Spam Spam Spam Humbug: Episode 16 – From Aiera to Here

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This episode is mostly off-the-cuff. Truth be told, I find it difficult to approach the issue of the Codex’s (and Ultima Aiera’s) anniversary, unless I spend weeks in advance preparing and revising (and re-revising) the text. I haven’t had time for that this year, so this podcast episode serves as a stand-in for that. It’s a particularly good episode, though, and I’d encourage you to listen to it…especially if, previous to now, you have opted to just peruse the show notes.

The episode follows a rough progression through previous Codex and Aiera anniversaries (using the anniversary post from 2012 as a bit of a discussion framework), beginning in 2010 with the Mythic Entertainment’s invitation to the Ultima fan project community to create an iOS port of Ultima 4. We discuss some of the attempts made at this, and also talk about some of the limitations of adapting extant Ultima fan projects (such as xu4) to meet the challenge…not the least of which is the use of GPL licensing.

We also discuss the release of the Ultima games on GOG, and talk about the contributions of the Codex and Aiera thereto. Some of the bonus content included with the Ultima games on GOG can, after all, also be found on The Origin Gallery.

And in light of the recent episodes announcing and expanding upon New Project Britannia, we also discuss the launch and original intent of The Digital Lycaeum. Over the years, and through many fine projects, Ultima fans have generated a lot of music, artwork, and even 2D and 3D graphical assets. The original intent of the Lycaeum, then, was to bring together in one convenient repository as much of that content as possible, for other aspiring Ultima fan project teams to take advantage of and use in their own works. Ultimately, the Lycaeum didn’t really succeed in that goal, possibly because it didn’t provide enough of a framework — enough of a context — for the later use of those assets (an issue that NPB addresses). However, under the stewardship of Browncoat Jayson, the Lycaeum has evolved into a valuable resource of a different kind, and will no doubt be an integral part of the NPB strategy in the years to come.

And finally, we do some comparison and contrast between the high point that was 2013 and the somewhat more sober year — a low point, to be sure — that was 2014. In 2013, things were looking particularly great for Ultima; even as little as a year prior, the property could be seen as being more or less dormant. But in 2013? Quite the opposite! Ultima Forever launched that year, and Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar was in development , after the completion of a successful Kickstarter campaign. Suddenly, Ultima seemed to be back, and back in force, both in name and in spirit. Contra the state of things when I first decided to really focus heavily on growing Ultima Aiera’s audience and coverage (2008, when it seemed that Ultima was well and truly a thing of the past), two years ago was a grand time indeed to be running an Ultima fan hub.

Some of that excitement was short-lived, though; Ultima Forever shut down in 2014, barely a year after it had been released world-wide. Lord of Ultima was also closed down that year, leaving only Ultima Online to carry on the series’ namesake. Contra the excitement of the previous year, 2014 saw us come closer to a return to where things stood in 2008…or in 2004, for that matter. Although we at least managed to send Ultima Forever off in style; I and many others logged in to the game on its final day and played it for hours on end, pursuing its plot as far as we possibly could. It was a bittersweet conclusion, to see a game that had so much promise fall and be shut down because it had been mismanaged so, but…there was a measure of closure at least.

Shroud of the Avatar is, thankfully, still in production and inching closer to what now appears to be a 2016 release…but many Ultima fans have significant reservations about that game, not all of which existed a year ago. As Divinity: Original Sin proved, claiming the Ultima mantle is no easy thing to deliver on; Original Sin failed (somewhat) in this respect, and this same weight of expectation is hovering over Shroud of the Avatar now.

And this all brings us to today. The Codex is embarking on new territory now, both with New Project Britannia and with this podcast, and it has become quite a different thing than it was when I first moved it to the WordPress platform back in 2008. Equally, there’s still so much work to be done, not the least of which includes restoring download links for all of the various fan projects. Still…running the site has made for a wild, strange ride, and there’s a lot of memories that have accumulated that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

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The Parting Glass, as recorded by Shaun Davey for the Waking Ned Devine soundtrack.