He is like a not evil Steve Jobs.
When Lord British speaks, there's typically a gleeful edge to his voice, like he's just decided not to let you in on a secret. In a heated tent outside his castle in the hills above Austin, Texas, the tuxedoed and goateed nobleman — or Richard Garriott, to those who've never ventured through his groundbreaking MMORPG Ultima Online — cocks his head at the crowd gathering to celebrate his 45th birthday and flashes a satisfied smile. “I don't get to see people's faces while they play my games,” he says. “But tonight I'll get the benefits of a live performance. My parties are where the virtual meets the tangible.”
The evening was billed as “Magic at the Manor,” featuring performances by 18 of the world's leading magicians, but with a twist that had Garriott feeling particularly giddy. In the party invitation, itself a cryptic message that had to be heated in an oven to display the URL where guests could find details for the event, he vowed to re-create a long-forgotten method of sawing a woman in half — then reveal how the trick was done.
Rich people throw lavish parties; rich role-playing-game designers host living theater experiments. Lord British, it could be said, is without peer in the latter. At a Beyond Thunderdome-themed party a few years back, stuntmen waged bungee-corded battle in a 40-foot-tall geodesic dome. At a Titanic-themed party, guests boarded an 80-foot barge on Lake Austin that was outfitted with a two-story facade resembling the port side of the ill-fated ship. Later in the evening, a second barge, done up like an iceberg, appeared and struck the Titanic. Once again, the great ship sank. And 400 revelers — many in black tie or expensive gowns — had to swim 30 yards to shore.
The magic party hinged upon a more intricate plot. While the host stood onstage next to a box to be featured in the grand finale, a sand bag dropped and broke the box in two. Foul play was suspected, but by whom and why? As the 100 or so guests were led through Garriott's castle, they watched illusionists and collected hints to the identity of the lord's would-be saboteurs. Most of the audience knew magic only from television, where a camera angle or some other trickery offers a too-easy explanation and breaks the spell. No such reality would interfere here.
In the end, master of ceremonies Michael Weber, magic consultant on The Illusionist and The Prestige, pieced together the hints, deducing that the culprits were a set of twins who'd performed at the party. That one twin was a petite brunette and the other a 300-pound man in drag made the outcome all the more mysterious.
The evening wound down a mere eight hours after it started, with the host pouring 100-year-old port for the stalwarts. “It's all about secrets,” said a grinning Garriott. “I imbue my games and my parties with the process of discovery, with a physical manifestation of unreality.” With that, he corked the bottle, tucked it under his arm, and disappeared into the crowd.
When teenagers broke into his wine cellar and got caught on camera, instead of calling the police he just made like 200 printouts of them and taped them all over the cellar walls, hoping they'd come back and see it.
Which they did, and were so freaked out they turned themselves in.
In 1997 the house was broken into by a deranged fan. Garriott held him off with an UZI, firing a warning shot while waiting for police to arrive.
But he first purchased the device for an entirely different reason unrelated to work.
Last spring he wondered how his elderly mother, who lives in Las Vegas, might take part in his July wedding in Paris. “My mother didn't think she could make the trip, so after a thorough investigation, I decided to buy a robot to stand in her place,” says Garriott.
Priced at $15,000 and created by Anybots, Inc., the Anybot QB gave Garriott's mom the chance to fully be a part of his big day.
From the ceremony to the reception, she talked to people, made decisions and got to see the entire day.
“We printed out a few cardboard cutouts of her. She was even on the dance floor,” says Garriott.
When he returned from France, Garriott thought the robot could be put to even better use with his extensive travel.
“My wife’s home and business are up in New York and my business and home are in Texas. But as long as I had the robot, what a great opportunity to teleconference in remotely,” says Garriott.
Richard Garriott is watching comets from the observatory atop Britannia Manor, his home in Austin, when he sees a shadowy figure scale the security fence and cross the lawn. The gargoyles with the glowing eyes on the roof don't deter the intruder; neither does the working cannon at the front door. Then the prowler hurls a large stone through a glass door leading to an indoor grotto, the one with hot-and-cold-running rain showers. Although the foyer under the observatory stairs is filled with crossbows, battle axes, armor, and swords, Garriott reaches for his Uzi. (“It's the only weapon I know how to load,” he explains later.) The intruder is climbing the stairs, ignoring warnings to stop, so Garriott fires a warning round above the intruder's head. The bullet blows a hole clean through the house.