Monday, April 18, 2016

The Early Game Jukebox - Ultima III through Ultima VI

Did you know that you can play all music from Ultimas III-VI on their native platforms without creating a character?  Origin pioneered the use of a sound card add-on for music in its games, and for its early games it always had a method to play all the music in a game without having to get into it.  However, these methods are not always intuitive, so I will reveal how to listen to the music in each game.

First, I must discuss the Sweet Micro Systems Mockingboard.  The original Mockingboard was released in four varieties :

Mockingboard Sound I - One AY-3-8910 chip
Mockingboard Speech I - One Votrax SC-01 Speech Chip
Mockingboard Sound/Speech I - One AY-3-8910 chip and one SC-01 Speech Chip
Mockingboard Sound II - Two AY-3-8910 chips

You must have a board with at least one AY chip to hear music in any Ultima game. The Ultima games do not use speech chips. Each AY chip gives you three voices.

Later Sweet Micro Systems re-released the card as :

Mockingboard A - Two AY-3-8913 chips and and two sockets for Votrax SC-02/SSI-263 Speech Chips
Mockingboard C - Two AY-3-8913 chips and one SSI-263 Speech Chip and a socket for a second SSI-263.  The board is the same as the Mockingboard A.
Mockingboard D - An external box containing two AY-3-8913 chips and one SSI-263 Speech Chip controlled by an Apple //c serial port.  Not compatible with any games.
Mockingboard M - Two AY-3-8913 chips and one SSI-263 Speech Chip, no second socket but does include a mini-jack for audio, bundled with the Bank Street Music Writer.

They also released the "Mockingboard B", but that is not a card but a SSI-263 Speech Chip to upgrade a Mockingboard A,

Musically, the Sound II is equivalent to the later Mockingboards, but the stereo may be reversed.

In addition, Applied Engineering released the Phasor card with four AY-3-8913 chips, one SSI-263 and a socket for a second SSI-263.  This card can emulate a two AY-chip Mockingboard or all four AY chips can be used in its native mode.  The Street Electronics Echo Plus card is almost certainly two AY-chip Mockingboard compatible.

More recently various individuals have released fully compatible two-AY chip Mockingboard clones (the card only used off-the-shelf parts).  They can typically be found for around $100.  There is now a compatible Mockingboard daughterboard that fits inside a //c and a Mockingboard which uses vacuum tubes as amplifiers!

The Mockingboard is designed to be installed into Slot 4 but Apple decided to assign the mouse interface to Slot 4 in the //c.  This can create conflicts in the Apples with expansion slots if you want to use a mouse and the Mockingboard.  Fortunately the Ultima games allow you to freely choose the slot for a Mockingboard.  I would suggest not using slot 3 in an Apple IIe or //gs because the 80-column firmware is mapped to that slot.

Ultima III - Exodus

Richard Garriott developed Ultima III for an Apple II or II+ with 48KB of RAM.  In the original release, there was no audio outside the Apple speaker.  The speaker would be used for sound effects and would play a theme when you entered and won in combat, but the game was generally silent at other times.

Official Support : Sound I, Sound/Speech I, Sound II

However, a revised version was soon released with support for the Mockingboard Sound Card.  The score was composed by Garriott's good friend Ken Arnold.  The proper version of game will try to detect a Mockingboard, suggest the slot it was found in and will allow you to select the slot.  If it cannot detect a Mockingboard, it will not show the slot select screen or the credit to Arnold.  It will jump straight to the title screen.  Older cracked versions of the game will always show the slot select and composer credit screens.  The player side of the disk for the Mockingboard version is not compatible with the non-Mockingboard version and vice versa.

Once the Title Screen appears, the music will stop.  When you get to the main menu, the music will begin to play again.  Ultima III for the Apple cycles through the music on the main view, but you can cause the music to change to the next tune by going to the menu, then back to the view.  It is best to do this rapidly.  This method also works on the Commodore 64 version of the game.  I would observe that the version of Dungeon on the C64 is strangely about half as long as it is on the Apple II. There are ten tracks and they play in the following order :

Exodus' Castle
Lord British's Theme (Rule Britannia)
Victory Theme

Even though the program supports the Sound II board, which had two AY chips and six voices, the maximum number of voices used by any of these tracks is three voices.  Ultima III will play music on an Apple IIgs without any difficulty but Ultima IV and V have trouble with Mockingboard music on that system but can be patched to work.

Ultima IV - Quest of the Avatar

Ultima IV requires at least a 64KB Apple II/II+ or a IIe and later and the music composition is again by Ken Arnold.  It always supports Mockingboard and some tracks can take advantage of six voices of a Sound II, A or C (or compatible).  You can use two Mockingboards if you only have one AY chip on each.  The use of two chips gives a stereo effect.

Official Support : Sound I, Sound/Speech I, A or C

There is no autodetection, you must Activate Mockingboard in the main menu.  Getting all the music to play is a bit less straightforward.  At the main menu, by pressing certain letters on the keypad, you can get all the tracks to play.  However, each track has subtracks which you can access by pressing 2, 3 or 4.  Here is what you get for each combination :

C - Castle
     2 - Combat
     3 - Shrines
     4 - Shopping
T - Towns
     2 - Combat
     3 - Shrines
     4 - Shopping
O - Outside
     2 - Combat
     3 - Shrines
     4 - Castle from Ultima III 
D - Dungeon
     2 - Combat
     3 - Shrines
     4 - Castle from Ultima III
B - Rule Britannia
     2 - Unused Fragment
     3 - Unused Fragment
     4 - Unused Fragment

These keys also work for the Commodore 64 version.

The new arrangement of Castle from Ultima III appears to be unused during the game.  Ultima IV therefore only uses eight tracks.

Ultima V - Warriors of Destiny

Ultima V requires an Apple IIe with 128KB or an Apple //c (which always come with 128KB) or an Apple //gs (with a patch) to play music.  Ken Arnold returns for a third time to handle the musical duties.  There is a menu option to Activate Music.  After you assign the slots to your music devices, you can Play Music.  Ultima V's tracks can use up to nine voices, and therefore you will need two Mockingboards to hear the music as it was meant to be heard.  If you have a Phasor, which has four AY chips, there is an option for it for full music support.  Like Ultima IV, the use of multiple AY chips gives a stereo effect.

Official Support : Sound I, Sound/Speech I, Sound II, A, C, Phasor, Passport MIDI

In addition to the Mockingboards and Phasor, there is also the Passport MIDI interface.  Ultima V is the only game for the Apple II which supported MIDI, and if Mobygames is to be believed, pioneered it six months before Sierra Online popularized it.

Ultima V is a bit weird in how it uses a MIDI device.  Each song is assigned to a single MIDI instrument.  You have to supply the Program Change number for the instrument you wish to use on your MIDI Module or Synthesizer keyboard.  Ultima V's MIDI Information screen suggests an instrument to be used for each song.  This makes the music monotimbral compared to the multitimbral approach Sierra took.  The fifteen tracks and Origin's suggested MIDI Instrument are as follows :

A. Ultima Theme - Piercing Brass
B. Britannic Lands - Harp
C. Cap'n John'e Hornpipe - Ocarina
D. Engagement and Melee - Brass
E. Stones (by Iolo and Gweno) - Lute
F. Greyson's Tale - Guitar
G. Fanfare for the Virtuous - Trumpet
H. The Missing Monarch - Strings
I. Villager's Tarantella - Oboe
J. Halls of Doom - Harpischord
K. Worlds Below - Low Strings
L. Lord Blackthorn - Pipe Organ
M. Dream of Lady Nan - Gentle Harp
N. Joyous Reunion - Bright Bass
O. Rule Britannia - Full Orchestra (whatever this means)

There are at least four cards compatible with the Passport MIDI standard :

If you can find an Apple II MIDI card with an MC or HD6840 (Programmable Timer Module) chip and an MC or HD6850 (Asychronous Communications Interface Adapter) chip, you should be good to go.  The Roland MPU-401 interface with the MIF-APL interface card is completely incompatible with Ultima V.

The JACE Emulator supports the Passport MIDI music for Ultima V, but it uses a built-in Java MIDI synthesis, which cannot be changed.

The Commodore 128 also supports music, and you can play it at the main menu by pressing the letter key on your keyboard next to the tune given above.  The same music plays in the same places with the Apple II and Commodore 128.

Ultima VI - The False Prophet

Ultima VI is the first Ultima developed for an IBM PC.  In addition to Arnold, three more composers added music to this game.  The previous games' PC ports did not support any sound hardware beyond the PC Speaker.  Ultima VI supports virtually every early sound standard, Tandy 3-voice, C/MS Game Blaster, Innovation SSI-2001, Covox Sound Master, Roland MT-32 and of course Adlib.  The music sounds best with Adlib and Roland, being composed for the former and having some effort put into adapting the music for the latter.  Ultima VI does not use custom MT-32 sounds.  The PC Speaker is used solely for sound effects and is the only sound device used for sound effects.

Ultima VI has twelve tracks, you can play them on the title screen by pressing the 1-0 and - and + keys on the number row of a keyboard.

1 - Ultima Theme (from Ultima V)
2 - Bootup
3 - Introduction
4 - Character Creation
5 - Wandering
6 - Cap'n Johne's Hornpipe (from Ultima V)
7 - Combat (from Ultima V)
8 - Stones (from Ultima V)
9 - Dungeon
0 - Rule Britannia
- - Audchar Gargl Zenmur, the Gargoyle Theme
+ - Ending Theme (Britannia and Gargoyle Themes combined)

As you can see, the musical inspiration for the even Ultimas, 4 and 6, was not quite as strong in terms of numbers of tracks as the odd Ultimas.


  1. do you mean, Ultima VI was the first game developed ONLY for PC?
    very good article!

  2. Wasn't U6 on Amiga at least?

  3. It was even available for the C64. However, it was developed on a 286 VGA PC, as opposed to the earlier Ultimas, which were developed on the Apple II.

  4. Ultima III provided music on the Atari 800 series computers (in my opinion, the best sounding music of all systems for Ultima III, which is my favorite soundtrack). And Ultima III through VI provided music on the Atari ST and Amiga. However, with Ultima V, the Atari ST played songs in different locations/modes, and the Amiga had one unique song that played everywhere. The Atari ST also supported MIDI with Ultima III and IV, with IV supporting multiple channels for easy multi-timbral setup. Ultima III on the Atari ST using MIDI requires complex configuration for multi-timbral (assigning voices to different note ranges), due to it only using one channel for all voices--just like Ultima V on the Apple II using MIDI (yes, it's possible for both).