By Daniel D'Agostino on 17th July 2022
Dino's Ultima Page celebrates its 20th anniversary on 27th July 2022. 20 years is a long time for anything, let alone a video game fan website. So it is interesting to reflect on what was going on at the time of its creation, how it started, and how things changed over the years.
I first got access to the internet sometime in late 2001. It was a kind of transition period. Things like Facebook and Gmail weren't around yet, but the Ultima Dragons Internet Chapter had already been around for a decade. I had missed those first years, and still struggle to imagine what the early Dragons mean when they talk about Prodigy, Usenet groups, MOOs and BBSes.
What I found in 2001 was a creative explosion. Just two years earlier, in 1999, the single-player Ultima series had been concluded with Ultima IX: Ascension, and many long-time Ultima fans weren't impressed. Some took to the forums and other platforms to vent their frustration. Others felt they could do better, and started projects to remake Ultima IX (as well as other games in the series). And one young man started Hacki's Ultima Page, a website dedicated to collecting nitpicks about the Ultima series, in particular Ultima IX.
The Ultima community was buzzing with activity at the time. There were countless websites sharing information about the Ultima games, from simple Geocities websites to bigger archives such as the Ultima Web Archive, UltimaInfo.Net, and Prescient Dragon's Hint Network. People wrote entire fanfictions about the Ultima series. And many of the bigger websites had forums where Ultima fans would hang out, based on software like ezboard, phorum and phpBB.
More importantly, the more tech-savvy of the lot had started a number of projects to remake the Ultima games. Almost every game in the series had at least one remake. The most popular of these at the time, Ultima 1: A Legend is Reborn and Ultima 4: The Dawn of Virtue, were based on custom-built game engines. Exult, an engine port of Ultima 7, was already around, and in time was followed by similar efforts for the other games (e.g. Pentagram).
In 2002, three RPGs with beautiful 3D engines and sophisticated modding tools became available: Dungeon Siege, Neverwinter Nights, and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. This inspired a whole generation of Ultima fans to start projects remaking the Ultima games with newer graphics.
Dino's Ultima Page started on 27th July 2002, just a few weeks after I had joined the Ultima Dragons Internet Chapter on 11th June 2002. Its initial purpose was to host The Lost Vale, a fanfiction by Amazing Dragon that had gone missing, and of which Natreg Dragon had a copy (see "The First Anniversary", the news archive, or the old About Me page from an archived copy of Dino's Ultima Page from 2003).
It wasn't long before I started aggregating, on Dino's Ultima Page, the very same things I was constantly searching for myself: interesting information about the Ultima games, and news from the various Ultima projects. This unwittingly attracted a number of followers who could get all their Ultima news and information in one place.
Dino's Ultima Page grew considerably over the years, with particularly extensive Guides developed and released for Ultima 8: Pagan (2003), Ultima: Escape from Mount Drash (2003), Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire (2006), and Ultima 1: The First Age of Darkness (2014).
Dino's Ultima Page also continued to be a leading Ultima news website until 2011. A hand-coded website run by a single person is hard to maintain when real life gets in the way for that person. On the other hand, newer websites based on CMS software, such as Ultima: Aiera (now superceded by The Ultima Codex) and The Codex of Ultima Wisdom, were much better placed to grow with multiple people maintaining them.
Most of the Ultima remakes fizzled out, with some notable exceptions (including Ultima V: Lazarus and The Ultima 6 Project) delivering high-quality remakes faithful to the original games.
EA also attempted to revisit the Ultima brand several times, with projects such as Ultima X: Odyssey, Ultima Online 2, Lord of Ultima, and Ultima Forever: Quest For the Avatar; but all of these ended in disaster, whether they were released or not. Origin was shut down in 2004.
Spiritual successors of Ultima made by other companies include Underworld Ascendant, and Richard Garriott's own Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues. While Ultima fans are divided, especially on the latter, it is probably safe to say that even these two have failed to live up to the greatness of the original Ultima series.
Many of the long-standing Ultima websites have since disappeared, most of them with the disastrous closure of Geocities in 2009.
With the advent and proliferation of social media, Ultima forums generally fell into disuse, and Ultima fans migrated to social media platforms, mainly Facebook. Platforms such as YouTube and Twitch also made it much easier for Ultima fans to share gameplay videos or even livestream their gaming sessions.
Ultima Dragons and other fans also had various opportunities to physically meet at several Ultima-themed events, the biggest being the Ultima Dragons 25th Anniversary Bash in 2017.
With the outbreak of COVID19 in 2020, I started putting a lot of restoration effort into Dino's Ultima Page. As a hand-made 18-year-old codebase that had been neglected for a long time, it was suffering from a lot of different issues. I put a lot of effort into modernising the website, converging it into a consistent and mobile-friendly design while keeping the site true to its roots (see "The Evolution of Web Design at Dino's Ultima Page").
The role of Dino's Ultima Page today has changed considerably from when it started. While fanfiction and Ultima community news have taken a back seat, the preservation of Ultima information as well as the history of the Ultima community has become much more important than ever, with all the Ultima websites that have disappeared from the web.
For this reason, I continue to maintain the Ultima information at Dino's Ultima Page, as well as the Ultima Web Database 2, which can be used to locate and visit Ultima websites -- even those long gone, thanks to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.
And although the Ultima games are decades old now, it's still fun to occasionally break new ground and discover something new, with the Savage Empire Gold Falls Bug Investigation being a notable recent example.© by Daniel D'Agostino 2002-2023