The Atari 8-bit version of Richard Garriott‘s Ultima III: Exodus was first published by Origin Systems in 1983. It again uses graphical artifacting (which the first two Ultima games did on the Atari), which results in it looking very similar to the Apple II original.
The game was ported to the Atari 8-bit by Chuck Bueche, who also coded the Commodore 64 version, and it plays very well. Unlike the C64 port, though, the dungeon interiors are in colour and not monochrome, which is good.
I’m not going to detail the basis of Ultima III here as I’ve already done that in my review of the Apple II original, so if you want a deeper look at the game itself: go to that page. What I will say is that – like most of the 8-bit versions of this classic RPG – the Atari 8-bit conversion is not without its idiosyncrasies. Like the fact that the direction keys are bizarre in this conversion, using keys that are all over the place and took me a while to find when playing in a emulator. On a real Atari keyboard, though, I’m sure they make sense.
It took me the longest time – out of all the versions of Ultima III I’ve played recently – to get a sailing ship. I don’t know the details of the algorithm that calculates when the pirate ships first appear, but one of my characters was past level seven when I saw my first one, and I was at least six hours into the game. Which is weird because when I played the C64 version (by the same coder, remember) I got a ship at level one, within fifteen minutes of starting out. And when I did get a ship, and tried to find the whirlpool, I noticed that it was moving around erratically, very fast, and that I had difficulty sailing into it (which, as anyone who’s played Ultima III will know, is an important requirement at a certain point in the game).
Overall, though, this conversion is authentic and the game’s timings are all good. Ultima III is big, open-ended and an absorbing game to play, but with old school sensibilities that do hold it back. I’d still say that it’s one of the best games on the Atari 8-bit and is still worth a play today – if you like old Role-Playing Games.
More: Ultima III: Exodus on Wikipedia
GOG: Ultima 1+2+3 on GOG.com
Ultima III: Exodus Keyboard Commands:
a = Attack with “readied weapons” (followed by direction of attack)
b = Board (mount a horse or board a frigate)
c = Cast a magic spell (followed by player number, spell type, and spell letter)
d = Climb down a ladder in a dungeon
e = Enter a town, castle, dungeon or other landmark
f = Fire ship’s cannons in the direction indicated
g = Get/open chest (followed by the number of the player who will search for traps, open the chest, and acquire its contents)
h = Hand equipment (trades equipment between two players; followed by prompts to determine what is to be exchanged)
i = Ignite a torch
j = Join gold (gives all gold in party to player indicated)
k = Climb up a ladder in a dungeon
l = Look (identifies an object in a specified direction)
m = Modify order (exchanges positions of any two players within the party)
n = Negate time (stops time for all outside the party; requires a special item)
o = Other command (enter any command desired during gameplay; includes BRIBE, SEARCH and others)
p = Peer at a gem (shows a bird’s eye view of a town, castle, dungeon or the overworld; one viewing per gem)
q = Save game to disk (from the overworld only)
r = Ready weapon for use in combat
s = Steal (from behind store counters; success depends on skill)
t = Transact; use to talk to townspeople or trade with merchants
u = Unlock and open doors (if you have the key; followed by direction of door and the player whose key is to be used; one use per key)
v = Volume (toggles sound effects on or off)
w = Wear armour (outfits player with specified armour)
x = Exit (leave behind or dismount your current transport and travel on foot)
y = Yell any word that’s typed
z = Stats (displays your vital statistics, possessions and spells)
Spacebar = Pass one game turn without taking any action
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