Ringworld – Final Rating

From The Adventure Gamer

Written by Reiko

As with some other games based on science fiction novels, I think we’re going to find that Ringworld is an interesting but flawed attempt to bring the deep story of a novel into an interactive adventure game. In some ways, Ringworld is a very traditional adventure game in a style that feels familiar to players who are used to Sierra games. In other ways, it goes off in a unique direction. Let’s break that down and see how it turns out.

Puzzles and Solvability

Generally, Ringworld is very solvable, perhaps too solvable. Most of its puzzles are very straightforward once you have all the pieces. Grab a ladder and place it where you need to climb up. Collect something sharp to cut through a rope. Pick up everything that isn’t nailed down.

Is there any visible reason to need to click on every single book on the shelf just to find the one with the combination?

I only had difficulty in two places, and both for the same reason: once in the Explorer’s lab because I didn’t find the hidden book with the combination for a while, and once in the Patriarch’s closet because I didn’t find the arrow-switch for a while. Both involved hidden triggers for things that I knew immediately how to use once I triggered them.

In other words, the difficulty of the game was somewhat uneven, mostly pitched a bit too low. A few places were more difficult, but only in a way that was dependent on finding hidden items. The set-piece puzzles (as opposed to the inventory puzzles), like the shape puzzle near the end, were also pretty easy. But there were no dialogue puzzles as far as I could find, as there were very few dialogue choices: I counted less than ten for the whole game.

I think that one of the best puzzles was maybe the one about what to do for the dolphins that couldn’t pick up the stasis box, because it was dependent on worldbuilding knowledge that was available within the game. Of course, that kind of puzzle might be more difficult for someone that doesn’t tend to read all the available information the way I do. And once you know what’s needed, there’s no puzzle or difficulty involved with actually making it: you just take Quinn over to the console, and he does it automatically. So in that sense, it’s possible to find the solution by accident rather than by figuring it out, which isn’t ideal. But since I didn’t stumble over it before figuring it out, I had the intended experience and it felt satisfying.

One of the few ways you can deliberately lose.

The good news is that there were no dead ends. I only ever found three deaths, although I wasn’t exhaustive about trying stupid things. So it’s possible there were more I didn’t find, like maybe one for taking off without slaving the third flycycle at the beginning? I did try a few actions that I thought were going to give me a death scene but they didn’t, like jumping down again into the Canyon People’s temple without the rope, or trying to stun the guards at the castle. All of the deaths I did encounter were due to immediately obvious actions or failure to take action. As far as I could tell, it’s not really possible to screw anything up permanently.

Score: 5

Interface and Inventory

I’m going to start out by quoting what I said in the intro post about the interface:

“It’s all pretty standard for adventure games of this era, really. Very intuitive. Except that, with the exception of look (and move), the other actions (touch, talk, and using an inventory item) all shift back to the default move cursor after you click on something. That means that, as far as I can tell, you can’t try using multiple things on-screen in a row without going through the menu every time. And you can’t try using an inventory item in multiple places without bringing up the item again every time.

“In Sierra games, the cursor would stay on a particular mode until you shifted it with the right mouse button or clicked on a menu item. Here, the right mouse button shows you the whole menu. And the clicks aren’t as responsive as I might like. Sometimes the right-click doesn’t work right away, and sometimes I right-click and end up with the wrong menu option selected.”

If there had been more timed sequences, this could have been really aggravating. Fortunately, there were only two timed sequences where I had to make Quinn stun someone, and even those weren’t difficult. So the menu awkwardness was only mildly annoying instead, and not generally much a problem.

The close-up interfaces were generally very clear and easy to use, such as the shape puzzle at the end, or the reference computer in the lander.

End-game inventory full of useless items.

Inventory is Sierra-level standard: the items are shown as small images in a box, and each one can be examined. The items themselves are pretty interesting, but the item descriptions are generally short and mundane. A few times I went to the inventory to see if examining my items would help with solving a puzzle, but I rarely got any useful information that way, except for the initial reveal that I was carrying a weapon.

Eventually my inventory got cluttered with a handful of items I’d picked up but never had any use for. There was no way to drop an item unless the game offered a specific way to put it back where it came from, which it actually did for a few things. We moved around enough that I wouldn’t have wanted to leave something important somewhere, either.

Score: 5

Story and Setting

There’s a lot of interesting story behind this one early line.

I wish I could have given a higher score here, as clearly there’s a lot of backstory and worldbuilding behind the story that’s presented in the game. We get to see some of the interactions among three main spacefaring civilizations, with several more races having brief appearances. I saw multiple references to a vast history of galactic expansion and conquest, with the rise and fall of civilizations on a huge scale. And we also zoom in to see the effects of some of the most recent conflicts on a few characters, which is where the real story is.

There are two problems with Ringworld’s approach that make it a flawed game. One problem is the way it begins by jumping into the middle of the story with secondary characters, which seems to be assuming that the player will have read at least the original book first and know at least some of the backstory and worldbuilding before starting to play.

I had trouble figuring out what we were doing and why we should care about Iacch/Seeker and Quinn because I knew so little about Chmeee and Louis Wu. If I had played the game completely blind, instead of reading up on the backstory a bit while I was writing the intro post, I would have had very little idea what was going on. The manual does explain some things, but it doesn’t go into much detail.

This line just begs for some kind of interactive sequence.

Another problem is how large segments of the game ended up being little more than a slightly interactive movie. There’s too much plot for the length of the game, and too little agency for the player. The overall concept of collecting the stasis boxes for the Puppeteers is a good one, but there could have been far more interaction in the process of getting to them, and more exploration. Maybe pick the location on a map rather than have Seeker automatically travel to each location? There are lots of options.

Score: 6

Sound and Graphics

I often play with sound off, so I don’t have a lot to say about the sound. The main musical theme is powerfully sweeping and evocative. Individual places often have their own themes, but these were forgettable. Sound effects are brief and appropriate. In general, the sound is effective but not memorable.

A beautiful but very brief view of the underwater city of the Coastal Sea People.

I found the graphics to be detailed and often beautiful, but rather pixelated. The animation was pretty jerky, especially of characters walking. The large character portraits are nicely detailed, but those only show up once in a while, and the character sprites are pretty low-resolution. I would have preferred all dialogue use character portraits instead of just some lines. The backgrounds are well-designed and evocative of their settings. But once in a while, something would be just too pixelated or an object would hide in the background. As I mentioned, some of the difficulty was a bit artificial due to some objects or triggers not being distinct enough visually.

Score: 4

Environment and Atmosphere

The ship crawls along outside the surface of the ring.

The Ringworld itself is supposed to be this immense habitable ring-shaped area, but the game’s visuals have trouble conveying the scope of that vastness. The exception would be when the ship is crawling along above the outer layer, heading for a spaceport so the team can go to the surface using the lander. The ship is tiny on-screen, traveling quickly above large plates, and then when they find the spaceport, it becomes even tinier as it descends into the entrance in one of the plates. That moment conveyed the scale well, but in most other shots, we either see the entire ring at once from a perspective that must be very far away from it, or we’re on the surface with the team, and it doesn’t look any different from the surface of an ordinary planet.

We also have all sorts of incredible backstory, with multiple interesting spacefaring races (it just occurred to me that Ringworld’s setting would make a fantastic 4X game), but we see only two planets in addition to the Ringworld itself, plus a few distant shots of the Puppeteer planet group. The “Known Space” area is said to be 80 light years in diameter, but it feels like much less because we see so little of it in the game.

This was a genuinely creepy moment.

Probably the best atmosphere came from the cave with the Flesheaters, or even before Quinn goes in when we’re watching Seeker’s progress on the lander’s screen. It’s like a jump-scare when the creature momentarily appears on the screen. Later Quinn suddenly falls into the Flesheaters’ trap and is captured himself. I was even more startled at that.

Score: 5

Dialog and Acting

The writing in Ringworld is one of its strengths, since it really focuses more on the plot and characters than on the gameplay. It’s a spinoff story from a classic science fiction novel, so there’s a lot to work with. Larry Niven’s name is on the credits, and even if he didn’t write the story for the game himself, I think he must have been at least somewhat involved.

Quinn disapproves of Seeker’s tendency to seek danger.

The dialogue among characters often includes snappy banter. Most of the characters are well-defined and say things that are clearly in-character, although the Patriarch is little more than a caricature with a one-track mind: the Puppeteers must die. And Quinn is a hyper-competent blank slate because he’s the player’s character. Seeker doesn’t really seem alien enough, but he’s got some good banter, particularly the part where he and Quinn are arguing about who’s macho enough to fly the probe through the dangerous sunflower minefield, or who’s going to take the risk of going into the cave where there are creatures that eat humanoids.

Miranda is rightfully furious.

Miranda is greatly amusing and doesn’t get enough screen time. I would have liked to play as her, even for just part of the game. She’s competent too, but it’s more specialized, which seems more realistic. Quinn seems like one of those elite agents who can do practically anything: in this game, some things he did were shoot an assassin, fly a probe, go undercover as a slave, build dolphin prostheses from a broken probe, and recognize and use ancient alien technology. Well, he’s over 200 years old, apparently, but still. As the engineer, Miranda really should have been the one to build the dolphin prostheses, although as the PC, Quinn would have needed to ask her to do it, and maybe bring her the probe.

Scenes and objects are well-described too. I have two minor points that the game could have improved on. One, as I mentioned earlier, the descriptions of items in the inventory were quite brief. I would have appreciated a bit more detail there. Two, the plot is so dense relative to gameplay that it could have used less talking and more interaction with Quinn. In some places, this could have taken the form of more dialogue options, but in others, there should have been more actions to take rather than the characters just telling the player what they were going to do and then doing it automatically. So while the dialogue was very high quality, at some point this can hurt the overall quality of the game as a game if good dialogue isn’t paired with good interaction.

Score: 7

That adds up to a total score of 5+5+6+4+5+7 = 32/60*100 = 53. This is on the higher end of the guessing range, but I think it pretty well represents a game that had a lot of backstory and dialogue, but not as many interactions and puzzles as it could have. Is it a good adventure game? Well, for the parts of it that were an adventure game, it’s pretty decent, if a bit easy. The rest is mostly cutscenes and well-written but non-interactive dialogue.

16 people made guesses ranging from 60 to 30. Nobody guessed exactly 53, so the prize goes to both Michael and Leo Velles.

Ringworld is a wrap! Somewhere down the line we’ll get to the sequel, but before that, I’ll be coming back fairly soon with the first Journeyman Project game, which should be fun. More time travel!

CAP Distribution
100 points to Reiko

  • Blogger award – 100 CAPs – for blogging through this game for our enjoyment

10 points to Leo Velles

  • Psychic Prediction Award – 10 CAPs – For guessing the final rating

10 points to Michael

  • Psychic Prediction Award – 10 CAPs – For guessing the final rating

10 points to Torch

  • True Companion Award – 10 CAPs – For playing along with Ringworld

5 points to Biscuit

  • Spellchecker Award – 5 CAPs – for finding the misspelling in the screenshots

5 points to Gren Drake

  • Cartography Award – 5 CAPs – for describing the planetary map areas of the Ringworld

5 points to Ilmari

  • Dyson Sphere Award – 5 CAPs – for describing engineering problems with ringworlds and Dyson spheres

2 points to ShaddamIVth

  • Morlock Award – 2 CAPs – for comparing Flesheaters to Morlocks

Original URL: https://advgamer.blogspot.com/2019/09/ringworld-final-rating.html