We've been having a bit of a discussion about Ultima in the Gates of Delirium Live - Post 11 blog comments, and I was curious what everyone's thoughts were on the most authentic, interesting and error-free versions of each of the nine main Ultima games, not counting Akalabeth (though we can throw that in there too). This is both for my own selfish reasons of wanting to play these at some point (and to do it only once for each game) and also because I think this would prove to be an interesting discussion as I know everyone is very opinionated about the series. So, assuming you have access to any version - and any version's optimized hardware setup (for instance, you have an Apple II with two Mockingboards or a C-128), which would you pick, and in what order, say up to the top three systems for each version of the game? I'll start with my own only partially informed opinion.
0 - Akalabeth - World of Doom: PC DOS (version on Ultima Collection CD-ROM), Apple II original, dimjon's J2ME version
My reasoning: Since Akalabeth is such a simple and often frustrating game, it's best to play it in the most painless way possible. While the PC DOS version is not an original version, it does work well in Windows and is probably the easiest version to play. The Apple II version is the second choice because it's the original, but it's not readily available in ROM form and impossible to find an original. The Apple II version is also supposed to be rather slow, which is not appealing in an already dated and frustrating game. dimjon's J2ME version is one I've played on my old Nokia cell phone and seems to be a very faithful recreation, so that's why I put it as the third option. Having played quite a bit of Akalabeth, I really have no interest in ever finishing it, so this is one I'd definitely pass on, though again, if I ever did play it, I'd probably go with the PC DOS version.
1 - Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness: C-64 (1986 remake), Apple IIGS (1994 port), Apple II (1986 remake)
My reasoning: I don't think it would make much sense to run the original Apple II version, since it was written in a combination of BASIC and Assembly code as far as I know, making it a bit slow and buggy. The re-release in 1986 was an official remake entirely in assembly language, which also features slightly improved visuals. The idea of a IIGS-specific port intrigues me, though I'm not sure of its availability and how faithful it is considering it's not official (I'd rather not experience unofficial interpretations, even if they're better). I would be less opposed to playing an enhancement of this game as it probably benefits from it and was already done so by Origin themselves (meaning the unofficial IIGS update is not a foreign concept). If I received some assurances as to its worth, I'd definitely consider moving it to the first slot. I'd also rather avoid PC DOS versions whenever possible, since I know I'll be stuck on that platform for the later releases and I'm not a fan of PC speaker sound.
NOTE: Atari 8-bit was removed in combination with the C-64 in favor of solely the C-64
2 - Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress: C-64, Apple II (1989 update), Apple II (original)
My reasoning: It's my understanding the official Apple II 1989 update - the only updated version of the game released - features bug fixes and a very slight tweak to the graphics and interface. Since the C-64 version already had all of this and more with the addition of extra sound in the first place, that would be the original version to go with.
NOTE: Atari 8-bit was removed in combination with the C-64 in favor of solely the C-64. The Atari 8-bit version was deemed graphically inferior to all versions courtesy of a poor port.
3 - Ultima III: Exodus: Apple II (original with Mockingboard support), Atari ST/Amiga, C-64
My reasoning: The most authentic version would be the Apple II release with Mockingboard, giving you originality and good sound. You get similar sound on the Amiga/Atari ST versions, as well as updated graphics. I'm not sure the latter is really necessary, though, and it may be more enjoyable on an older system. The C-64 version would be a good standby since it's very much like the Apple II release and has similar sound to the Mockingboard version.
4 - Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar: Apple II (original with Mockingboard support), Atari ST/Amiga
My reasoning: The Apple II is competitive with all other 8-bit versions in terms of graphics and sound (with Mockingboard), so there's no reason not to play the original in this case (it also helps that I have this version complete in the box). Again, the ST/Amiga versions would offer updated visuals if that were important to me. By the way, this is one where the Sega Master System (SMS) version is rather tempting in that it appears to be a very faithful and visually updated representation of the 8-bit computer version, unlike the bastardized NES versions of the series.
5 - Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny: Apple II (original with Mockingboard), C-128, Atari ST/Amiga
My reasoning: Since this is the last version ever made originally for the Apple II and really pushed that system to its limits, this has to be the preferred version. Also, with two Mockingboards, you have up to 12 sound channels/voices, though I don't believe they were all used (still very, very cool). The C-128 has to be the second choice since it's one of the few games to directly support the C-128 in some manner; on the C-64 you get no music, on the C-128 because of the extra memory, you get full music. The Atari ST/Amiga again, because of the enhanced visuals. I suppose the DOS port would be OK too, but definitely as a fourth choice for the hassles associated with DOS alone.
6 - Ultima VI: The False Prophet: DOS, Amiga/ST, C-64
My reasoning: DOS was the development platform, so that's the version that needs to be played. In addition, it supports pseudo-VGA and sound cards (though sound effects are still PC speaker). The Amiga/ST versions from my understanding were just straight ports of the DOS version and have few enhancements, as well as run slower. The C-64 version is supposed to be pathetic, but it's the only 8-bit version released (shockingly, the Apple II market was supposedly not considered viable enough for a new version of the game by 1990), so that has to count for something.
7 - 9 Ultima VII - IX: DOS/Windows
My reasoning: By this point there were no other ports to speak of, so playing the originals is where it's at. I would however play IX with the various fan-made patches to avoid many of the glitches, one of the few times I would really seek such a thing out. I may be wary of some of the content changes, however.
So does anyone have any thoughts about this? Know something more about any of the versions above? I own all the Ultima's on the PC, Ultima I - III (as part of the Trilogy box) on the C-64, and Ultima IV and V on the Apple II, so that could certainly play factors in my decisions as well. However, I obviously have the ability to pretty much recreate any version on any platform that I so choose, especially since I have all of the original materials and maps and what-not, so I wouldn't lose anything in the experience, making me very open to alternatives.