Ultima III is the first game in the series to contain music, meaning that now another factor for differences in the various ports has appeared. Indeed, the ports of the game are almost as diverse as the ones of Ultima II, with the first time that a proper 16-bit port (for the Amiga and Atari ST) exists.
Note that this covers neither the fan-made remake on the Macintosh from 1995 nor the Gameboy Color remake from 2001.
The Apple II Original Edit
The original game on which all the ports are based on.
The game's graphics are similar to the graphics of the two previous games. There are some issues with the color. The limited palette is noticeable in that many things are in monochrome and some colors are off, like purple brick floor and strangely colored mountains. This is also the first Ultima game with music. The music uses the Apple sound chip.
The game also has several glitches, which at worst can make further advance impossible.
The game was sold on a single, double-sided 5.25" floppy disk.
There are at least two versions. One version has no concept of move numbers, which the PC port does. Another version does keep track of moves, but the move counter only ticks while you are on the mainland of Sosaria.
The C64-Port Edit
Of the ports made in 1983, the C64-port -made by Chuckles- is without doubt the best. The game actually made use of the C64's 320x200 "monochrome" mode, that allowed the foreground and background color to be independently defined for each 8x8 pixel block (one character of text). The game is really colorful, even compared to the Apple II original, although the graphics otherwise look very similar. Even better, the colors are more logical (with the brick floor being red instead of purple and brown mountains).
The first Ultima with music made full use of the SID sound chip of the C64. The port does have the full score. The music does sound nicer than on the Apple, since the C64 sound chip is superior.
The game was released on a single, double sided 5.25" floppy disk, meaning no unneeded disk swapping. Note that the game has no fastloader, since these programs only came into being in late 1984, meaning that the loading times are rather long.
The Atari 8-bit Port Edit
The port for the Atari 8-bit -made by Chuckles- is essentially the same game as the original on the Apple II. It utilized the Atari high resolution 320x192 graphics mode with 'artifacting' to provide color. As with Ultima II depending on the Atari 8bit computer used the colors would appear different. The screenshots show how the color was supposed to look. The movement and attack sounds are presented through the 'speaker' and sound like the Apple II version. Fortunately Origin took advantage of the excellent sound capabilities on the Atari and provided the full musical score. For the first few hours of play the music is great, eventually you want to turn it off regardless of which system you play this on.
It was sold on a 5.25" floppy disk.
The IBM-PC Port Edit
The IBM-PC port made by James Van Artsdalen was released no earlier than April 1984 according to the change dates on the program files. (Proof? Earliest disk I can find has a timestamp of 05-22-84 for Exodus.com on Side B)
Although the IBM PCjr had been released in March 1984 which would have allowed for 16-color graphics and three-voice music, development on the PC port had already been mostly finished, so Ultima III does not take advantage of these additional capabilities, instead only supporting CGA graphics and PC speaker sound effects with no music.
As was the case with Ultima II, the graphics are intended to be seen on a composite monitor or television set, which with CGA was the only way of producing graphics containing the colors black, white, blue, green and orange at the same time. In that intended configuration, the PC port's visuals slightly excel the Apple II's because of the availability of two different shades of blue. Since no later graphics standard such as EGA or VGA emulates composite color artifacting, PC Ultima III for the longest time could only been seen as it was never intended to be, with cyan trees and pink-striped borders. As of 2012, the DosBox emulator supports Ultima III's method of composite artifacting not in its official version but only in unofficial builds.
Because the game has no frame limiter (a common shortfall of early PC games), it is unplayable on a modern system without an external slowdown utility. The 1984 and 1985 floppy disk versions furthermore use a keydisk checking routine for copy protection that fails to detect the original disk on any system faster than a 4.77 MHz PC/XT.
Note that the fan-made Ultima III Upgrade Patch addresses most of these issues: the game gets updated 16-color EGA graphics, a frame limiter is added, and the music of the Apple II original and Commodore port is restored in MIDI quality.
The game retailed on a single 5.25" floppy disk. Versions released in 1984 and 1985 format this disk as "flippy" disk (the top and bottom side are treated as if they were individual disks), similar to the Apple II version, with the flip side containing the "Player Master". The 1987 version, which is also included in the 1989 Ultima I-III trilogy and upon which all CD-ROM versions are based, includes both the Program and Player Master on a double-sided 360k diskette.
One difference from the Apple II port is that the DAG ACRON, the wizard's teleport spell, works while you are on a boat, teleporting you to another water location. This can include teleporting you to the water in front of the Castle Of Fire, negating the need for any player to acquire the Mark Of Snake.
The Amiga and Atari ST Ports Edit
These two ports were created by "Banjo" Bob Hardy in 1986 and are essentially identical twins. They are both the most technically advanced on the ports made by Origin.
It is very noticeable that three years had passed since the original game, as the graphics are much better and more colorful, as expected of a 16-bit port. The ports also have mouse support, making the game much easier to control and play. Both ports have the fully musical score of the original, which of course also sounds much better, since both computers have superior sound chips.
Both of the ports, Amiga and Atari ST, were retailed each on a single 3.5" floppy disk, eliminating any kind of disk swapping.
The MSX-Port Edit
This port is rather surprising. Released after the NES-Port of Ultima III, it looks and sounds exactly like it, with all the limitations that come to it. Therefore, all that applies to the NES port also applies to this one.
The FM-Towns Port Edit
This port of Ultima III was made as part of the FM-Towns Ultima Trilogy I II III compilation. As such it offers redrawn graphics with a new tile set that was also used for the FM-Towns version of Ultima I and Ultima II.
In addition it also offers newly composed music, which replace the original compositions from Kenneth Arnold. As the graphics, these musics were also used for the other two titles of the compilation.
Like most FM-Town ports, it is also offers a new hi-resolution introduction the player can watch outside the game, but unlike the game it has no English translation and can only be watched in Japanese.
This port was only released as part of a compilation, and only in Japan. Outside of Japan, it is nearly completely unknown.
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