Dino's Guide to Ultima VII - The Black Gate

In the time when Dino's Ultima Page first moved, a lot of hits were being received on the old website with people using a search engine to look for "exult review ultima", as the keywords were. Now, I am answering this indirect feedback and reviewing Exult.

Exult Opening Screen Welcoming music accompanies the loading of Exult, which provides a menu to play The Black Gate or Serpent Isle, as well as the option to see the Exult quotes or credits. Exult is the engine for running Ultima 7 (both Black Gate and Serpent Isle) under Windows. But not just Windows...

In fact, "Exult runs on almost every modern platform, even SparcStations, BeOS, and the Amiga", as DrCode, the leader, told me. Exult is even ported to the handheld "Zaurus" by Artaxerxes, as you can see from the Zaurus screenshots.

Exult Credits Exult is not only freely available for download from the Exult download page (see the downloads on The Reconstruction if you don't know what to download), but Exult itself is open source! This means that you can download its source code from the Exult download page.

But what started it all?

"In the beginning, there was the paper by Gary Thompson that described the graphics files." explains DrCode, the man who started it all, "I thought it would be fun to try to use his discoveries to show the Ultima7 landscape, and I wanted to learn how to program on X-windows (which is what the 'X' in Exult stands for). So Exult was originally a small demo that let you browse around Brittania with the arrow keys.

I believe that the first contributor was Tristan, who sent me a patch with all the 'autoconf' files. Then Willem offered to do the first Win32 port, back before we had SDL (a multiplatform toolkit that makes porting much easier). But aside from some simple Avatar animation, Exult was still just a demo, and I gave up working on it for several months.

What got the project going again was the discovery by a couple guys in Europe, Max Shatskih and Wouter Dijkslag, that the 'usecode' data file was really compiled bytecode for a virtual machine (like Java). They figured out quite a bit of it, and wrote an assembler and disassembler. So, I tried writing a virtual machine for it; and suddenly, parts of the plot started to work. Around that time, we moved the project to SourceForge, and Tristan, Willem, along with Dancer, 'Coder Infidel', and Ryan were contributing major portions of the work, such as the audio, menus, configuration, weapon animation, paperdolls, and intro. My original goal was just to support BlackGate, but Ryan did a lot of initial work to get Serpent Isle playable."

SI inventory system in BG Exult, over the years, has not only been the engine in which to run Ultima 7 on modern systems. Additional features have been added. For example, you may notice in the screenshot left that the inventory system in The Black Gate has been enhanced to that of Serpent Isle (you may notice that the screenshot is taken in Trinsic). Among other new features, there is an integrated cheat menu (which used to be accessed in a special way in the original, and is now readily available), the option to display statistics (such as bar graphs with the face of a companion, showing current health status) and the ability to use a keyring feature in both BG and SI by placing keys in a bag and pressing the correct hotkey. Screenshots of some of these features are available on the Exult website.

Exult saving system "There's also the new 'Save' menu," DrCode reminds me, "which allows unlimited saves and shows a mini-screenshot of each one. And, of course, there are the scalers contributed by Derek Liauw. Note that all of these were done by the other team members."

In fact, the main menu (the one in-game) is much more comprehensive, also including video options and such, as well as the new save system which helps to orient oneself better as to which saved game was where.

Exult of course requires the original Ultima 7, since Exult is an engine in which Ultima 7 runs happily in modern systems, not the actual game itself. More information about the platforms supported and requirements are available from the Exult development page. Exult is almost guaranteed to work, since it works on virtually every modern platform.

The Exult team is not stopping at producing Exult, as ExultStudio and Pentagram are in the works to allow people to make their own worlds with Ultima 7 and to create an Ultima 8 engine for Windows like Exult.

Ultima 7 To conclude, the Exult team deserves my thanks and that of many other fans. Ultima 7 is now playable "with help from the Exult team", as the Ultima 7 opening screen shows. Exult also received congratulations from Lord British himself and other developers from the Ultima 7 team (as you can see in the letters page).


By Daniel D'Agostino (Dino the Dark Dragon) on 26th February 2003

© by Daniel D'Agostino 2002-2019
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