Ultima 1 Palm OS – Part 3

I was sceptical about how much further I’d get with this game at the end of the last post. I needn’t have worried. After only a couple of minutes exploring last night, I found a very welcome sight in the form of a shrine on a little island.

I was expecting the equivalent of the Ultima 3 shrines and this this would raise one particular stat but it allows me to pick any I like and raise them by something like 3 points for every 100 gold. Finally some progress. I upped the dexterity on my thief to start with. This made a massive difference with grinding in the nearby dungeon.

A lot of chest thievery later, I’d maxed out what I took to be the important stats and done a little more exploring in the dungeon, finding a third gem on floor 4 in the process. Time to see Lord British’s and level up.

After levelling up, he drops me a hint about the time machine. I kind of guessed as much but took the opportunity to rescue the princess while here.

This part is a little strange. I walk into the jester to get his key, and all the guards attack as expected. When I open the door to rescue the princess, I don’t need to get her outside the castle (or fly around in space). She just gives me a time machine on the spot.

I’m wondering how this is going to show up in my inventory but after fighting my way out, there it is sat around outside the castle.

Compared to the Ultima I know, I’m still a gem down but the time machine does actually work and transport me to the end encounter with Mondain, much to my surprise. I’m not so sure I’m ready for this. My cleric is still level 1, I think my fighter is all of level 4 so I’m not exactly over powered. Since I’m here I take the gem, wiping out half the party in the process…

…then get mocked by Mondain (with typo) when I walk into him. Eventually I figure out that I have to choose to attack in the menu. This had been automatic prior to this point.

And then the final battle reverts to the usual combat screen and he takes one shot and goes down. Mondain is literally the weakest enemy in the game. A single box of reward text is my prize before being returned to the menu in one of the most anti-climatic RPG endings I’ve ever come across.

And that’s Ultima 1 for Palm OS down. Going into this I was expecting an enhanced version with some new elements on what is clearly vastly more powerful hardware than an Apple II. In the end, it is actually a simpler game than that Apple II original. No 3D dungeons, no space section, no quests, no progression of technology, no chasing Mondain around as a bat. The only addition was the 4 person party. I’m not too impressed. Yes, it’s playable but comes across as a beta version which hasn’t had all those elements added yet and still needs the combat balancing. As such, I can’t honestly recommend it. It’s arguably the worst version of Ultima 1 I’ve played, with the only competition being the Apple II original (purely due to the excruciating slow speed). It’s great to have these games finally show up after all these years but I don’t think I’ll be rushing to play #2 for all that. Assuming that Ultima 3 turns out to be a faithful port, I expect that 1 & 2 were afterthoughts knocked out quickly using the same engine.

Ultima 1 Palm OS – Part 2

Having ruled out real hardware to play this game, I looked around for emulator options. There aren’t a whole lot to choose from – I went for Mu which emulator PalmOS 4 devices so far (a generation before my Tungsten). It appears stable but isn’t the most user friendly of interfaces for this purpose which huge onscreen buttons, none of which appear to have any keyboard shortcuts. That said, it runs Ultima 1 perfectly and has savestates so it’s perfect for my purposes other than the controls.

I set up to grinding for cash again and managed to get my party better equipped and more experienced in the process managing to level up some of my characters. The levelling up only increases HP with the added side effect of making the monsters more difficult to fight. I personally hate this mechanic in RPG’s and am not convinced that levelling up was the way to go. All the equipment I’m buying is having to go on my fighter since none of the rest of the party can equip it. I can’t honestly say I’m noticing all that much effect for all the effort.

What I really need to be able to do is increase my character stats. In the original U1, this was done simply by visiting locations on the map. In Ultima 3, there was a whirlpool you had to sail into, go to the sub-continent Ambrosia and pray (with gold) at four temples to raise the four main stats. Here, I’ve seen no sign of whirlpools or stat raising signposts and have no idea how this actually works. I decided to do some dungeon delving to see if I could find anything down there and didn’t find anything to raise stats but did find gems on levels 6 and 8 of two of the dungeons. These appear to be the time machine gems and have their own slots in the inventory.

I’m yet to reach the bottom of any dungeon but can say that they go down beyond level 8. Once my party got enough experience, boats started appearing which can be commandeered to reach the rest of the map. I was hoping at this point to find places to raise my stats but no such luck. The only previously unreachable location I was able to find was this dungeon which I got down to about level 11 before running out of torches. There may be others I still need to find. The monster spawn rate is annoying high and sea battles a little slow.

This port of Ultima 1 is not winning me over. The gameplay is quite unbalanced in many ways. My cleric with no range weapons and no damage inflicting spells against anything except undead is proving almost impossible to level up. Above all, I really need to figure out how exactly I’m supposed to raise my stats in this game if I’m going to get anywhere. If I don’t discover this, there may not be a part 3 but I’m not giving up quite yet.

Ultima 1 Palm OS – Part 1

I spent a good amount of time with the PalmOS port of Ultima 1 yesterday. It’s a mixed bag and I get the impression that no one actually tried to play through the game before it was released. It’s not exactly buggy but does have a fatal flaw which I’ll get to.

The first quirk I ran into was during character creation. This port is using Ultima 3 rules, so a party of 4 with all the Ultima 3 classes, spells, etc. You get 30 points to assign to your characters skills but it’s entirely possible to max out every stat during creation to 25 as the available points count doesn’t get updated until you press the middle button on the pad, leaving a final total of -50 points to assign. I’m fine with making my life easier so did this on my party.

Once in the game, the graphics look very similar to the VGA patched Ultima 4. There isn’t any sound at all beyond the occasional beep – a bit of audio would have been nice but it’s not essential. The line of sight effect that came in with Ultima 2 is present here in all locations including towns and dungeons. Combat has it’s own screen with each party member controlled individually, as per Ultima 3. There are some welcome quick commands implemented to speed things up – it will default to the previous option for each character or to attack with range weapons if you have them. I’m all for speeding up combat – it has to be said that the combat is horribly repetitive with every battle feeling much the same as every other but at least it’s quick.

The quests of the original Ultima aren’t present here, or at least I haven’t found them yet. Lord British is in his castle but only tells me to get more experience. His castle does have the Ultima 1 tropes of a jester who I can steal some keys off, a prison and also three chambers for food, armour and weapons. The guards come straight for me if I get the keys and there is no way my party is strong enough to fight them so I’ll have to try that later. In Ultima 1, you could steal from these but I can’t find a steal command here

The world map is original to this port and I can’t say I recognise the towns themselves either. There are a few people to talk to giving hints as to what to do but for the most part they don’t have anything helpful to say. The towns have shops selling all the Ultima 3 armaments plus a few things I don’t recognise such as a gloves option for a weapon. Rather than seeking them out, you can buy mystic armour and weapons right from the start if you have enough money but don’t expect to be able to equip them on most of your party. Aside from my fighter, the party appears to be limited to the most basic of weapons. There is a range of mystic weapons also, with bows and swords to pick from – maybe these will turn out to be equippable on the whole party as in Ultima 3. Some of the towns include a guild selling torches, gems and powder. The torches are automatically consumed in dungeons for light. The light spells last a pitiful amount of time, not enough time to make it to the exit of a single dungeon level by the shortest route half the time, so torches are highly recommended.

Speaking of dungeons, they are all in 2D. There are secret walls identifiable by slightly different tiles, no doors but lots of arches, and there are relatively few monsters until you get deeper down. Their layout is vaguely similar to in the real game but it’s a lot easier to navigate from overhead like this. They are simpler than the Akalabeth dungeons in truth with no traps or doors. Palm devices could easily have handled 3D so it seems lazy not to implement them properly in a product that was being charged for.

Any chests on a given level respawn when you return to it so I set to grinding away for gold at one of the dungeons with a conveniently places chest just north of the ladder on level 2. I discover around now that all the chest traps will harm the party with monotonous regularity, even with a thief character doing the opening. Gas traps poison the whole party and since curing poison is way beyond my cleric’s abilities and not worth the 100gp per person at the “magic” shop in the towns I ended up with a permanently poisoned party. It’s completely unavoidable but since the damage doesn’t stack gas traps are harmless after the first one. Thankfully, the poison doesn’t do all that much damage in the scheme of things.

Bomb and acid traps on chests will occasionally insta-kill even a relatively healthy party. It’s here that I ran into the major issue with the game. Ignoring that the death message you receive refers to Ultima 2 instead of 1, you get returned to the main menu and your single save game is overwritten at the same time. So we have here an RPG requiring many hours to beat that apparently has perma-death. You could literally get all the way to Mondain, lose the final fight and have to start from scratch again.

Suffice to say, that’s as far as I’m going on real hardware. I’ll have another attempt on an emulator with save states. The fact that this looks effectively unplayable even at this early stage does not bode well. I have a suspicion I’m not going to be seeing the end of this game but I’ll persevere for a while longer.

Ultima 1-3 For PalmOS

Five years back, I had a very quick look at the Palm OS port of Ultima 1 but wasn’t able to get very far with it. The first 3 games in the series were ported to this unlikely platform around 2004 but all I was able to find were demo versions. I wasn’t even able to buy food in the demos if I recall correctly severely limiting how far I could get.

Out of the blue, I was contacted last week by someone going by the name of randomdays claiming to have found the full versions in some undisclosed part of the internet. On first inspection, I thought that these were going to be the same demos as the files are nearly identical in size. However, having had a quick go on all 3, they don’t have the obvious limitations of the demo in terms of buying food and the nag text on death isn’t there either. I’ll withhold some judgement that they are complete until someone has actually played through the whole thing – it’s feasible it may be a hacked version of the demo but I’m guessing that we do indeed have the full games here.

It’s not every day a new Ultima turns up. These should be interesting ports also with Ultima 1 and 2 adding 4 player parties. I’ve dug out my trusty old Tungsten T3, have ordered a new battery for it (which are remarkedly still being sold) and intend to have a go at a playthrough assuming I can get that battery fitted. In the meanwhile, I’ve put the games up for download below. There are PalmOS emulators available for Android and Windows (none of which I’ve tried) which should be able to run them all in the entirely likely event you don’t have the appropriate 20 year old PDA available.

Ultima 1

Ultima 2

Ultima 3

Ultima 1 – Palm OS

I was asked some months back if I’d take a look at the ports of the first 3 Ultima games for PalmOS. There appears to be precious little information about them on the web so this isn’t going to be a lengthy post. I’m always curious to try out new versions of Ultima so I can take a look at the game at least. With this in mind, I bought myself a Tungsten T3:-

IMG_20170506_130553

This particular PalmOS device was released for around $400 in 2003, a few years before the first smartphones. In essence it does the same job, just with a lot more limitations and of course you can’t make a phone call. It has a 320×480 touchscreen, a 400Mhz processor and 64MB of RAM. These devices aren’t exactly in demand and are pretty much being given away these days.

The Ultima ports in question were done around 2004 by Paul Chandler of SoftwareByPaul. The remnants of his GeoCities site are still available at http://www.geocities.ws/softwarebypaul/ but the purchase link points to the long dead palmgear.com website. This means that for now at least, these games have been lost with only the demos available for download. I’d happily buy the full version if given opportunity but for now will content myself with a quick blast around the U1 demo to get an idea of what the full game would have had in store.

Some liberties have been taken and I assume this is the same engine used for the Ultima 3 port. There are certainly plenty of Ultima 3 elements incorporated with a party of 4 characters, field of view, magic shops no longer selling individual spells but instead offer healing/resurrection, etc… Combat takes place on a single screen allowing each party member to be controlled individually. The dungeons are all 2D and a lot less populated by monsters than I’m used to, with no trap doors, coffins or even secret doors as far as I can see.

Other elements of Ultima 1 are in place with the map appearing reasonably familiar. Lord British’s castle has been shuffled around a bit but the usual elements were all there with a locked up princess, 3 store rooms (I don’t appear to have a command to steal from them?). There is no sound to speak of. Without the ability to buy food, I’m not even going to attempt to get far enough into the game to see how stats work. Lord British does tell me I need to experience more, suggesting that the signposts may also have been gotten rid of in favour of something more akin to Ultima 3’s levelling up system.

I wasn’t sure about this port at first but it looks like it could be OK from what I’ve seen, even if it is different to what I’m used to. I expect the Ultima 3 port will make more sense rather than this hybrid. The T3 is actually not a bad little gaming device for this sort of thing with a nice clear screen for a gadget this old. Using the pen is quite noisy. I could imagine myself infuriating other train passengers were I to be tapping away on this on my commute. If I ever get hold of the full version, I may well try it and find out.

Rather than take all the usual photos, I’ve posted a brief run-around below in what appears to be the only video on the internet of this particular game. Note that there is a bug in character generation allowing you to start all characters out with 25 in every stat:-