I will probably finish Ultima tonight, but will only post about it tomorrow. I had expected the next session of gaming to be very boring--going back and forth to signposts gaining more attributes. I did this until the strength and stamina were around 60, but I still continued dyingextremely rapidly in the dungeons, and I didn't know why. Finally, I happened to check my character status, and my reflect armor (the best in the game--yet still very cheap...) had been stolen! No wonder I was dying. Anyway, solving quests give you progressively fewer and fewer extra skill points, so eventually I gave up and went back to dungeoneering--still a slow way to raise my hit points to survive at the depths needed to kill the liche and the balrog, my two final quests. I wasn't sure what else to do.
On a whim, I decided to rescue the princess. Perhaps the most absurd aspect of Ultima I is that to win, you must kill the jester in any king's castle (I chose the Black Dragon castle) and take the key from around his bloodied neck, then head down to the jail and release the princess. At the endgame, she tells you where to find the time machine to kill Mondain, so I was not expecting to free her until becoming a space ace. It seems that I forgot her other features, though--she also gave me 3000 gold and 3000 experience points, and I could do it over and over. That solved the problem! From there it was a simple matter to drop in the dungeons (via level-down spells), find the needed monsters, kill them, and head back up. I've included some images of the monsters--the liche and a wraith. I associate liches with dead wizards, so I'm not clear why it looks like a desembodied head. Anyway, with them dead, all I needed to do was go into space!
I had expected speed to be a problem in space, but I was wrong--the game plays amazingly smoothly, and the stars flying in the background are a nice touch! That doesn't mean it isn't a buggy mess, because from what I can tell, the space section is unwinnable. I can fire at the ships all day long, and I never seem to hit. I must have "aimed" at every pixel! Aggggh! So I spent much of this evening hacking the source code, trying to fix the problem--but the BASIC code is interacting in mysterious ways with some spaghetti-like assembly language code, and it's hard to make sense of it all. The BASIC code checks a memory location to see if it's set to 0xFF to determine if I hit the enemy, but it is not clear what causes that location to be set as it is only set within the assembly. I tried adding a line of code to cause a "hit" whenever the ships's location was within my little target window, but this caused further bugginess. I have given up for now. If I don't figure it out tonight, I will simply set the "ships killed" value to 20 and become a space ace that way, and finish the game.
This post was badly organized, because after complaining about space, I will now describe the concept behind that part of the game and why it, were it not for silly bugs, would be pretty fun. It's substantially different from the 1986 remake, by the way. There are two views--top mode and front mode. In the top view, you dock your rocket ship (launched from the planet Ultima, which looks curiously like Earth from space) at a space station, and choose a fat or thin vessel. Then you scan nearby space, and head to a sector containing enemy ships. Switching to front view, you can track the enemy ships, which look basically like TIE fighters, and shoot them down (heh, well, in theory!) It's not a "real" space sim, since you are not moving and enemy ships never get closer to you, but it's pretty cool, and looks convincing. I included both top and front view screenshots.
I will finish this game off tomorrow. Akalabeth took about 2 hours to complete, and I expect Ultima I to take about 6. How long will Ultima II take? Probably a fair but longer in terms of play hours, but I expect it to take far less time in terms of extra work trying to fix stupid bugs in the program! I will be playing all of them in DOSBox, most likely, as long as the upgrades and fixes all work. That way, I can get screenshots and so forth, whereas in DOS I am unable to. Incidentally, if anyone has Ultima I but finds it unplayable, I can send you my modified version of the boot disk to make it fairly enjoyable (assuming I fix the space battle problem).