Interview with Kate Kloos on Arthur C. Clarke's RAMA

By Al Giovetti
Game Title: Rama (based on the story in the RAMA 2 Book)
Price: About, $59.95
Genre: Graphic Animated Adventure
Release: November 1996
Developer: Dynamix Division of Sierra On Line
Designer: Gentry Lee
Original Authors: Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee
Director: J. Mark Hood
Publisher: Sierra Online
Phone: 800-757-7707
Requirements: WIN 95: Pentium 75, 2X CDROM, 12 MB RAM, local bus video, hard drive, mouse
DOS: 5.0+, 486DX/66+, 8MB RAM, local bus video, hard drive
Demo: yes, one on CD is available

Recently we met with Sierra about the upcoming RAMA adventure game title that features Arthur C. Clarke filmed from his home in Sri Lanka. The Sierra RAMA product is based upon Arthur C. Clarke’s second RAMA book entitled RAMA 2 published in 1989. We discussed the exciting upcoming RAMA project both at E3 and then later this week 8/20/96 with Sierra spokes person Kate Kloos, a Marketing Director with the company.

Al Giovetti (AG): Kate, I want very much to write about RAMA. I don’t seem to have much information on the product save the CD-ROM you gave me. I will start on it tonight, but many things in writing require information that a CD of the game cannot give.

Kate Kloos (KK): It is really nice to get this opportunity to talk to you again about Sierra products. I hope I can answer your questions with information of interest to your readers and television audience.

AG: What do you think about the game design and development team?

KK: The authors of the game are Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee. The director is J. Mark Hood, who has worked on several of Sierra's adventure titles over the past 9 years, most recently Phantasmagoria. I think the combination of Gentry Lee working with Mark Hood and Richard Hescox, who both have the game development experience is an excellent combination.

AG: How were the graphics done?

KK: The art for all the rooms and the aliens is all 3D modeling using a combination of various types of software; Alias, Wavefront, SoftImage, and 3D studio provide light-soucing, gauraud shading, texture maps, polygons, and other technical stuff.

AG: What were the designers trying to do and how did they do it.

KK: This is probably best answered in a live interview via the phone, but for now: Richard Hescox is our conceptual art director and has tons of experience in the sci fi world designing book covers, painting and also in another game company where he art directed Riddle of Master Lu. What he emphasized for Rama was the need to recreate the Rama world in a true sci fi artistic style with great attention to the details. He spends a lot of time on texturing and lighting to make the environment come alive. The aliens are both biological robots (biots), which are created by the Ramans and therefore need to look Raman, and the two other species on board, the avians and the octospiders. It was important to make the avians and the octospiders and their environments look, not only alien, but very specific to their cultures.

AG: What does the interface look like, how does it work, are there Hot keys and Key combinations? What about mouse functions and cheats?

KK: The interface is basically a first person adventure game. Anything you click on will be explained (briefly) in text or verbally should you want to hear it. The mouse will be the optimum way to play/navigate. You can wander throughout Rama, which is roughly 50 thousand miles by 30 thousand miles (Which is really BIG). We do provide a means to quickly get from main area to main area, rather than having to traverse, and that is a 3D overview map which you can click on the various hot spots and it will transport you back to the first person views. (Just for an idea of how much time you spend in each, a player will probably be 98% in first person and 2% 3rd person.

You have a personal computer which gives you your communication with the other astronauts via vid-mail; you will automatically be brought into vid-mail as you get a message from the others. Also, you can use the computer to access Data Cubes, which are stored files with video communications and journalism broadcasts (back to earth). These are accessed at the player's discretion and provide a good bit of backstory and plot.

AG: What types of Puzzles are used? Are they word, physical, anagrams, slide pictures, treasure hunt, jigsaw, simon, or other types?.

KK: Lots of types. Probably the most challenging and unique to this game are the communication puzzles; which help you communicate and understand the other species on board. The avians and the octos can communicate with you and you are given some simple tools to learn how to understand them. Tied to their language is a bit of a math-type puzzle.

There are also progressive matrix puzzles for gaining entry to locations. There are also a lot of physical puzzles where you need to position something in front of another thing to reflect or project something to get a clue. Probably the neatest thing is that the puzzles relate to the species who designed them. And puzzles have been designed by the Ramans, the avians, octospiders and, of course, the humans!

AG: What is the plot line?

KK: The goal of the game is to explore RAMA as the designated replacement cosmonaut on a team deployed by earth to investigate the mammoth, enigmatic, cylindrical spacecraft that has suddenly appeared in our solar system from the deep reaches of interstellar space. Why did it come here? Who built it, and for what purpose? Unravel the puzzles to answer these questions and discover an amazing array of alien creatures and machines within. When RAMA becomes threatened with nuclear destruction, the player must save both the alien spaceship and all his colleagues therein.

AG: Tell me about the non-player characters. How many are there, what do they do, and how do you converse?

KK: Arthur C. Clarke: He's our star. We went to Sri Lanka and filmed him last November and he provides some encouragement if the player dies in the game. He's the only one in the game who isn't a character from the book series. The other characters are Nicole des Jardins, the medical officer, Francesca Sabatini, a video Journalist reporting back to earth (A kindred spirit! - Ed.), Richard Wakefield, brilliant electronics engineer, Dr. Shigeru Takagishi, scientist, Admiral Otto Heilman, military security officer, Dr. David Brown, world famous scientist who becomes the main character’s commander, Reggie Wilson, rrint journalist, General Michael O'Toole, military representative, Irina Turgenyev, career astronaut, Puck, robot created by Wakefield to assist the main character, and Falstaff, another robot built by Wakefield to assist you.

You can communicate with the others via vid-mail and you also get saved communciations with them via data cubes.

AG: How many locations are there to explore and what are they like?

KK: Lots; the hub camp, base camp (on the floor of Rama whereas the hub is up in the middle of the sphere at the actual hub of the ship), the central plains of Rama, two large areas that the astronauts dub Bangkok and London for their appearances resemble the Wats of Bangkok and the Parliment in London, the iceport at the cylidrical sea, and New York (agian dubbed that for it's appearance of tall buildings, etc) and here is where the avians and the octospiders live in their dwellings.

AG: How is the animation done, how much is there, and what about the animation background drawings or renderings?

KK: The avians and octospiders are animated and seamlessly integrated into the first person game play. They have been modeled in Alias. The biots have all been modeled on SGI machines in either Alias or Wavefront, and all the backgrounds are rendered on SGI machines, then touched up in 2D to get away from the sterile, 3D rendered look.

AG: How did Sierra do the full motion video?

KK: The full motion video is done the same way the animations were. They are actually the same thing We shot film and beta for the game (about 40 minutes of video total out of an estimated 30-40 hours of game play). It is also seamlessly integrated using Non Loss compression techniques. No lossy compression is used.

AG: What about the voice and acting talents and how long is the human speech.

KK: The human speech is all a part of the full motion video.

AG: Is the music an original composition and can you tell us something about it?

KK: Yes and it is fabulous.

AG: Who composed the music?

KK: Chuck Barth out of LA. What style of music? It could probably be best described as a Vangellis style of music.

AG: What wes Chuck tying to achieve with the music and how did he do it?

KK: His job was to develop music for the Raman areas, the avian and octospider areas, to give the atmosphere of this alien ship.

AG: Tell us something about how were the sound effects done and how they turned out?

KK: The sound effects were also the same as the music. We are doing most all the sound effects in house and they are using all sorts of source material from tweaking actual sounds to the creation of digital sounds. The trick is to recreate the sounds that Gentry Lee, the game designer and co-author with Arthur C. Clarke, has heard in his head over the past 10 years of working on this series.