Ultima Game Developer: Engines

Created Worlds

Created Worlds

When the Ultima series was being developed, each game studio had to generate the game engine for their titles separately. In some cases, these engines were used for multiple games by the same studios, as was the case with several Origin games: the Ultima VI engine was used for Savage Empire and Martian Dreams, the Ultima VII engine was used for Serpent Isle, and the Ultima VIII engine was used for both Crusader titles. Today, it is often worth using a mature game engine, and focus on the content rather than meticulously coding and testing games yourself. While you can use an existing Ultima game engine, such as the excellent Exult to create new games, you could also use modern game engies and populate them with Ultima-like assets and gameplay.

Creating an Ultima-inspired game is more than the engine, however. Other posts will focus on some of the things that makes an Ultima game, such as day/night cycles, NPC schedules, crafting, skills, and magic systems. For this post, however, let’s look at some of the current, free-to-use engines which can be used for developing games.

3D Engines

Unreal Development Kit

Unreal Development Kit (UDK)

Unreal Development Kit – The Unreal engine has powered several of the most popular first person shooters of all time, and UDK now allows you to use an updated version of the Unreal 3 engine for free. Using this engine, you can create any type of game, and release it for all to play. However, if you make money from your game, you must pay royalties when your revenue exceeds $250,000. UDK can be used to create games for the PC, Mac or iOS device. Unreal 3 was recently ported to Flash by Epic, so it is expected that UDK will eventually allow the creation of Flash games as well.



CryENGINE 3 SDK – This is the engine that powered Crysis 2, and is available for free to create your own games and learn about game development. While you can use this engine for free, you can NOT release any completed content without a paid license.



Unity – The Unity Game Development Tool is a powerful engine that can create game content for all platforms – PC, Mac, Web, or mobile.



GameKit – GameKit allows you to create free games using cross-platform engines, such as Ogre, Irrlicht, and Blender models. While all the tools are present, there is a lot of engine work that may need to be done for a specific game type. GameKit is developed using open source software.

2D Engines

TileWorlds – Still under construction, TileWorlds looks to be a ideal medium for creating 2D Ultima-style worlds that play in a browser window.

Back to Roots – This tile-based engine is being designed to play Ultima 4 and 5 style games, as well as handling user-defined files and inputs. Once complete, it should allow users to create classic Ultima-style games.



Nazghul/Haxima – The Nazghul engine mimics the 2D, top-down, turn-based games which followed Ultima. Versions are available for the PC, Mac and Linux. Haxima is a full-featured game included along with Nazghul, both as an example and a fun play.



Ren’Py – Designed as an engine for creating visual novels, Ren’Py can be used to design a wide range of interactive cut-scene like games.

Mods and Total Conversions

Arx Fatalis

Arx Fatalis

Arx Fatalis – Originally designed as the third Ultima Underworld game, this spiritual successor to the Underworld series released its source code to the public in January 2011, along with its final game patch. While having the entire source code for a game is a huge step, its worth noting that developers will need to be adept at creating content in order to utilize this code.


Doom 3 – The third installment of the quintessential sci-fi FPS game released its source code in November 2011. Like Arx Fatalis, having the code for a full game is a great start, but using it to make your own game is quite a journey.



Exult – The Exult engine has allowed Ultima VII to be played on modern computers, and even been ported to other operating systems. Using Exult Studio, it is possible to create an entirely new game with the same Ultima feel.

Note: The logo above is based on a wallpaper by Anarkhya.


Nuvie – Build as an engine to allow Ultima VI to run on current computers, and can possibly be used to create new games with the same interface.

In a similar vein, Ultima VI Online allows Ultima VI to be played as a massively multiplayer online game.


Pentagram – Created as an effort to allow Ultima VIII to run on modern operating systems, and like Exult and Nuvie, could potentially be used to create a similar game.

Underworld Adventures

Underworld Adventures – This project was aimed at allowing Ultima Underworld to utilize modern hardware. Although it has been abandoned, it may be possible to pick up this project and start utilizing it to create new adventures.

Ultima Online

Ultima Online – The original online Ultima MMO has had a sorted history of server emulation, engine replacements, and third party utilities created over the years. Its own engine has also been used to display entirely new games created by fan developers.

Neverwinter Nights

Neverwinter Nights – The original iteration of the Neverwinter Nights engine is a classic modder’s dream, and can handle total conversion as well.

Neverwinter Nights 2

Neverwinter Nights 2

Neverwinter Nights 2 – Obsidian’s landmark game allows developers to perform a total conversion, replacing the underlying Dungeons and Dragons system with their own custom scripts. Should NWN2 become the go-to game for Ultima mod makers? WTF Dragon thinks so!

Dungeon Siege

Dungeon Siege

Dungeon Siege – The Lazarus and the Ultima 6 Project conversions of Dungeon Siege show how well this game engine can be used in Ultima mods, and Project Britannia has ready-to-use assets for future developers. However, the Dungeon Siege game itself is difficult to find, making future projects harder to justify.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – With the tools for Skyrim, it is only a matter of time before this game becomes a popular conversion platform. Several mods are already available.

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – The Oblivion engine is being used to create a total conversion of the game into a Serpent Isle Remake. Much like prior total conversions, the Oblivion game has had several systems revamped and replaced to make way for the Ultima-style gameplay.

Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind – Similar to Oblivion, the prior incarnation of the Elder Scrolls engine can be utilized for mods and total conversions. The Titans of Ether are using it to create their Ultima IX Redemption game. In addition to the base engine, two projects are seeking to extend the Morrowind engine with improved graphics and features: Project Aedra and OpenMW.


Minecraft – The block worlds come alive in Minecraft, and there have been Ultima-themed Textures released for it!


DOUG the Eagle Dragon’s IRE allows the creation of games in a style similar to Ultima 6.

Adventure Creation Kit – The classic ACK allows the creation of top-down, tile-based games similar to older Ultima games.

Adventure Game Studio – Another classic game engine, AGS can create point-and-click adventure games in the style of Sierra classics. While not specifically Ultima-esque, with work a developer could create a very complex game. Professional-quality games have been created using this tool, such as the remakes by AGD Interactive and their own Al Emmo game, and the startup company Wadjet Eye Games who created the Blackwell Series.

Dark Disciples II – A freeware game with a fairly comprehensive editor, DD2 features a Ultima-V style tile world, plus an overland map, inventory, and skill system. The level editor allows you to create an entire campaign, with custom assets; very close to a total conversion.

Massively Multiplayer Engines



Worldforge – A Massively Multiplayer Online Gameengine, WorldForge has the potential to allow authors to create an on-line world. MMOs are notoriously difficult to administer without a dedicated team, however, and Ultima has a mixed history with online gamers. However, if you are interested in a Ultima MMO and Ultima Online is not your thing, WorldForge is a great place to start.

This list is still Under Construction. What engines do you prefer to develop in? Let’s update this with all of the best engines for use by potential Ultima game designers.


Browncoat Jayson

Join me in New Britannia!

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar Sslaxx says:

    You should also mention both Morrowind and Oblivion, if you’re going to mention NWN 2 and Dungeon Siege, especially as both have in-progress Ultima-related mods for them – Redemption and Serpent Isle, respectively. And note that Morrowind has at least two in-progress engine remakes for it – Project Aedra and OpenMW.

    • Avatar Browncoat Jayson says:

      Good point, I couldn’t remember all of the remakes in progress. I added both of these to the list. There are also some Ultima assets for the first Neverwinter Nights engine, but I don’t know of any remakes using them (and it looks like there would need to be a lot more done).

      I’m considering reordering some of these, and having sections for things like “3D Engine”, “2D Engine”, “Mods and Total Conversions”, etc, to differentiate out the various options. Maybe as the list gets longer?

  2. Avatar fearyourself says:

    You have other less known engines such as Ogre and Irrlicht that are relatively good but both require time to get into and you have to add the content.

    The major advantage of the NWN, Dungeon Siege, and Elder Scroll games is that the content is already there and you can slowly shift the textures and content to your Ultima feel as you go. And I would put those at the top of your list.

    I totally agree on not recreating a new engine from scratch, it’s a headache and a lot of work. On the other had, it is really fun to do 🙂

  3. Avatar Sslaxx says:

    OGRE and Irrlicht are purely rendering engines – you’d have to assemble the rest of it yourself – which is where something like GameKit would come into play, although you’d still have to build your own asset tool chain.

    CryEngine 3 has only been out a couple of days, and there are more features that need to be implemented before it could become useful – such as being able to export your work for others to use. But it looks nice. Just wish CryEngine 3 games were playable on this old rig.

  4. Avatar Sslaxx says:

    And here’s something else you could stick under 2D engines. Nazghul (with it’s Haxima game): http://myweb.cableone.net/gmcnutt/nazghul.html

  5. Avatar Iceblade says:

    We actual use Ogre for our primary World Building Viewer/Tool, but it would be a real involved process to rebuild everything else from U9. As incomplete as U9 feels, there really is a lot of stuff there.

    50+ object properties, 100+ trigger commands, lots of built animation commands, and a nearly full scheduling system (more than Lazarus/U6P). About the only thing it really lacks are NPCs and involved dialog trees and global variable/progress slots.

  6. Avatar Browncoat Jayson says:

    Added Skyrim, and edited UDK to note that it now creates output for the Mac, and (at least the Unreal 3 Engine in general) may be able to support Flash output in the near future.

  7. Avatar Browncoat Jayson says:

    Expanded the list, and added bullets under each for projects released or in progress. Let me know what I’ve missed, as I’m sure that there are many.

  8. At the suggestion of Sslaxx, I added Ren’Py to the list of 2D engines. I was not aware of the Ren’Py engine, but it does look like it can create some interesting titles. Thanks for the suggestion!

  9. Avatar Salid says:

    If you list IRE or Nazghul, may I suggest “Dark Disciples 2”? The software is at http://www.dodgysoft.com and crpgrevisited.blogspot.de recently did a very positive (English) review on that one.

  10. Avatar Zedex Dragon says:

    It’s not complete but the ZXodus][Engine that I’m building for U3.5:PB will be available for others to license. One reason I decided to code an entire engine is that, as far as I know, none of the existing 2D engines provide 3D dungeons, and to me that’s part of what makes a classic Ultima an Ultima.

    • I’ve been watching the U3.5 progress; its good to know that ZXodus will be available. Let me know when it is available for download and I’ll get it added to the list (and probably do a full news post as well). Thanks!

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