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The History of the Pinball Construction Set: Launching Millions of Creative Possibilities
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The History of the Pinball Construction Set: Launching Millions of Creative Possibilities


February 6, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4
 

Interplay's The Bard's Tale Construction Set (1991) put all the creative flexibility of The Bard's Tale series of popular role-playing games at a player's fingertips. Finally, virtual dungeon masters could easily create high-quality adventures for their friends.

Semipro development tools have often allowed sophisticated users to do amazing work with popular titles. Examples include Doom's fan-made Doom Editing Utility (DEU) from 1994, which was useful for making the game's WADs,[12] or file packages that contained levels, graphics and other game data, and Bioware's RPG Neverwinter Nights (2002; Apple Macintosh, Linux, PC), which came with the Aurora toolset for complete custom module creation.

However, these tools -- though certainly powerful -- still represented a daunting challenge for the average computer gamer.

Further, although there have certainly been occasional console games that have allowed level creation or modification, like the course designer in Nintendo's Excitebike (1984; Arcade, Nintendo Entertainment System, and others), or even complete game creation, as in Agetec's RPG Maker 3 (2005; Sony PlayStation 2), there have been few attempts other than the failed Virtual Pinball to bridge the middle ground that PCS so successfully made its own -- that is, until the 2008 release of Sony's LittleBigPlanet for its PlayStation 3 system.

Sony's LittleBigPlanet offers robust construction and collaboration features.

Superficially, LittleBigPlanet is an attractive but simple side-scrolling platformer[13] starring a cute, anthropomorphic beanbag. However, the game's true potential is realized in its level editing and sharing tools, which let up to four simultaneous players create original stages, objects, and enemies in real time, either together in person or online.

Ultimately, it's the platform's online capabilities and ubiquitous hard drive that help bridge the gap between the inability to share creations and the limits of cartridge-based storage of the past, paving the way for a bright future for software toys in general, regardless of platform.

Screenshot from the flexible Game Maker, version 7, which allows for both drag-and-drop construction and more traditional programming techniques.

Still recognized today, Budge and EA received a belated Technology & Engineering Emmy Award in 2008 for PCS, alongside first-person shooter Quake (see book Chapter 5, "Doom (1993): The First-Person Shooter Takes Control") and virtual world Second Life (see book Chapter 24, "Ultima Online (1997): Putting the Role-Play Back in Computer Role-Playing Games"), in the User-Generated Content -- Game Modification category.

Nevertheless, we've yet to realize Budge's dream of a "construction kit construction kit," with which even a total novice could produce a professional-quality product.

Nevertheless, we seem to be getting closer with newer programs like ClickTeam's The Games Factory 2 (2006; PC) and Mark Overmars' Game Maker (starting in 1999; PC), both of which offer a combination of drag-and-drop object-/event-based programming with traditional coding and scripting techniques.

Perhaps one day soon it will be someone's creative vision -- not their mastery of programming -- that brings the next winning game idea to fruition.

Visual Pinball is the most popular of the modern day successors to Pinball Construction Set, and consists of an emulator, simulator and editor (shown) that allows users to create and play recreations of pinball machines. Despite having something of a high learning curve for everything from setup to construction, this non-commercial application is extremely flexible, inspiring the creation and recreation of thousands of tables.

To read the first chapter in this series, The History of Pong, please click here.

---

[12] As previously mentioned, this stands for "Where's All the Data?". See book Chapter 5, "Doom (1993): The First-Person Shooter Takes Control," for more on Doom.

[13] See book Chapter 19, "Super Mario Bros. (1985): How High Can Jumpman Get?" for more on the platforming genre.


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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