Ultima Escape from Mt. Drash (VIC-20)

Looks like we have another one of the worlds most expensive games up this week.

This time it’s the VIC-20 cassette, Ultima Escape from Mt. Drash.

In the game, creatures called “garrintrots” have imprisoned the player in Mt. Drash, and your task is to escape the dungeons.

The game is a very simple series of three-dimensional randomly generated dungeons, and the idea is to destroy all monsters that stand in way and exit to the next level. There is a time limit as well. The game doesn’t employ custom graphics, but rather uses VIC-20’s graphical characters to draw the game scene. It actually doesn’t tie to the Ultima series in many ways, except for the fact Mt. Drash is a location in Ultima I.

Since writing the original article I have some new info on this game.

It’s commonly believed that the game was originally written by one of Richard Garriott’s friends, Keith Zabalaoui, for Sierra On-Line in 1983. Sierra, who had just successfully published Ultima II, named the game an Ultima in hopes that it would sell better. They did this without Garriott’s permission – who held the rights to the Ultima name – and due to the obscure nature of the game, he didn’t hear about the incident until much later.

Sierra originally intended to publish the game as part of the SierraVenture series of games. However, it seems that someone at Sierra had noticed that the game was not going to sell well. Only one advertisement was published (in Compute! magazine), but aside of that, the game was never distributed very widely. Sierra even denied the game ever existed, until Zabalaoui confirmed it actually was finished and was actually shipped to retailers.

However, it turns out some of this is wrong. Written on my original post, from Johnny Magpie, is this comment:

As someone who worked at Sierra On-line at the time and actually worked with Richard Garriot and Keith Zabaloui (hope I spelled that right – it’s been a while) I can say with absolute authority that much of the stories about how this game was made, etc. are just flat not true.

First off, Richard Garriot knew about the game from inception. Keith was a friend of Richards, and actually came up to Oakhurst based on an invitation from Garriot to work on the game. (I actually don’t remember much about Keith other than he seemed to be high energy and a little bit immature at the time. He got on a lot of peoples nerves.)

Richard actually invited a few of his friends to program up in Oakhurst. One of his other friends, Charles Beuche – who published under the name “Chuckles” – was actually my roommate for a while. (Again, I apologize if I mispelled the last name. It’s been close to three decades ago now.)

Second off, the Sierra On-Line management was young but not stupid. It wouldn’t publish a game and use a trademark without the right to do so. Ken Williams had to work on the Ultima trademark issues when he negotiated the rights to the original Ultima I with the original publisher – a company called “California Pacific” I believe it was called. Ken had actually been involved in some court fights about copyrights and trademark issues. (On-Line System vs. Atari is widely noted in books about the early days of the computer industry, and most don’t know it, but Apple actually released a computer called the “Lisa” which actually violated the trademark of a assembly language toolset that On-Line published at the time called “LISA.)

Third point, no one at Sierra made any attempt to “hide” the game. We just got it out too late for the market. By the time we beat the biggest bugs out of the game, the Vic-20 had lost steam in the marketplace and there really wasn’t a lot of shelfspace at retail for the product. You will find it in some old the older Sierra catalogs if you look around.

Also, the game just wasn’t that good. The Vic-20 wasn’t much a game machine and the cassette tape was too slow on loading. It just wasn’t fun to play and I think we only actually did a production run to meet our publishing contract.

A few other points: The cover for Mt. Drash is actually the art that was used for the original back cover of Ultima II. We did that because the Vic-20 sold through places like Canadian Tire and Sears while Ultima computer games sold through computer stores. That artwork wasn’t cheap and it was very cool for it’s day so why not reuse it.

I believe more than 2500 copies of the game were actually produced, but not many more. Maybe 5000 tops. Most were tossed as the game never sold well, mostly because there just wasn’t any interest in carrying Vic-20 games at retail by the time it shipped.

It’s pretty cool to have some new first hand info on such an old and obscure game.

For a long time though, a lot of the details surrounding the game were very vague. For example it was believed the game was a cartridge, while in fact it was released on cassette tape. One of the rumors about the game was that Sierra sold a very minimal number of the games, barely enough to get even, then buried the remaining stock at a foot of a mountain somewhere. In fact, some retailer in Canada actually did dump unsold software over a cliff, and this is where some of the copies were eventually found. Unfortunately, the site which chronicled this is now dead.

Obviously, the game has been extremely sought after by collectors. First copies of the game were discovered and announced in 2000 and the first online auction of a copy was in September 2003.

I can find records of four auctions prior to 2006, and think I remember seeing one between 07 – 08. Prices have ranged widely. From $700.00 for a lose cartridge to $1,700 to $3,600 for a complete copy. On the 25th of June 2009, a boxed copy sans manual sold for a final price of $1,875.00 U.S. I believe this may have been the most recent sale.

Last time, another collector (who owns a complete copy) told me he thinks there are fifteen known copies, of which four are complete. I’m waiting to hear back from him on if that number has changed.

On the off chance you actually want to play the game, it has also been ported to the PC by fans, and is also available in emulation format.

They also have a $70,000.00 game and hardware collection listed.

My entire video and computer collection, software and hardware. Put together over the last 10-15 years. I specialized in Ultima items, RPGs, adventure games, rare games and just plain fun games. The majority of the games are complete with original boxes, manuals, maps, trinkets etc, but not always waranty cards or flyers, if an item is not complete what is missing will be listed next to the item. Many rare items. The vast majority of the items are original release (not greatest hits, gold medal rereleases, if not original release it will be stated next to the item). LOCAL PICKUP ONLY, no shipping. Payment will be CASH ONLY. DO NOT BID, no bids will be accepted until the potential buyer comes and inspects the collection in person, anyone who is willing to spend this amount of money will certainly want to see what they are bidding on first. Items are around Chicago. If you want to come look please give me a couple days notice so I can get everything together for viewing. I AM NOT SELLING INDIVIDUAL ITEMS AT THIS TIME, all or nothing.

No pics unfortunately, and $70k seems rather overpriced despite some very nice stuff in here, spanning all types of computer and console systems. The best stuff seems to be on the computer side of things though. Highlights include Elder Scrolls Arena (new), The Legacy (Radio Shack Limited Edition with voice when you open box), Magnetic Scrolls Myth IBM version, TWO copies of Ultima Escape from Mt. Drash VIC 20 (although Im betting one is the title auction of this post), Akalabeth Apple II Original version, before Cal Pacific (apparently put together for seller by Richard Garriott using original parts), Ultima I Origin Japanese MSX2 with cloth map and a Japanese Ultima Record. Tons of other stuff as well from the Ultima series, but those are just a couple things that stood out to me in general.

(Thanks Pat!)

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