Saturday, October 30, 2010

Game 29: Adventure Construction Set (1984)

It turns out I'm about three years off on this one. My general rule is to play games in order of their original publication, not in order of their DOS release. In this case, I mis-coded the game in my master spreadsheet. It probably worked out for the best because it's not on Wikipedia's list, meaning I would have missed it on the first pass and probably would have relegated it to one of my July "backtracking" posts. Now I can give it the proper attention.

The primary purpose of Adventure Construction Set is to allow prospective dungeon masters to create their own CRPGs and offer them up to their friends. According to Wikipedia's entry on the software, it was inspired by the Pinball Construction Set from 1983. ACS was first released for the Commodore 64 in 1984; the DOS version (which I'm playing) came out in 1987. Its age shows after three years, unfortunately, as the interface is a bit clumsy and the commands and graphics not nearly as robust as some of the other 1987 CRPG offerings.

We have yet to see a spy/mystery CRPG in this blog.

I wouldn't normally play Adventure Construction Set as part of this blog except that it came pre-packaged with at least one pre-made adventure called "Rivers of Light." I say "at least one" because all of the other write-ups mention only "Rivers of Light," while the main menu seems to offer a second one called "Land of Aventuria." I'll check that out after I finish "Rivers of Light."

You press INS to continue a lot in this game.

"Rivers of Light" involves nothing less than the quest for eternal life--no pretense about making the world a better place for this PC. The character creation process is a bit odd: you can select your character's icon from a large variety of different warriors, wizards, monsters, and objects, but you don't get to customize anything about his or her attributes; the game rolls these automatically for you.

Some of the available character icons.

You begin with no equipment in the middle of a colorful landscape in what I suppose is the Fertile Crescent. (Those must be the Tigris and Euphrates rivers running by the cities of...Baghdad The annoying aspect to the interface is that you have to keep hitting the INSERT key where you would normally expect to type ENTER. I'm sure this was optimized for some early IBM keyboard, but it doesn't work well with my laptop. One would think I could edit the DOSBox keyboard mapper to help me with this problem, but I seem to be having issues with it. I'm sure I'll figure it out.

The game is organized into a series of screens. You transition between screens via little "cave" icons. Fairly quickly in my adventures, a series of related quests became clear: a hunter has lost his statue of the Mother Goddess and needs a replacement; an old woman in a cave will fashion a likeness of the Mother Goddess if I drop an animal bone on her altar; a nearby troll wields an animal bone as a weapon.

Putting all of this together yields the acquisition of "swimming skill" from the hunter, allowing me to swim across rivers. Oddly, this skill appears in your inventory as an "object" that you "use."

As you kill creatures, move about, and solve quests, your various skills increase. I was recently lauding 2400 A.D. for offering the first skills-based character progression that I'd seen, but I guess Adventure Construction Set beat it by a few years. Your life force (hit points) regenerates as you move around.

In the first hour of gameplay, I haven't died, and my dress-clad female PC, armed with a flint knife, has managed to do her share of ass-kicking, but a comment a reader left on a previous game leads me to expect an increase in difficulty soon. So far, the best I can say about the game is that it's "inoffensive." I don't expect a title marketed primarily as an adventure-builder to yield major rewards in the single-player campaign department, but who knows? Maybe it'll turn out to be a spiritual ancestor to Neverwinter Nights.

Here's a question for you: if I take the time to develop a little adventure using the Adventure Construction Set, will any of you download the game and play it? Or would it just be a waste of time?


  1. Wow, the DOS version looks identical to the Apple II version from three years previous. Except with less colors. :)

    "Land of Aventuria" is a quasi-tutorial adventure that takes you through several different short adventures each in a different setting, to illustrate the engine's versatility. It's worth checking out just to see the showcase of styles.

    You can also try generating an adventure completely from random... I remember trying this on the Apple, and having it run for 2-3 hours (!!!) to do so, but I don't recall the end results being that interesting. The world map scrolling was also PAINFULLY slow with visible redraw, so it was hard to keep playing for long.

    If you made an adventure, I'd try it out!

  2. Sounds like fun, I could use a break from M&M1 :). I keep reassuring myself that you finished it in 17 days, but it's been 2 months for me now and I'm still only level 8 @.@

  3. I'd play it, if I knew how to get everything set up to do it. It'd be interesting to see what kind of game you'd make, and what kind of experience 33 years old tools can provide.

  4. Wow, I feel like a boss, Taylor--but of course, it's not about days so much as hours-per-day.

    Adamantyr & Kian: thanks! I'll think about testing out the actual construction set after I finish "Rivers of Light."

  5. I remember really wanting Adventure Construction Set when I was in my early-mid teens, and just settling a few years later on the freeware text-only Adventure Game Toolkit. Of course, if I'd realized ACS was related to that clunky pile of hairy goat balls called Pinball Construction Kit, I wouldn't have been so interested.

    Still, I'd download & try out a game if you (or others here) authored one -- sounds like fun, even if I do get my !@#$ kicked repeatedly.

    I looked up pics of the old/original IBM keyboards, curious where Insert was at... On the PCJr keyboard, it stood alone right above them; on the old standard 104-key, it was in the six-key block that sits above them. I also seem to recall that "Insert" was a standalone key that replaced the joystick "fire" button on some systems (TI 99/4a?), but could be wrong.

    Edited to add: Kian, I imagine that if Adventure Construction Set had existed in 1977, it would have been some kind of high-priced development tool that only the biggest game firms owned!

  6. Oops, sorry, the page I was using had keyboards labeled kind of funky -- the PCJr had a standalone FN key there. (Now I need to find a better resource, the one I was using seems kind of screwy, and I'm inexplicably interested enough to bother.)

  7. Wow, I haven't seen these images in a long long time. I loved this thing when I played it. Tried making a few adventures myself, but since there was no internet back then I'd only be making it for myself. None of my friends had this game.

  8. Sorry, forgot to mention that Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures was probably the spiritual successor to this game and then Neverwinter Nights was the successor to that :)

    There are still active FRUA module groups out there. Just google FRUA modules or Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures and you'll find a few including sites for modules and an active forum.

  9. If ya mention FRUA ya can't forget the Bard's Tale Construction Set. Though I don't think anyone made much of anything with that.

    As far as ACS goes, I had this on the C64. I didn't play the included adventures much, but I made, er started making dozens of adventures.

    If ya make one, I'll give it a shot.

    Love the blog.

  10. Back at the time when this thing came out for my Atari (8 Bit, mind you) I wasn't interested as all my friends had different computers then (C64, TI99/4a, Apple II). We weren't online, yet, and without the ability (and incentive) to swap games the main purpose of it is pretty nonexistant, IMHO.

    I didn't know that there was an Amiga conversion (best graphics of all versions, BTW) when I had an Amiga 500 but I was busily playing Ultima 5 anyway.
    Comparing the adventure that is included with ACS with U5 is, well, perhaps a bit unfair but we clearly weren't retro gamers at the time. We always wanted 'better', 'faster' and 'prettier' and something like ACS looks quite dusty when compared to U5 or, especially, Dungeon Master.

    Would I be interested in playing an ACS adventure today?
    Hell, yes!

    Without the "burden" to need the latest and greatest (I just bought the three year old "The Witcher" for example) I'm open to play "old stuff" as long as it doesn't cut away too much time.

  11. I loved this game on the C64. So easy to use and so open ended.

    I would say I could try an adventure made for it, but my Mac keyboard doesn't even have an Insert key.

  12. I appreciate all your support to my question about making my own ACS adventure. Despite the feedback, I probably won't bother to make one long enough that it's worth your time to download the software and figure it out. We'll see.

    Anonymous, I don't the the Bard's Tale one came out until 1991, though. Is ACS literally the first adventure construction set?

  13. Didn't Quill or Eamon come before ACS, although they are text only.

    Loved Rivers of Light and ACS - used them to death - but as everyone says - no audience back then for adventures you made.

  14. Andrew,
    the difference is that while ACS really is a graphical RPG construction set the other two are either for adventures (Quill, 1983) or non-graphical (EAMON, 1980).

    Both indeed came out years before ACS (1986) and it can be argued that EAMON was non-commercial and never translated to the PC (to the best of my knowledge). It is perhaps the editor longest in use, though, as a new adventure was published last month: "Leadlight"

    Another early, very obscure Apple-II-based text adventure editor/creator with the name "Genesis" was published for the Apple II by a company called "Hexcraft Inc." in 1982. A disk image with a demo adventure is available on the net but I sadly found no other information. It doesn't look like it contains RPG elements, though.

    However, Spinnaker published the graphical "Adventure Creator" in 1984 for the Atari 8-bit and the C64 platforms.
    While apparently much simpler than ACS (Spinnaker was a leading publisher of educational games) it's also leaning a bit into RPG territory:

    I don't think that ACS was an improved version of it, though, as its creator Stuart Smith had already published several RPGs with a very similar engine before: "Fracas" (Apple II, 1980), "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves"(Atari, 1981) and "The Return of Heracles"(Atari, 1983).
    The latter two were also published by EA in a compilation called "The Age of Adventure" (1986) - obviously cashing in on the popularity of ACS...
    But perhaps Smith saw potential in marketing his engine as a construction set when he saw the Spinnaker title?

  15. There was also Adventure Master for the c-64, coming out 1984... though it created more interactive fiction than anything else. Still, I love that thing.


  16. Wow. Totally forgot about this one.

    I loved it, sort of... it wasn't actually very good, and I think I knew that. But I still spent quite a bit of time making my own adventures.

    And... I think? I think I remember getting a disk of fan made missions at some point, and playing through them.

  17. Hello, all. Some comments from Stuart Smith, the author.

    It's fun reading comments about this game after so many years.

    As mentioned, Land of Aventuria is a showcase of various ways to create adventures using the game. Land of Aventuria was written by Don Daglow at Electronic Arts using the Construction Set. Rivers of Light was written by me, also entirely by using ACS.

    I spent many days researching Mesopotamian and Egyptian mythology for the Rivers of Light game, poring through books in the Sacramento State University library. Surprisingly, trolls were mentioned in literature from the time - about 2500 years ago.

    The idea of making a construction set came primarily from my own past. I had written Ali Baba and Return of Heracles, and thought I could design a tool to write similar adventures.

    Before doing games, I wrote accounting software. As that got repetitive, I decided to "replace myself". I wrote and sold a product called "Quick and Clean" that would use a file definition and a brief description of a report to generate a COBOL program that would produce the report. The generated program no longer required "Quick and Clean" to run, and could be modified as desired by the company's programmers. I tried to make the generated program clear and well-documented. So, making a game that wrote games (sort of) came from those previous ideas.

    I was not familiar with Pinball Construction Set when I designed ACS. The name Adventure Construction Set was suggested by the marketers at Electronic Arts.

  18. Wow :O

    I found now on Wikipedia that there was also Music Construction Set :D

    1. I loved Music Construction Set! Used to spend hours typing stuff into that thing. Think I crashed it a few times! :)

    2. I had forgotten Music Construction Set. I owned all three EA "Construction Sets" (Pinball, Music and Adventure -- Actually, wasn't there a movie construction set too? I recall firing up the old C64 in college and making some awful cartoons with my roommate for our band to use as videos), as well as Wasteland, Murder on the Zinderneuf, MULE, Archon... Ah, I think I may have been responsible for funding EA into the monster it is today. Amazing to think it is the same company that put out all those games in the square 9"x9" packages I recall from my childhood.

    3. Don't forget "Racing Destruction Set"

    4. Racing Destruction Set! Yes! My brother had that and the very few times he let me touch his computer, that was one of the games I liked to play. I couldn't remember what it was called.

  19. Huh, and reading through your archives I get up to this post right after I decide to start my own blog about game creation software. Good timing, I guess.

    1. Your link just goes back to this entry. If you want to offer the real link to your site, I'll be happy to take a look at it.

    2. The colors in the background of your blog are only palatable in mixed drinks with umbrellas. I ended up giving up reading at your introduction because of the headache.

      Now I want a tequila sunrise.

    3. Thanks for the feedback. When I created the blog, it gave me a choice of a handful of standard templates to use, and I picked one, I admit, mostly based on the name (the "Ethereal template"). But yeah, I guess that probably wasn't the best choice. I've changed it to a different template now that should be less garish.

    4. Ohh much better!

      I still want a tequila sunrise but that might have less to do with your blog now and more to do with it being the end of a work day.

    5. Weird. Somehow, from all your past comments, I always had the impression that you were a guy.

  20. I must have loaded a dozen floppy disks with adventures made from this kit, back in the day....

  21. I know this is a very old forum but I played ACS a lot back in the day on the C-64 and Amiga. I once made a Vietnam War game--this was after watching Rambo lol. I had shoeshine kids who were good and shoeshine kids that would blow you up. You had to make the moral decision to take you chances or kill them all. Most people killed them all. It was a very fun game back then.

  22. No mention yet, it seems of the adventure creation contest! Customers (at least of the C64 version) were eligible to submit adventures they created to EA and, if their submission got picked by EA, then, uh... something. Be famous in the glorious realm of CRPG gamers, I guess.


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