Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Construction Sets

There is something to be said for games which let you customize your experience.  For most titles this rarely goes farther than an arena style battle or a generic scenario with some tweaks available to the player.  However, a few game like to take this concept a bit further by letting the player craft their own adventures with the game mechanics acting as a basic framework.  Little Big Planet and Trails Evolution are probably the most famous of these kinds of make-it-yourself games, but if we look back before this generation of consoles there are a few gems to be found.  Some of them easy to use such as the Pinball Construction Set, some hard to use like the RPG Maker series, and some that simple never quite worked the way they were supposed to - Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games.  For the purposes of this blog post I want go over four construction sets that came out a long time ago...

Although its interface and graphics set are very crude by modern standards Adventure Construction Set was one of the first great game creation tools available to consumers.  It had three basic themes; fantasy, future, and modern.  Lazy designers could also use an auto-builder feature that could then be edited by the player so that they didn't have to make everything from scratch.  A pre-made adventure based on the Epic of Gilgamesh set in ancient Mesopotamia was also provided, as well as some tutorials to give the would-be-designer an idea of how things worked.  The box it came in was also unique in that it was very thin and folded out to reveal sleeve pockets for the instruction manual, data disks and reference sheets.

The Bard's Tale, The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight and Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate were a series of simple RPGs using a game engine based on the  Dungeons and Dragons table top system.  Essentially the fourth and final entry in the series (no, that 2004 title doesn't count) basically gave a polished version of the developer's tools to the fans, allowing them to make their own Bard's Tale themed levels.  Some noteworthy features included the option to create and import animated or static art from Deluxe Paint as well as the ability to fully customize monsters, items and spells.  Even the in game combat text could tailored depending on a number of variables.  Of course the developers were also kind enough to include a sample adventure for people who just wanted to slay monsters and steal treasure.

 While not nearly as robust as the previously mentioned construction kits, Tenchu 2: Birth of the stealth Assassins deserves to be mentioned simply because it was on the original PlayStation.  3D stealth action games were in vogue at the time so it's not hard to see why the makers of Tenchu would include this feature to one up the competition.  Mission building is surprisingly painless and offers a fairly impressive number of options including trap placement, differing objectives and patrol patterns for enemies.  Thanks to its intuitive nature though turning out something worth playing can be done in a surprisingly short amount of time.

The Ancient Art of War followed by two sequels with the same title plus the attached affix "at Sea" and "in the Skies" respectively were impressive in the amount of customization one could do without even messing with the map editor.  I've always had a great deal of fondness for this series simply because it got me interested in real history.  The games themselves came in rather hefty boxes with tome-like manuals which featured quite a bit of real history in addition to explaining how the games were played.  Some of the most fun I had making adventures was with this series.  The fact that the basic systems are so well grounded makes for a compelling reason to create historical "what if...?" scenarios after playing through the robust list of real and fictional battles provided with each game.  I especially liked the fact that a good commander could force his opponent to surrender without having to turn the battle into a complete bloodbath by depriving the enemy of supplies or capturing his flag.

So, there are just a few of the games that I've played that made a lasting impression on me with their create-your-story design features.  There's a lot more that I haven't mentioned like Starcraft and Heroes of Might and Magic 2.  Needless to say with the popularity of the internet these days it's odd that we don't see more games including construction sets.  Oh well at the very least the PC mod community is doing its very best to scratch that creative itch.

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