Computer Ports of Ultima VI
Ultima VI was the last game in the series to receive a port to various systems. The gap between the ever-growing PC technology and the other systems started to become really noticeable and caused Origin to make the decision to solely produce the games on the PC in the future.
The SNES-Port of Ultima VI is not discussed here, it has a separate article.
The IBM-PC Original
The original game for the first time was developed on a IBM-PC, after development on the Apple II was scrapped. As far as known, Richard Garriott tried to develop the game on the Apple II for almost a year, before giving up and switching development to the PC. This is very noticeable right away.
The game is much more detailed than its predecessors with everything being on a single-scale map. The graphics are now shown in 256 color VGA at a resolution of 320x200. It makes a huge difference, all the black of the previous installments has vanished from the screen and Britannia now looks really alive and very colorful. An EGA and CGA mode were available as well.
Sound is also a new feature on the PC. While previous installments on the PC didn't have the music of the others ports, Ultima VI has it from the start since by 1990, sound cards for the PC were available. The music can play on something low-class as an Adlib card up to high-end sound boards like Roland Sound. However, sound effects were still only put out through the PC speaker.
Also the game is finally fully playable with the mouse and icon driven. The interface of Ultima VI is a lot more user-friendly than the previous ones, enabling even beginners to play the game. Only conversations still had to be typed manually, and even that became easier with the marking of the keywords.
The game was retailed on either four 3.5" floppies or seven 5.25" floppies. While playing directly from the floppies was possible in theory, this resulted in an orgy of disk-swapping; the game was clearly intended mainly for installation to, and play from, a hard disk.
The game will run on all 100% IBM compatible PCs with at least 512K of RAM and a MS-DOS compatible operating system, but to run it well, a roughly 10 MHz system with VGA, sound card and mouse is needed. On systems that are much faster than that, it will run much too fast, ruining sound effects and making the player "zip" around the landscape at lightning speed, especially when the mouse is used for walking. This condition requires use of a slow-down program or an emulator like DOSBox.
The Amiga and Atari ST Ports
The Amiga and Atari ST ports of Ultima VI were based on the PC original. By now the limitations of these two computer systems became obvious.
Since the Amiga 500 could only display a maximum of 32 colors at the same time and the Atari ST 16 colors, the VGA graphics simply couldn't be used. So they scaled down the VGA graphics to the palette of the two systems. While the result on the Amiga was pretty good for the platform, the Atari ST version was rather ugly with many color artifacts. This is especially noticeable in the introduction and the character portraits. On the Atari, the graphics also have a reddish tint that is rather distracting.
Sound is another issue. The full soundtrack of the PC original was impossible to implement because of the strain the game put on computer power and floppy space. To compensate, the music was vastly reduced: some tracks such as the Ultima Theme or Audchar Gargl Zenmur were simply removed and other tracks were simplified beyond recognition, notably Stones.
The ports are both very slow on first-generation Amigas and Atari STs, since only meager reprogramming was done and the computers just couldn't handle the engine, resulting in a game that essentially still would run better on a PC. When playing from disk, the game loaded every step characters walked, at least on Amiga 500. Obviously, the game ran with a much better speed if used on a second- or third-generation machine, such as an Amiga 1200 or an Atari Falcon. Also, since the game ran on no less than four 3.5" floppy disks, frequent disk swapping was an issue - for instance, talking to an NPC required swapping to the "populace" disk containing all dialogue. This issue could be resolved if the game was installed on a hard drive, for those Amiga and Atari ST users who owned one.
It should also be noted that the game had to be reinstalled from scratch (on floppy or HD) whenever one wanted to create a new character, a lenghty procedure.
The Amiga version also suffers from a critical bug that duplicates the party's inventory at random times. While this at first might look like a good thing for the player - as it copies useful items and gold - the rising number of items in the world slows down the game significantly. Especially since these items are all permanent.
This port, the only 8-bit port of the game, was changed so much, that it has got its own article: C64-Port of Ultima VI.
The PC-98 Port
Roughly a year after the original, this port for the japanese PC-98 system was released by Ponycanyon. Despite the name, this is a completely different computer system from the standard IBM-PC.
While the resolution of the game was 640x400, only the japanese writing and other text took advantage of this. All the graphics were not redrawn and instead simply scaled up for the new resolution. Also, since the PC-98 is only capable of displaying 16 colors at the same time, the EGA-palette of the original was converted, which makes it look similar to the ports on the Amiga and Atari ST.
The music of the port mostly does sound like a polished version of the Soundblaster music of the original. Examples can be found on this site (sadly, all the file names are wrong, so it's trial and error to find out which tune is which).
Because of the Japanese language, it is difficult for persons who don't speak that language to find out if there are content differences.
The game was retailed on either two 3.5" floppies or two 5.25" floppies. However, it needed an extra save disk (the was no hard drive on the PC-98).
The FM-Towns Port
This port is something different. Graphically and content-wise, the port is an exact replica of the PC original. The music was overhauled and using the music capabilities of the FM-Towns it sounded nicer than the Soundblaster of the original and there are now proper sound effects. However, there are several things that make the Japan-only port stick out:
Besides an English mode, the game also has a Kanji mode, which is shown in the screenshots. Since the game does use a 320x240 resolution, meaning the graphics are not upscaled, the Kanji does look a bit rough to the eye.
Another difference to the original is the fact that the conversation system has been overhauled. It is now similar to Ultima VII, with the player only being able to speak about topics that the Avatar is expected to know about. This closes numerous shortcuts in the game and makes sure that the plot has to be followed. This also means that the cheat menu had been removed. Note that the screen layout didn't need to be redesigned for the conversation list, since the higher resolution of the FM-Towns made it possible to store more screen content. The higher resolution also means that when there isn't a conversation, the game-system icons occupy the lower fourth of the screen.
In the main menu, another point named "voice credits" has been added, while the copy protection has been removed from the game. All of the dialogue of the game is voiced in English. Most, but not all, of the characters with real-world counterparts are voiced by the people they are based on. For example, Richard Garriott voices Lord British and Greg Dykes voices Dupre. The voices were recorded at Origin in Texas and it is noticable that these are not professional voice actors.
A technical weakness of the port is a missing speed limiter, and as it's designed for a computer of the early 90s, the animations are very fast on newer systems. Despite this, however, there is lots of loading time from the CD, despite game itself still being, apart from voices and music, only a few megabytes big.
It has to be added, that this version does not allow character transfers, despite Ultima IV and Ultima V existing for the FM-Twons. The option did get removed from the main menu entirely. There's no explanation for this decision.
This port came with a special full-colour poster not found in other versions.
The FM-Towns version has been completely solved, and a walkthrough can be found here:
Sharp x68000 Port
In 1992, this port for the Sharp X68000 was published by Ponycanyon.
While the port does have a different amount of colors than the one for the PC-9801, the graphics themselves are the same scale-ups from the original. The one big graphical difference to the PC-9801 ist the fact, that the game does use an even higher resolution at 768x512. However, instead of using this to store more screen content, the port simply creates a bigger and more elobarate background border.
The game retailed on 3 5,25" floppy disks. Like with the PC-9801, a special save disk has to be created, as the game disks themselves do not allow for saving a game.
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