Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, PC

The first game in the Ultima series was initially released for the Apple II in 1981 by California Pacific Computer and was later completely re-coded and re-named as “Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness” for a re-release through Origin Systems. The 1987 MS-DOS re-code – shown here – is still available to buy as part of an Ultima 1+2+3 package on GOG.com (at the time of writing).

That said: unfortunately it isn’t the version I’d choose to play today, because it has a fundamental flaw. That being that the converting programmer (John Fachini) has changed the dungeons and made them randomly-generated. I don’t know if it was Fachini‘s decision to do this or not, and I don’t know what algorithm he used to generate the dungeons, but in my opinion he lessened the game by changing them. The dungeons in this version seem to be mostly long corridors, connected by doors, and lack the claustrophobic feel of the originals. Plus: they make the game less interesting and more frustrating. And render any available maps or memorised dungeons redundant. This is yet another case of a converting programmer “mending” something that didn’t needed fixing, and breaking the game in the process…

I also had the feeling that the programmer had messed with some of the game’s other algorithms, to the game’s detriment. And he couldn’t spell “Britain” (mis-spelling it “Britian” in some instances), which original author Richard Garriott would never do (because he’s dual nationality British/American, having been born in Cambridge, England).

Which is a pity because, otherwise, this is a decent conversion of Garriott‘s classic RPG. It’s fast; benefits from extra use of colour; has a few extra weapons not seen in the other versions; and is generally quite absorbing. It could’ve been the best version of the first Ultima available, but shoots itself in the foot by making changes that weren’t necessary.

So – if this isn’t the best version of the first Ultima to play – which version is? I’d say either the Commodore 64 version, or the Apple II 1986 re-release. I’d probably go for the former, as it has slightly better controls, graphics and timings.

More: Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness on Wikipedia
GOG: Ultima 1+2+3 on GOG.com

Ultima keyboard commands:
a = Attack = Attack a monster
b = Board = Mount a horse or board a ship or vehicle
c = Cast = Cast a readied spell
d = Drop = Drop gold, weapons, or armour in a castle or city
e = Enter = Enter a town, castle, dungeon, or landmark
f = Fire = Fire a vehicle’s weapon
g = Get = Pick up Mondain’s gem or an item from a king (with permission)
h = Hyper Jump = Travel to next system in the direction you’re facing in space
i = Inform & Search = Tells you where you are on playfield; looks for secret doors in dungeons; performs a sector scan in space
k = Climb = Climb up or down ladders in dungeons
l = Lag Time = Sets the amount of time the game waits after a monster’s attack (default is 3)
o = Open = Open a coffin in a dungeon
q = Quit = Save game (doesn’t actually quit)
r = Ready = Equip weapon, armour, or spell
s = Steal = Steal from shops or castles
t = Transact = Buy from merchants or speak to a King
u = Unlock = Open a cell in a castle (requires a key) or a chest in a dungeon
v = View = Switch between top view and front view in spacecraft
x = Exit = Dismount from horse; disembark from vehicle
z = Stats = Look at your statistics and inventory
Spacebar = Pass time

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