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.
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."
"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.
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 and...um...Ur?) 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?