Computer Ports of Ultima V
Ultima V was the last game of the series to be originally developed on the Apple II. Like Ultima IV, the growing technology of computers created several ports that technically looked and sounded quite different, despite having the same game content. Note that this does not cover the NES-Port of Ultima V, which is a separate article because of serious changes done to the game content-wise.
The 8-Bit Ports
Apple II Series
The game made full use of the II's 280×196 high-resolution mode, which had six colors: orange, blue, magenta, green, black and white. As with other Apple II software, Ultima V made use of blue & orange being offset from the other colors by a half-pixel to smooth the edges of images & fonts. This was augmented by the slightly fuzzy images produced by the NTSC-based signals and composite monitors, an effect not seen on most Apple II emulators or screenshots.
As with other platforms, a wide range of sound effects was included; a number of short situational melodies were available as well. A full musical score was available for an Apple IIe with 128k of RAM or Apple IIGS equipped with one of several popular sound and MIDI cards, such as Sweet Micro Systems' Mockingboard, Applied Engineering's Phasor, or Passport Designs' MIDI interface. With the Passport Designs card, one could play the music through the same MIDI instruments used as by professional musicians; the end-results varied but could be quite impressive with the right setup. Examples of the soundtrack played with different hardware: Phasor and dual Mockingboards. Unfortunately, the built-in music chip of the Apple IIGS is not supported. The frequency of disk accesses is also reduced on systems with 128KB or more of RAM, since some code is cached in the extra memory that has to be reloaded from disk all the time on 64k systems.
This game pushed the aging Apple II architecture to its limits, however, and therefore it can be slow in certain situations. To offset this, the game supported hardware accelerators for the Apple, offering a command to enable and disable acceleration from within the game. Also, unlike all previous parts, this game will not automatically pass a turn when the player waits too long without giving a command; this means that players with an accelerator can think as long and as carefully as players without one.
The C64/128 Port
First off, compared to the Apple II, the graphics are clearly improved. They are now much more colorful and the color also is at the right spots (such as red paved roads). For a resolution of 320x200, they managed to get out the maximum. The low resolution however means, that indoor peer maps are never completely on the screen. Also, while the dungeon graphics are even better than the Apple II ones, they are still only one color. Also, this color is mostly off, since the cave dungeons are all blue, while brown would have been more fitting. The introduction remains in bad graphics.
While the port features a full musical score (though with only three voices compared to the eight of the Apple II version), the C64 simply does not have enough available RAM to play it. To access the music, the game must be played on a C128 computer running in native C128 mode (not in C64 emulation mode as almost all other games, including the other Ultimas), and started by having the disk in the drive when the computer is turned on, or by the BOOT command, not by the usual LOAD and RUN sequence typical of C64 games. Running on the C128 has the additional benefit of reducing the frequency of disk accesses, as some code that has to be re-loaded from disk all the time on the C64 can be cached in the extra memory.
There also were technical problems with the fastloader. Thanks to sloppy programming, it only works on a NTSC C64, not a PAL one, which greatly annoyed players in Europe. The game can be played on a European C64 by telling it at the start screen that you don't have a Commodore floppy drive but a third-party drive, but then, loading times will be extremely long, which, combined with very frequent and big loads, makes them highly annoying. On a C128, the fastloder code is not used at all, but this is less of a problem as this computer, in its native mode, loads noticeably faster than the C64 even without extra acceleration, provided a 1570 or 1571 floppy drive (as opposed to a 1541) is used.
One last thing of interest: the C64 port was released on 4 double-sided 5.25" floppy disks. Thankfully Origin had been wise enough to partition them into logical chunks to keep disk-swapping at a minimum. The sides are:
- Game (loading, menu and saved games)
- Dungeon (everything in the dungeons)
- Britannia (the overworld)
- Underworld (as the name says)
- Towne (cities and villages)
- Dwelling (huts. Also contains the intro and endgame)
- Castle (big castles like Castle Britannia)
- Keep (small fortresses like Bordermarch)
The Atari 8-bit Port
The Atari 8-bit port of Ultima V was started but seemingly never finished.
Disk 1 and 2 have been found, however the "Britannia" disk has not, essentially making this port up to now unplayable. Richard Garriott, in a 1988 online conference with The Gamers' Forum on CompuServe, informed the Atari community that the 8-bit port had been contracted out for development. To date, image captures of the title and credits screens are the only tangible pieces of evidence of this port that have been uncovered. Rob Satonica, of Creative Software Systems, is credited for the code translation.
The 16-Bit Ports
The Amiga and Atari ST ports have mouse support, something that the PC port doesn't have (a mouse still was only optional for a PC in 1988).
The Amiga version is rather buggy, especially with the way the keyboard is read. Too often, keypresses will either not be read at all, or will "stutter" and (for example) a single keystroke will be interpreted as three. The Atari ST version in turn also suffers from a bad bug. In this case, the game is prone to crash by first suddenly asking for a different disk and then hanging, thus forcing a complete reset. This normally meant the loss of considerable game progress since the last save.
These bugs have never been patched. Furthermore on the Amiga and Atari ST there was no option to transfer the character from Ultima IV and it was not possible to copy one of the disks to have multiple characters at the same time. If one wanted to create a new character the old one was overwritten by the new one. Since the PC version could be installed onto a hard disk, it circumvented this problem and also allowed character transfers.
The biggest difference is how music is handled:
- The Atari ST port has full music. However, the pieces are played in places that do not correspond with the C128 or Apple II version. For example, "Villager Tarantella" is played in all eight Cities of Virtue in the C128/Apple II versions, but the Atari ST version instead plays "Greyson's Tale" in all but New Magincia.
- On the Amiga, only one song (unique to this version of the game) is playing the entire time, despite the Amiga clearly being able to shoulder all of the music. It is unknown why this decision was made. Also, few minor sound effects begin playing if music is turned off. Mainly when moving around and some combat effects.
- The IBM-PC port originally had no music at all, since Adlib soundcards only came on the market a little after Ultima V's release. The Ultima V Upgrade Patch re-inserts all the music from other versions.
The IBM-PC port consists of four 5.25" floppies, and it is supposed to be installed on the hard disk. The Atari port has three 3.5" floppies and the Amiga two 3.5". The Amiga version cannot be installed to a hard drive and the computer must be booted from the floppies in order to play the game.
The Japanese Ports
This port came with a special full-colour poster not found in other versions. Additionally, as the other versions of the games on the FM-Towns up to this one, the game does sport a special intro not seen in any other port of the game.
- YouTube - Ultima V Gameplay Video (Commodore 128)
- YouTube - Ultima V Gameplay Video (Apple II)
- YouTube - FM Towns Story
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