Monday, October 12, 2009

Milestones : Adventure Construction Set

As a college freshman whose dreams of being a videogame designer were dashed upon the realization that he sucked at math, I welcomed the arrival of Stuart Smith's Adventure Construction Set. Previewed during the spring of 1985 in an issue of Computer Entertainment magazine ( which was what the legendary Electronic Games magazine had transformed into after the Great Videogame Crash), it was one of the titles that I had to have once I had acquired a Commodore 64 and a disk drive.

Adventure Construction Set was the complete package. The presentation style was that of Ultima, and indeed that of Stuart Smith's previous games, the classic top-down tile-based one. Included were three small tutorial adventures, which served as an excellent guide to the set's unlimited potential, as well as the epic Rivers of Light, a full-sized adventure that was so good that it could have been sold as a separate product.

So what greatness did I construct with ACS? Sadly, there was no epic forthcoming from me. Oh, I dabbled for years with it, creating small environments, objects, and monsters from time to time. One game I was working on had an item that I had called the Godkiller Gas, a potion which I had cleverly concealed in the very first room of the game, and when used by the player could kill any creature encountered thereafter. It was an exercise on my part in creating a diabolical Easter egg. And while it was all fun creating such things with ACS, I never made it through the whole process and created a finished product.

I had realized that it wasn't just the math that I lacked that was keeping me from being a videogame designer. It was a lack of design discipline. At the time I was nineteen years old, working my way through college, and partying probably too much for my own good. My focus and attention span were nowhere near what they needed to be to create a cohesive adventure. In addition, ACS had some of the longest loading times of that era, further making the construction process one that required patience and commitment.

One other thing that ACS taught me was a sense of appreciation combined with pity for the designers who create these fantastic worlds that we play in. The meticulous process of world-building that I saw hands-on in ACS made me realize that the folks who made games like Ultima IV, The Legend of Zelda, and King's Field will never know the same joy that we as players know exploring them. Every hidden secret and every epic encounter that I remember was someone's line of code.

Adventure Construction Set put the power of a game designer in my hands. Like some pompous Marvel Comics supervillain cliche, though, the power of a god was too much for me and I ultimately failed to hold onto it. But it was a milestone in my personal gaming journey, and was still a lot of fun while I had it.

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