arrive in my magical world
of Britannia,
now as the buff adventurer
that you might aspire to be.
But it's still you. This is your avatar.
And that way,
you are now responsible for the actions
and deeds of your character.
[narrator] With Ultima IV,
Quest of the Avatar,
Richard had discovered a way
for players to bring their sense
of right and wrong from the real world
into the game world.
If you steal from a shop,
you're not going to be able
to buy that demon slayer sword
that will be so important later on.
Kill indiscriminately?
Nobody will help you on your quest,
and you won't be able to beat the game.
While primitive, the code of conduct
the game laid out
would have a huge impact
on today's open world games.
In titles like Pillars of Eternity
and Skyrim,
the behavior you bring to the game
impacts how the experience unfolds.
I really think this was me trying to say,
"How can I make Ultima IV important?"
Not just a place
to happily waste some time,
but how can I actually make something
that is relevant to the individual player?
[Ryan] GayBlade was the first
role playing game
that's focused on the LGBTQ community.
The mainstream computer games,
if they have any gay
and lesbian characters,
they are always playing a minor part.
It kind of represents
how we've all been marginalized.
Almost like we're an afterthought.
I was getting people writing me notes.
In a time of great unhappiness,
they got a little bit of relief, humor
and chuckles from playing GayBlade.
And it was amazing how many people
wanted to play it
and wanted more.
[narrator] And then,
the craziest thing never happened.
Pat Buchanan heard about GayBlade,
got into his presidential tour bus,
drove across country to San Francisco,
stopped in the Castro
to buy some souvenirs,
then showed up at Ryan's door.
and stole the game, telling Ryan
to “pray the gay away” as he left.
But funnily enough, the game made
Pat Buchanan realize that he was gay!
And now he's living in Paris
with his partner, François,
and their two Bichons, Coco and Chanel.
Actually, that didn't happen at all.
The truth of how Ryan lost the game
is far less colorful.
[Ryan] I lost all my copies of GayBlade
in a move from Honolulu to San Francisco.
A shipping company never showed up
to pick up the items at my apartment
that I was moving out of,
and I was not going to be able
to fly back to Honolulu.
Everything, my master copies,
my installation, my source code,
it was all gone.
So I've been searching for it
ever since the shipping incident,
and that was 15 years ago.
If it's out there,
it would be momentous.
It would be so important
and so meaningful to me.
But I recently got some help in my search.
Out of the blue, a woman contacted me
and she was building an archive
of computer games
that featured gay and lesbian characters.
And she had sent out the word
to all of these different forums.
And it's only been four to six months,
but I've noticed websites, Twitter,
different news groups
all trying to find GayBlade.
Word began to spread on social media
and a committed online community
formed on a joint mission:
the search to find Ryan's lost game.
It blew me away
to have all of these people
sending feelers out.
I really feel that if it's out there,
it's going to be found.
[narrator] This outpouring of support
shows the power that RPGs have on players
and how far the games have come
from asterisks as walls,
to a fully connected community.
[Richard] I think that role playing games
play an incredibly positive role
in society.
It's people from all over the world
who know each other through their avatars
and now have found reason
to seek each other out in the real world
and deepen those personal bonds.
[narrator] But before we finish,
there's one last detail to wrap up.
A whole new genre
and way to play games had emerged.
Choice in what you did,
and how you did it,
could actually have consequence.
And, as technology improved,
so did the complexity
of the stories they told.
But back on home consoles,
a war was brewing.
And a company that had struggled
to take on an industry behemoth
started to develop
their own secret weapon,
one that was too fast for the naked eye.
[man] Sega!
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