Richard Garriott has popped up at CVG for an interview on Tabula Rasa:
More information.Games often end up being either stereotypical or unfathomable. Do you worry about people not 'getting' it?
Garriott: We had one substantial false start for the first 18 months of development. While the gameplay principles persisted throughout, the visual and historical wrapper we put around it was completely scrapped - specifically for the reason you describe.
We originally set out to have one universal visual and historical archetype... and it really was so new and so different, you couldn't even cursorily tie it to contemporary Earth, or Star Wars or Star Trek. What we came up with was so missing in important touchstones it wasn't really successful. We unwound being quite that different, then rebuilt.
We were originally much further in the future with much more Eastern philosophy. Instead, we backed up to something more contemporary, in terms of military and interpretations of science fiction. Start with things they find familiar like pistols and rocket launchers... then move onto the more exotic weapons. We still have them, but you grow into them.