This is just a small article from my journey through shortlived Denver-based Level-10’s catalog of games. A few days ago I wrote about Rodney Nelsen’s Dragon Fire and its “sequel” Kaves of Karkhan, today I’ll be diving briefly into Rings of Saturn, an Apple II arcade game released in the autumn of 1981.
In 1977, the same year as Apple Computer, Inc. introduced its Apple II personal computer to the public, NASA launched its two Voyager space probes, to study the gas giants and outer solar system. In August of 1980 Voyager 1 starts its Saturn observation phase and on the 12th of November gets within 77.000 miles from Saturn’s cloud tops. Voyager 2 reaches Saturn in the summer of 1981. Both probes provided unprecedented detail of majestic Saturn, its ring system, and many moons.
It’s unclear if creator Dan Minardi was inspired by the Voyager events when he started work on his space arcade title Rings of Saturn.
Rodney Nelsen who around the same time was working on Kaves of Karkhan lent a helping hand with some of the programming routines. The game was published by Level-10 in the autumn of 1981, just around the same time as Kaves of Karkhan. It was the first arcade game from Level-10 and featured Hi-Res “3D” graphics, color, and sound.
Rings of Saturn was like all of Level-10’s titles only released for the Apple II and came with a high-quality manual
The objective of the game was to leave “mothership” Halcyon Station, where you were stationed as a space tourist pilot, take the small cruiser the Goya to the central rings of Saturn to rendezvous with the stranded Armstrong and its crew. The Goya would only have a limited amount of energy and only 15 minutes to reach the Armstrong and rescue her crew before it would explode. Along your journey, you had to battle alien ships and blast your way through Saturn’s ice-filled outer rings.
The arcade part consisted of activating your space torpedos with a given alphanumeric code, use the computers paddles or joystick to aim, and fire torpedoes at your targets. Besides the action elements, you had to keep an eye on your ship’s energy level, turn on/off your ship’s protective shield (at the cost of losing energy), adjust your thrust, and repair any damaged parts – you had no control over your ship’s course.
If you were to successfully rendezvous with the Armstrong and rescued her crew you had to return through the ice-filled rings and return to the Halcyon.
Rings of Saturn was primarily a space shoot-em-up but also had you manage your ship on its journey through space. The main screen showed the space outside your ships, below the different controls and information regarding your ship (energy, trust, tracking, damage reports..)
Rings of Saturn came with 4 difficulty levels to choose from and with every play a performance rating was given – A high score.
Rings of Saturn came, like all of Level-10’s titles, with a high-quality manual written by renowned author Steve Rasnic Tem. The manual gave a quite elaborate backstory (especially for an arcade game) and in great details explained the controls and mechanics
While Rings of Saturn didn’t become a commercial success story and with Level-10 going defunct in 1982 after only a bit more than a handful of published games, the two Voyager probes are still going strong, now both in the interstellar medium, with Voyager 1 being the most distant man-made object from Earth, 14 billion miles away.