Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Exult: A New Release to Play an Old Game…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 27, 2010

There’s finally a new official release candidate for Exult:

Get Exult 1.4.9 Release Candidate

Unfortunately, it wiped out my previous saved games, so I’ve started Serpent Isle once more. This is like the fifth time…

For those who do not know, Exult is an engine that allows you to play Ultima VII Parts 1 and 2, and the expansions, on modern operating systems. Originally, Ultima VII shipped with its own custom memory manager to get around the limitations of DOS, which was supposed to make it easier for people who didn’t know how to configure their expanded / extended memory drivers to get the game to run. What it really meant was a pain in the butt to configure and generally had to have the computer rebooted with a custom boot disk just to play the game. Not such a big deal in the era of the DOSBox emulator, but the whole thing was notoriously finicky. The crap we put up with to enjoy our games back in the day…

Exult uses the original game data from Ultima VII. This means you need a copies of the original games to play them, which is not a trivial matter these days (at least until GOG.COM gets a contract with EA or something). Nicely, however, it does provide options for an improved experience, including a larger playing field (though this has been buggy in the past), smooth scrolling, and the use of higher-quality digital music instead of the MIDI originals.

Oh, and it also has a bunch of developer tools to make your own game using this engine. Ideas? Anybody? Anybody?

If you have access to the old Ultima VII games, I highly recommend Exult.

I installed it and played it a little, and – as I mentioned earlier – found it had wiped my old saved games. If I’d been further along, I’d have taken steps to preserve my save game, but I was really only a couple of hours in. No big deal. So I played a bit, stepping through the dialogs a little more quickly. And I chatted with the knight named Spektor.

His portrait is a digitally modified photo of Warren Spector, who was a producer at Origin at the time. A much younger Warren Spector. Yeah, we won’t talk about how much younger *I* was at the time. But then it hit me – this game is old enough to vote. By comparison, when I started gaming, Pong was an antique at only about nine years old. When I finished Ultima VII : The Black Gate, I was so psyched and in need of more Ultima that I went back on my first major retro-gaming experience to re-play Ultima IV, which was a venerable eight years old at the time.

Eight years? That’s Morrowind‘s age, now.


I really ought to finish this game, though. Eighteen years is too long.  But what’s also quite cool is that with Exult, the game really does hold up amazingly well. Yes, the graphics are at a painful resolution and the animation is designed for running at 4 frames per second or something. And – well, the combat is somewhat more hands-off than I remember.

Okay, yeah, it’s dated. But still fun.

Filed Under: General - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    You can increase the resolution in exult (slightly), but too much can break certain parts as you were only supposed to see so much, thanks to the interesting way they built the world.

    It is truly a great way to get the best out of those games though, and I heard a while back someone was making a version of Ultima 6 with it?

    Just heard Neverwinter Nights is available on GOG too… how am I going to fit all this retro gaming around my crippling minecraft habit? 😉

  • Adamantyr said,

    I still love Ultima VII. And the Exult team are the AWESOME. I think the fact that they’re still operating is due to three things:
    1 – Their absolute dedication to “You MUST own the game. No, we will not give you the data files.” That grants some protection from EA as they’re only distributing a tool for the game, not the game itself.
    2 – Richard Garriot’s enthusiastic support. EA is not as inclined to get into a tussle with him over the license. Sure they’re not doing anything much with it now, but better not to start a fight that could lead to ill-will with the fan base.
    3 – The fact that the Exult team did was EA was unwilling to do: make the game work in modern platforms. You can’t even “reboot” into DOS like you could do with Windows 95 anymore.

    What I notice playing Ultima VII is that it’s somewhat quaint… much of the violence occurs off-stage, a noticeable difference from modern games. It also assumes that a double-murder is a BIG DEAL, like it would be in real life.

    Also, it assumes the player is literate to at least a high-school level of comprehension. It’s amazing that every NPC has considerable depth. You can tell a designer sat down and wrote out motivations, what their place in the world was, etc.

    It’s not without flaws, of course. The combat system is pretty hokey; real-time and difficult to get a hold of. I rarely bothered with combat spells because you were too likely to hit your own party members. And hauling their dead bodies around was a PAIN.

    The food dependency was also, while amusing how it was implemented, an annoyance. I usually ended up stuffing my party members full just so I wouldn’t have to hear the complaints later. In Serpent Isle, you could get an ever-full cup that would let you keep everyone fed continuously, which was useful. Actually, Serpent Isle also introduced the reagent ring that removed the dependency on spell reagents as well.

  • Groboclown said,

    I don’t know about Ultima 6, but Super Avatar Brothers has a similar project: http://pentagram.sourceforge.net/

  • Miral said,

    Sadly Ultima VII is the only Ultima I *don’t* have. (Although I haven’t really played much of I-VI either; I just don’t have the time/patience at the moment.)