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The Ultima and Wizardry series are heavy hitters of the early CRPG days and generally considered must plays for anyone even remotely interested in the early days of PC RPG’s. Unfortunately if you want a physical copy many of these early games are not only hard to find but also command a hefty price. Fortunately for us collections of both these series were compiled on CD-ROM in the late 90’s and although these collections also go for a hefty sums these days they still not only represent the better value but you have the piece of mind of having all the games on a convenient CD. But what about us purists that long for the experience of these games on early 1980’s 8088 based hardware from the time they were released? After all these collections were released in the era of Windows 9X and were surly expected to run under that environment. Are these collections of any use to us? Well friends, read on to find out.

Will start with Wizardry Archives.

wizarch

Wizardry Archives was released in CD-ROM format in 1998 and contained the first seven games in the series as well as Wizardry Gold. The original Wizardry games were released on 360kb floppies and were PC booter games. This means that no operating system such as DOS was needed. simply put the floppy into your machine and power on. When it comes to the Wizardry Archives there is good and bad news.

The bad news is you cannot copy the games from the CD to floppy and play them as you would an original copy. On the archives collection Wizardry 1 through 5 are broke into three files, wiz1.com, wiz1.dsk and a save1.dsk the wiz1.dsk is exactly 320kb, Wiz1.com 2kb and finally save1.dsk is 640kb. Obviously these files will no longer fit on a 360k floppy.

This is because the games in the archive, amusingly enough, have been officially modified with a 3rd party, gray-area software loader (wiz1.com) to run off of a hard drive which is very good news for us. The modified files automatically advance through prompts where switching disks would otherwise be required. Of course there is the negative of not being able to play as originally intended off a floppy disk but I myself think it’s a good trade off for the ability to play and save straight from a hard drive and have the greater reliability that comes with that medium. I wouldn’t want to trust a floppy disk these days with save data for an RPG you may of just dumped hours upon hours into.

Unless you have a CD-ROM drive installed in your early 80’s PC (unlikely) your going to need a method to transfer the files. Your also going to need a hard drive in your machine to copy the games to, obviously. This will likely be an MFM drive but there are more modern methods such as using a 8 bit IDE controller card and an IDE hard drive. There are several other methods to transfer the files such as via a network connection or ZIP drive (if you have a NEC V20 or later installed) but I prefer a 720kb floppy drive as it is a very easy method and chances are you already have one installed. If not I would advise installing a 720kb floppy drive to make things very easy. Almost all floppy controllers can recognize 720kb floppy drives. Also you can use the cheap and abundant 1.44mb floppy drives on a older controller and have it be seen automatically as a 720kb drive.

If your one of the lucky ones that have a high density 1.44mb floppy controller in your 8088, are using a 286 with a high density drive or are using a parallel port 1.44mb drive or one of the other methods mentioned you can skip this part but assuming most people will have a 720kb drive were going to need to ready a 720kn floppy disk. First off we need to ready a disk or two. If you don’t own any 3 1/3 inch 720kb disks, no problem as you can easily make a 1.44mb floppy into the 720kb sort by simply covering up a hole as depicted in the image below.

20151204_195427

The most common method is to tape over the hole. I use black electrical tape but even clear scotch tape will work. It also serves to mark which disks you have as 720kb formatted.

20151204_195341

So now that we have a disk ready we need to format it. This is very easy in Windows 95 and 98 as you can format disks for 720kb right through My Computer. Just insert the floppy disk, click on My Computer and then right click the floppy drive (likely A:) and you should be presented with a list of option. Click Format and then you should get a options screen and a pull down menu that allows you to format for 720kb.

w98f

This option however was removed from Windows XP and up so in this instance your going to need to use the command line interface to format your disk. Open a new command prompt by going to Start->run and typing CMD. Type Format A: /T:80 /N:9 and hit enter and that should do it. I haven’t tried this with Windows 7 and up but I’ve read it does work. Honestly I’ve never had luck with floppy drives and Windows 7 as they usually end up coming out corrupt.

w7cmdflop

The wizardry Archives breaks the games up into their own folders so once you have the game files on your floppy disk it’s just a matter of copying the files to your chosen PC’s hard drive via the COPY command.

That’s basically it. I made a folder called WIZ1 on my 4.77mhz 8088 PC and copied the first game there and it works like a charm. Just go into the file and run WIZ1 and it loads right up. Saving within the game works without issues as well. Now I haven’t tested the other games on the archives or tried transferring the party between games as you are required for Wizardry 1-3 but seeing as they are set up the same the process should be identical.

20150815_203549_LLSJust hit S and the game starts as normal bypassing all the Make Scenario Disk stuff.

I have played down to level three in Wizardry 1 so far and sunk well over ten hours into it without a single issue. The game runs as it should on my 4.77mhz 8088 which is the type of CPU that this game was originally intended for. I did try running the game in 10mhz turbo mode but all it does is speed the message screen up making it very difficult read information during a battle before it goes off screen. I never bothered playing the archives in a Windows  9X environment but I’m guessing theres some kind of slowdown utility included.

Now on to the Ultima Collection.

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The Ultima Collection was released on CD-ROM in 1997 and contained the first eight games in the Ultima series including several add-ons and the speech pack for Ultima VIII. All the games in the Ultima Collection as far as I can tell are unmodified in any way. These are not ports for Windows but the original DOS versions so for retro enthusiasts this is a boon as like the Wizardry Archives they will all have no issues running on period hardware. The collection does include a registered version of mo’slow to allow the games to run on faster computers but from what I’ve read Ultima VII and VIII are still virtually unplayable within Windows (though getting Ultima VII running even in DOS is a challenge and is going to be its own article).

I won’t go over again the transfer process but its basically the same as with the Wizardry archives and the games will run just fine on native era hardware for which each game was intended.

The collection includes Akalabeth which was retroactively named Ultima 0, being the very first, and primitive, Ultima game. This game was never given a DOS port and was only available on the Apple II cira 1971 – 1981. The version of Akalabeth that comes on the collection though requires a 32-bit DOS extender so will not run on a 8088 or a 286. It should run fine on a 486 or possibly a 386 but that’s about as close as you’ll get to Apple II era hardware. The game is slightly different from the Apple II version as it has color and basic midi as well as a title change to Ultima 0. It also plays much better and smoother then the original version. There is an unofficial bootleg port of Akalabeth though floating around on the internet that I’ve read will work on 8088 hardware for those interested.

akab4Playing the Ultima Collection version of Akalabeth on my Dell Dimension Pentium II PC.

Ultima Fan Upgrade Patches

That normally would be all I had to say about the Ultima Collection but I think its worth getting into the subject of fan upgrade patches. Generally I’m very picky about upgrade patches, After all why would I bother playing on original era hardware if I wanted anything but an “original” experience but in the case of the Ultima Collection I think the upgrade patches may be worth checking out for a few reason.

First off keep in mind that the Ultima 1 was not released for DOS until 1986 as Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness. This means that the first Ultima was actually released AFTER Ultima II through IV. This can be fairly jarring to retro computer game enthusiasts that are playing through the games in order as the 1986 DOS release of Ultima I was improved over the original and displayed in EGA graphics (as opposed to the rather ugly CGA of Ultima II & III DOS ports) and makes the earlier released Ultima II and III feel like pretty massive steps backwards.

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Ultima I from the Ultima Collection on my 8mhz 8086 machine

Ultima II released for DOS in 1982 especially looks bad in CGA in my opinion. There is also a map related bug in all CD versions including the Ultima Collection that makes the game unbeatable. Add this to a number of other bugs and I would say the DOS version of Ultima II included in the collection is unplayable. Thankfully an unofficial fan patch was made that converts the game to EGA but also corrects the map bug along with many other bugs.

Even being unofficial I would call this fan patch essential. It not only makes the game winnable but the EGA makeover brings the game more in line with the 1986 version of Ultima 1. Just compare below.

u2cgaOriginal CGA version

100_8591EGA fan upgrade patch

So does the upgrade patched version still run on original hardware? Absolutely.

I applied the patch prior then transferred the patched game to my 8mhz NEC V30 system and it ran without any issues. Interestingly enough though the patched game does seem to have some issues in Dosbox. The bump up to EGA does create a little more processing overhead so a 4.77mhz 8088 may run it a little slower then normal. As I stated I played through the entire game on a 8mhz NEC V30 machine and everything played just fine. I would recommend playing on such a machine or perhaps a 8088 or V20 in turbo mode (7.16mhz or 10mhz). You may need to split the game over several 720kb floppies if your transferring by that method as the file is a good bit larger then Wizardry.

The patch is available at The Exodus Project

The next fan patch I want to talk about is the upgrade patch for Ultima III released in 1983. This patch also works just fine on actual hardware. The U III patch fixes multiple bugs as the U II patch did but also introduces a wider degree of video modes for EGA to VGA and emulated color composite. The VGA mode looks pretty good but I stuck with EGA as to stay closest with the spirit of the era this game came out (even though EGA did not come out until 1984).

Another very cool feature this patch implements is music. The DOS version of Ultima III lacked any music, likely because there were no real PC sound cards to speak of in 1983. Computers like the C64 on the other hand had sound hardware built in and thus had music in there respective versions. What this patch does is take official Ultima III midi tunes from the Commodore 64 and Apple II versions and add them to the DOS port creating whats probably the definitive version. I have a sound blaster 1.5 installed in the machine running this game and it sounds great.

Speaking of CPU. Ultima III was ment to run on a 4.77mhz 8088 and the original CGA unpatched version runs fine on one but the EGA and sound of the patched version again take a toll on the CPU. With the patch installed I would definitely recommend a 286 running at least 10mhz. Even my V30 PC at 10mhz seemed just a little off and to slow so I had to install the game to my 20mhz 286 that downclocks to 10mhz via a turbo button.

The patch for Ultima III is available at The Exodus Project

There is an upgrade patch for Ultima IV but as of now I have not attempted to try it. This patch also adds music and this time upgrades the graphics to 256 color VGA. I don’t really find this patch nearly as necessary as the earlier patches and when I get to Ultima IV I probably will decline to use it.

This patch though unlike the others WILL NOT work in true DOS but requires Windows or DOSbox. well….sort off. There apparently is a pached version of the patch that does work in DOS but I have not tried it myself.

Ultima IV upgrade patch

Patched version of patch for real DOS mode play

Finally there is a upgrade patch for Ultima V which only adds music from the Apple II, Commodore 128 and Amiga versions to the DOS version. Again I have not tried this patch but it should work under true DOS.

Ultima V upgrade patch

And that concludes our look at the Wizardry Archives and Ultima Collection. Thankfully for us retro PC enthusiasts we do have a means through them to play these convenient collections of some great classic CRPG’s on real era hardware.

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