Ultima Patcher 1.21

I’ve been tinkering with my Ultima Patcher today for the first time in months. I always wanted to add support for MT-32 emulation but held off because I didn’t want to supply the ROM’s. I’ve had a change of heart and thought I’d give it a go anyway. I’m still not supplying the ROM’s although finding them on the web should prove far from difficult. The patcher expects them to be named either CM32L_PCM.ROM & CM32L_CONTROL.ROM or MT32_PCM.ROM & MT32_CONTROL.ROM. The CM32 ROM’s are the ones to go for as a rule since they have some extra sounds not included on the original MT32.

Without the ROM’s, I’m not so sure if this is something anyone wants or would use so I’ve only implemented it for Underworld 1 as a test for now. I noticed that I needed to run the game as an administrator after patching in order for it to start up. Also the CPU cycles may need tweaking depending on setup/preferences. GOG originally set it for maximum cycles but this is a bit much with the MT32 emulation running at the same time so I’ve altered it to 30,000.

The new version can be downloaded from here.

Ultima Underworld Logos & Box Stickers

In the interests of tidying away another folder of Origin oddments, I’ve a handful more items from the collection today. You may have already seen Paul Barnett’s coveted Ultima I logo on Youtube. My nearest equivalent are two proofs for the Ultima Underworld II logo as used on the box cover. I’m guessing that the older of the two wasn’t supposed to be quite so dark which would explain the second version a week later:-

Ultima Underworld 2 - Logo Proof Version 1

Ultima Underworld 2 - Logo Proof Version 2

Also, in the same folder are some unused stickers which in theory would have adorned Ultima Underworld boxes around 1992. The curious thing about these is that the words are the same but the design is nothing like the ones I’ve seen on boxes:-

Ultima Underworld - Alternative Box Sticker Ultima Underworld - Box Sticker

I got some good news looking at the site stats today. After a falling out some weeks back, Google and my blog have patched things up and the site is now back up the search rankings again. I don’t expect to be top of the lists or anything but until a couple of days back I wasn’t even making the front page on a search for “pixs origin adventures”. Since being given the Google cold shoulder, site traffic had halved and search referrals dropped tenfold and it’s not before time that this got sorted out. I’m guessing the problem was all the Wing Commander 4 posts for the GOG release being classed as spamming so I’ll know not to do that again.

On the subject of GOG, I have to give a quick mention to the Quest For Glory series which was released on there for $9.99 yesterday. This is one of those series that is still on my list to finish but I love the first two games and they are worth the money on their own. I’m not so keen on QFG3 which has always been the stumbling block when I’ve attempted a play through. I’ve still not started on any of the Legend games having been sidetracked by Machinarium and Botanicula so maybe now is the time to give QFG another go.

PC Format Origin Collector's Series

This is a 32 page pullout from the September 1994 PC Format. It’s the first entry in their collector’s series which featured companies like Microprose, Lucasarts & Gremlin. Since it’s on here, it goes without saying that this first volume is entirely on Origin:-

PC Format Collector's Series - Origin

It includes a brief history of the company, interviews with Richard Garriott and Chris Roberts, previews of coming games (with Warren Spector interviews) and a look back at the Ultima and Wing Commander series. There is so much misinformation in the Ultima history that it beggars belief but there is plenty of good content in here otherwise. According to the Ultima 8 article, at this time Garriott saw the Avatar as being separated from the human plane and more of a supernatural being in Ultima 9 and already had an Ultima 10 plot ready to go.

Ultima Underworld – Pocket PC

I’m usually happy to use emulation rather than collecting an array of old systems but I thought I’d make an exception the other day when I got the chance to buy a pocket PC for pocket change.

Compaq Ipaq H3870

The device I bought is a Compaq iPAQ H8370 and looking at it, it’s not all that surprising that these things are cheap nowadays. It’s heavy, not all that fast and you would need some capacious pockets to lug this thing around in. With the expansion pack installed, it’s a brick by any standards. Mobile technology really has come on in the last 10 years and since the battery on this doesn’t hold a charge, it doesn’t even count as mobile any more. Even worse, all the programs on the device are stored in RAM and maintained by the battery so I have to set it up every time I plug it in.

All of this combines to make it a completely obsolete and on the surface useless piece of hardware but it does have one saving grace being the only mobile platform to get a port of Ultima Underworld. This port was published relatively recently in 2002 by Ziosoft having been developed by Paul Neurath’s company Floodgate. With Underworld being a personal favourite, I’ve always been curious about this port and I’m long overdue to try it out.

Ultima Underworld Pocket PC (Front) Ultima Underworld Pocket PC (Back)

First off, it has to be said that the screen on the iPAQ isn’t a patch on what you would expect on a modern phone and not all that clear even on maximum brightness. The screen is recessed well into the front of the device behind some extremely thick glass. It’s clear enough to see what is going on at least but it does need to be held quite close to be playable. It’s probably the single biggest drawback of this port but it may have been better on other devices.

Visually, the game itself looks like a carbon copy of the original. The sound has some changes with the first couple of speech samples from Balron Almric not sounding quite right, almost like they had been pitched down. The music uses a marginally more realistic set of instruments to the MT-32 with the hitch that it stutters which is something I could live without. This particular model of iPAQ is specifically supported by the game according to the box so it shouldn’t be the hardware at fault here. I’d probably have to turn the music off if I were to play the game for any period of time.

The interface is more or less the same as ever, except I don’t have any way to right-click which makes everything slightly more fiddly. On the PC, I would rarely touch the icons on the left using the various clicking and dragging options on the main window. Those gestures don’t work here, forcing me to use the icons and making the game slower and more difficult to play. It’s still mostly playable using just the stylus with the buttons being only used for some occasional actions like jumping.

The exception is during combat where touching the screen sets up the sword swings and I have to use the d-pad style button to move around. Moving with the d-pad is workable but jerky and slightly uncontrollable. Other than that running around is fairly smooth. It’s certainly better than my 386SX ever managed if nowhere near a decent 486. The options for changing detail are still in the menu but trying to change them doesn’t do anything so it’s full detail or nothing.

If I fixed the battery on my iPAQ, this is as portable as Underworld gets and all the game seems to be there without being simplified or dumbed down. I still can’t say that I’ve been entirely won over by this port but it’s the limitations of the device to blame more than anything. The text on the screen is tiny and the iPAQ doesn’t sit well in the hand when held sideways like this. It’s not quite as quick as I would have liked either with this lack of speed being the biggest problem with the d-pad controls which rely on smooth turning. Having said all that, it’s still very playable. If you do want to play a game on your Pocket PC this may well be as good as it gets but I can’t imagine those criteria applying to many people in 2012.

I could see UW working fairly well on a modern smartphone on the back of this. The source code must still be around to have made the Pocket PC version in the first place so maybe another port could happen at some point. I can guarantee at least one sale if we ever see an HD remake.

There are a distinct lack of screenshots on this post. Adapters were made for capturing video from pocket PC’s but I don’t feel too inclined to track one down just for this, so I thought I’d point my webcam at it and record a short gameplay video instead. This video is the sort of quality you would expect (wobbly and out of focus), but it gets the idea across. If anything the picture looks clearer on the video than in real life:-

My thoughts on Wing Commander Saga should be up next post as I’m nearing the end. I was expecting the final missions to keep getting harder but if anything it went the other way and I’ve made it to what I think is the last mission without too much difficulty compared to what went before. I’ve only had the one attempt at this last mission and got blown up 35 minutes in, but I have some ideas on what to try next time. With a mission that long, I need a large block of free time before I have a second run at it.

Ultima Underworld 3 – Game Story

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My final item for the Ultima Underworld 20th anniversary is a game story design document for the never released Underworld 3. This details an entire potential storyline for the game as of August 22nd 1997 and is available as a pdf from here.

The Ultima connection appears to have been dropped in favour of another fantasy world and the game is far less dungeon based than UW1 & 2. The document is only a brief outline and there is precious little about gameplay unfortunately. I find it hard to form an opinion of how Underworld 3 might have turned out based on this alone but the scale of some of the events was certainly ambitious for 3D engines of the time and the potential was there. It’s hard not to think that this would have been in direct competition with Ultima 9 which could be one reason why it never happened.

There is far more detail on Underworld 3 in the archives at the University of Texas. That would be something of a lengthy round trip for me and all I’ve seen of it is on this Facebook page.