Monthly Archives: September 2010

Remaking Ultima


When the first Neverwinter Nights was released in 2002 (no, not that first NWN), it came with a very cool mod editor, the Aurora toolset, which allowed users to build and release their own content.  NWN isn’t the first game to come with mod tools, of course, but Bioware and Atari took it further than most other publishers had up to that point by actively promoting community content and even releasing user-created mod packs over the years following the initial release.  I played a handful of these mods, and my favorite had to be the various Ultima IV remakes.  These were basically total conversions aimed at modernizing the Ultima IV experience with the NWN Aurora engine.  While the actual playing experience of the early versions I played was hit-or-miss (the maps and models were great; the NPC dialog not so much), it was a great bit of nostalgia and a chance to replay one of my favorite Apple II games from a totally different perspective.  Development of the mods continued for quite some time – long after I’d moved on to other games – and some made the move to Neverwinter Nights 2 after its release, though I never played any of these.


This was all brought back to me this morning when I visited Retrogames and saw that a remake of Ultima VI using the Dungeon Siege game engine is available.  Ultima VI, of course, was the final version of the series released for the Apple II line.  Origin took a look at continuing to make new Ultima games for the Apple IIGS, but rightly decided that Apple wasn’t doing enough (or anything, really) to promote the IIGS and that the potential market would be too small to justify investing in development for the platform.

A little bit of Googling revealed that Ultima isn’t the only Apple II adventure title to get the remake treatment using a modern game engine.  The Bard’s Tale also appeared for the Aurora engine.  (I also came across Ultima: The Reconstruction, a page dedicated to tracking every remake effort out there., though it hasn’t been updated since 2007).  This got me thinking about two things: one, that I need to dig out my NWN and NWN 2 discs to give these games a second look; and two, what other Apple II games would be good candidates for the remake treatment?  The first that springs to mind is the unfinished Alternate Reality series.  Not only would it be neat to revisit a couple of my favorite titles (The City and The Dungeon were the only games that were completed), but it might be really great to finish the remaining titles that Philip Price and Paradise Programming were never able to get to.


Yes, I know that certain Apple II games have already been “remade” in various forms – Wasteland reappeared (sort of) as the Fallout series; The Oregon Trail is starting to show up on modern platforms.  Even The Bard’s Tale got a crappy remake in 2004 and there was talk as recently as a year ago of a possible Choplifter update, though there hasn’t been anything since the Gamespot post.   But it’s really neat to see some of my favorite adventure games redone by fan communities using mod tools.

What about you?  What titles would you like to see again?

Remember the Titan

I finally managed to get my hands on a Titan III+IIe card this week.  This set of PCBs allows an Apple III to emulate a 128K unenhanced Apple IIe by circumventing the circuitry Apple added to the III to limit the inbuilt emulation mode.

For those unfamiliar, the committee tasked with designing Apple’s new business computer felt it would help boost sales if they included hardware to allow the Apple III to run Apple II-compatible software.  This would allow III users access to the Apple II’s vast business software library and help ease the upgrade process, while also allowing developers more time to produce software specific to the Apple III’s expanded capabilities.

III Plus IIe box

The committee also felt however, that the III should be positioned as a serious business machine and wanted to distance it from the Apple II’s image as a home and educational computer.  The solution they came up with was to emulate a 48K Apple II computer, but include circuitry designed specifically to block the emulation mode from accessing some of the Apple III’s more powerful functions.

In addition to blocking access to a large portion of the Apple II software library, this added a level of complexity to the design of the machine that was already pushing the limits of standard engineering practices of the day.  Woz, who valued simplicity and reduction of chips above all else in his designs, later noted that this was one of the Apple III’s main design flaws.

Titan, the company that also produced a popular line of accelerators for the II series, created a plug in board for the Apple III specifically designed to defeat the limiting electronics and allow the users to better emulate an Apple II within the III.  The first version, the “III Plus II” was released in 1984 and was essentially an Apple II Plus on a card with better access to some of the III’s advanced feature set.  A year later, Titan introduced the “III Plus IIe”.

The Apple III of course was not on the market for very long so many of the peripherals and upgrades were designed and sold by small companies such as Titan, in limited runs well after Apple Computer discontinued the III.  What this translates to today is a very limited marked of expensive and difficult to find peripherals and documentation.

III Plus II III Plus IIe adj

Which leads me to my request.  The Titan card set I received has all the cables and software necessary for operation, but is missing the users manual.  While I can probably muddle my way through set up and use, it would be nice to have something to reference for the inevitable times I get stuck on an issue I can’t fix.  Additionally, because hardware bearing the “III” mark is often referenced as “///” or worse, “///+”, search engines that use Boolean expressions (basically all of them) tend to fail to produce much useful information.  Searching for “Titan III” returns a handful of hits, but “Titan ///” or “///+//e” gives me everything on the web about “Titan” because the “///” isn’t treated as plain text in the search term.  I’d imagine there are specific command sequences in the Google that can give me better results, but my efforts have been unsuccessful so far.

So the question I have is, does anyone have a manual for the Titan III+IIe (///+//e) card that they’d be willing to give or lend me?  Better yet, has it been scanned and posted somewhere that I can’t find because of the aforementioned difficulties in searching for terms with a forward-slash?

Maybe I should just drive downtown and visit Quark, Inc.

So, it’s back to the Apple ///.  Hey, it’s been calling – what can I do?  I just can’t leave a problem unresolved.  Anyway, I’d like to thank Dave Ottalini from Washington Apple Pi for providing me with working Quark Catalyst disks so I could try to get to the data on the ProFile drive.

Quark Catalyst Diskettes

Quark Catalyst Diskettes

My concern here, though, is (if I understand the manual) once you load a program onto the ProFile with Catalyst, it’s “branded” with the Catalyst’s serial number, so that files loaded with one serial number can’t be accessed with a copy of Catalyst that has a different serial.  Which would have been a major inconvenience 20 years ago, if your Catalyst disk went bad and you didn’t have a backup.  And since the Catalyst disk is apparently so heavily protected, that scenario probably isn’t so uncommon, especially these days with more and more floppy disks lost to the ravages of time.  True, Quark included a complementary back up floppy with the package, but if you’ve lost it or it’s dead, you could be out of luck.

WAP has a disk image for a program that apparently deserializes Catalyst, and another to make a back up of your existing disk, but I don’t know if that allows you to access programs that have already been installed by another Catalyst that hasn’t already been deserialized.

Stay tuned!

Binder for version 2.0 of Quark Catalyst

Binder for version 2.0 of Quark Catalyst

A bit of personal trivia.  The Quark headquarters building, which Google maps tells me is about 10 miles from my house, is located at 1800 Grant Street in Denver.  In the mid-1990s, I worked for Kaiser-Permanente, building databases to help them index their extensive library of medical publications and articles.  The Kaiser offices were located in this building, several floors below Quark.  On my lunch breaks, I used to ride the elevator up and talk tech with whomever happened to be around that would listen to me.  I wonder what they’d say if I walked in with a copy of Catalyst, asking for technical support… Actually, I know what they’d say: “Security!”


Quark global headquarters in downtown Denver, Colorado.

Quark global headquarters in downtown Denver, Colorado.