I first played Ultima III: Exodus in 1984 (or thereabouts) and have been playing it on and off over the decades ever since. If you’re interested in my thoughts on the game, as well as a little history, you can read that here.
Suffice it to say that I’ve followed the game and its mods, patches, and community (albeit from a slight distance) for many years. Yet, I didn’t hear of Ultimore until very recently.
So, dear reader, if you haven’t heard of Ultimore I cannot blame you. But please, allow me to explain to you exactly what Ultimore means, and why it’s so exciting. In brief though, it’s a slice of video game history that I believe deserves a little more attention.
Ultima III: Exodus was released by Origin software in August 1983, initially for the Apple II and then later for a number of platforms including Commodore 64, and IBM PC. It wasn’t until November of ’85 that Ultima IV would be released. Ultima III was a huge success for creator Richard Garriott and his team at Origin Systems, and many fans were eager for more after the release of Ultima III.
Now, for many people casually flicking through the history books you’d think that the gamers simply had a two year wait, but… that’s not entirely true.
Those who were enjoying the game on the original Apple II format were given another option sometime in early 1985.
Joel Fenton of ‘Backstreet Software’ had figured out that Ultima III loaded all of the game mechanics off the ‘Master Disk’ and then was only pulling map data from the ‘Scenario Disk’. After a clever bit of reverse engineering he was able to create his own maps for the game.
Today we’d call that modding.
Joel created a total five custom scenarios for Ultima III – “A World Divided”, “Spaceship Crash”, “Egypt”, “Pirate World”, and “Rule of the Slave Lords”. Incidentally Joel also performed a similar feat with Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord and created two ‘Wizimore’ adventures – “O’Connor’s Mine” and “Scarlet Brotherhood of Hsi Ho”.
Joel advertised and sold these unofficial expansions via computer magazines in North America. That’d get you in a bit of legal trouble today, but surprisingly Joel (apparently) got away with it back in the day. Ironic perhaps that he’d go on to become a lawyer, perhaps he was worried that Electronic Arts would come after him one day.
Through limited distribution, and time, these expansions became ‘lost’, and that is why people like me never even heard of Ultimore. Being that they were only sold in North America this is especially true for those of us not in that region of the world. I have read though that these scenario disks didn’t feature any copy protection and were widely distributed on bulletin board systems.
Then, in early 2014 an avid Ultima fan by the name of ‘Pix’ posted an article on their site detailing “A World Divided” and also included a link to download the Apple II disk image.
Pix’s playthrough of ‘A World Divided’ doesn’t appear to have a ‘Part 2’, their adventure ending after a bit of a poke around. Likewise a review I discovered in an old copy of “Quest Busters – The Adventurer’s Newsletter” dated September 1985 discusses “Ultimore: A World Divided” but that they only played the scenario for “four to five hours”.
As far as I can tell from what is available online nobody managed to get the Mark of Force to explore the rest of the divided world. Likewise there is very little information, mapping, and absolutely nothing on YouTube (at the time of writing). Google itself will only return a half dozen relevant links if you search for ‘Ultimore’.
Not much else Ultimore related happened for another six years until Tobias Hübner discovered a disk with “Ultimore: A World Divided” on one side and “Ultimore: Egypt” on the other. He uploaded the Egypt Apple II disk image in December of 2020 and shared it via Twitter.
Even Richard Garriott (aka Lord British) himself seemed excited by the discovery.
Fast forward to July of 2021 and I discovered the existence of the Ultimore scenarios. I immediately downloaded the “A World Divided” scenario from Pix’s page and the Egypt scenario that Tobias linked.
Then I hit a few snags.
I’m a PC gamer, I was lucky enough to have an IBM PC XT in the house in 1983. Aside from a bit of interaction at school I never really fooled around with the Apple II hardware much. Firstly, these disk images were in the Apple II format and required the Apple II version of the game to work, they’d also need an Apple II machine or an emulator.
Something else to take note of at this point, as far as I can tell, all of the Ultimore content online is from folks playing the scenario on original Apple II hardware, not emulation.
I ultimately chose to go with the AppleWin emulator, I found the UI the most pleasing and accessible. The emulator wasn’t the problem though.
Before we continue, a quick disclaimer – I own an original big box copy of Ultima III: Exodus, and I own the original trilogy on GOG. So when I tell you that I went and ‘acquired’ a copy of the Ultima III disk image for Apple II, I felt I did so standing on fairly strong moral ground. As far as I am aware (short of buying a physical copy on eBay or similar) you cannot purchase the Apple II version of the game anywhere. I assume Electronic Arts still owns the rights to the Apple II version however.
Problem One: In the “Egypt” scenario something was very wrong with the character portfolio. The current party consisted of the same four characters… twice. I was unable to journey onwards or disband the party without the game crashing.
Problem Two: In “A World Divided” the initial dungeon “The Pit of Frost” was corrupted.
The solution to Problem One came about by acquiring the Trilogy version of Ultima III. This version of the game is slightly different to that of the original release, both on Apple and PC. The original version started players with 100 health and food, the ‘Trilogy Edition’ starts you with 150 health and food. There is obviously more changes going on behind the scenes too as the popular ‘Ultima Patcher’ for PC (also available on Pix’s site) only appears to work with the ‘Trilogy Edition’. Thankfully this is the version most people own as it’s the one available on GOG.
Sadly, finding a copy of the ‘Trilogy Edition’ for Apple II is damn hard. I did find one after much searching and upon using it found that it immediately fixed the odd issue I was having with characters and party size. I’ve since mapped the overworld without any issue.
The solution to Problem Two was provided by Tobias Hübner. You may recall that his disk had “A World Divided” on side one. He kindly backed that image up and sent it to me. I can confirm that this copy of the scenario is not corrupted and I have been actively mapping every town and dungeon I come across since.
So What Now?
For my own personal satisfaction I’d like to finish both “A World Divided” and “Egypt”. I also fully intend to map both thoroughly, and have been doing so with great gusto as I play through “A World Divided” first.
I’ve shot off a few questions to Tobias Hübner, the chap that uploaded the two scenarios that I’m now playing. I’d love to hear how he found the disk and his thoughts on Ultimore.
I’d REALLY like to speak with Joel Fenton if he is still about. He popped up on the UltimaCodex website in 2014 when “A World Divided” was first shared, but nothing much since. It appears that all links to his legal practice have also since vanished.
I think it would be pretty cool to hear from Richard Garriott on the topic of Ultimore too, being that he expressed an interest and is the original creator of the Ultima games.
For my part I’ll be uploading maps for both of the discovered Ultimore titles once I’ve completed them. Work is coming along well with “A World Divided”. I’ll likely upload a video to YouTube and continue to stream them on Twitch as well.
I’m happy to share the disk images that Tobias provided in a single zip file for anyone to download. I’m a little worried about uploading the ‘Master Disk’ image for the ‘Trilogy Edition’ version of Ultima III. I’d rather not upset Electronic Arts, but perhaps I can reach out to them and see if they’d offer me their blessing. Ideally I’d like to share a single file that includes the ‘Master Disk’ and the Ultimore scenarios so that everyone can enjoy these expansions without hassle.
I’ve also been approached by FractalMindMike, another retro PC gamer and streamer here in Australia, who has some programming experience and may also know others who can help in someone extracting (or reverse engineering) the map files from the Ultimore scenario disks. My hope is that the maps are essentially the same format regardless of platform, that is to say, a simple file containing a 64×64 map or 16×16 dungeon map. Ideally then these scenarios could be ported to versions of Ultima III on other systems. This could mean playing Ultimore on the PC version of the game (available on GOG) in 256 colours!
All of this I’m dubbing “The Ultimore Project”. Perhaps a little hubristic, but I love my Ultima III so let this old dog have his bone. I’ll be posting more regular updates in my Discord which you can join here. Bigger updates will be posted here on this site, and then shared on my Twitter and Facebook.
The biggest hope and dream of them all though is that the other three Ultimore scenarios are found and shared. Whether that be by their original creator Joel Fenton, or by someone discovering an old disk in their attic, or perhaps an old hard drive from a BBS in the 80’s. If you happen to find a copy of “Spaceship Crash”, “Pirate World”, or “Rule of the Slave Lords” please let me know!
Ultimore isn’t ‘official’, they weren’t made by Richard Garriott, Origin, or Electronic Arts. But they are very definitely a piece of video game history and one that I would dearly love to see mapped, documented, notated, and preserved.
My Download Link for Ultimore: A World Divided and Ultimore: Egypt.