When I was in junior high school, there were only a handful of kids with computers. Most of those who were fortunate enough to have a computer in their home weren’t interested in learning how to use them, and even fewer used them to play computer games. Except for a couple of kids that were in my grade. One of those kids, Willy, found out that I liked role-playing games and handed me an old creased black box while my social studies teacher’s back was turned. I looked up at him, wondering what I’d have to trade for the rather austere black box with the words “Ultima VII” on the front.
He shrugged and whispered, “Here. You can have it. I can’t figure out how to play it.”
During the lunch hour my friend Andrew and I walked to his house in town and cracked open the box. We marveled at the trinkets inside – including a cloth map with indecipherable runes and some inked-in numbers (obviously made by Willy or his father). Whatever this bizarre game was about, it sure seemed like the kind of thing that geeks like us would like. We managed to just get through the six-diskette (!) installer before we had to quickly pack our bags and run back to the school in time for our afternoon class.
As soon as I got home, I installed it on my then-new IBM PS/1 and spent the next 6 months of my life exploring the beautiful world of Britannia through all hours of the night. Although I had already played dozens of games on my computers before, Richard Garriott’s Ultima series quickly became a gaming obsession. In fact, one the first times I ever used the internet (which, at that time, was merely a Lynx terminal session at university my mother was attending) was to find hints for Ultima VIII: Pagan at the then-fledgling Ultima Dragons Internet Chapter which I immediately became a member of.
Above: Actual screenshot from the PSP version.
My long, disturbing, love affair with the Ultima series has continued unabated ever since, and today I was shocked to find out that Ultima VII is now fully playable on the PSP 1. Thanks to some brutal optimization codeslinging by Phantom Fighter, Exult (the open-source Ultima VII engine emulator) has been ported to the PSP. I’ve played many, many, homebrew PSP games, and this one absolutely shines in terms of production quality. Both The Black Gate and its sequel Serpent Isle are fully playable, and the controls have been remapped to work quite well with the PSP’s rather limited inputs. This release demonstrates not only how effective independent game developers are at cooperatively producing quality software, but also that indie developers are the only source for niche gaming.
So, if you’ve got a PSP capable of playing homebrew apps (using firmware <=1.50), head on over to the Exult PSP page and give it a whirl. Of course, you’ll have to have a copy of the Ultima VII game data in order to play, but a 4-second Google search is all that you’ll need for that..
If you have a PSP but don’t know how to play homebrew games, you’ll probably need to install custom firmware on your PSP. For the whole 15 minutes it takes, I highly suggest it.
Finally, if you don’t own a PSP but you’d still like to play Ultima VII: The Black Gate, or Ultima VII: Serpent Isle, just head on over to the Exult download page and select your operating system. I’ve used Exult on Linux, Windows and OS X, and all run flawlessly. These games are among some of the grand masterpieces of the last 30 years of video games, and I highly recommend them. Perhaps some day I’ll write an article on them…
This release of Ultima VII bears no resemblance to the version of Ultima VII released in the EA Replay compilation pack for the PSP, which is simply the horrible SNES port of Ultima VII running on an emulator.