Yesterday a couple of excellent flash-versions of Ultima IV were taken down, including the Phi Psi version which my daughter has played to about 45% completion. According to rumors cited, this might have been done because EA is looking to release their own flash version of the game.
This is a terrible, terrible tragedy.
For those who may not know - Ultima IV is widely regarded as one of the most important video games ever made. Not only is it just a blast to play through, but it stands as one of the first and only games ever created in which your goal is to become a paragon of virtue. 8 virtues, in fact. Unlike the first 3 Ultima games which were technically solid but largely forgettable dungeon-romps which culminated in the slaying of a villain, Ultima IV had you struggling to unite the people of the world by proving your spiritual mettle. The systems for achieving this were quite sophisticated, even by todays standards, and playing through the game really teaches you something about how difficult it can be to meet such lofty goals.
The Psi Phi version was actually just a bit better than the original - with 25+ years of hindsight, a few of the combat mechanics were a bit unbalanced, some things were a touch too rare, and knowing things you weren't supposed to know (vie internet walkthroughs, for example) allowed you to "jump ahead" in some cases where doing so ruined the game a bit. All of those things were lovingly shaped into slightly better forms of their original selves. The graphics also took a minor increase in quality - to the best version made. And of course making the whole game available as a flash application allowed millions of people to actually play it for the first time.
Whatever EA's reasons for taking it down - they aren't good. Even a freely released "official" version would be inferior to the Phi Psi version they already took away from us - because of the careful improvements already mentioned.
Some people suspect that EA is trying to reboot the Ultima franchise - which would be wonderful! But killing the availability of the best version ever made of the best title in the franchise is hardly a good way to build up word of mouth! And almost nobody would pay to own a flash version of Ultima IV these days - I bought the Ultima collection back in 2000 or so, which along with my Apple II versions mean I could already play the original if I wanted to. The freely available versions online were popular because their barrier to entry was nearly zero - that's what it takes for people to put time into your classic games.
I'm going to have to tell my daughter that she won't be able to continue her quest in Ultima IV. And unless EA gets its head put on straight, it is unlikely that she'll ever have the chance to continue.
I have a framed poster of the Ultima IV map which I drew by hand when I was 10 years old - the same age my daughter is now. I was really enjoying the bonding experience I got by sharing this classic game with her. I hope EA has a great plan in their back pocket to make this all worthwhile - but I rather doubt it.