Monday, November 1, 2010

Constructing an Adventure: ACS Addendum

Alas, version 1.0 of this promising adventure was canceled in pre-production.

We CRPG fans like to complain about the cookie-cutter nature of many CRPG plots, which almost all involve starting off killing rats and progress to some big bad trying to take over the world. But the truth is, coming up with an original CRPG plot is hard. There are only a few that pull it off very well: Ultima IV, maybe some of the Might & Magic titles, Baldur's Gate II.

This is why I got excited about Bourbon Street Tango, the adventure I decided I would construct using the Adventure Construction Set. I started thinking about it when I saw that ACS offered a "spy/mystery" builder set. There are so few CRPGs set in the modern day, I figured I'd build one using New Orleans, 2010, as my canvas.

I worked out a fairly cool plot line involving terrorism. I don't want to say more, lest I decide to develop it using a different builder, but let's just say that downtown NOLA was going to be cut off from the rest of world and rife with bad guys. Fortunately, ACS provides an option for this:

"KGB agent." Isn't that cute?

One of the drawbacks of setting a CRPG in the "real world" is a lack of magic, right? Well, I had that covered. This is New Orleans, after all. My idea was that to solve the main quest, the protagonist was going to have to get into the heart and soul of the city, learning about jazz, Cajun cuisine, and of course voodoo! Why shoot terrorists when you can hex them?

A lot of the work that goes into constructing an adventure in ACS has to do with creating a gameworld and editing the terrain. My idea was to reconstruct the French Quarter, with entrances to the various clubs and shops.

I was about this time that I realized that the interface for Adventure Construction Set, while groundbreaking in its era, was far too much a pain in the neck for the modern gamer; that if I kept working on this, I wouldn't get to my next CRPG for weeks; and that even if I finished it, all I would have to show for my efforts was a module for a mid-1980s CRPG that almost no one would play. There are some things that aren't even worth the historical curiosity value.

So I'm going to keep my notes, and keep working on the idea, but probably save it for a later toolset. I appreciate all of you who said you'd play if I made it, but constructing CRPGs isn't what I'm addicted to, and it's not why you all come and read this blog. Let's move on to Alien Fires: 2199 A.D.


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  2. I'll own up to the fact that I probably wouldn't play this version of your NOLA CRPG, but it's a really exciting idea. I hope that something actually comes of it someday!

  3. I'm impressed that you got done with the game and already got this far into creating an adventure as you did. But, if the tools are a pain to use, no point in doing the game. This is supposed to be fun after all. Productive fun, not work.

  4. "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.'"

    Is "Land of Aventuria" not a real campaign? Did you check it out?

  5. Based on the community it managed to grow back in the day and the diversity of modules it ended up having, Unlimited Adventures (with a community hack pack to change basic stuff like classes and wall textures) might work for developing a module. The system conversion hacks do involve an unknown amount of work, and the general interface is still old-school DOS. Also, players will need to have their own copies of Unlimited Adventures to play the modules. But I do remember seeing a heavily modded hard-boiled futuristic detective module for it.

    The older Bard's Tale Construction Set quickly faded into obscurity, not sure how flexible that was.

    Neverwinter Nights has a modern interface, but it's probably not really hackable into doing anything other than D&Dish fantasy.

    I guess it's something like RPG Maker if you want a spy/mystery themed game, western CRPG kits after ACS seem to be pretty much fantasy or gtfo.

  6. @Addict:
    We can dwell on for hours what retro construction set to use but the truth is: You are probably right.
    Whatever you would construct only a few people would play, let alone finish. The more retro it gets (and it doesn't get much more retro than ACS), the fewer the people that are dedicated enough to honor your work.

    You are also right about the amount of time you'd need to do something well, even if it is small.
    That's exactly the problem all game designers and programmers have: They basically have *no* time to play games. Especially not, if they create games for a living. An independent designer that doesn't do this for a living sometimes needs years to create something of substance - even with modern tools and working engine like RPG-Maker. If one, like me, wants to build the thing from the ground up, including the whole "tool chain" (editors, scripting language, game engine etc.) he will need years.

    That's also why RPGs are the games with the highest fatality rate in development: They simply take too much time compared to, say, a 2D shooter or a small interactive fiction.
    The epic nature of many RPGs also often kills them because their creators underestimate the amount of necessary work.

    Therefore: All the best for your next "walkthrough" - I'm eager to see how Alien Fires plays!

  7. Yeah... I liked ACS back when I was 12, but the interface is just a mess.

    Truthfully, I don't think he could have done much with the technology at the time to make it more usable. They obviously wanted it to be accessible to someone without a lot of programming experience, but designing a CRPG does involve logical constructions and data structures. I remember I eventually realized that you'd spend a LOT of time just designing content in the game, and navigating that awful interface really put it out of casual reach.

    I never got as far in "Rivers of Light", but if that was the ending, I'm really glad I didn't put that much energy into it. Reminds me of an old text adventure where at the end, you die. And the adventure's complete. It's like, WTH?

  8. I would of played it, but you could easily make that with FRUA. They got tons of resources for Espionage games. Not to harp on it, but they have a very helpful community. Especially for new modders. Though you might find some similar complaints about how people couldn't play it because it was too old.

    I wouldn't have a clue for a more modern construction set other than Neverwinter Nights. That's the last one I ever made anything on.

    If you ever do decide to revisit the plot I'd play it. Liked the whole voodoo aspect.

  9. @Calibrator: I agree with everything you say. My retro CRPG took me 8 months of non-stop work. At times, I would work on it for 8-10 hours every day in my spare time. I neglected my chores and I'm surprised that my neighbors did not file a complaint with the city because of my lawn which had grown into a jungle of weeds.

    In the end, "Realms of Quest III" was released, and it's target audience was largely Commodore VIC-20 users and sold a modest 40+ copies since it's release on Hallowe'en 2009. Yes, you read that correctly: it was the third in a series of CRPG games I had been working on over the years. Not to mention the countless number of CRPG projects I started and abandoned. Realms III was really completed because of some inner demon that I wanted to vanquish once and for all. Realms I and II are technically complete games in themselves but they're more simple DND/Telengard-style games.

    Sorry for tooting my own horn here. I know another poster, adamantyr is working on his own retro-style CRPG which is probably ten times bigger than my own. I don't think I could ever fathom to attempt to make such a game. I tried to start Realms IV, but whatever inner demon which drove me to make III is just not there anymore.

    IF the CRPGaddict ever makes an ACS adventure I will definitely look at it. But I also might send him a copy of Realms III + emulator to put it through the scrutiny of the GIMLET scale (which I suspect would garner a score between 25-35). I appreciate the generally positive response from VIC-20 users that my game has gotten, but I don't think I really received a critical or negative response (I myself am not completely satisfied and can see it's flaws, long after it's completion).

    Getting to the subject at hand: I did create an ACS adventure once. It was based on the "Rambo: First Blood Part II" movie. The hero (Rambo) traverses through the jungles, fighting the Vietcong and rescuing POWs hidden in caves. Unfortunately, I don't have it anymore.

    I tried to get back into ACS lately (on my Commodore 64) and I agree with the CRPG addict that the interface is very slow. Back in the day, I thought that ACS was one of the greatest software programs ever.

  10. I always liked the look of the C64 version of ACS in the magazine adverts of the day but I was put off by a review in Zzapp 64! which someone has put online here:

    My Alternate Reality remake project has been going on for years and I'm not even designing an original game or content!

    Adventure Creation Kit (ACK) is a game development tool by Chris Hopkins that allows you to design and play top-down 2D tile-based RPGs like Ultima IV & V of yore, and it’s easy-to-use, flexible, and fun.

    Hopkins’ inspiration for making ACK was the 80’s classic Adventure Construction Set by Stuart Smith, which also allowed you to create your own RPGs. ACK improves on ACS in almost every way.
    Dungeon Craft is an effort to develop an RPG and editor that mimics SSI's Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures (FRUA). A few improvements have been made over the original FRUA, 16/24/32-bit color, more levels allowed, editable items/monsters/spells, and the resulting design includes the game executable so that each design is playable without the editor.

  12. It's not a CRPG, but I think Gabriel Knight really nailed the "nawlins voodoo noir" vibe - it's still to this day one of the most atmospheric games I've played. If you ever take a pallet cleanser from your addiction you should check it out. It's also the only game I know of set in NOLA.

  13. Never heard of it, Kennon. Thanks for the tip! I'll check it out when I need a palate-cleanser.

  14. Although the connection may seem obscure, the game Grim Fandango had some atmospheric elements that you may find intriguing for your Nawlins voodoo adventure.

  15. The dungeon editor from legend of grimrock looks promising, although you are limited to 3D dungeon crawlers. I'm also not sure whether you can change the graphical style of the dungeon

  16. Bah! ACS is the only adventure construction tool I've ever used, and I'm too old to learn a new one now. Every once in awhile I fire it up again and go. I have 4 full-length adventures created (since 1990 or so when I first used it) and working on a 5th right now.

  17. I thought for a moment when you mentioned magic and jazz you were going to say learning songs and playing them strategically would stand in as the magical effects in the game, which seemed pretty cool to me.

    And yes, building games is *hard*. Just as one example, if you don't want to railroad players, you have to come up with two, three, sometimes five or six different options for how something works, meaning you're imagining many times more things than the average player will make use of when they actually play.


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