Ultima 1 (Apple IIGS) – Part 3

Thanks to the aid of Joseph Seeley, part 3 is following sooner than expected and we get to see the end of the game. The savegame he provided already had everything in place required to win, so I spent all my money raising up my HP, rescued the nearest princess and went off searching for a time machine once again.

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This time it did appear correctly so I’ve no idea what went wrong with my game. Having now found the time machine, I’m a little wary that my HP is way off maximum still but there isn’t anything to lose by giving it a go so I hop straight in.

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The endgame is instantly recognisable. I’d have thought the final encounter deserved a suitable backing track but it’s carried out in silence apart from the digitized effects. I needn’t have worried about my HP as the IIGS Mondain is something of a lightweight. Once transformed into a bat, he never even made it out of the little square surrounding the gem and more or less stood still and let me blast him the 7 or 8 times required for victory.

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He dies with a slightly inappropriate scream…

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.. and the end screen fades in with the familiar text.

Finishing this off took 5-10 minutes so there isn’t a whole lot to add. This port has felt a little unfinished at times so I do wonder if there are more complete versions out there which have some of the loose ends tidied up. Hopefully, it will be available for sale again one of these days and I can find out.

Ultima 1 (Apple IIGS) – Part 2

I started out part 2 continuing to rescue princesses and raising my HP to a state where I felt I could survive long enough in a dungeon to bag a balron. This only required about 20 minutes of grinding so wasn’t too arduous and the amount of HP and especially gold I got returned on exiting the dungeon does appear to have been raised in compensation for the difficulty.

The balron was another dungeon creature missing its graphics but I did spot another couple to add to the menagerie, including one for you Zorn fans:-

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With all the gems in hand, it was time to head for space at last. As so often in all of these ports, this section of the game is little different to the original from 1980. The graphics are a little more colourful but in space no one can hear your IIGS playing MIDI music as there isn’t any. There are a couple of sound effects when docking and shooting but that’s about it.

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The TIE Fighters of the original look more like the advanced TIE in this port and are considerably easier to hit with the fat round body shape. On my first visit, I literally cleared space of all enemies and still didn’t get the 20 kills required to become a Space Ace. Maybe this can happen on other versions but I’ve not seen it before. I had to land, get enough money together to pay the docking fees again and head back to space a second time. As luck would have it, the invading aliens had been busy in their shipyards and I could grab the missing 3 or 4 kills required.

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Back on the ground again, I’d had plenty of practice rescuing princesses so one more to get the time machine wasn’t going to be difficult or at least that’s what I thought:-

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This first part went OK but was followed by a scouring of every part of the map looking for the time machine and not finding it. I tried rescuing all the other princesses to see if that would help and searched again to no avail. I can only assume that there is a bug in this port which can stop the time machine appearing and since I didn’t fancy starting from scratch, this playthrough has come to a slightly premature end.

I have seen this described as the best version of Ultima 1 and while it has plenty of good points, I would have to go for the FM Towns version instead. That has the advantage of intro and outro graphics, textured dungeons and no game-breaking bugs that I’m aware of. It has the disadvantage of sharing the music and graphics with 2 & 3 on the system but judged on its own merits has to come out on top as far as I’m concerned. I especially don’t like the fact that the dungeons on the IIGS are dangerous to the point of being unexplorable to any great depth. The use of ladder up/down spells should be optional in my opinion.

I would of course still like to see the ending of this and I expect there will be a part 3 eventually. If anyone happens to have a save game at the end and would like to send it my way to speed things up, it would be appreciated. Failing that, the next game on here and one I’m really looking forward to will be Ultimore – A World Divided.

Ultima 1 (Apple IIGS) – Part 1

It’s fair to say that the Apple II never made much of an impression here in the UK with its hefty asking price and a burgeoning computer industry of our own in the 80’s. It was the starting point in the career of many veteran developers in the US however with Richard Garriott and Origin of course being included in that list. Origin continued to develop for the Apple II as the primary platform until around 1990 when the switch was made over to PC with Ultima 6 and Wing Commander heralding the new era. I’ve been looking for an Apple II of my own for a long time to try some of these early titles for myself but finding them over here at a reasonable price is nearly impossible. In the end I gave in and imported a IIGS which didn’t cost too much on its own but by the time I’ve added in the various accessories (keyboard, mouse, flash drive, disk drive, power converter, Mockingboard reproduction card, memory expansion card, parts to make a SCART cable, and lastly getting the motherboard repaired), I reckon I must be getting on for the price of a PS4. I’ll refrain from doing this bit of maths in case it’s worse than I think but I can see why there are so few of them over here.

The IIGS was the final variant of the Apple II series coming out in 1986 two years after the Macintosh. The GS stood for graphics and sound with the GS supporting a 12 bit palette of 4096 colours up to a resolution of 640 x 200. Only 16 colours could be shown at once without CPU intensive scanline palette swapping techniques but this still put it ahead of most of the competition back in 86. It also supported wavetable music which is of surprisingly high quality. As so often with Apple the pricepoint was well outside of the mainstream consumer and the main client remained schools with one of the key selling points here being that it retained compatibility for previous Apple II software.

Memory expansions and processor accelerator cards added to the longevity of the IIGS with cards available to more than treble the speed of the original 2.8Mhz processor. The IIGS ultimately found an extremely loyal fan base and was still being used by many people up into the mid 90’s when Windows 95 and it’s ilk finally conquered the world. This led to the final official port of Ultima 1 coming out in 1995 for a variant on the machine it had originally been released on 15 years earlier.

The IIGS port was programmed by veteran developer Bill Heineman who had previously worked on the Bard’s Tale series among numerous other titles. Bill had already ported other classic titles to the IIGS such as Out Of The World/Another World and used the same team small team for this project. These games were only sold directly through Vitesse for a brief time and later through Shareware Solutions until the all too early death in 2010 of Joe Kohn who ran the company. The rights for the software reside with Rebecca Heineman these days and while it will hopefully see a new release eventually, it is unavailable for the moment.

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The first thing I notice on loading the game is the musical score created specifically for this version. It includes original pieces for map travel and the title screen as well as more familiar tunes such as Rule Britannia in all the castles and what I think is Bach for the dungeon music. The dungeon music in particular sounds great with the IIGS doing a good job at reproducing a pipe organ. There isn’t a whole lot of different music but it’s a welcome addition to the silence of the original and fit’s in with the theme. The introduction graphics of both the original and remake versions are both missing with only a couple of screens of text in their place.

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The tileset has been given a lick of paint but is instantly familiar with the towns barely any different in appearance to the 1986 remake. It’s surprising that these weren’t changed more radically but this port has clearly gone for being faithful to the original in preference to major upgrades. All the keys are identical to every other computer version with no attempt to shoehorn in mouse control.

After buying a new weapon, I head straight for the nearest dungeon to kill some monsters. The dungeons have retained their wireframe graphics but do have full colour critters instead of the stickmen originals. Unlike the last port I played on the PC-98, these scale appropriately and they go some way to bringing the dungeons more up to date. I am surprised the walls weren’t textured also given that this was 1995 but there are some digitized samples when hitting or being hit during battle to replace the originals beeps. I’ve included the usual bestiary below of everything I’ve run into so far:-

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At first glance the gameplay doesn’t appear to have been altered but I’m soon finding myself struggling to progress. The creatures in this port deal out far, far more damage than any other version I’ve played. This damage appears to increase the lower down a dungeon you go. I was finding myself unable to go past level 2 for fear of not getting back out again. This improved to a degree once I got some better equipment and raised my stats but with the best equipment in the game I’ve still been hit for over 400 points of damage in one hit by a lich on level 8 of a dungeon. I’m finding it difficult to the extent of being close to broken with my only chance of getting in and out of the lower levels being loads of ladder spells. I’m coping but it’s certainly adding some challenge to proceedings. I could normally blast through Ultima 1 in an hour or so but I’m many hours past that already without the end in sight.

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Talking about broken dungeons, some of the monsters don’t have any graphics such as the Cyclops above. This doesn’t stop me shooting at them but I am wondering if the version I’ve got is slightly unfinished. It’s the only one I’ve got though so I won’t let it put me off.

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As for other differences, I was unable to buy an aircar anywhere on the starting continent despite levelling up to level 3 (which has always worked in the past). I ended up having to buy a frigate first and go elsewhere. Also, the signposts which raise stats would previously do so by an ever increasing amount as you got nearer 99. Here they work the opposite way around and raise by decreasing amounts.

I’ve been finding so far that the easiest way to raise money and HP is to continually rescue princesses from castles. This has the downside of potentially getting a key for the wrong room when killing the jester but there is something strange going on with the randomization of this. It quite definitely goes in long streaks where I can continually raid the same castle and always get the right key (or vice versa). Once on a roll this is a very quick way of raising several thousand in gold.

The ultimate aim of all this is to survive in a dungeon long enough to kill a balron which could prove quite the challenge given just how lethal the dungeons are proving. I expect I will have to max out on hp before entering to have much hope which requires plenty of cash. I’ve got as far as completing the other quests and getting all my stats into the 80’s or above so it’s the last job before I think about heading for space.

I’ve not quite made my mind up about this port yet. I like the monster graphics and the new music but the difficulty has arguably gone a little overboard. Maybe this was a deliberate choice to lengthen the game for the veteran Ultima fans who were presumably the main audience? If that was the aim, I’d perhaps like to have seen an extra digit on the stats or maybe a reworking of experience so that it actually contributed somehow. As it stands, there isn’t a whole lot I can do to cope other than increasing HP which means lots of grinding. I’m being spurred on by the curiosity of finding out if space will have seen any upgrades but I don’t like the thought of having to build up all that HP again for the final battle. I’ll feel some accomplishment when I beat this game anyway which should be coming up in part 2 next week.

Ultima 1 – PC98

I was hoping to make the next game on here the IIGS version of Ultima 1 but my IIGS needs some repairs doing which are beyond my capabilities so I’ve had to send it off to a professional. I don’t expect I’ll be getting it back too soon so I thought I’d have a quick blast through the PC98 version instead. This port was released in 1988 in Japan and later included with the anex86 emulator on the Japanese Ultima collection which is the version I’m going to be playing. It is almost entirely in Japanese but I was confident this wouldn’t make too much difference as I know my way around Ultima 1 well enough by now.

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The high resolution graphics of the PC98 are immediately apparent when starting this up with far crisper graphics than you would get in the usual Western versions. The underlying worlds and towns appear to be entirely faithful though and it’s close to playing a skinned version of the original. Character creation was the same as DOS except I couldn’t find a way to name my character and ended up playing the game as AAAA.

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Exterior graphics use an all new tileset which is a whole lot more colourful than I’m used to, if still equally blocky. It’s not entirely unfamiliar as it’s the same tiles that were used several years later on the FM Towns port. The FM Towns had considerably more colours available however so there is some dithering evident here. It doesn’t have the music of the FM Towns port and there isn’t any sound to speak of throughout the game, at least on the emulator I was using.

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I headed for the nearest dungeon which on first viewing don’t appear to have been upgraded at all. In fact the edges of the corridor meet in the middle here making it look infinitely long which is something of a downgrade. Differences do become apparent when I come across my first monsters, a small bestiary of which is shown below:-

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The monster graphics were also used in the FM-Towns version but again these are dithered with the reduced colours. One oddity of this port is that the sprites only have two sizes but still show at all distances, so if there is a chest at the end of a long corridor it looks the same size however far away you are until you are standing on it. This gives the impression that it’s running away from you when you walk towards it and is a little disconcerting. The engine also can’t cope with drawing one sprite behind another (unlike the Apple II original). If a monster is standing on a chest, you can’t see it and will only know it’s there when you start losing hitpoints.

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After gathering enough gold to get an aircar, I set off around the map finding signs to raise stats. The shops in this port are far, far cheaper than I would expect with a space shuttle only costing 1332 and the aircar less than 1000gp so I may have been able to do this sooner.

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Completing quests for the Kings was interesting when I couldn’t understand what they were telling me. I ended up queuing all 8 quests up and then going on one big dungeon raid to complete those 4 together. Curiously all of the magic spells are in English so I could use ladder up and down without having to work out which it was.

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With 4 coloured gems safely in hand, it was time to achieve space acedom. The overhead view is a little more colourful but this section of the game is largely unenhanced other than the higher resolution. I would say it was markedly easier and I was only hit once by any of the TIE fighters. The difficulty level throughout does seem to have been edged a little lower in this version of the game.

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Once I’m a space ace, I slaughter all the guards in the nearest castle and rescue the princess. After heading back in and being healed up by a very forgiving King I locate the time machine and climb in for the final confrontation with Mondain.

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I’m a long way from maxed out for this final battle as I’ve just been speeding through this relatively quickly but Mondain falls quite quickly. Once in bat form he does prove to be particularly elusive on the PC98 but I get enough hits in after chasing him round for 5 minutes and am presented with :-

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a screen of Japanese which doesn’t mean a whole lot to me followed by some credits.

As for a final verdict, I’d have to say the FM Towns port was more fun with the advantage of being considerably better looking and sounding, not to mention being mostly in English and having intro/outro graphics. With the limited colours, I probably prefer the look of the original 8 bit versions over this in some ways. They all play about the same though apart from the quirks with the sprites used in the dungeons of this port which were a definite detriment to gameplay. This can’t be right when the original could manage better on much more primitive hardware. Other than that, it’s decent enough if you can cope with the language barrier and want a little more colour in your Ultima 1 but on this occasion I don’t think those of us in the West missed out on much.

Ultima 1 Remake – Manual Design Boards

These are some of the original boards for the Ultima 1 remake manual which dates them all the way back to 1986. They are all way too large to fit in my scanner so I’m afraid so you’ll have to make do with some photos of variable quality off my phone:-

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As ever with all the design documents, these have been hand assembled from small sections which have been cut out and stuck together. Older versions of the text are tantalisingly visible where they have had a new version pasted over the top but are barely legible for the most part. All of the pictures are missing at this stage with written notes in their place of what image should be used and in what scale.

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From what I can tell everything here all looks the same as the final manual except for page 14 which has the starwalking instructions. The 8×8 grid with 64 sectors became a 7 x 7 grid in the finished manual and there is no mention here of the pilots reference manual either. This suggests either a possible late amendment to this part of the remake or that there is more than one version of the manual out there.