‘Ultima V’ on the Passport: Amazing Audio from an Apple II

So, Ultima IV is one of my favorite games of all time. I never actually made it to the end, mind you, but it is wonderfully immersive for a game that was written on a 1MHz machine and released in 1985. And I love it. I played it — and still do, from time to time — on an Apple IIe, the original platform on which Lord British (aka Richard Garriott) wrote it, in 6502 assembly language.

One of the wonderful things about the game was its support for the Mockingboard soundcard, which is an Apple II add-on sporting two General Instruments AY-3-8913 soundchips, delivering six voices and two noise generators. (It’s the soundchip used in the Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, and ZX Spectrum 128, more or less.) In fact, some of the Ultimas supported two Mockingboards for 12 channel audio!

Now, Ultima on the Mockingboard sounds pretty wonderful, but I recently ran across a video that shows Ultima V (the next installment in the series) running on an Apple II equipped with the Passport wavetable MIDI card. Actually, it’s a two-card combo. And the results are almost certainly the best-sounding audio I’ve ever hear coming out of a II — and that’s including the IIgs.

The Ultima V music is wonderful on the Mockingboard, on the C64 version’s SID chip, and on AdLib for the PC. But they don’t compare to what the Passport on the Apple II delivers. I thought I’d share this one, as certainly I’m not the only Apple II devotee that will be amazed by the quality of this audio.

UPDATE 6/9/2013: Hmm… It seems there is some question regarding the Passport card, which is a MIDI card, vs. the earlier Mountain Computer MusicSystem, which is the two-card rig I speak of. A recent comment has called into question whether the sound in the video, which was explained as overlaid onto the video up-front, could have been generated through the Passport MIDI interface as supported by Ultima V… Anyone more in the know than I care to comment on this?

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10 Responses to ‘Ultima V’ on the Passport: Amazing Audio from an Apple II

  1. That really is amazing sound – was not familiar with the Passport on an Apple II.

  2. Byte Knight says:

    Great post – good to see you updating the site again!

  3. Pingback: Ultima V on a Passport MIDI card : Ultima Aiera

  4. Ryan Eisworth says:

    Wow. That is indeed amazing audio!

  5. Likasha Aiyeub says:

    I’ve never heard the passport thing but this is just awesome.

  6. Payton Byrd says:

    How does a person contact this blog other than through comments?

  7. blakespot says:

    Payton: Just put email info in the site footer. I’ve still got a little fleshing out to do now that I’ve moved from MT over to WP. About page coming (back) soon.

  8. Kevin says:

    That’s really cool…I always wondered what that card sounded like for ultima and I never did run across one. For anyone who is interested I have the ultima III, IV, and V soundtracks rendered on a mockingboard (well, phasor) here:

  9. Zygon Dragon says:

    Just like to correct your post. The card you refer to is actually the Mountain Music System two card for the Apple II. This was made by Mountain Computer. It was also bundled the the Sound Chaser kit. Not supported by Ultima V in any way.

    The card used in the Ultima V video is the Passport Designs midi interface card which is a standard midi interface used on the Apple II. The guy mixed the soundtrack then placed it on the video.

    From what I’ve seen Ultima V only supported 1 midi channel per song. So it’s impossible to get it sounding like the video. I had my Apple II hooked up to my Sound Canvas 8850 and it sounded good but sounded nowhere close to his version.


  10. It was this video that inspired the Passport implementation in JACE so that you can play this using the Java MIDI sound synth. The soft synth doesn’t have the same depth/reverb as the synth you’ve used here but there are some decent sound fonts anyway. :-)

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