Monday, November 1, 2010

Adventure Construction Set: No Eternal Life for Me

I will eat, drink, and be merry--forever!

Man, I was truckin' along pretty good there with "Rivers of Light." After last night's posting, I:

1. Found a secret door that led me to a weapon called Repeller:

2. Used said weapon to defeat Yam the dragon.

3. Got from Yam's corpse the third of three tablets I needed to figure out how to survive the endgame. Here they are crudely pieced together in Word:

4. Followed Gilgamesh's path o'er hill and dale, and through a poisoned lake (that's where the cedar poles came in handy) to meet none other than Utnapishtim, the Babylonian analog to Noah:

5. Followed Utnapishtim's instructions to get a mysterious plant called a "Gray Grow Young."

6. Hiked back across the Sinai Peninsula and explored some pyramids, including one that took me into a mysterious valley called "Two Hero Valley."

Unfortunately, the name of the Valley didn't turn out to be a metaphor. You see, Adventure Construction Set allows you to have multiple characters active in the game world at the same time. I didn't see any point to it, but now it's clear that it's the only way to win the game.

Maddictra is stuck in her side of the valley now, and I need a second hero to come along and open a passage on the other side. Regrettably, this means creating a second character, and building him up enough to get the equipment he needs to cross the Sinai Peninsula to meet up with Maddictra. Am I willing to invest that kind of time? If it was a better game, maybe. As it is, no.

I tried looking for a walkthrough, but "Rivers of Light" seems to be the exception to the rule that every game has one. The best I found--and this is actually quite good--is a series of YouTube videos made by user "I Played a Thing." He's playing on an Amiga, so the graphics look different (i.e., better), but the gameplay is identical. (For some reason, he has chosen to call his character "Fire" and has an icon representing fire.) He reaches my stuck point at 06:26 in the video below. His reaction is identical to mine: "That is some bull$&%, Rivers of Light!"

He was willing to do what I'm not: take the several hours to make a second character and haul him over to the valley, so if you want to see how it ends, keep watching his videos. The summary is that you work your way through a series of gates in a valley-cum-dungeon along the Nile, ultimately meeting the Egyptian god Osiris face-to-face in his tomb.

Stolen from "I Played a Thing's" video.
There, you are reunited with the souls of your seven past lives and "born again" in a "land of milk and honey," according to the text anyway. In the game itself, it appears you are kicked unceremoniously back into the Fertile Crescent with no further talk of eternal life.

Well, sorry I missed that for myself.

Let me do a quick GIMLET on this game: I give it 7 points for the game world; it's the only game I know that draws on Mesopotamian mythology, and it's quite well-researched at that. (In fact, I should add an addendum to my "What Have You Learned?" posting, 'cause this game really fleshed out my knowledge of the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Babylonian pantheon.) Apparently, this was a common modus operandi for developer Stuart Smith, who also created Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and Return of Hercules, neither of which I played because they didn't receive a DOS port.

Your presence doesn't do much in the game world, though--one character continues to whine about the various threats in Assur long after you've slain them all.

Chin up, buddy. You only have trolls to worry about!

Character creation is down at a 4; all you get to select is your name and icon during the creation process, but character development uses a fairly good skills-based system. NPC Interaction gets a 2; there are many NPCs, and you learn from them, but there is no "interaction" per se. Encounters are more interesting than you'd expect, with a variety of foes, some of whom flee when wounded. They respawn, allowing lots of opportunities for skill-building, but no real depth to the encounters. Let's say 4.

Magic doesn't exist, as such. You get spells, but they only work in limited circumstances to accomplish a particular thing; there are no real tactics to the combat, so we're going with a 2 on this category. There isn't much equipment in the game, and none of it is well-described. Having weapons and armor occasionally break is more annoying than challenging. The game is interesting for being one of the early ones to assign a weight-based movement statistic, but I wouldn't say this "adds" much to the game. I give it a 3.

The economy is based on barley, which you can't accumulate much of because it's too heavy, and there's not much to buy anyway (1); there are no side quests, just steps on a main quest that, while original, has no real fulfillment in the end. There's also only one potential outcome and no replayability (2). Graphics are not distractingly bad, but there's no sound, and at least for modern keyboards, the interface sucks (2).

The Fertile Crescent setting is unique, a least.
Finally, on gameplay, although you can theoretically explore the entire game map from the outset, in reality you need to visit the various cities and dungeons in a specific order to progress through the game. Until the moment it throws the "two heroes" curveball at you, the game is fairly easy but not overly so, and it is reasonably brief. But there is no replayability to it (3).

Final Score: 30. It was brief enough that I would have finished it if it hadn't been for the game's sudden surprise, but it wasn't enjoyable enough that I mind watching the end on someone else's video.

I'll play with the "construction" part of the software and then move on to Alien Fires.


Nearly 5 years after abandoning the game because of "Two Hero Valley," I returned to it and won. I used the updated posting to discuss the totality of Stuart Smith's contributions. Read it here!


  1. Although you won't get the opportunity to play The Return of Heracles, do check out the Wikipedia page to see how cool it was. While it also may not have a high GIMLET score, Stuart Smith certainly made historically /mythologically interesting games.

    Also, somebody has created a modern version of ACS called the Adventure Creation Kit. It's ultimately one more distraction in a world already full of them, but definitely worth a look:

  2. Actually there is a much easier way of bringing a second hero to Two Hero Valley. On the screen before it, if you exit to the west, you open up a connection between that area and the Ancient Valley (i.e. where you start the game). This way you can just create a new character and bring them right over. I think it took me my second playthrough to figure this out though. The first time, I ended up just editing the map to create a gap between the two area in Two Hero Valley. The second part of Rivers of Light is at least as interesting as the first, if you'd like to try again.

  3. Thanks for the tip, Anonymous. I had stupidly saved the game in the spot where I took the screenshot, so the secret passage option wouldn't have worked, but editing the game map didn't occur to me.

    No, after I look at clues and walkthroughs and such, I pretty much have to move on. Thanks, though.

  4. A game forcing you to bring in and play a second character just for one puzzle to be able to finish the game???
    Man, this *is* bad game design unless it is clear from the very beginning that you need two characters.

    If not, the quality control for this game is severely lacking - which is a pity as the scenario is quite fresh, even today (well, not exactly "fresh", seeing this is Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization...) but you see what I mean.
    Finding the connection, Anonymous described above, seems to be too random to be a valid solution. At least from reading the description.

    Under such circumstances I consider cheating (map editing etc.) absolutely legal.

    On the other hand one could argue that the replayability factor is quite high... ;-)

  5. I second the notion of playing Return of Heracles. It was the first CPRG I played and it was fun to play and look at. The music was also addicting.

  6. Since this is a construction kit, so you can "hack" it if you have are interested enough. Create you second character put some items that increase health and what not, and then add a little tunnel that takes you to the other end. I remember doing something like this when I played the game because I was tired of my low health. I believe I got about as far as you did, but I poked around to find out what the ending was liked. It's not that amazing.

    I too started a couple of games, but never finished them. I did like the idea of creating games though.

    Keep up the blogging. It's fun reading!

  7. "Hacking" would be cheating, though. See rule #3.

  8. As the creator of the videos you linked, I'm glad you enjoyed them and found them useful. Also, interesting site you've got here! Don Pedro would approve.

  9. Hey, Un. Glad you found me, then. Thanks for posting those videos--there's hardly anything else online about "Rivers of Light"--and at least allowing me to SHOW the ending.

    If there's anything I hope to achieve, it's the approval of a sack of barley.

  10. Dragon Wars also has references to Babylonian mythology, although mostly just in NPC names (enkidu, humbaba, utnapishtim). It also has a variety of other literary references e.g. Dumas. It looks like it's coming up soon as of this comment, interested to see what you think.

    It looks like Rivers of Life integrated them much better into the game world however.

  11. It's too bad your version didn't have sound; the (Commodore 64, anyway) music is epic. And the crunch of your feet on sand breaks up the monotony of crossing the Sinai.

    1. Agreed; the Commodore 64 music is epic. Here's the main theme:
      ACS was an amazing (yet clunky) world builder because you could customize so many things. Don't like your character's dress? You can edit the image at the pixel level. Annoyed by the weight or breakability of an item? Change it! Want to create a missle weapon called Bad Breath? Easy! 13-year-old me *loved* ACS.

  12. Yam the Dragon.

    Wow. This blog is an awesome nostalgia machine.

  13. Hi, all. Here are some comments from the author, Stuart Smith.

    I do regret requiring a second hero to complete the adventure, though there was a thematic purpose to it. In almost all old mythology, a hero cannot do what he needs to do without help. Sometimes it comes as a gift from the gods, sometimes as another hero's help, but come it must.

    However, as a game construct, it is a nuisance. I partly justified the difficulty by the fact that you could "hack" the adventure if you didn't want to bring a second hero in. But this would have violated our "Addict" rules.

    The interface was better on the C64 and Atari - you could do almost everything with the joystick - and IBM PC's were only just beginning to be appreciated (or, from the developer's point of view, despised) as game machines.

    And I still regard the demise of the Amiga computer, very advanced for its time, as a sad event.

    1. Great to hear from you on this game, and sorry I didn't get back here faster. Knowing the development context of games, and the intentions of the creators, adds a lot of fun to these postings.

      At the time, I didn't give enough credit to the mythological underpinnings of Two Hero Valley, but it makes sense, in light of Gilgamesh and Enkidu and similar partnerships.

    2. Just so you know, there's a place where you can open a shortcut, allowing a new character to make it in through Two Hero Valley very quickly; no fighting, no equipment, no nothing. (At least on the version I had.)

    3. I think I heard that somewhere else, too. By the time I heard it, I wasn't interested in going back to the game. I may try it again after finishing Return of Heracles. It would be fun to re-assess it after experiencing all of Smith's games (none of which I had played when I wrote about the ACS).

    4. I thought I'd send an update here about my attempts to rearchive ACS in hopes that the old club could be found and the submissions pulled up and translated into roms. Meanwhile i have finally gotten all versions in emulator format. I've looked at music, graphics, and now i am looking into props and the actors along with the set. The work is cataloged here at jolt country:

  14. From these screen shots I have to say I really like Smith's terse, functional writing. None of this 'thee' and 'thine' ren-fair flab so popular with Origin and the like.

  15. I remember playing through Rivers of Light when I was a kid, and I even specifically remembered Two Heroes Valley before you mentioned it. (In fact, aside from the Humbaba, that was about the only thing I remembered about the game... guess it stuck in my mind, too, for better or for worse.) I even still remember what my two characters looked like, and the name of the first one... though not of the second.

    What I don't remember, however, is how I got through Two Heroes Valley. I don't recall whether I bothered to outfit and build up a second character after my first character got stuck, or whether I found the connection that Anonymous #2 describes above, or whether I'd been playing with multiple heroes all along just for the heck of it. (Given some of my gaming proclivities, I don't think that last possibility is at all unlikely.)

    As for sound... I played it on the Apple II, and it definitely had sound. Wow. I hadn't thought of it in years, but now that I'm thinking about it I can still recall the theme music.

    DA-da-DEE, da-DEE, da-DEE, da-da-dum. Dadadadadadadah, da da dah, da da dah...

  16. I guess that finishing this game is just a matter of a couple of hours, if you find the time. From the view of a completionist, it might be worth it.

    1. I don't think I'll ever turn around and go back to any games I didn't finish, but I do cringe at some of the spurious reasons I used to bail on games back in the first 12-18 months. I cared a lot more about making "progress" back then.

  17. I'm playing ACS right now, not on an emulator but on a genuine C64 and 1541-II. I found this page while looking for adventure construction tips. I am making an adventure called "Twin Peaks 2014". Look for it in stores nowhere!

  18. hehe.. I just read through that entire series of posts thinking, 'How is he going to react when he finds out he needs a second character?'. Back in 1985 or so, I got stuck in the same place and gave up.

    I had even started the game at some point, before I found out about this, with 2 characters. But controlling 2 characters in ACS was agonizing, especially so if they moved at different speeds.

    The other adventure was pretty good. They had different modules in it, in all manner of different settings. I remember liking the feel that ACS could give you when running a spy setting. The space one was good, too.

    And I remember being in awe when I first saw the title screen. It was the best piece of game art I think I'd ever seen until that point.

    IIRC EA distributed this, The Bards Tale, Racing Construction Set, and a whole bunch of other really strong games for the C64 at around this time. They just came out of nowhere and started dominating.


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