Friday, January 2, 2015

Ultima II - The Long PC Journey

In 1982, Richard Garriott, Lord British, made Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress for the Apple II computer.  His previous games, Akalabeth and Ultima, had been released in ziplock bags, but not only did LB demand a box for his sequel, but also a cloth map.  No publisher would agree to this,except for up-and-coming Sierra On-line.  There began a short-lived relationship between two soon-to-be giants of the computer gaming industry.

As part of its SierraVenture line, Sierra would also release a port of Ultima for the Atari 8-bit computers, and would eventually release the obscure Ultima : Escape from Mt. Drash for the Commodore VIC-20.  However, Sierra and LB's main collaboration would be Ultima II, which would be released for the Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, Macintosh and Atari ST computers as well as the IBM PC.  Sierra would commission ports and sold the game at least until 1986.  LB decided to start his own publishing company with Ultima III: Exodus.  It is the PC version of Ultima II which this entry will primarily focus upon.

There are four major physical versions of Ultima II for the PC.  The first is the original release for the IBM PC by Sierra.  Next came the IBM PCjr release, also by Sierra.  Later, Origin Systems reacquired the rights to Ultima II and included it in the Ultima Trilogy.  Finally, Origin released it on CD collections with other Ultima games, culminating in the Ultima Collection.

1.  Ultima II for the IBM PC

This was ported by Jay Sullivan and released in 1983, not too long after the Apple II version in 1982.  It can be found in the large, borderless box, but later came in the black bordered box and later gray bordered boxes as well.  The borderless and black boxes are guaranteed to have the 22"x17" cloth map.  The borderless box cloth map typically has a "Sierra On-line" logo in the bottom right corner, while the black-bordered box cloth map will typically have a "Sierra" logo in the bottom right corner.  The later gray bordered boxes have a smaller, 16"x12" cloth map with no logo on it.  You can see lots of scans of the original IBM PC borderless-boxed version here :

The system requirements were very modest indeed, only 64KB of RAM, a CGA card, one floppy drive and DOS 1.1 were required.  Use of DOS 2.0 required 128KB of RAM.  While an RGB monitor could be used to play the game, it was intended for color composite monitors and TVs.  This is a game where an older CGA card may be more appropriate to use because the Viper in the dungeon demonstration screen is green with old CGA and blue with new CGA.  However, the old CGA card requires quite the brightness and contrast boost on most TVs to make the blue color stand out.

Ultima II came on three 160KB single sided floppy disks.  Disk 1 is the Program Master Disk, Disk 2 is the Player Disk and Disk 3 is the Galactic Disk.  This version's Program Master Disk is copy protected with a protection called "Copylock", which was used on several other Sierra Online releases during the 1983-1984 period.

All disks are readable by real MS-DOS or PC-DOS.  Windows may not be able to read these disks because they use the DOS 1.x format, which is slightly different from the standard 2.0 format.  Sierra did not to use flippy disks because double sided drives were beginning to be introduced.  In fact, you can install DOS 1.1 on the disk to make it bootable.  DOS 2.0 takes up too much room, so it cannot be installed, at least for the releases of the game that came on a 160KB disk.

A later 1985 release had a Program Master Disk that came on a 320KB disk, presumably to accommodate DOS 2.0-3.2.  The type of copy protection has changed to Softguard 2.0.3 with the original loader.  Here is an article mentioning the company behind it, Softguard Systems, Inc. :
Sierra used the Softguard protection on the DOS releases of its AGI engine games but with its own, easier to crack loader.  The Player Master and Galactic Disks are still singled sided 160KB disks and unchanged from the 1983 disks.

The Player Master disk was meant to be copied through a normal DOS DISKCOPY command.  The original Player Master disk should never be used to play a game because it cannot be reset.  If you see a copy of any version of Ultima II with the write tab perforated on or cut into the Player Master disk, be very wary of buying it if you intend to use the software.

2.  Ultima II for the IBM PCjr.

Apparently, IBM and Sierra's close working relationship encouraged Sierra to enhance several of its PC titles for the PCjr.  Among these were Wizard and the Princess, Crossfire (floppy, not the cartridge) and Ultima II.  For Ultima II, the chief improvement was that the graphics were adjusted to show appropriate composite colors.  Thus for both the PC and PCjr, you can see purple mountains, blue water and green trees, but the brick streets in the town are red for the IBM PC with a CGA card and greenish yellow for the IBM PCjr.'s graphics adapter.  You can find screenshots showing the differences in the attachment to the first post here :

Sierra apparently could not get its Formaster Copylock copy protection working on the PCjr. (due to the lack of DMA most likely) so the Program Master Disk is actually not copy protected.  Disk 1 is increased in size to 180KB to accommodate copying DOS 2.1 with the SYS command to make it bootable on the PCjr.

Considering that this version was generally unknown until recently, it almost certainly did not sell many copies.  The only known complete physical copy comes in the black bordered box and the full-size 22"x17" cloth map.

When this is run on a PCjr., the system will need 128KB.  You should boot this disk from the built-in DOS, if any, or make it bootable with PC-DOS 2.1 SYS command.  Otherwise, if your system has a sidecar RAM expansion, do not load a memory manager when playing this game.  The game will run too fast.

The PC version can be run on the PCjr if cracked, but the colors will be less than ideal.  However, if run with 128KB, it will run slower than it should.  If run with 256KB or more and a memory manager installed, it should run at an appropriate speed.

3.  Ultima Trilogy

By 1989, Origin Systems had reacquired the rights to publish Ultima II, and they were preparing to release the first Ultima trilogy with Ultima I, II and III.  This box came with four disks, with Ultima I (Enhanced Re-release) taking up one disk, Ultima III taking up a second disk, and Ultima II requiring two disks.  All three games are copy protected, with Ultima I and II using Origin Systems, Inc.-1 (OSI-1)  in-house copy protection.

For all PC floppy versions of Ultima II, you cannot run them from a hard drive, despite being DOS disks. This is because the Player Master and Galactic Disks use several of the same file names, but the files themselves are different.  This reflected the way the disks were distributed on the Apple II original, which used 143KB disks.  When the game was ported to the IBM PC, they used single sided disks with 8 sectors for 160KB, allowing the game to be used with single-sided drives and DOS 1.1.

For the Ultima Trilogy, Origin Systems used 360KB disks and put the Program Master and Galactic Disks onto a single disk.  In 1989 everybody was using 360KB disks (requiring DOS 2.0 or better) and double sided drives, so this was unobjectionable.  The were no files with the same names on the separate Program Master and Galactic Disks.  The Player Master Disk was left on a separate disk.  The game will not save when you are not on Earth and never writes to the Program Master* or Galactic Disks.

* - The player may write to the Program Master disk to make it bootable, but for the Ultima Trilogy version, it comes as a bootable DOS 2.1 disk.

4.  Ultima I-VI Series and the Ultima Collection

These represent the last time Ultima II was released on physical media, in this case CD-ROMs.  These versions of Ultima II are not copy protected and are intended to be run from a hard drive.  Moreover, they did not do anything sensible like update the program to support subdirectories.  Had they done so, they could have put the Player Master and Galactic Disk files in separate subdirectories.  Instead they copied the Galactic Disk files then overwrote them with the more important Player Master files.  Thus several planets maps are replaced by Earth maps.  Here is the file overlap between the two disks :

Player Disk

Galactic Disk

MAPX00 Legends

MAPX03 Shadow Guard

MAPX10 Pangea 9,000,000 B.C. MAPX10 Mercury
MAPX11 Baradins Town

MAPX15 Greenland Dungeon MAPX15 Mercury Dungeon
MAPX20 1423 B.C. MAPX20 Venus
MAPX21 Le Jester

MAPX22 Towne Linda

MAPX23 Castle of Lord British

MAPX24 South America Tower

MAPX25 Greenland Dungeon

MAPX30 1990 A.D. MAPX30 Mars
MAPX31 Port Bonifice

MAPX32 New San Antonio MAPX32 Towne Mary
MAPX33 Castle of Lord British

MAPX34 Egypt Tower

MAPX35 Greenland Dungeon

MAPX40 Aftermath 2112 A.D. MAPX40 Jupiter
MAPX41 Pirates Harbour MAPX41 Jupiter Village

MAPX44 Jupiter Tower
MAPX45 Greenland Dungeon MAPX45 Jupiter Dungeon

MAPX50 Saturn

MAPX60 Uranus

MAPX61 New Jester

MAPX70 Neptune

MAPX71 Computer Camp

MAPX80 Pluto

MAPX81 Tommersville

MAPX82 Towne Makler

MAPX85 Pluto Dungeon

MAPX90 Planet X

MAPX92 Towne Basko

MAPX93 Castle Barataria








































MAPX## gives the tile definitions for each of the 64x64 tiles on each map and the definitions for each dungeon and tower level and the MONX## are the monster/NPC placement files.  The TLKX## files are for the text for the NPCs in the towns, villages and castles only.  PLAYER gives the stores the statistics for the player character.   MONSTERS holds the graphics for the dungeon monsters.

Fortunately, Moonstone Dragon's Patch fixed this in time for the Ultima Collection.  The PC and Apple II versions of the game use the same Player Master and Galactic Disk files.  None of the official Origin releases contain the patch.  As you can see, there was nothing critical omitted from the game by the effective removal of Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter.

5.  Differences

The Sierra IBM PC and PCjr. versions say "SIERRA ON-LINE PROUDLY PRESENTS" where the Ultima Trilogy says "ORIGIN PROUDLY PRESENTS"  The copyright is "(C)-1983 BY LORD BRITISH AND SIERRA ON-LINE", whereas the Ultima Trilogy and later gives a copyright of "(C)-1983, 1989 BY LORD BRITISH AND ORIGIN".  That is it for text differences.  The IBM PC and PCjr. versions use PWM sound effects during the intro where the Ultima Trilogy and later versions are silent.  There are also PWM sound effects in the game, like the attack sound effect, that were replaced with simpler sweep type effects for the Trilogy and later.  This could have been done because the originals sound rather harsh.  More likely it was done because the PWM effect is mostly lost at the higher CPU speeds available in the late 1980s.  (See Section 7 below)

In the original Apple II version, there is a screen in the demonstration that says "PLEAD WITH MEDIEVAL KINGS FOR ASSISTANCE."  Unfortunately, due to the inefficient way in which the demonstration screens were stored (16KB CGA full-screen bitmap instead of using a 200 byte tilemap) and the use of PC-DOS instead of a custom bootloader, there was no room on the Program Master Disk for this screen.  This can be restored with Voyager Dragon's Ultima II Upgrade Patch. Additionally, the Apple II and Atari 8-bit versions have an animated title screen with the dragon breathing fire to reveal the ][ and the  "REVENGE OF THE ENCHANTRESS" caption.  In the PC versions, this is a static screen and the sound effects are not present.

One improvement of the PC version vs. the Apple II and Atari 8-bit versions is that the Strength bug is apparently absent on all copies.  In the early Apple II and Atari 8-bit versions of the game, the Clerk in New San Antonio will not raise your Strength attribute, but will raise other attributes.  This is the only way to raise your Strength in the game, absent hacking or implementing a bug fix by writing to the affected sector on the disk.

One other point of interest is the Pangea Greenland Dungeon.  According to the README supplied with Moonstone Dragon's Patch, Origin apparently removed the entrance to the Pangea Greenland Dungeon because the map file for the dungeon itself was corrupted when they ported the game to the Ultima I-VI Series CD.  However, the entrance is not on the IBM PC, IBM PCjr. or Ultima Trilogy versions.  It seems that if the error was "fixed", it was fixed by Sierra back in 1983.  Of course, no one apparently realized that the Greenland Dungeon is present in all four Earth timezones and is identical in each.  All they had to do was to make a copy from one of the other files and rename it.  (This is not the only time a port of Ultima II was missing a feature, the Atari 8-bit version is missing Pangea dungeon and the demonstration screens, probably because the disks at 90KB were too small to include the pictures).  The Apple II versions, both the older :ON-LINE SYSTEMS PRESENTS" version and the re-released "Origin Systems Presents" version have a Pangea dungeon entrance and an uncorrupted dungeon.

The Sierra On-line versions of Ultima II had no speed limiting of any kind.  At the time, 1983-1984, there were only two system speeds in wide use, the PC and the PCjr.  These games will not necessarily crash when played at faster speeds, but may be unplayable at AT speeds.  When Origin released the Ultima Trilogy in 1989, it included speed adjustment code in this release for people with AT class systems.  The program will count CPU cycles and try to adjust itself, but eventually will give a Divide By Zero error once the CPU speed increases past a certain threshold.  This was carried over to the Ultima I-VI Series CD. The version in the Ultima Collection replaces the speed test with a hard coded delay value, but the value was way too small for the systems of 1998. However, the Collection included a version of MoSlo for all the Ultima games.

6.  Fixing the Player Disk

Ultima II is very annoying because it can overwrite the files on the Player disk.  If some cheap idiot used his original Player disk to save a game, then the game will not be able to restore it to its pristine state.  Fortunately, they can be fixed.  The only files the game saves to are MAPX10, MAPX20, MAPX30, MAPX40, PLAYER, MONX10, MONX20, MONX30 & MONX40.  Replace those files with untouched versions and you enjoy a new game of Ultima II.  The pristine PLAYER and MONX files only have 00s in them.  Note that MAPX10, which is the Pangea map, will not have the dungeon entrance unless the file has been patched.

7.  Sound Effects of the Sierra Online PC and PCjr. Versions

Since I own an IBM PC and an IBM PCjr. and have access to all PC versions of Ultima II and some of the sounds rely on effects not properly emulated at present and speed-sensitive, I decided to record the playback from the respective speakers of these systems.  In each case I placed my smartphone close to the speaker's location outside of the case.  You will therefore hear keyboard keys, fans and other background noise.  I chose to do it this way in order to give the listener a true impression of how these games will sound to the actual computer user.  Note that the PCjr. was recorded without a memory device driver loaded for the proper speed.

I did not feel anything was to be gained by recording the Origin System's version, DOSBox can do justice to its simple sound effects.

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