Originally, Richard Garriott had wanted to write Ultima VI using the 8-bit Apple II as a base, as he had done with each of the previous Ultimas. However, after about a year of stalled development he'd come to realize that the planned scope of the game was simply too much for the Apple to handle and scrapped everything, moving the primary development platform to an 80286-based IBM PC with VGA graphics and soundcard. The game's creative progress went very fast after that decision.
However, after the game was finished and in the stores, the matter of ports came up; the PC, though it was increasingly dominant in the market, still had its competitors at the time, especially in the gaming department. While ports for the 16-bit Amiga and Atari ST computers were straightforward enough, as they could easily handle a game of this scale (albeit with some minor compromises in audiovisual quality), there was one older 8-bit platform that was too tempting for Origin to pass up: the Commodore 64, which despite its age and increasing limitations still commanded a sizeable percentage of the home computer market at that time. As a bonus, a C64 port would mean the complete second trilogy would be available on the platform, something only the PC could otherwise boast (since the planned Apple II version had been stillborn). However, although the C64 was theoretically a more powerful system than the Apple II, such a conversion faced a similar problem to that which Garriott had dealt with early in Ultima VI's development: Ultima had become so complex and demanding by this point that it had, simply put, outgrown the 8-bit systems of old.
Regardless of the difficulties involved, Origin got the help from Axel of Imagitec Design to somehow reverse-port the game to the C64. The only 8-bit version of Ultima VI (and the last 8-bit Ultima of any kind), the C64 port was released in early 1991, just about one year after the release of the original.
Porting a game of this size and complexity to the C64, with its rather severe limitations (64KB memory, 16 color graphics at 160x200 resolution, and disks formatted for at most 170KB per side), required a huge effort. Many compromises and sacrifices had to be made in order to pull it off. (Unlike Ultima V, there was no "enhanced" version for the C64's "big brother," the Commodore 128, that would have taken advantage of that computer's larger memory and faster processor modes.)
The final version of the game comes on three double-sided 5¼" floppy disks (a total of just under a megabyte of data, or roughly one-fourth the size of the PC original). The sides are named Surface, Dungeon, Populace A, Populace B, Populace C and Game. The Surface disk contains the overworld of Britannia and the Realm of the Gargoyles, divided into cities and the wilderness. The Dungeon disk contains all the dungeons of the game, while the three Populace disks are filled with all the conversations. Lastly, the Game disk holds the intro, endgame and character creation, and is used to initially boot the game.
While the division of the areas is mostly logical, the way conversations are handled is rather complicated. The method used requires the player to perform the following procedure whenever talking to someone in-game:
- The player attempts to speak to a character.
- The player has to insert the appropriate Populace disk, and then wait for the data to load.
- Then the player has to re-insert the Surface disk, and wait through another disk access.
- Only then will the conversation actually begin.
The control scheme was significantly altered. Most notably, the icon-driven interface is gone; instead, everything is done with keyboard commands, much as in the previous five Ultima games (U for use, D for drop, etc.). The joystick is used for moving and for aiming a crosshair, which is used to indicate an object you wish to perform an action on; a keyboard command is used to switch the crosshair between the main window and the inventory. This proved to be a very complicated command scheme, and is another often-cited criticism of the C64 port.
Despite these flaws, the influential British magazine ZZAP! 64 gave the conversion an overwhelmingly positive (98%) review in their May 1991 issue.
What is missing Edit
Due to the limitations of the C64, the developers were forced to eliminate a number of gameplay elements to make the conversion possible:
- The game features no sound effects and, aside from the introduction and endgame sequences, no music.
- There are no character portraits.
- The number of usable items has been reduced. For example, there are no Triple Crossbows or powder kegs (meaning that doors have to be blasted open with the Explosion spell).
- The number of spells has been reduced. The list of "missing" spells is below.
- The size of the party is reduced, from 8 to 6.
- As a space-saving measure, the conversations have been streamlined.
- Horseriding is eliminated. The programmers use the excuse that the gargoyles have eaten all the horses; Smith is the only exception.
- Peering is impossible. Peer Gems are missing, along with the equivalent spell.
- The interactivity of the game world is reduced. For example, the player cannot look into closets to find clothing, and telescopes can't be used.
- Casting can be done without a spellbook. There is still one in the game, but it has no use.
- The world itself is less detailed. For example, many decorative items are missing, and there are no tables (when one is needed, wooden-floor tiles are reused for this purpose). Also, there are no bags; they are all replaced by barrels.
- The intro has less text and some pictures are missing.