Computer Ports of Ultima IV
Ultima IV was the first game of the series to get a better treatment on the IBM-PC, after the two previous ports were rather poor. However, the other ports of the game, despite being totally identical in game content, are also interesting to look at. This does not cover the Console Ports of Ultima IV, which are covered separately.
The 8-Bit Ports
The Apple II Original
This is the original game, on which all the other ports are based. The game has the full musical score, but needs a sound card to make use of it. For 1985, the graphics still look good, although they have to fight with several color problems (like purple colored brick floor). This version also has several glitches caused by the fact that it is the original, for example there are quite a few spelling errors in the NPC conversations, and the game can't agree on whether a certain dungeon is called "Destard" or "Dasterd". Other bugs concern the balloon, Shamino in Skara Brae and shrine messages that were not displayed.
The game came on two double-sided 5.25" floppy disks, making disk-swapping tolerable as they are divided into logical chunks (towns, dungeons...).
Note that a big issue was made of the fact that the game needed 64K RAM (even a sticker on the box), as the older Apple II and II+ models (before the Apple IIe) never shipped with more than 48 KB factory-installed memory, which was also the limit of how much RAM could be installed on the mainboard of those systems. They needed an expansion card (a so called "Language Card") to get to 64K.
There are differences in gameplay as well. If a single party member flees from combat valor and sacrifice are lost whereas in the PC version the entire party must flee.
The port for the C64 -made by Chuckles- looks graphically a lot like the original on the Apple II, although it does fix the color problems of the original (the brick floors are now red) and also has some graphical improvements. As with the C64 port of Ultima III, however, the dungeons are rendered in monochrome and not in color. The C64 port also has the full musical score with no additional sound hardware required (though reduced to three voices; the Apple version supports up to six).
It was sold on two double-side 5.25" floppies. Thankfully, the division was logical and prevented excessive disk-swapping.
- Game (boot, character data, intro, extro)
- Towne (as name says, also castles and villages and all character conversations except for Lord British)
- Britannia (the overworld, plus conversation with Lord British)
- Dungeon (as name says)
A drawback of this version is that the game did not include a software fastloader to enhance the notoriously slow speed of the Commodore 1541 disk drive, resulting in very long waits when the game has to load (even if it is only a conversation). Additionally, the C64-port generally runs a bit slow.
In 2006, a crack of the Ultima IV port for the C64 known as Ultima IV Gold was released by MagerValp. This crack included numerous bug fixes and improvements, including built-in data compression and support for the Commodore 1571 and the Commodore 1581, allowing the entire game to fit on a single double-sided 5.25" or 3.5" floppy, and thus eliminating disk swapping for owners of one of these drives. For Commodore 1541 owners, disk swapping is all but eliminated, as this crack can fit on two disk sides for this drive.
In 2015, an updated port was released, called Ultima IV Remastered. It builds upon Ultima IV Gold but adds updated graphics, mixed case text, dozens of game bugfixes, and a cartridge version.
The Atari 8-bit Port
The port for the Atari 8-bit essentially is the same as the Apple II original. Origin utilized Atari's high resolution 320x192 graphics mode with 'artifacting' to provide color. Ultima IV should detect the Atari system being played and adjust the colors to match the screenshots attached which are correct. They closely resemble the colors used on the Apple II version. However, as most Ultimas it will still be in black and white on European (PAL) Ataris, which don't offer artifact color at all.
In order to provide support to the majority of Atari users Origin only utilized 48k of ram which prevented adding the complete musical score. Basic sounds from the Apple were again ported.
This would be the last Ultima game to be released for the Atari 8-bit family, although work was begun on a port of Ultima V and some of that work survives.
The 16-Bit Ports
The 16-bit ports of Ultima IV are interesting. Unlike the previous two parts, Ultima IV was the one where the ports for the Amiga, Atari ST and IBM-PC came much closer. Nonetheless, there are obvious differences between these three ports.
The PC-port was released in the same year as the original, made by James Van Artsdalen. It sports much improved graphics in EGA-graphics mode (a CGA mode for composite monitors was also available) over the 8-bit computer ports. However, it comes at the price of the music missing from this port. That's because there were no sound cards available for gamers until Adlib entered the market in early 1988. Only some sound effects from the PC-speaker are available. Thankfully, the Ultima IV Upgrade Patch re-inserts the music, beside a graphical update.
The IBM-PC port was sold on two 5.25" disks.
The ports for the Amiga and Atari ST were released three years after the original, which of course meant that there would be improvements over the PC-port. While both ports use the same graphics for the overworld, the dungeons look much nicer and realistic. Also, both ports have a mouse-driven interface and the full musical score. Strangely, the title screen also looks different. The graphics for the intro were polished as well, since the PC-port has rather strange colors (yellow for skin for example).
Both ports are like identical twins, obviously because they were both made by "Banjo" Bob Hardy. Also, both were sold on a single 3.5" floppy disk, eliminating disk swapping.
The Japanese Ports
There is also a port for this system. However, it was only released in Japan in 1987 and only exists in Japanese.
The game use a tileset that appears very similar to the Ultima I port. However much like this one it suffers from the same pixelisation issues, although not quite as much. It was released on two 3.5" disks. Other than that, it is a prefect copy of the original version, even using the same music.
The MSX-Port of Ultima IV is very similar graphically and gameplay-wise to the PC-8801 release of Ultima IV included with the Japanese Ultima collection.
The PC-8801 Port
The PC-8801 port of Ultima IV was originally translated by Fortune in 1987, Produced by Newtopia Planning, and distributed by Pony Canyon. This version featured graphics and sound support nearly identical to the MSX port of Ultima IV featured above, and has the same soundtrack as the original Apple II version.
This version was re-released in 1998 as a part of the Japanese version of the Ultima Collection.
The PC-9801 Port
The PC-9801 port of Ultima IV was released at the same time as the previously described PC-8801 port, and was also originally translated by Fortune in 1987, Produced by Newtopia Planning, and distributed by Pony Canyon. This version featured superior graphics to the PC-8801 port, and has the same soundtrack as the original Apple II version.
The FM-Towns Port
Of note, the game contained the entire soundtrack for Ultima IV in high quality CD-format. Other differences from the PC version consisted of an introduction screen allowing the player to choose to play in either English or Japanese. The title screen also allowed the player to review the story from Ultima III. The review contained high quality graphics not previously seen in an Ultima game. That Review however was only in Japanese.
- YouTube - Ultima IV (Apple) Gameplay Video
- YouTube - Ultima IV (Commodore 64) Gameplay Video
- YouTube - Ultima IV FM Towns Story
- Screenshots of the ports at MobyGames
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