Adaptations have been around for as long as entertainment itself. When inspiration runs dry, books inevitably become a rich hunting ground for filmmakers, playwrights, and more recently, game developers. In 1992, the award-winning Ringworld novels by sci-fi author Larry Niven became one such book series to receive the game treatment. Ringworld: Revenge of the Patriarch, the flagship title by then newly-formed Tsunami Games, manages to superbly capture the spirit of the books.
Ringworld takes place in Niven's "Known Space" universe. The novels follow the exploits of Louis Wu, a human sent by the Puppeteers to explore the ancient and mysterious Ringworld, an artificial ring-like construct that is home to billions of sentient life forms. The Puppeteers are a race of highly intelligent two-headed beings, and are so named because of their talents of manipulation. During this time, humans and Kzinti (a cat-like race of warriors) are locked in intergalactic conflict, which eventually ends in Kzinti defeat. The game takes place 20 years after Louis' journeys; a time of relative peace following the Man-Kzin wars. Using technologies discovered by Louis, the United Nations has built the Hyperdrive II, the fastest spaceship in the universe. However, the Kzinti have secretly constructed a second ship of their own, which also has the ability to destroy planets. When the Kzinti Patriarch discovers evidence of experiments conducted by the Puppeteers to alter the course of the wars in favor of the humans, he vows to take revenge by destroying the Puppeteer homeworlds. The game casts you as Quinn, a mercenary for hire and an old friend of Louis, who discovers the Patriarch's plans. Stealing the Hyperdrive II, Quinn travels to Ringworld in hopes of finding something there that can stop another intergalactic war.
The decision to base the game around a new character rather than Louis Wu was a good choice, and provides a unique perspective to familiar settings. Quinn is the standard adventure game hero; a sci-fi George Stobbart if you will, noble and brave, though lacking in humor. He is aided on his mission by Seeker, a vengeful Kzinti who has been marked for death by the Patriarch for helping the Puppeteers during the war, and Miranda, a human engineer unwillingly brought along on the mission. They provide a good foil to Quinn's personality, and there is some nice dialogue between the three of them. A Puppeteer by the name of Hindmost, who threatens to turn in the trio if they do not help him find certain items on Ringworld, provides most of the humor. The Kzinti Patriarch is suitably menacing, though underused, as the game's central nemesis. The rich characterizations Niven is famous for is wonderfully captured by the game.
The game boasts rich 256-color VGA graphics that are reminiscent of the LucasArts adventures of the day. One distinguishing feature is the use of a 180-degree view for the Hyperdrive II locations, creating a cross-sectional perspective of multiple areas that is reminiscent of RPGs such as Fallout. In this enhanced version the musical score is made up of a full orchestral soundtrack, thanks to the CD format.
Ringworld makes use of standard adventure game conventions, with the usual look, use, walk, and talk options. At the time, the interface was notable for its use of a pop-up selection menu; a forerunner to games such as Full Throttle and The Longest Journey. It works well and removes the need for an on-screen interface.
Overall, Ringworld is well told, and there is a real effort made to craft an immersive playable experience. Those with a taste for sci-fi political intrigue set in Niven's much-loved universe will find themselves right at home. The richness, graphics and visualization combine to make Ringworld a game worthy of the Niven's superb stories. It's obvious Larry Niven worked closely with the development team because the Ringworld looked exactly as I expected it to after reading the books. Very well done.