WHAT THE ULTIMA DRAGONS MEAN TO ME
This is an essay that I wrote for the Ultima Dragons 25th Anniversary Bash in 2017
This is an interesting topic to me, especially after meeting so many Dragons in recent years. The Ultima series has always held a special place in my heart, not simply because of being an extremely enjoyable series of roleplaying games, but especially for the often challenging decisions and roles that the Virtues have impressed on me personally.
I first played Ultima 3 on a school Apple computer, as my junior high science teacher had a copy that was available to play. Despite not getting to play that often, it was always so enjoyable to run around this new world of Britannia, and actually SEE my character and his companions carrying out their tasks to save the world. Considering the graphics of the time were limited by the existing technology, it opened a huge door of imagination for me, along with the exceptional quality of the game’s manuals and illustrations.
It wasn’t until several years later when a friend of our family was playing Ultima 6 on their computer, and reintroduced me to the series. Here was the familiar world of Britannia again, but with the unique twist of dealing with a completely alien culture, and finding out how our “heroic” deeds of the past could well be viewed from another perspective by how it affected them. It was pretty heady stuff for a computer game, and I was immediately hooked. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until a few years later when we got our own personal computer, and I was able to actually get fully invested into the series.
Ultima 7: The Black Gate. Man, what a fantastic game box that was, and how bizarre it looked sitting on the software shelf. I still don’t think I’ve ever seen a marketing approach to this day that comes close, and just seeing the Ultima title on the otherwise featureless box was enough for me. Sadly, my first foray into the intricacies of Voodoo Memory Management was less than successful, and it wasn’t until about a month later when I could afford some extra RAM that I was able to cajole the game into running (along with a great deal of frustration and cursing at the boot sequence intricacies).
I was utterly floored. From the startup sequence alone when the Guardian’s head pushed through the screen, and the deep voice of Bill Johnson boomed from the speakers, I already knew this was going to be badass. Once arriving in the town of Trinsic, and actually seeing a rich, vibrant, and living world, I was simply amazed. We take it all for granted today in current computer games, but here was full NPC scheduling, involved character writing, actual player decisions, etc. Along with the follow up, Serpent Isle, it remains truly my favorite game for really immersing us into Britannia, and seeing how deeply the full story affected the world.
So, the Ultima Dragons? Well, this is where we get into the real world history. As with many who I have known, I was not exactly cut from the normal mold when growing up. I spent many years recovering from a disease called Legg-Calve-Perthes, which nearly crippled me as a child. My parents divorced while I was very young, and I had a very hard time fitting in and socializing with my peers, as I just couldn’t relate to them while bouncing in and out of hospitals for nearly 4 years. Most of my time was spent delving into the escape from our local library, and finding new worlds in the writings of Tolkien, Lewis, Asimov, and many more to stoke my imagination. It was rare when I found someone else who shared a similar interest, and due to my stepfather’s work, we relocated many times over the years, so the personal relationships were either strained or lost.
Frankly, it sucked. This was before the days of the Internet, and even at the start of BBS communication. We had actually just moved from San Diego, CA to Amarillo, TX right before my junior year of high school in 1991, and by the time we moved to Houston, TX in 1993, I was simply a very pissed off kid. It angered me greatly that the few friends I’d known were gone, and that once again, I was trying to find similarly minded folks to befriend. Then there was suddenly this boom with BBS systems and online systems going on, and the first communities started growing. Even though I did have a Prodigy account in 1994, I was not a Prodigy Dragon, and with limited online access and time, I could only lurk on the various forum gaming boards.
It was eventually in 1997 when I heard about the Ultima Dragons Internet Chapter, and promptly signed up as a member. I spent many years online hosting my website dedicated to the Ultima series, being involved in the Ultima newsgroups, and also hanging out at the Horizons Tavern and Wayward Avatar forums. It was actually here that I learned about the Ultima Dragons Ultima Online (UDUO) server, and signed up to play. It was based on the Ultima 7 timeline, and was completely hosted and ran by Ultima players. I later became a GM and Admin for the now called Ultima Legacy server, and it ran for almost a decade. The amount of storytelling and creativity from everyone involved, players and staff alike, was incredible, and showed just how deeply the love for the series went.
I had relocated to Atlanta in 2000 due to work, and was able to first attend DragonCon in 2004 with the Wing Commander CIC group. We had all bought flight suits and were dressed in the Confederation’s gear in tribute to the actor Jason Bernard who had played Captain Eisen, and it was a blast. Here was a place where there were fellow geeks enjoying their passions, and people were welcoming and excited about being there. Then I saw that Richard Garriott himself was there for a panel, and I was floored. I remember greeting him and shaking his hand, and he was incredibly gracious. That’s about all I remember, because I was completely beside myself and so freaking excited meeting him that I was focused on not spazzing out on the guy.
It was pretty much a deal changer for me personally. Instead of only knowing someone online remotely, here was the GUY who created the very worlds so many of us enjoyed together. I met other fans over the years while attending, but there was still never the actual Ultima community represented. When the 2008 recession happened, I was forced to travel around a lot for work, and was actually living in Phoenix, AZ at the start of 2014. There was this new game, Shroud of the Avatar, that had been Kickstarted, and I was just getting into their community when I was reconnected with my former boss, and ended up moving back to Atlanta. It was right about this time when Rustic Dragon (Joseph Toschlog) advertised the Hearth of Britannia event for November 2014. I was so bummed, as I was newly engaged with my future wife, and was juggling finances to move us both to our new home.
There was just no way to afford it without causing hardships and my wife knew how disappointed I was in missing the event. As soon as the HoBLotH 3 event was announced, well…, let’s just say I was a little excited. So excited, in fact, that I spent the entire week in blazing hot Texas summer mucking about in the rain, mud, and gunk with 80 other folks who shared the same passions. Everyone was awesome, people were helping each other out, and throughout the entire event, people talked about Ultima. How it related to them personally, how the Virtues affected their lives, and how it shaped their own creativity and imagination. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I can’t speak highly enough of everyone who was there to make it such. I can only look forward with equal excitement towards getting to share these experiences again with the upcoming UDIC gathering, and any future organizing.
Ultimately, it is about belonging. We, as Dragons, are sometimes a cantankerous lot who will gladly debate the minutest bit of trivia from the Ultima series, while at the same time having seriously heated and passionate arguments over a wide scope of topics. Despite that, I have never once felt unwelcomed, or unwelcoming towards new members who have themselves discovered this phenomenal group of fellow gamers. Through advances like Facebook and other social media, I have myself been introduced to long time fans who never knew about the UDIC, and have become actively involved themselves in rediscovering their love for the games.
They are the friends who taught me to share my enjoyment openly. They are the companions who have been with me for 20 years. They are the family I will cherish for many years to come from our common bond, and I will always defend them and their enjoyment as passionately as my own.
They are me.