Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Concerning Chronology

So, a reader (UbAh) commented regarding my statement that I wasn't planning on taking the programs in chronological order:

I am a fan of chronological because it will give your blog a sense of progression as more features become available in newer software. This way you blog about the new things in the next program instead of lamenting whats missing...

He raises a good point, of course, and there's certainly something to be said for going in chronological order. In this blog, though, I'm more concerned with comparing the features of different game creation programs than in tracking their development over time, and, while it's a matter definitely worth considering, I think there are some good arguments for not going in chronological order, as well.

For one thing, I'm not sure there is as clear a progression in game creation programs as there is in CRPGs and adventure games. Of course the graphics, speed, and other such features tend to improve with the hardware, but as far as the interfaces different game creation programs seem as often as not to try to reinvent the wheel each time. This is all the more true when you look across programs intended to create different genres—if the various CRPG creator programs out there don't seem to have copied much from each other, for instance, even less so have they copied from programs intended to create platformers, or adventure games. Of course, there are exceptions—Chris Hopkins' Adventure Creation Kit was clearly inspired by Stuart Smith's Adventure Construction Set, for instance; Dungeon Craft is a fan remake/upgrade of Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures; and the various RPG Maker programs are obviously related, each building on its predecessor (though in at least one respect RPG Maker VX was a step backward from RPG Maker XP). And certainly within particular genres there are programs that in some sense came first; a case could be made that it would make sense to address WinAGI and SCI Studio, which create games like the original King's Quest series, before programs like Adventure Game Studio or SLUDGE that create more sophisticated games, or that GAGS and AGT deserve a look before more advanced text adventure creators like Inform, TADS, and Hugo.

But then there's also the fact that games are in most cases released only once with no further refinements aside from patches and expansions, and even those seldom come out more than a couple of years after the original game. Many game creation programs, however, are built upon and improved over a period of many years. Take Inform... it was first released in 1993, but the current Version 7 only came out in 2006, with a completely new syntax. So where would I put it in the chronology? If I put it at 1993, that's deceptive because the current version of 2006 is much different from what it was then. But if I put it at 2006, I'm ignoring its history and not acknowledging its status as one of the earliest sophisticated text adventure creation programs. I suppose in principle I could do each version separately, but the incremental changes between successive versions are small enough that that would get boring for both me and the readers. (Actually, the differences between Inform 6 and Inform 7 are big enough that they might be worth doing separately, but not earlier than that.) Similar concerns apply to Adventure Game Studio, the first version of which was released in 1997 and version 3.2.1 of which was released in April 2011.

But maybe the biggest reason for not going in strict chronological order is that my primary concern is comparing the features and interfaces of various game creation programs, and it's the most advanced, most recent programs that are of the most interest for my purposes. Older programs are certainly worth a look, both for historical reasons and to see if they perhaps included some clever feature that was forgotten in their successors. But I'd definitely prefer to get to recent programs sooner rather than later. If I tried using all the programs in chronological order, it would be years before I reached the current decade—true, my list may not be nearly as long as The CRPG Addict's, but on the other hand it generally takes longer to create a game than to play one. So while I'm certainly happy to dip occasionally into the software of yesteryear, I don't really want to have to wait the better part of a decade before I get to something more recent.

Still, again, there is something to be said for going in chronological order. So I think maybe I can strike a reasonable compromise. I will go in chronological order within a related sequence of programs. For instance, if I come to the RPG Maker games, I'll try those in order. I'll look at FRUA before Dungeon Craft, and ACS before ACK. But I'll take those sequences (or standalone programs) in whatever order they're suggested. Which means at some point I should redo my list to reflect this "threading"... but I'll get around to that later. I hope this should strike a balance between the value of taking a historical look at game creation programs and the immediate applicability (and fun) of trying out recent programs.

In the meantime, this does raise a question: So far, I've received one suggestion for the first program to blog about, 001. This program can make games of various genres (the demos it comes with include a tower defense game, an action RPG, a shooter, and a card game), and has no obvious predecessor it's clearly inspired by... but for the sake of historicity perhaps before dealing with it I should tackle the first such general game-making program... which I believe would be GameMaker. (Not the popular program published by YoYo Games that was first released in 1999, nor the hyphenated DOS program released in 1991 that I just found out about and I guess I should add to the list, nor still a graphic adventure creation program by that name that I also just found out about but won't add to the list for now only because it's apparently available only for the Mac, but a program first released for the Commodore 64 in 1985.) So... assuming that I don't get dissenting suggestions over the next few days and 001 continues to be the frontrunner, should I go ahead and start with 001, or should I start with GameMaker to lay the historical foundation? My inclination is that in the future I'll start by dealing with historical precedents, but for the first entry on the blog I'd rather bend the rules a little and just go with a modern program, and pick up GameMaker the next time a general-purpose game creation program comes up (there are several more on the list). Thoughts?

[EDIT: Orrrrr... I could concurrently create games in a recent program (such as 001) and an old program (such as GameMaker). That way I get to simultaneously examine a new program like I want to do, and also look back on its historical context. This is either a great idea or a terrible idea. Perhaps I shall try it and find out which.]


  1. I say go big and try to make the game in both concurrently. It sounds like more work but if the mission statement here is to discuss the differences there is no better way to find the differences than by trying to do the same thing.

    Give it a try and if it becomes tedious and boring to you mix it up.

    1. That might be an interesting angle, just to see how well each software handles the same kind of game. It would definitely put a spotlight on limitations. Maybe come up with template games based on genres with set features you'd like to try to implement, then see how close to the mark you can hit.

    2. From a practical standpoint, that may be the best approach... but I think I'd rather try to create an entirely different game with each engine, even though it may mean I'm not really necessarily comparing them on a completely equal footing. I am going to try to do the old and new systems concurrently, though.