Computer Ports of Ultima III
Ultima III is the first game in the series to contain music, meaning that now another factor for differences in the various ports has appeared. Indeed, the ports of the game are almost as diverse as the ones of Ultima II, with the first time that a proper 16-bit port exists (for the Amiga and Atari ST).
Note that this page covers neither the original black-and-white Macintosh port from Origin Systems, nor the fan-made color remake on the Macintosh from 1995, nor the Gameboy Color remake from 2001.
The Original Ports (1983)
Apple II original
The original game, upon which all other ports are based.
The game's graphics are similar to the graphics of the two previous games, although there are now blue borders around the different screen areas and the Apple's hardware "mixed mode", with graphics above and four lines of color-fringed text below, is no longer used; instead, text is written into the graphical bit map, which allows free placement of text and reduces the color fringing issue. There are some issues with the color: the limited palette is noticeable in that many things are in monochrome and some colors are off, like purple brick floor and strangely colored mountains. This is also the first Ultima game with music. The music requires a sound card (Mockingboard or compatible), as Apple's hardware doesn't allow playing music through the internal speaker while simultaneously doing other things, such as animating the screen.
The game also has several glitches which, at worst, can make further advancement impossible.
The game was sold on a single, double-sided 5.25" floppy disk.
There are at least two versions. One version has no concept of move numbers, which the PC port does. Another version does keep track of moves, but the move counter only ticks while you are on the mainland of Sosaria.
The port for the Atari 8-bit (made by Chuckles) is essentially the same game as the original on the Apple II. It utilized the Atari high resolution 320x192 graphics mode with 'artifacting' to provide color, which means that like most Atari 8-bit Ultimas, it will display in black-and-white on European (PAL) Ataris which don't offer artifact color. As with Ultima II, the colors would appear different depending on the Atari 8bit computer used. The screenshots show how the color was supposed to look. The movement and attack sounds are presented through the built-in speaker (or its emulation channel on XL/XE machines) rather than through the sound chip, and they sound like the Apple II version. Fortunately, Origin still took advantage of the excellent sound capabilities on the Atari and provided the full musical score.
It was sold on a 5.25" floppy disk.
Of the ports made in 1983, the C64-port, made by Chuckles, is perhaps the most advanced.
The game actually made use of the C64's 320x200 "monochrome" mode, that allowed the foreground and background color to be independently defined for each 8x8 pixel block (one character of text). The game is more colorful compared to the Apple II original, although the graphics otherwise look very similar. The colors used on the C64 are more logical (for example, the brick floors are red instead of purple, and mountains are brown). However, the 3D dungeons, which were shown in color on the Apple, were simple black-and-white ones on the C64. Also, the game is noticeably slower than on the Apple, since the graphics code of this port is actually that of the Apple original, running through an interpreter to convert the result to a format the C64 can understand in "real time".
The first Ultima with music, Exodus took full advantage of the C64 music processor, the SID chip. This port contains the full musical score, with no need for additional hardware such as the Mockingboard sound card on the Apple. The music does sound nicer than on the Apple, since the SID chip is more capable of producing complex harmonies than the General Instruments AY-3-8910 chip used on the Mockingboard.
The game was released on a single, double sided 5.25" floppy disk. Note that the game has no built-in fastloader, since these programs only came into being in late 1984 on the C64, meaning that the loading times are rather long.
In 2007, a crack of the Ultima III port for the C64 known as Ultima III Gold was released at Big Floppy People by MagerValp. This crack, which uses built-in data compression to fit on a single floppy side, included numerous bug fixes and improvements, and can be found at http://www.paradroid.net/u3/
The IBM-PC port, made by James Van Artsdalen, was the port with the lowest audiovisual quality at its release. As the PC of 1983 was perceived as a machine for the workplace, games were slow to appear on the platform, and were often less advanced, in audiovisual terms, than their equivalents on other contemporary systems.
As was the case with Ultima II, the graphics are displayed in four-color CGA (black, light gray, magenta and cyan), which was the only form of (comparatively) high resolution graphics available for the PC at the time. However, if the game is played on a composite CGA monitor or TV set, the use of artifacting and dithering makes it appear much more colorful; in fact, under these conditions it looks quite similar to the Apple II version. The advent of the EGA standard bypassed this "feature" of CGA entirely, meaning older games like Ultima III would be doomed to a drab four-color existence henceforth.
The game also has no music and only basic PC speaker sound effects. PC sound cards as we think of them today only came along in 1988, with the advent of the original Adlib card. Also, the game has no frame limiter (a common shortfall of early PC games), making it virtually unplayable on a modern system without an external slowdown utility.
Note that the fan-made Ultima III Upgrade Patch addresses most of these issues: the game gets updated 16-color EGA graphics, a frame limiter is added, and the music of the Apple and Commodore ports is restored in MIDI quality. A more recent update to the patch includes the option of 256-color VGA graphics as well as a simulation of how the CGA mode would have appeared on a composite screen.
The game retailed on a single 5.25" floppy disk.
One difference from the Apple II port is that the Dag Acron, the wizard's teleport spell, works while you are on a boat, teleporting you to another water location. This can include teleporting you to the water in front of the Castle of Fire, therefore allowing to cheat: a player can skip the quest to acquire the Mark of Snake completely.
The 16-bit ports of 1986
Amiga and Atari ST
These two ports were created by "Banjo" Bob Hardy in 1986 and are essentially identical twins, with the only real difference being sound. They are both the most technically advanced on the ports made by Origin.
It is very noticeable that three years had passed since the original game, as the graphics are much better and more colorful, as expected of a 16-bit port. However, as seen on the title screen and things like the borders, the color sometimes goes overbord and does not confirm to the originally intended color scheme as seen on the Apple II. The ports also have mouse support, making the game much easier to control and play. Both ports have the fully musical score of the original, which of course also sounds much better, since both computers have superior sound chips. Due to better hardware, the music does sound better on the Amiga.
Both of the ports, Amiga and Atari ST, were retailed each on a single 3.5" floppy disk, eliminating any kind of disk swapping.
The Japanese ports (1985-1990)
In 1985, Star Craft released an English-only version of Ultima III, created by Thinking Rabbit for the PC-8801 operating system in Japan. This version features a 2-colour display, but is identical to the original Apple II release of Ultima III in gameplay.
This version was created 4 years before the PC-8801 version of Ultima III that was included with the Japanese Ultima Collection by Pony Canyon in 1989.
Released after the NES-Port of Ultima III, this port who's built from the Newtopia Planning version was only released in Japan on a cartridge in the year 1988 and looks and sounds exactly like it. Therefore, all that applies to the NES port also applies to this one. However, some of the graphics were redrawn, and the music was downgraded to play on the MSX PSG.
The Pony Canyon MSX2 that's released in 1989 is instead a port of the PC-88/98 games and released on disk.
This port of Ultima III was made as part of the FM-Towns Ultima Trilogy I II III compilation, and released by Fujitsu in 1990. As such it offers redrawn graphics with a new tile set that was also used for the FM-Towns version of Ultima I and Ultima II. This port was only released as part of the compilation, and only in Japan.
In addition it also offers newly composed music, which replaces the original compositions from Kenneth Arnold. As the graphics, these musics were also used for the other two titles of the compilation.
Like most FM-Town ports, it is also offers a high resolution introduction that the player can watch outside the game. Unlike the game, the introduction has no English translation and can only be watched in Japanese.
The complete epilogue from this system is also available.
- YouTube - Ultima III - FM Towns Introduction
- YouTube - Ultima III: Exodus (Apple II)
- YouTube - Ultima III: Exodus (Commodore 64)
- YouTube - Ultima III: Exodus (PC)
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