Wander (1974)

Wander (1974)

Every text adventure fan knows the name of Adventure—a.k.a. Colossal Cave. Created by Will Crowther in 1976 and expanded the next year by Don Woods, Adventure gave its name to the genre class, and was the first adventure game of all.

Except that it turns out it wasn’t.

Oh, adventure games do take their name from Adventure; that much is true. (And if you insist on calling them “interactive fiction”, you’re dead to me.) But it seems that Adventure wasn’t really first after all.

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The Big List, Mark 1

The Big List, Mark 1

And now for the moment you’ve been waiting for. Or if not, at least the moment I’ve been waiting for. The big list of game creation systems.

Yeah, I said it would be “a few more days”, and it’s been a week. I wish I could say I’ve been working assiduously on this list all week and it’s just taken me that long to get it done, but the truth is that I started a new on set teaching job this week (working on a horror movie filming out in Topanga Canyon), and it’s kept me very busy, and I couldn’t really put in the time to finish the list. In fact, it’s still not completely finished, in the sense that there are still more sites I’d intended to scour that I haven’t had time for yet. But rather than further delay the main point of this blog, which is to say actually looking at game creation systems, I figured I may as well go ahead and post the list as it is so far. I’m reasonably confident in any case that it’s pretty much complete through the 80s, and it’ll be long enough before I get through the systems from the 80s that I don’t really have to worry much just yet about what lies beyond. That being said, if you know of any game creation systems that aren’t on this list, please post a comment to let me know.

The list is very very long, so it’s going behind a cut… Further explanation and discussion below the list.

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The Neverending List of Doom

The Neverending List of Doom

Hm, sorry, it’s been a week since my last post.  It’s not that I’ve been neglecting the blog, and certainly not that I’ve abandoned it; it’s that the preparation for the next post has been taking a lot longer than I expected.

I said before that my next post would be the big list of game creation programs I’d be working with, and that should still be the case (that is, the next post after this post should be the big list of game creation programs).  The problem is, I’m still working on the list.  I didn’t think I would be.  I’d already spent weeks on it.  But I wasn’t quite done… I had a few more sites I was going to check out, a few more leads to follow up on.   Still, I already had more than two thousand games in the list… how many more could there be?

Well… I’m over three thousand now, and I’m still not done following up on those leads.  And not for want of trying.

If it were just a matter of copying a few names down from a list somewhere, that would be easy.  But for each system, I want to link to a webpage about it, if I can find one.  Sometimes that requires delving into the Wayback Machine.  And I want to find out when the system was first released, or at least make some kind of reasonable estimate.  Sometimes that requires delving into the Wayback Machine.  Anyway, it’s been quite a bit of work getting this list together, and the work’s not quite done yet.

The fact I have over three thousand systems in the list doesn’t mean I actually expect to cover more than three thousand systems, of course.  Many of them won’t be available; others will turn out not to meet my criteria when I look at them more closely; and by the time I get to the 2000s when there really starts to be a huge glut of game engines I’m likely to narrow my criteria anyway… up through 1989 there are only 225 systems currently on my list, which seems more manageable (especially since a lot of them are level editors that may only require a quick post or two), and even through 1995 there are fewer than 500; it’s after that that things really start to get out of hand, and some stricter winnowing may be needed.  But for now, I want the list to be as complete as possible, even if it may be cut down later.  And rather than toss up what I’ve got so far, I want to get my list as complete as I can first.

Which means you’ll have to bear with me another few days; sorry.  The big list is the last of the preambular posts, though; after that we’ll get to the more fun and more interesting part of actually going through the game systems.  We’re almost there… we’re just not quite there yet.

I mentioned before that I’d started this blog on Blogger a few years ago, but didn’t keep it up, but that that was probably mostly due to lack of preparation, and I’d laid the groundwork a lot better this time and expected to be able to keep it going.  Well… I’ll tell you, putting this big list together has itself provided me with a lot more motivation to keep this blog going.  With all the tedious work I’ve put into compiling that list, I want to make sure it pays off; I don’t want to have gone through all that for nothing…

(Current count of game systems on the big list: 3049.  I don’t expect it to grow to 4000… I’m well past the point of diminishing returns where each time I go to a new site with listings of game creation systems, most of the systems there are already on my list.  But I may have a few hundred yet to add…)

Ifs and Elses

Ifs and Elses

So, in my last post I discussed my criteria for what I’m going to count as a game creation system for the purposes of this blog. But as I said in that post, there are still quite a few questions that that post leaves unanswered. So in this post, I’m going to try to answer them… covering all the miscellaneous questions that I can think of pertaining to my plans. (Admittedly, there’s some overlap between this and the previous post, and some of these points probably could have gone there, but… oh well.)

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What’s In A Game?

What’s In A Game?

So, if I’m going to be blogging about game creation programs, one central question that has to be addressed is that of the criteria for inclusion. What is a game creation program, exactly? (This is by no means the only important question that has to be addressed, but I’ll cover the others in a separate post.) For many programs, the answers are obvious. GameMaker Studio is obviously a game creation program. (Heck, it’s even right there in the name.) Intuit QuickBooks just as obviously isn’t. But there are some edge cases that have to be considered.

The decisions about these cases are by nature arbitrary. By their nature, these cases are ambiguous, and an argument could be made either way. But I have to draw a line somewhere, so in this post I’m going to endeavor as best I can to firm up exactly where the line will be drawn.

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It Begins

It Begins

Hi, and welcome to the inaugural post of Comparative Creation, a blog where I will review different game creation systems. For each system, I’ll give a brief history (to the extent possible; some I may not be able to dig up any relevant information about), and then I will (again, to the extent possible) use it to create a game.

I realize right now the site isn’t much to look at. Eventually I’m going to customize the layout a bit more and add some graphics. My ultimate plans for the header image are to use graphics from some of the games I create with the systems… which of course I can’t do yet. It’s going to be a while, in fact, until I have enough graphic images to make a decent banner; the first few game creation systems on my list are mostly text-based… ah well.

So why am I doing this? Well, for one thing, it’s a niche that hasn’t been filled. My two favorite game genres are already being covered twice over, at least. CRPGs are being tackled by “Chet Bollingbroke” the CRPG Addict and by “Saintus” at CRPG Revisiting Old Classics. Adventure games have been staked out by Jason Dyer at Renga in Blue and by the various reviewers of The Adventure Gamer.  Nathan P. Mahney at CRPG Adventures is going over both genres.  Meanwhile, Carl Muckenhoupt at The Stack and “StillGaming” at Gaming After 40 are playing old games more indiscriminately, and Jimmy Maher the Digital Antiquarian is covering the history of gaming in general, and doing it with far more sagacity and scholarship than I’d be able to manage. (I do have some quibbles with his treatment of some individual games… but we’ll get to those when we get to them.)

(Actually, I’m not sure “genre” is the right word here, though it’s certainly one that I’ve seen used before in this context. Fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery… those are genres. Things like adventure game vs. CRPG vs. platformer cut them crosswise; you can have (and there certainly have been) adventure games (or CRPGs, or platformers) of many different genres. So what word should mark the distinction between adventure games, CRPGs, and so on? “Type”? That seems too vague. “Medium”? Better, but computer games as a whole are often called a medium… shouldn’t they be? Or are these “submedia”? “Class”? Actually, I kind of like “class”, but since I don’t know of anyone else using the word that way it might come across as unpleasantly idiosyncratic… hm.)

All right, so that may explain why I’m not doing a blog on those subjects. It doesn’t explain why I’m doing a blog at all. The truth is, though, I’ve always loved creating games more than playing them anyway. From my childhood using the type-in games in Softline magazine and standalone books as a springboard to writing my own games in Applesoft BASIC, and slightly later being fascinated by Stuart Smith’s Adventure Construction Set, to much more recent explorations with newer game systems and level editors, I’ve always enjoyed making my own games.

However, I’ve started creating a lot more games than I’ve actually finished… not counting the Applesoft BASIC games of my childhood, I think the total number of my games that have reached a state that can reasonably be called completed can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. So this blog is an attempt to change that, in giving me a reason and a motivation to stick with one game at a time until it’s finished (or maybe a couple of games at a time). But in the meantime, I hope it’ll be interesting to others as well, as I show and discuss what I feel are the strengths and weaknesses of each system… and I think my lifelong interest in these sort of systems gives me enough experience with different game creation systems to hopefully be able to make an informed analysis.

All the games I create as I go along with this blog, by the way, will be made freely available… though some of them may need external resources to play them.

I guess there’s another possible motive behind this blog, too. I do kind of have some vague aspirations of one day making my own game creation system, or systems… and when and if I do, it’ll be helpful to see what previous systems have gotten right or wrong. Even a rudimentary or horribly designed system might have some germ of a good and original idea or implementation that’s worth noting and maybe borrowing or expanding on.

Anyway, I guess I should lay down the groundwork of my plans, and how I’m going to be going about things. (Or lay out some of the groundwork, anyway; I’ve got a few more introductory posts after this one, and probably won’t get to the game system itself till next week.) I should first admit that this isn’t the first incarnation of this blog… there was a previous version a few years ago on Blogger. That only lasted seventeen posts, though, and without leaving me any finished games to show for it, and I think a big part of the reason it didn’t last longer is because I didn’t really lay the groundwork first; I jumped in on a whim without really knowing where I was going with it, and I didn’t really end up going anywhere. (There are other factors, too; it was at a particularly busy time in my life when I was in the first year of a teaching credential program and not in an ideal situation to do something like this; but I’m sure my lack of preparation played a major rôle.) This time, though, I’ve been spending the last few month or two getting things ready before the launch. This time I’m prepared, and I know what I’m doing, and this time I’m in it for the long haul.

In the older version of this blog, when I was still mulling over my methodology, a commenter going by the name UbAh stated his preference for a chronological approach. At the time, I had some resistance to this and ended up making a whole post about why I wouldn’t be going strictly chronologically, but you know what? He was right. There is much to be said for taking the systems chronologically, and that’s basically what I’ll be doing. I have a big list of game creation systems I’ve compiled from various sources, with the year if not the exact date that each was first released (or my best guess about the year, anyway; I’m not sure they’re all correct, but I tried), and I’ll be going in order, one year at a time.  The order within each year will be more or less arbitrary; I’d try to go chronologically there too, except that it’s hard (and probably in many cases impossible) to pin down the exact day a game was released.  In a lot of cases, I’m not even completely sure I’ve got the year right.

(Wow… I just glanced at the first post on my old site, and saw that I mentioned having “close to a hundred programs” on my list of systems I’d be covering. Ha ha. Yeah, one of the things I’ve been doing over the last few weeks is working on that list, and there are well over two thousand programs on it now. Not that I really expect to cover all several thousand of them, but that’s a subject for a later post. Anyway, I guess that’s one more sign of how completely unprepared I was the first time around.)

For each system, I’ll endeavor to go into its history and context as much as possible. However, I’m not an expert in gaming history (or any kind of history, really), and if anyone knows more than I do about a system I welcome corrections and clarifications in the comments. As mentioned above, I’m also going to do my best to make a game with each system… and I am going to honestly try to make a good game with it. Granted, I may try somewhat harder with some systems than others… and I’ll probably be more capable with some systems than others. I am most interested in, and have the most experience with, adventure games and RPGs, so I expect that the games I create in this genre will probably be better than, say, shoot-em-ups, which I know less about. But even with a genre that doesn’t interest me as much, I will put forth a genuine effort to try to make something as good as I can.

One thing I’m not going to be doing is trying to give the systems and sort of quantitative score or ranking. That’s not to say I won’t be passing any sort of judgment, but what opinions I do state will be strictly qualitative. The CRPG Addict, for instance, has his GIMLET system, where he ranks each game from 1 to 10 across 10 different categories like game world, NPC interaction, etc. I suppose it wouldn’t be impossible to come up with similar categories for ranking game creation systems… ease of use, customizability, power… but I don’t think such a system would be useful—these rankings would necessarily be subjective, and some of the categories might not really apply to some systems and might cause them to be penalized unfairly—and it definitely wouldn’t be fun for me. So no numerical rankings, I’m afraid, but I won’t hesitate to share my qualitative opinions.

Another thing I won’t be doing, though it may seem superficially like a good idea, is implementing the same game in different systems (à la Cloak of Darkness). On one level, trying to make the same game in each system might seem to be the fairest way to compare them. But I don’t think it really is—different systems may have different strengths and weaknesses; implementing the same game in each system may be playing into the strengths of one and against the strengths of another, and wouldn’t really make for a fair comparison at all. Aside from that, if I’m going to be using any pre-set resources (e.g. the default RPG Maker Runtime Packages), that places certain constraints on the games I’m going to be creating. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, it would be boring. I want to end up with a lot of different games, not just the same game made in a lot of different systems.

Anyway, I guess that’s enough preamble for now. Next time: More preamble! (More specifically, I plan to make a post tomorrow on my criteria for what constitutes a game creation system, for the purposes of this blog…)