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Preservation and Emulation – A Guide to Installing “Ultima 1: The First Age of Darkness”

12 December, 2008 (01:11) | Emulation and Vintage Gameplay | By: TimA

An important method to preserve videogame content, and all content contained in electronic records for that matter, is emulation.  In order to access many DOS-based videogames, for example, one must download a DOS emulator.  These emulators are now widely available on the Internet and videogames that are no longer playable on modern operating systems can be played through this application which emulates the functionality of DOS.  Below is a guide to installing one of the most influential DOS-based games, Richard Garriott’s “Ultima 1: The First Age of Darkness.”

In order to play Ultima 1, you must first download a DOS emulator. Currently, one of the most popular DOS emulators is DOSBox 0.72, which can be downloaded free-of-charge at Choose the version of DOSBox that corresponds to your operating system, save the installer executable, and follow the steps to install DOSBox.

DOSBox can be used to play a number of DOS-based games. Finding these games can be tricky as websites with DOS game libraries often require you to enter personal information including e-mail and physical addresses before the site will let you download a game. allows you to download games anonymously. To find Ultima 1, from the Old School DOS homepage click the link for “RPG” games. Listed on this page are six classic DOS RPGs including two other games that are widely considered to be foundational to the RPG genre: “NetHack” and “Dungeon Master.” In order to play Ultima 1, follow these steps:

(Note that the following steps are valid only for Windows operating systems. Directions may vary for other operating systems).

  • In the RPG menu at, click on the link for “Ultima 1” and download the zipped file.
  • Extract all of the unzipped files into a new folder on your C:\ drive, and title the folder “dosprog”
  • Open DOSBox.
  • In DOSBox, enter the following command string: “mount c c:\dosprog\” and hit enter. I’m not totally sure about this, but in entering the above command string you are essentially convincing the emulator that in accessing the “dosprog” folder, it is actually accessing the c:\ drive. If you forget the above command string, you can also enter the command “intro mount” and DOSBox will remind you how to mount the folder “dosprog” as your c:\ drive.
  • Once you have mounted the dosprog folder, type “c:\” and hit enter. You will notice that the beginning of the command string changes from “Z:\>” to “C:\>.”
  • Now type “ultima” and the game should start.
  • When a picture of a castle appears, hit the space bar.
  • You will be prompted to create a new character or continue a previous game. Choose the former.
  • You will now be prompted to generate a character. From this point the best thing to do is follow a walkthrough. is a good website for walkthroughs of all videogames from all eras. A walkthrough for Ultima 1 can be found here: This walkthrough has good tips on how to stay alive as Ultima 1 is much more difficult than the average modern RPG.  A walkthrough that takes you through the narrative can be found here: FYI, you should definitely consult the first walkthrough before you create your character. After you designate your character’s attributes they cannot be altered and certain attributes are more essential than others depending on the race and character class that you select.
  • Once you create your character you can start playing the game.  You can command your character by hitting certain letters on your keyboard.  You can “attack,” e.g., by pressing the letter “a.”  A complete list of keyboard functions for Ultima 1 can be found here: This website also offers a brief walkthrough and some interesting game facts.

The walkthrough for Ultima 1 is pretty essential.  Unlike modern games, there is no tutorial element in the first part of the game, so you pretty much have to figure things out on your own.  These walkthroughs, however, are considerably shorter than a walkthrough for a modern game.  This is due largely to the fact that the narrative element in Ultima 1 is pretty thin.  You will spend most of your time simply killing monsters and trying to stay alive (which is a tall order).  Through killing monsters you will raise your attributes and acquire gold which you can use to spend on weapons, armor, and food.  Note that you must level up considerably before attempting any “quests.”  Also expect to die often, but don’t let this discourage you.  Remember that unlike modern games, dieing is just a part of the experience (one might say frustrating experience) of playing older games.

That being said, in terms of game mechanics, there is not that much difference between Ultima 1 and Final Fanasy XII, for example,  or World of Warcraft.  You have a character for whom you select a character class, a race, and a gender.  You designate that character’s strength, intelligence, etc.  You kill monsters, cast spells, go on quests, buy weapons and armor and eventually fight “bosses.”   One minor (though significant) difference is that when you start the game you will find that if you start fighting the monsters that are presented to you, you will die pretty quickly and you will be unable to progress.  If you take a look at one of the walkthroughs, you’ll find that you need to start fighting in the first level of a dungeon in order to get money and to raise your hit points.  This is a salient difference from modern RPGs in which the challenges that you are presented with are almost always tailored to the level of your character.  You get the sense, in Ultima 1, that the world of the videogame pre-exists your character and you need to figure out how to acclimate your character to the world.  This seems like a much more “realistic” approach to gameplay and one that more closely resembles the layout of a modern MMORPG than a modern single-player RPG.  Apart from this sort-of “pre-existence” of the videogame world, however, there is surprisingly little difference between the content and structure of Ultima 1 and that of a modern RPG.

Because of this relative lack of difference in game structure,  I don’t think that someone who is familiar with the gameplay of modern RPGs will have much difficulty playing Ultima 1.  From a preservation standpoint, including a walkthrough with the emulation would be helpful, if only to convince the player to not give up after dieing a couple of times.  Also, including the list of keyboard commands is essential as I have been unable to locate one in the game itself.  Other than that, from a thirty-year vantage point, Ultima 1 is still largely intelligible and playable for a modern videogame player.