The Versions of the Ultima Series to Play and the Reasons Why

Bill Loguidice's picture

UltimaUltimaWe'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.

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Bill Loguidice
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Phantasie
Calibrator wrote:

The only Phantasie game I played was III on my Amiga and it was pirated and lent to me. I don't know if I finished it but it's title was very appropriate: It left everything to your imagination. Running a colored dot, less detailed than Pac-Man, through the dungeon corridors was to me not even as immersive as a good text adventure (or "interactive fiction" as it is called nowadays). The very stylized combat graphics were apparently a predecessor of J-RPGs with their combat poses, individual attack strikes etc.
I don't remember any big plot but the colorful city was only a simple graphics screen for some menu points like guild, armourer etc.
Disappointing to me and certainly not nostalgic.

take care,
Calibrator

Yeah, playing certain games from a pirate copy just don't work well. Phantasie did feature dungeons like you describe, but the nice part was that the whole dungeon appeared more or less on a single screen. It was like a very zoomed out view and the dungeon revealed more and more of itself as you explored it. Same thing on the overworld. You had the single party graphic as you moved through a tiled forest/swamp/mountains/water/road, with other icons representing things like dungeons and towns. In town, it was again a single screen with all buildings available to you. Combat was like a zoomed in view with the monsters in ranks and the player's party lined up on the bottom. After you pre-programmed your attacks for the round, you would then see each attack (melee or magic) slightly animated. For me, it worked and felt very immersive despite the abstraction. The story was there and it did make sense, but it was certainly no literary epic. Each game was essentially kill the big baddie by the end, with a few subplots thrown in.



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Mark Vergeer
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I have got the Atari versions of the Ultima series

I have got the Atari versions of the Ultima series in atr format, but I have found out that I have no good player disks. I am able to continue a game, but I cannot create a NEW player disk. Any information on how to go about that?

I am thinking about giving the game a try on Atari800MacX. Or are there better alternatives to try it out in an accessible way? I don't have a manual, is that a problem?



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Bill Loguidice
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Ultimas
Mark Vergeer wrote:

I have got the Atari versions of the Ultima series in atr format, but I have found out that I have no good player disks. I am able to continue a game, but I cannot create a NEW player disk. Any information on how to go about that?

I am thinking about giving the game a try on Atari800MacX. Or are there better alternatives to try it out in an accessible way? I don't have a manual, is that a problem?

You mean you don't have a manuals for any of the Ultimas? You should definitely snag one online for whatever game you're playing and also the related map (which came with each game). Without that, it's a challenge to play, let alone try to enjoy. You might want to consider playing the original Apple II versions instead, which you can do here directly in your browser: http://www.virtualapple.org/ . It's my understanding that some of the Ultimas don't run/display (slow, limited colors, etc.) well in the Atari 8-bit versions due to bad porting. Ultima III though is supposed to be good on the Atari 8-bit from what I've heard...



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yakumo9275
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Ultima I - Definitely the PC

Ultima I - Definitely the PC remake. Playing any of the other versions gives you nothing extra.

Ultima II - Its a bit of a toss up on the Apple II version or othe C64 version. I'd go with the Apple II

Ultima III - Definitely nitly the C64 version, I think it has better graphics over the Apple II version.

Ultima IV - I'll go Atari ST here (not seen any amiga screens). It just looks better side by side to the Apple II version with its blurriness ntsc colouring

Ultima V - Amiga

Ultima VI - PC without a doubt

not taking XU4 into account etc, with only official games.

-- Stu --

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Calibrator
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Screenshots galore!

Here are some screenshot galleries to compare the various versions (courtesy of MobyGames.com):

http://www.mobygames.com/game/ultima/screenshots

http://www.mobygames.com/game/ultima-ii-revenge-of-the-enchantress/scree...

http://www.mobygames.com/game/ultima-iii-exodus/screenshots

http://www.mobygames.com/game/ultima-iv-quest-of-the-avatar/screenshots

http://www.mobygames.com/game/ultima-v-warriors-of-destiny/screenshots

http://www.mobygames.com/game/ultima-vi-the-false-prophet/screenshots

Not all conversions are there, obviously, and most are emulated but I think
they give the right idea. The exception being the Atari 8-bit versions which
are apparently run on the Atari800Win emulator - judging by the horrible
artifacting it offers.

Good artifacting is shown on the U2 and U3 DOS screens using CGA on a
composite monitor.

The screens of the Apple versions of U1 to U4 don't seem to be emulated
but displayed using an RGB-card using an TTL-RGB-monitor or something similar
(the bottom four lines of text in the U2 screens show no color artifacting)
- hardly the typical setup but fairly realistic.

take care,
Calibrator

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Bill Loguidice
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Ultima Play Rankings for Best Mix of Authenticity and Quality

I've seen those too Calibrator and I too wish they had the full range there. I still stand by my rankings for my own reasons, but it's interesting how with Ultima IV all versions are roughly the same. It's only with Ultima V that we start to see some real differentiation, particularly with the PC/Amiga/ST versions (though I dislike the huge game logo in the bottom of the Amiga/ST - what we're suddenly going to forget what game we're playing?)...

I also think removing the Atari 8-bit from the Ultima III listing is probably appropriate, as it doesn't look like the colors are competitive with the C-64 version. Can anyone confirm or deny the Atari 8-bit screenshots here?: http://www.mobygames.com/game/ultima-iii-exodus/screenshots . If that's the case, then removing the Atari 8-bit from considering for Ultima I and II would seem to be necessary as well.



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Bill Loguidice
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Ultima II

Ultima II looks bad in all versions: http://www.mobygames.com/game/ultima-ii-revenge-of-the-enchantress/scree...

The ST version is too white. CGA over a composite/TV arguably looks the best. The C-64 version is not too bad either and looks like it remains a good second choice to the 1989 Apple II remake. I'd be very curious what this remake looks like. Even this site only has the old version: http://www.rpgclassics.com/shrines/pc/ultima2/versions.shtml
(and again, look how poorly the Atari 8-bit port was handled)



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Bill Loguidice
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Ultima II

Hmm, even http://www.virtualapple.org/ultimaiidisk.html seems to have the original Apple II version of Ultima II rather than the remake. Anyone have any links to images of the remake (or even a ROM) handy?

If it's difficult to get the 1989 remake (I may have it on one of my ROM discs at home), I may just stick with the C-64 version in my boxed Trilogy. That seems to be a favored original version anyway...



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Mark Vergeer
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Bill be patient - the site states the following:

that they will soon make available a full package of Apple2-disk downloads!



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Bill Loguidice
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1989
Mark Vergeer wrote:

that they will soon make available a full package of Apple2-disk downloads!

Yeah, hopefully they'll add the 1989 version, as they only have the original version for download right now. I'll have to see if I have it on my ROM discs as well. I probably do if its been made available before.



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