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
In most respects, the port of Ultima VI for the FM Towns system is a faithful replication of the PC original, with visuals and plot content translated intact. Nevertheless, there are some alterations and additions.
The game features two language modes: English and Japanese.
As on other Japanese platforms, here the game runs at a higher screen resolution (640x480) than its original form (320x200), and although the Japanese text takes advantage of the greater fidelity this affords, all other graphics are scaled such that their apparent resolution matches the PC version. The eighty extra lines of vertical resolution are occupied throughout active gameplay by icons for language modes and save/load functions, while dialogue options appear when conversing with characters.
Like its Super Nintendo port, Ultima VI for the FM Towns features a conversation system that would soon be adopted by Ultima VII, whereby keywords must be selected from a list rather than typed, and will not appear until mentioned in dialogue. This prevents numerous plot shortcuts from being taken by the player and ensures the game unfolds as designed, while also rendering the in-game cheat menu unavailable.
Perhaps most notably, conversations are fully voiced in both English and Japanese (narration excepted). In the English mode, voices are provided by Origin employees, their family members, and friends, many characters with real-world counterparts being performed by the very same people upon whom they are modeled; for example, Richard Garriott features as Lord British and Shamino, Greg Dykes as Dupre, and David Shapiro as Dr. Cat. Although retained in the written dialogue, all references to the player's name and gender are avoided in these recordings. Voices will also reverberate slightly when heard within a dungeon.
While music is largely unchanged (albeit of a somewhat higher quality than provided by AdLib or Sound Blaster cards, and with differences in voicing), sound effects are also entirely recorded. This includes all Words of Power spoken during spellcasting; the voice used is generic for all characters, however, with each incantation composed ad hoc from twenty-six individually recorded syllables.
As with the PC version, the FM Towns port features no inherent CPU speed limiting, thus animations are prone to running faster than intended when emulated on modern systems. Music transitions (e.g. when entering combat, dungeons, or initiating a conversation) trigger a short pause, as the game waits for the current track to fade out before continuing.
Copy protection is omitted, as is the option to transfer characters from earlier installments, despite Ultima IV and Ultima V having previously been released for the FM Towns. A "Voice Credits" option appears in its place on the main menu.
A complete playthrough of the FM Towns port can be found here:
The 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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