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A review by C. Antonio Romero

SANTA CLARA, California, 15 February 1999 - Ring, Cryo Interactive's attempt to transform Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen into a computer adventure game, is proof that the alchemy needed to create great adventure games is far from an exact science. Wagner's music (in Sir George Solti's landmark recording between the years 1956 and 1964), the mythic wellspring from which Wagner himself drew, the audacious designs of artist Philippe Druillet, the best graphics hardware and software, a lavish budget - none of these can save Ring, which manages to transform all that gold into base metals. Ambitious, at times inventive, often gorgeous to look at, Ring is nonetheless one of the most painful computer games I have ever encountered.

The world of Ring is presented as computer-animated three-dimensional scenes, based on Druillet's extravagant character and set designs for a live production of the Ring. These are impressively executed; even if the character designs are not to your liking it is hard to find fault with them. Instrumental selections from Wagner appropriate to a given scene are pulled from the Solti recording, "looped" and played back as background music for the onscreen action. Very rarely does one hear a vocal part in the background, but other than that, "Wagner" is now instrumental - only. Dramatic interaction between characters takes place in spoken, not sung, dialogue (with subtitles, yet). In all fairness it is unclear that sung opera would have worked any better in this very different medium; as it stands, most of the opera has been stripped from the game, and much of the music reduced to sound bites.


One difficulty which the game designers almost surmounted was the first-person perspective inherent in the genre of the adventure game. How can one capture a story with the scope and complexity of Wagner's opera within a first person narrative? The developers contrive a clever science-fantasy frame narrative, set in a distant future; the earth has been destroyed, and a small remnant of humanity has been enslaved by alien races and forced to mine their memories for cultural treasures that can enrich the alien's own barren collective unconscious. Our protagonist, named "Ish" (a play on Ich) has been set the task of recovering Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen; he projects his consciousness into four figures from the original work-- Alberich, ruler of the Nibelungen, as he attempts to forge the Ring; the fire spirit Loge, who steals the ring from Alberich; the warrior Siegmund, who seeks his sister Sieglinde; and Brünhilde, the Walkyrie, as she restores order in the necropolis. The player guides Ish-as-character through each section of the plot-- perhaps simplified through the elimination of characters and dramatic situations, and complicated by the addition of an array of logic puzzles, commonplaces of the adventure genre.


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