Escape From Mount Drash – VIC 20 Version

Escape from Mt Drash was published in 1983 by Sierra, apparently without the knowledge of Richard Garriott, despite being badged with the Ultima name as a cheap attempt to get sales. It clearly didn’t work as it’s one of the holy grails for Ultima collectors and was rumored to not even exist back when I buying most of the Ultima games. There are a handful of copies known about now but it is without doubt one of the rarest games going. Suffice to say I don’t actually own this one myself, and probably never will. I wouldn’t exactly turn it down if I got the chance to get it for a half decent price, but let’s face it this isn’t a real Ultima game in any sense of the word and there is no way it is worth the $1000’s it would no doubt go for on Ebay.

The game was only ever released on the Commodore VIC-20 and required the 8K memory expansion to run. It was written in BASIC, which presumably made it relatively easy to port to the PC and it was this port that I played back in the early days on this blog. I found a ROM of the original game recently though which is what I’m playing here. I’ll keep this fairly short since the game ended up being nearly the same as the port.

The plot is that you have been imprisoned in Mt. Drash by the evil Garrintrots. The mountain is full of old mine tunnels which they have converted into tests designed as their entertainment and you have to make it to the top level. It’s basically a simple 15 level maze crawl with a few monsters and spells thrown in.

First impressions on starting this up were actually favourable. It certainly moves nice and quickly compared to the dungeons of Ultima 1, and this original version includes background music. I suppose that makes this the first Ultima game to include music and initially it doesn’t sound too bad all things considered. It includes a rendition of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre which I’ve always liked since it was included in a sequence in Alone In The Dark.

The gameplay in the PC port was extremely faithful, and the only real difference here is in combat. The combat in this game is odd to say the least. You and the monster are represented at the bottom of the screen and as far as I can tell the fighting involves timing your sword thrust to jab the monster just as it approaches you. If you are too late, the monster keeps coming and you lose a life, too early on the other hand and it bounces back off the sword point before bouncing back off the rear wall and making another attack. While it’s bouncing around I can swap back to a neutral stance and then get ready to thrust again. The bottom line of all this is that if you press the c key when the combat first starts, all you have to do to win every fight is quickly alternate back to parry then thrust by pressing x once, then hammering the c key. This method got me through every fight unscathed.

As you progress the levels get marginally more difficult. The number of monsters increases first, then you have to pick up gems before the level exit opens up. Finally the overhead map stops working and you have to figure everything out for yourself. Suffice to say, none of these make the game difficult and each of the levels takes no more than a minute or two to complete.

At the end of the game the screen starts blinking white….

… then there is a quick congratulations with a fanfare and the game restarts.

I wanted to like to this game and I did actually kind of enjoy playing it at first. The music soon started to grate though and I’d had enough by the end of the 15 minutes it took to finish it.  Going by the last price I saw on Ebay I reckon this works out at something like $150 a minute if I’d actually bought this. If you are going to play it, I definitely prefer this original version to the port though.

You have to allow some leeway for games written in BASIC on early home computers and it certainly isn’t the worst game I’ve ever played. That honour goes to Sqij! on the ZX Spectrum, a game so badly programmed that you have to do a memory poke just to get the controls to respond, at which point it really goes downhill. Compared to that Escape From Mt Drash is truly great but it doesn’t exactly come with a seal of recommendation for all that, and you have to be an insatiable Ultima fan to go anywhere near this one.

To change the topic, I was informed about missing pages in some of the pdf’s on here for Wing Commander 1 & 2 Strategy Guide, More Avatar Adventures, Quest For Clues 3 and The Dig. Those are all fixed for anyone who wants to download them again. More of my scans on replacementdocs are being approved and I’ve now started to remove them from the downloads on here. I definitely need to clear some of them off my own webspace. With the amount of bandwidth they have been using up it’s a miracle that my account hasn’t been stopped already.

I’m away most of next week so that’s probably all the updates for a while. I’ll see if I can’t actually get Pilgrim Truth finished while I’m away. I’ve been reading it in tiny chunks over the space of about a month which is no way to read any novel. When I get back I’ll be having a look at one of the console Wing Commander ports next, either the SNES or Mega CD version.

Day 2 – Ultima 2 & Escape From Mount Drash

Another day, another 2 Ultimas finished. If I keep this up, I’ll be done by the end of the week.

Ultima 2

First off, I have to say the box for this game is a thing of beauty. I’ve got the Sierra big box version and it was worth every penny. Even the back cover looks great – the cloth map is much thicker and better quality than in later games and the package overall just looks awesome. The unnecessarily large manual, is an entertaining read – it gives the impression that it was written by a Sierra employee based on some notes from LB, as its often sarcastic and jokey about the game. 

I’m using the upgrade patch from and playing the game in dosbox. You can get decent colour graphics in Ultima 2 by using the tandy option in dosbox but the restore command and frame limiter in the upgrade swayed me towards that instead.

The game is fairly similar to Ultima 1 in technology terms but since the Ultima 1 I played was a remake, it kind of feels like a step backwards even with the upgrade patch. There are now towers as well as dungeons (no difference except you go up instead of down) but the major change is that towns are now on scrolling maps so are much, much larger. This was the first Ultima to use moongates – I gather the idea was pinched from the movie Time Bandits, along with the cloth map and the time of legends – Terry Gilliam should sue. The game takes place on earth this time – this was so that the time travel had a context but origin struggled to explain it later in the series.

The game is extremely open ended with little story to it – much like real life I seemed to spend most of my time trying to make some money and very little time spending it. I started off just trying to improve my characters stats. Once again, this is using an extremely odd system to do this, there is a guy at the desk in the Hotel California (The Eagles should sue as well) and if you offer him gold he raises your stats. Which stat he changes depends upon how many moves you have made, so you can control this by saving and restoring and passing turns. Getting enough money to raise your stats is a problem though – you go through food very quickly and I only seem to be able to steal so much before I fail in my stealing attempt every time. The key to the whole game is  getting a blue tassel. Every time you kill a thief you get an item at random. These have all sorts of effects like saving you from sleep spells, but the blue tassel means that if a ship is attacking you, you can board it and sail off. If that doesn’t sound too useful bear in mind, that you don’t use any food while sailing (endless supply of fish I guess) and you have cannons to blast anyone and everything with. Ships are rare enough however, never mind blue tassels. Also thieves steal items while you are attacking them – so if you do get a blue tassel make sure you don’t lose it.

My strategy here was to go to Pangaea and fight until a got a blue tassel – (this took some time). A boat had turned up by then so I sailed round Pangaea blasting everything to raise a bit of cash. I then gave LB all my money to raise my hit points and tried to fight through the hoard of extra hard baddies at the time of legends. Since all of them are casting sleep and paralysis this was pretty hard going. The best strategy seemed to be to coax a couple into the starting area with the moongates, then back off so I only had to cope with two at a time. This still used up loads of hit points. By the time I’d killed about half of them, a boat sailed in to the west. I made a run for this, managed to board it and then blasted the lot of them with my cannons. 

Now the boring bit, I sailed round and round the time of legends island blasting anything that appeared until I had 9999 gold. This is pretty tedious but seems like the best way of getting lots of gold quickly. I also stocked up on all the items in the game by killing dozens of thieves. I had 10 blue tassels by the end having struggled for ages to get the first one. I raised all my stats and bought some decent armor at New San Antonio. I also got the quicksword from the guy in the jail, and nicked a plane while I was at it, which I used to get to the town in the holocaust time period and pinch a shuttle. 

The space section in this game is simpler than the last one – there’s no combat, you just travel around. There’s a whole solar system of planets, but I just skipped them all, hypered to 9,9,9 and planet x. You actually have to land the shuttle yourself, which is just a case of watching the world scroll by and pressing a key when you are over clear land. Thanks to the frame limiter this is easy, you don’t want to try it without it. I’m here to get father antos blessing which means I have to butcher my way through some guards again. So far in this game I’m guilty of nicking food, mass-murdering guards, breaking people out of prisons, mutineering, stealing an airplane and stealing a space shuttle. He gives me his blessing anyway though so its off back to earth. I get the ring from the guy under atree in New San Antonio, spend a bit of time maxing out my hit points then its off to the time of legends to do in Minax.

Minax’s castle is fairly huge and full of interesting rooms you can’t get to like torture chambers and time zones. There’s a few bad guys around but nothing too major apart from one that is invulnerable – a negate time spell and I managed to lure him into one of the rooms though so hes out of the way. Minax herself is up in the top right corner of the castle. I get within a few squares and she starts blasting me and shouting ‘DIE FOOL!’. A quick whack with my sword and she vanishes off to the bottom left of the map, so I trek down there, whack her again, and she’s off back to the top right again. Another 3 hits later and she’s had it. All her works now die with her and the castle turns into black squares one at a time. There’s no finishing text this time, I get a screen of the shuttle scrolling over earth and a message at the bottom saying to now try Ultima 3 – Exodus. I assume this means that this was a later version of the game created after Ultima 3, or was this there in the original version and the sequel already planned?

All in all, this game has been less fun than Ultima 1. I like the scale and idea of it, the fact that it has the entire world as its map and all the time zones work well. There’s no real plot again, which is usually one of my main reasons for playing a game. My main gripe though is I spent far too long just sailing round and round the time of legends collecting money. If I was playing this at the time, properly, rather than just trying to complete it as quickly as possible this perhaps wouldn’t have been as big an issue. These days, you have to be on an Ultima mission to bother playing this.

Escape From Mount Drash

This is a game I’d never played before. I don’t have the VIC-20 version (unfortunately) or a rom so I’m playing the dos port. Does this game justify being one of the most expensive in the world? Absolutely not – if there was ever proof that adding a brand name onto something crap gives it value this is it. This game is rare for a good reason – no one sane would have wanted to buy it. Akalabeth was leaps and bounds above this.

The game consists of 15 levels, which are very small mazes where you have to get from the bottom right corner to the top left. On later levels you also have to collect gems from the other 2 corners. You get a 3d view of the maze in a little window but this isn’t all that useful since monsters on it are invisible as are the gems and the exit. You can’t even tell when you have picked up a gem. There is another map window, which shows locations of exits, monsters and the bits you’ve explored in early levels, gradually dropping off to showing nothing in later levels. 

Combat takes place in the final window and pretty much consists of pressing z and c as quickly as possible in the manner of sprinting in all those sports games from the 80’s. I gather the original version only lets you move every time the monster does so you could press your z and c at a more leisurely pace. Monsters are fairly Ultima like with gremlins, phantoms, and a sort of gazer thing, theres also a slime monster that puts me in mind of might and magic more than Ultima.

You get 3 lives I think to get to the end of the game, I only ever died once so I don’t know for sure. There’s a time limit also but its really not an issue as long as you are quick on the z and c buttons. I never went anywhere near to running out of time.

So to cut to the chase, the game is crap. On the bright side, its extremely easy so I didn’t waste too much time on it. On my first attempt I got to about level 13 but I just had dead ends everywhere and needed to use a spell to blast through a wall. I couldn’t remember what key to use and ended up quitting the game while trying keys so I had to start again. My second attempt, after reading the manual, I finished it. This gives you a screen saying you achieved the rank of Questor and that’s it.

The idea that people have paid around $2000 for this makes me feel much better about what I have spent on my game collection. My more extravagant purchases include $50 for a copy of forge of viture, $100 for Ultima 1 CPC, $150 for big box Ultima 2, and maybe the same again for the limited edition Ultima 6. That said, I’d still like to own a copy and would probably pay a few quid myself given opportunity so I guess I’m as gullible as anyone else.