Rendezvous with Rama is an interactive fiction game with graphics published by Telarium, a subsidiary of Spinnaker Software, in 1984. It was developed in cooperation with Arthur C. Clarke and based upon his 1973 science fiction novel Rendezvous with Rama.
After an uncatalogued giant asteroid is discovered approaching Earth, scientists soon realize that it is in reality an alien starship. As commander of the spaceship Endeavor, and being the nearest to the gargantuan ship, it is up to you to rendezvous with it and explore it before it leaves the Solar system.
I was actually really excited to play this game as I was a huge fan of the books in my early teens. The Rama series of books were one of the few full series I actually re-read more than once (along with Ringworld and Dune). Since this was an earlier adventure game I expected the experience to be a lot more akin to an interactive fiction game than an adventure game … which turned out to be a pretty accurate assessment.
You start off in your ship, and the first order of business is to get to the navigation console to maneuver towards the giant ship you’re there to investigate. This is done by choosing a direction (ex:
EAST), which will redraw the screen with an updated description of where you are and some clues as to what you can interact with. Once you get to the navigation console you can either turn on the autopilot, or you can manually try to dock with RAMA. I opted for the autopilot, so I’m not really sure how difficult the manual approach would have been.
Once docked, you put on your spacesuit, navigate the airlock and are onboard the ship. From here you start moving around from screen to screen trying to figure out what this ship is and what secrets it holds. Every screen is extremely well described, so it’s pretty obvious what you can interact with … but it’s not always obvious how you’re supposed to describe your interactions.
The latter half of the game requires you to use your simp companion (a monkey named Goldie) to follow instructions to help you solve various puzzles. The instructions need to be incredibly precise or else you’ll just get a generic error. For example,
GOLDIE CLIMB UP won’t work, but adding a comma and issuing
GOLDIE, CLIMB UP will.
I’ll be perfectly honest, I needed to rely pretty heavily on the walkthrough to get through this game as I was not having a great time getting the commands entered in a way that would please the game’s parser.
This game was one of the first titles I picked up for this series, but I found myself getting stuck and unable to progress almost a dozen times. I played both the Commodore 64 and Apple II versions at least a handful of times, and each time I’d get to an area of Rama where I’d try to descend into a pit and the game would just freeze.
There’s a sequence where you need to play through an arcade game on your flying craft called the dragonfly. If you fail the minigame you just crash land in the same spot you’d end up in if you won, so I didn’t think much of it. After getting stuck in 2 different versions of the game after crashing I thought maybe you need to win the minigame to progress.
I did this on the Apple II release, won, made my way through Rama to the spot I kept getting stuck at …….. and still got stuck. I don’t know if there’s an issue with the ROMs I found for these systems, but I replayed the first half of this game more times than I’d like to admit.
The DOS release of the game doesn’t include the minigame at all, which is why I ended up playing through that version. It wasn’t for lack of trying with the Commodore 64 or Apple II releases though, as I enjoyed those versions a little better.
When comparing the visuals of the DOS port to the others, the colour palette is just bland. Most screens only have 2 colours and tend to look like baby puke on the screen. The other ports tried a bit harder and blended up to 4 colours per screen, which was noticeably more visually appealing.
You’ve only got a limited amount of time to investigate Rama, as the ship is on a crash-course with the sun. Once you get through the game and return to your ship you discover Rama is actually navigating around the sun to use the gravitational force to slingshot itself out of our solar system.
I’m pretty sure this game follows some elements of the book pretty closely, but I don’t remember there being any monkeys you needed to rely on to solve puzzles. It’s been at least 30 years since I last read the book so it’s possible I’m misremembering and the story of the game is even more faithful to the source material than I think it is.
This is a very story heavy game without really much to do. There is some PC speaker style beeps and boops for music and sound effects on certain screens, but nothing outstanding. I can’t hold this against a game from 1984 though, so I applaud the effort.
Having finished the game I’m motivated to revisit the story again - but I think I’ll just listen to the audiobook this time around. Though it was nice to spend some time in this world again, I don’t think I’d recommend the game to anyone - but if you’re looking for a good book …
|Game||Rendezvous with Rama|
|Systems||DOS, Commodore 64, Apple II|
|Game Engine||Spinnaker Adventure Language (SAL)|
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