A Year in Fan Projects: 2012 In Review
This has been an interesting year for Ultima fans for several reasons, not the least of which has been the many developments and revelations about Ultima Forever that have come to light. But as exciting as the prospect of a new Ultima game is, we would be remiss if we forgot that the Ultima flame, and enthusiasm for the series and the stories it told, has been kept burning bright in large part due to the efforts of those determined, devoted fans who have taken it upon themselves to develop all manner of patches, utilities, and remakes of and for the various Ultima games. And a lot of those projects have reached significant milestones this year.
So as the year closes, let’s look back over the various fan projects that saw development in 2012.
The Ultima 6 Remake
This promising-looking remake of Ultima 6 using the Exult engine and Ultima 7′s graphics (with various additional pieces of fan-made game art) began the year with news that the Shrines of Compassion and Valor had been fully scripted, and could be freed from the Gargoyles. A couple of weeks later, with scripting and other developments progressing smoothly, the project team asked for help with the next phase of development: transcribing books into the mod.
By the end of the month, the team was making excellent progress getting art and scripting implemented, as well as continuing work on building Britannia. Working innkeepers and enhancements to Minoc came next, followed by more work on the world map, and a bunch of new scripting as well.
The remake continued to make smooth progress into May, and saw the implementation of the desert areas of the world map and animation frames for Iolo’s nighttime lute playing. More graphics, and Buccaneer’s Den, followed at the end of June.
October saw much progress made with books and scrolls, among other updates. The team had begun collecting book content submissions earlier in the year, and reported at this time that they had received several excellent entries. Bee hives and the Ant Mound were implemented in November, and a few pieces of new art came to light at the beginning of December, and some new paperdoll art was released just prior to the new year. All in all, the Ultima 6 Remake was one of the more active projects in 2012, and remains one of the more hotly anticipated as 2013 begins.
The Savage Empire Remake
This Exult-based remake of Savage Empire started the year with news of fruitful collaboration between it and The Ultima 6 Remake; the two projects would share scripting and art assets (as well as developers and artists), at least to some degree. That said, the need for a pixel artist was still present.
Progress on the remake began to slow in late February/early March, and Scythifuge spoke at the time of his need for additional team members. Come July, the pace of development had picked up a bit, with Scythifuge re-examining the Avatar’s sprites with an eye toward allowing the player to use Eodonian magic. He also issued another call for assistance with the project later in July, and published a development diary shortly thereafter. Work on the project continued sporadically into September, and in October he re-afirmed that his project would be sharing assets and scripting with other Exult-based projects.
Back to Roots
Fearyourself’s custom game engine for, at present, Ultima 4 and Ultima 5, started the year with news that the transition from overworld to dungeon was supported, as was basic dungeon traversal. He had exiting the dungeons implemented a couple weeks later. Triggers and useable fountains came next, entry to the Underworld was implemented…and he even managed to fix a few bugs along the way.
February saw the addition of monsters to dungeons, making the world beneath Britannia just that more hazardous. Soon thereafter, monsters could attack the player on sight, and dungeon rooms would populate with all manner of objects as players entered the area.
Monster scripting — including splitting slimes — was introduced to the engine in March, as well as dungeon combat. Fearyourself then set about implementing Ultima 4′s dungeons in the engine, although he was undecided at the time as to whether he should use Ultima 4′s graphics or replicate the dungeon layouts using Ultima 5′s much nicer tiles. Shortly thereafter, he decided to shift gears and port the engine’s data and configuration files over to an XML format, a weighty undertaking that would consume most of his effort for the remainder of the year.
The project website fell silent until late June, at which point Fearyourself posted a brief update to explain his absence and inform us that work on migrating the game’s data files to XML was proceeding apace. News was much the same in July, and again in August (although he did also mention, in that month, that he had made a few other optimizations to the project’s code as well).
Andy Panthro’s Ultima Textures for Minecraft
Andy Panthro published an update for his Ultima-themed texture pack for Mojang’s Minecraft fairly early on in the year. He updated it again not two weeks later, to support some new features that were introduced to Minecraft. Another update came in March, followed by another in April that saw some modifications made to the game’s title screen.
Exult has been at a fairly stable development point for a while now, and their site hasn’t been updated since late 2011. Work continues on the project, however, in its version 1.5 branch, with bugfixes and new capabilities being published periodically. At the beginning of the year, Dominus posed the question of whether Exult should continue to support legacy Windows OS versions, specifically the Windows 9x family. The general consensus was that there probably wasn’t a need for that anymore.
August brought exciting news: the “disappearing objects” bug was finally identified and eliminated. And November saw another interesting piece of news: at least one of the Exult ports for Android was found to work with Jelly Bean, Android 4.1. The project team also posted a “help wanted” notice later in the month, asking for assistance with the “autonotes” feature of the engine.
The Ultima 3 Upgrade
Voyager Dragon released a teaser image, featuring the title screen of Ultima 3, on the Exodus Project home page back in mid-January. This was, as it turned out, a prelude to the release of version 3.0 of the Ultima 3 Upgrade, a collection of graphical enhancements for the third entry in the Ultima series. That, too, was released in mid-January, and the Exodus Project has been relatively quiet since then. But we may not have seen the last of Voyager Dragon’s updates for the old Ultima games.
To Be a Hero
This game, which is being built for mobile devices, popped up on the scene back in 2011, and has been relatively quiet during its development. Some wallpaper for the game was released back in January, followed by a trailer in April.
Portable Ultima Patches
Xarton Dragon’s Portable Ultima Patches are a convenient way to apply updates to many of the Ultima games, especially on non-Windows systems. Using an open-source delta comparison method, Xarton’s utility can update each game very quickly, potentially using very little drive space in the process. At the beginning of 2012, he added support for the new Exodus Project Ultima 3 Upgrade package.
Ultima 1 Revisited
Kingspud’s attempt to re-create Ultima 1 from scratch morphed, toward the end of 2011 and into the beginning of 2012, into a tutorial of sorts, which saw Kingspud stepping line by line through Ultima 1′s assembly language. He tnen promotly disappeared until October, in which he posted an “away but not gone” notice, announcing the delay of the project due to the arrival of toddler into the midst of his home.
Pix’s Ultima Patcher
Contra Xarton Dragon’s more cross-platform approach, Pix’s Ultima Patcher is a strictly Windows-only utility, although it achieves the same end, allowing the user to simultaneously patch any installed Ultima game(s)…even one the ones from GOG.
The first update to Pix’s Patcher in 2012 added support for the Ultima 3 Upgrade from the Exodus Project. He updated it again in June, to support Savage Empire and Martian Dreams, after the release of both games on GOG.
August saw the addition of MT-32 support to the Patcher’s bag of tricks. Pix also added support for Forgotten World’s suite of patches later in the month. Support for Beautiful Britannia was added in September, and a patch to fix the earthquake effect in Ultima 7 when run under DOSBox was added in October.
The Beautiful Britannia team published a handful of screenshots as January drew to a close. But rather than just show off their new textures and be done with it, they instead posted comparisons between the unpatched look of a scene and its enhanced look. And in many cases, the difference (and level of improvement) was striking!
But the real surprise came in February, when the project team released screenshots of their expansions to the Cove and Minoc areas of Ultima 9′s Britannia. In a jaw-dropping series of images (later complemented with an aerial view), Firstknight showed us the new areas he had been able to add to Britannia where previously there had been only ocean.
In May, Firstknight posted an update to the Forgotten World website detailing his plans to release a playable demo featuring the expanded Cove and Minoc areas toward the end of 2013. October saw the release of an overhead view of Britannia that showed off the new areas that Firstknight and his team had added to Britannia.
The Dark Unknown
This browser-based, Ultima-inspired tile-based RPG has been in development for a while, and you can find updates about it posted, with some regularity, to the Ultima Dragons Facebook group. At the beginning of the year, Goldenflame Dragon implemented loot drops and the ability to search the bodies of downed foes, and also solicited opinions as to how abandoning combat should be handled by the game, and whether the player should incur a penalty for fleeing a fight.
August saw the introduction of animated missile weapons to the game, and September found Goldenflame Dragon musing on spellcasting UI considerations. A persistent issue with light sources in the game was fixed in November.
Kevin Fishburne’s Ultima-inspired, man vs. nature MMORPG, Sanctimonia, has been maintaining a very steady rate of progress throughout the year. In January and February, Kevin focused on server optimization and improving network transactions between the server and the game client(s). He also spent some time re-working player gear management, and began to lay the foundation for the implementation of digging and terrain deformation. At the beginning of February, he had also begun working on the combat system in the game, which uses variables such as “mass” and “edge surface area” to calculate not only the damage done by a weapon or object, but also the degradation (if any) in weapon performance over time.
In May, Kevin informed us that several different areas of the game — especially player models and graphics. June saw the addition of a “foliage wind” sound effect and the addition of player height tracking to the game’s backend. Later on in the month, he also demonstrated OpenGL-accelerated water depth layers. Water level oscillation came next, accompanied by client-tracked wind vectors and the rudiments of a terrain deformation/excavation system. A teaser video of the excavation system — and some new shading techniques — was released in July.
Between August and November, Kevin kept himself busy on the project, implementing new features and correcting old bugs…although the most significant change in his life was the birth of his son in August. November saw him working on fonts that he intended to use in-game.
In December, the project’s website was cleaned up significantly, and numerous updates were made to the game. Kevin Fishburne also settled upon a plan to monetize the game; your first life will be free when you play, and additional lives will cost $0.99. Which, at least on the face of it, sounds like a very effective way to allow players to pay — quite literally — for only as much game as they want, although one can imagine that one may end up going through lives fairly quickly at times when playing through Sanctimonia; the good Mr. Fishburne isn’t shying away from making the PvE as unflinching and brutal as the real world can often be.
Ultima IX: Redemption
We haven’t heard a lot this year from the Titans of Ether about their Ultima 9 remake, Redemption. That’s due in no small part to the fact that some of the team, at least are helping out with the OpenMW project, in preparation for transitioning the project to that engine (it currently uses Morrowind as its base). In January, the team released a few screenshots of the various areas they had been working on, and also teased the existence of a secret village somewhere in the mod.
In May, the team let slip that they would be transitioning from the Morrowind engine to OpenMW, and a brief news update in July promised additional details at some point in the future…which, as of mid-December, had yet to materialize. They did assure us it was coming back in August, but it never did.
The Serpent Isle Remake
Thepal’s attempt to remake Serpent Isle using the Oblivion engine is something of an oddity in the Ultima remake scene, as it is one of the only project that is attempting to do a straight remake, without the addition of any new content or quests. Of course, the going has been a bit slow for the project this year; it began 2012 on hiatus, and was further set back by a hard drive failure in March. Thepal came up with a creative way to save himself some time in rebuilding the mod to where it had been prior to the crash, inviting Ultima fans to submit their pictures for use as templates for character models.
In June, Thepal, having had the opportunity to take stock of what was lost in the crash, and it turned out that he had lost more than he had expected. This, in turn, prompted him to shift his goals for the project somewhat. His new aim is to make the game finishable, and then go back to add better textures, new faces, and suchlike. Soon thereafter, he posted an image of the Mountains of Freedom as he had re-built them. These were followed, later in the month, by some breathtaking screenshots of his implementation of Furnace. July saw the project’s online home migrated to Thepal’s personal website, after which point progress on the project slowed rather significantly.
Although it’s tempting to think of Forgotten World as the “other half” of the Beautiful Britannia project, and although the two projects share resources and a website, they are in fact separate projects, with separate aims where improving Ultima 9 is concerned. Beautiful Britannia is focused, primarily, on enhancing the look and feel (and land area) of Britannia, whereas Forgotten World is focused on correcting issues with the game itself…bugs and the like.
At the beginning of February, Iceblade mentioned that he was working on the activity editor that his team had been building for Ultima 9, this after having figured out how to re-implement NPC schedules in the game.
In May, the project suffered a bit of a slowdown, but by July development work had resumed in earnest, and Iceblade even went so far as to promise that a fix for several “memorable” bugs was imminent. Soon thereafter, he asked for a handful of beta testers to try out the new fixes, and went on to promise a release in August.
That release happened as planned; the version 1.19h update corrected a number of bugs in Ultima 9…including the Moonglow catacomb elevator, the demon death bug in Valoria, and Dermot hanging out at the pub all the time. It also apparently fixed the floating lady in Dawn and the floating runes/sigils bug. The team also released some pointers on how to alter the game’s settings to improve its performance and significantly reduce the frequency of crashes.
Zeph’s Ultima Textures for Minecraft
Zeph Grey also released a set of Ultima-themed textures for Mojang’s Minecraft, and has tended to draw almost exclusively from Ultima 6 for it. He released an update for it in late February, and then again at the beginning and end of March.
Another update came in early April, which added some new decorative textures. He didn’t release another update until September, which saw a much-refined texture package featuring redone armour and gem textures, as well as other touch-ups.
November saw the addition of leaves and other things inspired by Martian Dreams and Savage Empire.
Ultima V: Lazarus in Spanish
This attempt to translate Ultima V: Lazarus into Spanish has been quiet — dormant, really — for a while, and the same was largely true toward the beginning of the year. An update in February was meant to assure us all, I suppose, that the project was still ongoing,
Ultima 3.5: Pax Britannia
This project came to light in March. Andrew Owen is developing it — and posting updates to the UDIC Facebook group — for a particular 8-bit Z80-based system that. Later on in March, he solicited suggestions as to which notable Ultima NPCs should be included in the game.
In April, Andrew posted an image of the tarot cards as they would appear in Pax Britannia, and also showed off the character creation sequence and dungeon tileset he would be using.
Eric Fry’s cross-platform engine for Ultima 6 was relatively quiet for the first couple months of the year, but rang in the month of March with the release of version 0.3 of the project. This update saw the implementation of character creation and the other introductory sequences of the game, as well as many other movement, interaction, and object usability features. And as it that weren’t enough, some exciting developments began to materialize in mid-March…including images of Ultima 6 running in a fullscreen mode that did away with the (ugly, to some) scroll-inspired UI of the original game.
Another screenshot emerged toward the end of March, showing off new inventory gumps. Roofs and more gumps were shown off in April, and an improved conversation engine was teased in a screenshot released in June, which featured an utterly breathtaking pixelated dithering effect. Eric also sat down with Dungy for an interview early in July.
September dawned with the release of Nuvie version 0.4, which saw the fullscreen mode implemented for all to try, a new roof tile system, a new Ultima 7-like interface, key-binding, and many other small improvements and bug-fixes. And in December, the project was crowned the Fan Project of the Year by Ultima fans.
Britannia in Minecraft
As if his excellent Ultima-inspired texture pack for the game weren’t enough, Zeph Grey also announced in mid-March that he would be attempting to implement a large-scale version of Britannia in the game, using the WorldPainter utility. An update in April showed off the scale of what he was building; in his rendering of Britannia, the walk from Britain to Minoc would be a journey of several days.
Serpent Isle in Italian
Old Games Italia released their Italian translation of the second part of Ultima 7 in April.
This attempt to remake Ultima Underworld’s engine into something a little more cross-platform had been dormant since 2009, but in early April I noticed that some commits had been made on its SourceForge page, suggesting that it is still being worked on.
Ashes: Two Worlds Collide
Seven Towers’ Exult Mods
Britannia and Serpent Isle in Minecraft
AvatarAcid’s attempt to re-create Britannia, or at least certain locales therein in Minecraft came to our attention back in April, with a series of very promising-looking images of many different landmarks from around the land. The following month, he also published images of his attempt to re-create the Serpent Isle in Minecraft, and he also posted a handful of refined screenshots of his work on Britannia.
Intended as a spiritual sequel to Ultima Online, Project Drake, which we first heard about in May, aims to cross the sandbox experience of UO (and some of the other Ultima games) with elements from Morrowind, Minecraft, Dwarf Fortress, and even Fable.
Ultima 1 Revenge
Dino the Dark Dragon published a playable work-in-progress demo of his attempt to create a modern engine for Ultima 1 in May.
Ultima 7 Part 3: The Feudal Lands
The Ultima 6 Project
This high-tech remake of Ultima 6 using the Dungeon Siege engine actually saw its version 1.0 release in 2011. Numerous bugs and other issues were reported by players prompted the release of a version 1.01 patch, but a smaller subset of the original team also got to work on a version 1.1 release that would address many of the reported issues. In June, they announced that this update would begin beta testing in the near future, which it did indeed. Closed testing lasted until November, which saw the release of the public version 1.1 beta.
This tile-based, Ultima-inspired multiplayer RPG brought itself to my attention again in June, and has seen fairly regular updates since then. A PvP tournament was announced in late July and evidently was carried off to great success.
September saw the introduction of vampires to the game, and later custom keybinding support. Updates continued through to December, which saw the introduction of a “smooth scrolling” effect and support for MP3 music.
The Real Texas
This project first popped up in July of the year…or, at least, that is when I finally got around to reporting on it. It touted itself as being inspired by Ultima 6 (at least in part), although at first glance it was difficult to see the connection: the game is not a fantasy title, is not set in a far-away world, and features a range of Old West firearms as weapons instead of swords, halberds, and crossbows. At the same time, it featured an interactive world and a plot setup that do indeed homage the Ultima series, a tough (but engaging) combat system…and it even won some praise for its quirky, humourous plot.
GOG added it to their catalogue of games in November, or thereabouts.
This attempt to tell the story of the Serpent Isle in the years following the apocalyptic events of Serpent Isle remained fairly quiet all year, appearing on the radar in August to announce the addition of new team members. They also showed off two different sets of new portraits by their talented new artist, although there has been little news from them since then.
December saw another update from the team, announcing a new team member and revealing more portrait art, followed — at Christmas — by the release of the mod’s stirring main theme.
Flight of the Maxima
DOUG the Eagle Dragon’s Ultima-inspired fantasy/sci-fi RPG, build using his IRE engine, published its version 0.4.0 release back in August. Little has been heard from it since then, however.
Ultima 6 Online
This online re-implementation of the Ultima 6 engine isn’t as frequently updated as it was after its resurrection a few years ago, but the designers still manage to keep things interesting with in-game events and, as we saw in September, occasional wild alterations to the world map.
Invasion of Mondain
This relatively new remake of Ultima 1 appeared back in September with the release of a handful of screenshots. At the time, its name hadn’t been finalized; Red Dragon settled on Invasion of Mondain a while later. December saw the release of two more screenshots, featuring an odd (but oddly effective) kit-bashing of Nintendo-derived and Ultima 7 assets, suggesting that the final look of the remake may end up somewhere between those two styles.
This project has a long way to go as yet, but is certainly one to watch in 2013.
This exciting reworking of how Exult displays the world of Ultima 7 appeared rather suddenly in October, initially as a handful of screenshots and an Exult forum thread. An initial release soon followed, however, followed by more screenshots and an updated version of the mod in November. The project has since lapsed into silence, but I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of it come 2013.
Ultima 6 Minecraft Conversion
Ian Albert’s re-implementation of Britannia, from Ultima 6, in Minecraft made quite a splash when it first came to light in 2010, and was updated earlier in 2012. Of course, I didn’t notice this until November.
This project appeared on the scene in late November, first as a Kickstarter campaign, and then as an Indiegogo campaign. The developer describes it as being inspired by Ultima (Ultima 8 and Ultima Online in particular) and Minecraft, and the final result he is hoping to achieve is a hybrid of the play styles of those games.