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Where are the 'Construction Set' Games? 567

Posted by Cliff
from the lincoln-logs dept.
mbishop asks: "After reading an the article on games decreasing brain activity, I thought back through childhood to when there were an abundance of 'construction set' games. I owe much of my music education to 'Music Construction Set'. These games were unique in that you could not only save a creation, but you could compile it into a standalone program that someone else could play even if they didn't have the original software. Creation was very easy, no programming necessary, and fun. My guess is that these sorts of games do much to increase the brain activity of the player. What are the 'Construction Set' games of today? Is there still a market for them?"

"I know that most PC games today have editors where a player can create their own levels and share them but users still need the original software. Even worse, consoles, which have the larger market, don't have enough storage (except maybe for the XBox) and aren't open enough to encourage players to create their own games and share them."

C :I think I see mbishop's point. Legos are still alive and well, but I don't see as much evidence on these types of toys in today's TV commercials. It seems those commercials are more interested in pushing the latest licensed crap instead of pushing toys designed to stimulate your child's own imagination. Of course, a simple Google search may yield a result or two, but that still doesn't answer the real question. Computer-based sets, would be a nice alternative, but nothing beats the real thing where children can use their own hands to create something they can show their paernts. Where have all of the Heathkit's, the chemical experiment toys and the other types of "builder" sets gone, and are they due for a revival, soon?

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Where are the 'Construction Set' Games?

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  • Mods? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mellifluous (249700) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:09PM (#3896541)
    In many ways, I think that the mod community is a more grown-up version of kids using these types of games to build their own creations.
    • Re:Mods? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by _Sprocket_ (42527) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:27PM (#3896746)

      In many ways, I think that the mod community is a more grown-up version of kids using these types of games to build their own creations.
      But that misses the point. The idea of, say, Halflife or Quake is not to build something but rather run around shooting at bots and other online players. Sure, to the right person its the basis for building a great hack. But it takes dedication and a steep learning curve to begin building. And it takes someone with a slightly different outlook to see Quake and think "build world" instead of "frag llamas".

      Go back and re-read the description of Music Construction Set. Look at the other tittles listed in the link (Adventure Contruction Set and Pinball Construction Set). Mod-friendly engines, while very cool, are not the same.

      • Re:Mods? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by tgibbs (83782) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @05:51PM (#3897785)
        And it takes someone with a slightly different outlook to see Quake and think "build world" instead of "frag llamas".
        Of course it does. It just happens to be the very same outlook that led a few people to look at a rack of games and pick out "Adventure Construction Set" instead of "Final Fantasy."
  • by errxn (108621) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:10PM (#3896550) Homepage Journal
    The kids still have 'em. They just call 'em meth labs nowadays.
    • by Oliver Wendell Jones (158103) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:21PM (#3896698)
      My guess is the main reason you don't see more chemistry sets and similar 'toys' for children is fear of litigation.

      I can remember when I was about 8 or 9, my grandmother bought me the Mr. Wizard's Chemistry Set, which came with real glassware and real chemicals.

      Within a couple of years, I had progressed to more advanced chemistry sets that came with glass tubing and instruction on how to heat it up in an alcohol flame and bend your own custom glassware. Can you imagine the amount of disclaimers you would need to include in this day and age to protect yourself (legally) from children burning the house down or seriously injuring themselves?

      I used to buy all the chemistry experiment books I could find at garage sales and I can remember seeing experiments involving mercury and other experiments that would make a corporate lawyer's hair turn white if you tried to distribute them today!

      I think the legal issues combined with the 'if it doesn't use batteries or hook up to the TV, it's a sucky toy' feelings that are so prevalent today have killed off the toys that we all enjoyed when we were children.

      Oh, and for what it's worth, because of my interest in chemistry, I grew up (well, I grew older!) and I got a job as a research scientist for a major medical diagnostics company, and I've been there for over 13 years now.
      • The flipside to that is that with all the information floating around on the 'net these days, the really smart kids won't even *need* a kit to be able to do the experiments. They can just get the chemicals and do it themselves (albeit, probably way more dangerously than with a kit).

        It reminds me of the story that was posted here a while back of the kid that tried to build the breeder reactor in his mom's toolshed.
      • Funny, I was just telling a story to my mother the other day about the chemistry set my father bought me when I was 12. Yeah, the glass bending was fun. Of course, after you bent the glass, it was so damn hot, I decided to cool it off in some water. That's when I learned that hot glass being cooled quickly EXPLODES! No, I wasn't blinded, but had I been, can you imagine the lawsuit?

        But hey, when you don't RTFM, sometimes you just have to learn the hard way!
      • My guess is the main reason you don't see more chemistry sets and similar 'toys' for children is fear of litigation. /I.

        I think you're exactly right. A couple of years back I was looking for a chemistry set for my nieces and nephews, so that they could experience the hours of fun that I had as a kid.

        The only "chemistry set" I could find wasn't even worthy of the name. The outside of the box proudly proclaimed "No glass! No open flames! No toxic chemicals!". I pointed this out to my wife with the comment "No fun!".

      • by CommieLib (468883) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @04:05PM (#3897062) Homepage
        I couldn't agree more. There's a principle that's been lost in this country called "assumption of risk". This simply means that if you buy a chemistry set for your kid, you probably ought to turn off ER and go play with it with him.

        I went to castle Neuschwanstein outside of Munich last winter. The best vantage point is a bridge high above the castle, and getting there required walking up a very icy path. People were slipping and sliding all over the place, and all that I or the other Americans that were with me could think of was "man, not in America. Somebody would sue."

        The cost of litigation is such a terrible example of a rotten apple spoiling the bunch. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for legitimate damages when a party has caused harm, but I really think we need to try to get back to some degree of personal responsibility...
        • by neksys (87486) <grphillips AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @04:22PM (#3897183)
          This is why I much prefer Canada in this instance - I remember watching a case recently involving a local University student suing the school because he tripped over and fell and uneven piece of pavement on a walkway. The judge's ruling: "I find no validity in your claim against the University - life isn't perfect."

        • by zulux (112259) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @04:42PM (#3897315) Homepage Journal
          We have a cabin with a small deck - without any railings. The fall woulden't kill anybody, but insturance company woulden't insure the cabin without the railing. We decided we diden't need insurance, and if anybody tries to sue us, we'll probably just run them over with a rental SUV. A dead litigant is a good litigant.

          If someone were to try and use the court system to steal all of my money without a good reason, I starting to think that it should be treated in the same manor as a bank robber with a gun - It's ok to defend yourself any way possible.

  • by Bonker (243350) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:11PM (#3896561)
    http://leocad.org/ [leocad.org]

    It was a real joy to see I could build with all the lego pieces my mother always threw away when I was a child because they weren't recognizable as legos.
  • While there aren't any Music Construction Sets around, and I personally wish there were, there is a definite abundance of Game construction sets and there have been for years. A large community of homebrew game developers has sprung up around various programs from companies like ASCII and Clickteam, and there are dozens if not hundreds of freeware game construction sets that people use to make their own arcade games and RPG's. Programs like Acid from Sonic Foundry also fill a niche in the music industry by allowing people to start creating music without formal music instruction or lots of resources.
    • Mod Archive [modarchive.com] offers software to create MOD/S3M/etc type formats, and although I haven't explored the site very far, I would presume also provides large quantities of samples (at least they can be ripped from songs that are there) with which to make one's own music.

      Yes, it's a weeee bit more complex than the old MCS was, but we're not in the world of the Commodore 64 anymore.

      You can do some pretty darned cool stuff with good tracking software and samples.
  • construction-set game. I used to build elaborate

    worlds in ZZT and have great fun. The script editor was kinda klunky, but once you got used to it, it was really powerful

    Of course, once you learned how to edit the levels, and you got the unlocker that could unlock the shipped levels, beating the game was pretty easy ;)

  • suprising... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by colster (530611)
    ...they should be easier to make with the more recent use of middleware in the games industry. I mean, that is what a "construction set" is really - a very high level middleware.

    The closest today is the simulator games you get on sourceforge that allow you to program robots.
  • Stagecast Creator (Score:3, Informative)

    by blamanj (253811) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:11PM (#3896572)
    [stagecast.com]
    http://www.stagecast.com/
    • If I recall correctly, Stagecast has gone through many ownership / name changes over the years. At one point it was owned by Apple and had the moniker "cocoa" (completely unrelated to os x technologies of the same name). This is definately something I can see Woz loving, though I don't know if he had anything to do with it. A very cool little program, it allows people (targetted at kids, but anyone could enjoy it) to make their own simple games by basically building "levels" with various actors, each actor or class of actors having specific rules dictating behavior. I spent some time tinkering with this last year and found it pretty entertaining, though the demo version has some annoying limitations. Any grade school / middle school level computer teachers out there would do well to take a look at this package.
  • Computer based? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by garcia (6573)
    No, there is absolutely no replacement for hands on building. To put something together on the computer would not be anywhere near the experience you get from building an "igloo" out of Construx around yourself and screaming for your mom to come lift it off you w/o breaking it (heeh).

    How about spending hours playing w/roller coaster kits and watching the roller coaster fall upside down time after time because it was just about impossible to make it do a loop.

    I used to love building forts, using construx, etc. I was never a fan of Legos (parts were too small?) nor was I a fan of any "computer level builders". Roller Coaster Tycoon lasted about 3 days in my house as a college student. Even w/all the cheats it wasn't fun.

    We need to bring back hands on experience. Computers rot your brain ;-)
    • Building on a computer lets you do more spectacular things, work in more abstract domains, and never have to deal with issues like buying parts or having them fail. Civil engineering isn't the only kind of "construction" to be done! There are construction kits for all sorts of things: video games, mazes, robots, circuits, music...

      I rather give my kid "Rocky's Boot" than a soldering iron and some ICs!
  • Well, I miss the old construction games (albeit you can still find a few music construction ones on www.shockwave.com and a few other shocked sites.) I also miss the old adventure games where you really had to think and use logic to proceed. Unlike most of the modern games where you can fight and use other methods to continue on. The old King's Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, etc. series were great little games for encouraging creative thought.

    I remember how frustrated I used to get when I would get caught trying to figure out how to complete that one last task. I miss those games, unfortunately a few bad apples killed the genre (KQ7or8 anyone). Perhaps some new gaming company will decide to revive it, and perhaps even make it better so you can have different endings, different ways to win and lose, a less linear lifeline, but still all of those great little realistic and funny puzzles.

    I loved the nursery rhyme and folk story puzzles in King's Quest, and the great space jokes in Space Quest.

    But, these build it yourself games I have found still exist online in a lot of shockwave sites, like www.shockwave.com. Just no one has bothered making a large scale version... yet.
  • Yeah Baby!

    My Atari 400 KICKED ASS.

    What was his name? Bill Budge? Now that was a cool creation.
    • The perfect fix for the PCS blues is to download Visual Pinball [visualpinball.com]. I've personally used this with fantastic results and there are many incredible games available, all created by users. It's currently freeware (that self-disables with a hidden expiration date), but I expect it to jump into shareware or retail someday.

      The main difference is you have to learn some basic Visual Basic Scripting.
  • Neverwinter Nights (Score:4, Informative)

    by topham (32406) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:14PM (#3896600) Homepage
    (website looks down at the moment, but...)Neverwinter Nights [neverwinternights.com]

    Contains an 3-D RPG Engine with toolset to create your own campaigns. Supports it's own C/C++ like scripting language, and includes a good integrated environment for developing maps, Non-Player Characters, and source code changed.

    So go get creative...

    • I haven't looked at it recently... but a rather cynical friend of mine points out that there seems to be a large number of PvP-style modules being created. The comment: "Oh look. Lets take an advanced roleplaying-targeted environment... and turn it in to Quake".

      Of course, I maintain that given time... really cool stuff will start to surface. If the EULA hasn't stifled people's creativity and willingness to develop in that environment.

      • Wrote a journal entry, but comments seem apropos here:

        Look at the server list, and here is what exists:

        1. People serving the built in modules.
        2. People hosting deathmatches of various sorts. (And, in environments where only maxed out fighters with tons of bogus equipment have a chance. Can't count the number of people swinging a pair of Holy Avenger's)
        3. 'Chat' areas.
        4. Barely begun 'real' modules.

        It's quite depressing. I keep telling myself "good modules will come, good modules will come"

        The EULA does do a bit to stifle creativity. But I'm certain that if you spoke to the correct person at BioWare, they would be willing to license the tech/tools for your own modules to be sold. But you would have to pay for them.

        • Well, you have to remember that well thought out, well designed modules take WAY more time than any of the others. So they are going to be the last thing to surface. Also, many people with well done worlds that could be put into NWN also have real world gaming going on and may be dividing their time among several other activities. I for one have a well developed game world that might end up as a NWN module, but only if I can be assured that enough of my real world players will get NWN that I can run campaigns with my friends online.

          So good modules will come, but it may take quite a while.

          Kintanon
    • by jafac (1449) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @04:49PM (#3897344) Homepage
      NWN sucks.

      They promised that it would be so close to actually playing D&D, you could smell the BO.

      But I was expecting being able to endlessly argue rules-interpretations with the computer. This, it did not allow. I was disappointed.
  • a lot of these toys have forcefully deprecated because one idiot kid did something stupid with them and their parents had a fit.

    This brings to light a bigger problem:

    What ever happened to natural selection? You know, the kid who swallows too many marbles doesn't grow up to have kids of his own?

    Why are parents now making kids wear a helmet for everything but jerking off? All of the fun toys had "swallowable parts" so they aren't popular anymore because some parent raised a stink over it...

    *steps off soap box*
    • by SirSlud (67381)
      > What ever happened to natural selection? You know, the kid who swallows too many marbles doesn't grow up to have kids of his own?

      It's still in full effect. For instance, with an attitude like that (with the condition that you make it public to your partner or partner-to-be), you'll probably find it hard to find a decent compassionate female to procreate with. (Although not impossible, so a reply of "I do have a woman" will be met with indifference.)

      Do you actually have any concept of how many more kids would die if swallowing a marble was a surefire death sentence? You probably have a close friend or two who ingested something at an early age that *could* have killed them at some point. (Would you be up to the task of finishing them off yourself, seeing as they clearly are not deserving of their lives?)

      Fortunately, there's probably alot more natural selection in the sense that guys who publicly think like you do dont often find themselves heading up a family than kids dying off and thus 'cleansing' (your word, I'm sure) the gene pool.

      Icidentally, if your frist sentence had even a shred of truth to it (not that products havnt been taken off the market, but any toy store still sells easy-to-swallow-tough-to-breathe toys), Lego would have been off the market long ago. Ironically, the true folks that supplied or made available these small bitty pieces to little kids, ie, the parents, usually get to try again with the gene-grafting fun of parenthood if they so choose.

      As a parting shot, if you do have a kid, try and come up with a more life affirming lullabye for him/her than "Caveat Emptor" or "Dont be a stupid kid while I'm not tending over you", please? Or would (are) your kids be so smart as to never do anything that endangers themselves?
    • The real reason toys with replayability arnt as available anymore should be freakin obvious - they dont make as much money.

      Gotta keep you comin back to the store for more. It's as simple as that. Overzealous litigation-happy parents have absolutely nothing to do with it. They are a drop in the bucket of the toy market.

      And for the helmet, I wear one when biking/blading. I'll make my kids wear one. You'd probably have a different opinion had you ever been hit by a car. You'd also do well to consider that given the increase in car traffic over the last 10 years (nevermind the fact that while I might have been able to survive getting slammed by a pony, any SUV would take me out these days), the roads have become *considerably* more dangerous than they used to be.

      But go on, blame parents for trying to *maintain* their kids' safe environment while the roads become more and more dangerous.
  • Money. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Desco (46185) <desco911@y[ ]o.com ['aho' in gap]> on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:16PM (#3896625)
    Yes, this article is without merit. There are plenty of construction sets, they exist within games. Neverwinter Nights and Morrowinds are AWESOME in their capabilities to make adventures. Quake III also comes to mind-- yes, modmaking requires programming, but map making doesn't.

    The reason they don't make any "stand alone construction sets" anymore? Well, for one, the name "___ Construction Set" just isn't cool enough for mainstream consumer. But the biggest reason is money. If you can make a standalone NWN game, the people you distribute it to don't have to buy the original game. Game companies don't want that. They're in business to make money.
  • The Incredible Machine, More of The Icredible Machine, and Sid and Al's Crazy Toons (I may be wrong on this exact title) were all about constructing Rube Goldberg machines that were pretty neat, had multiple solutions, and allowed you to mess with gravity, friction, and the like to understand fundamental priniciples of physics while still having a good time sitting at a computer.
  • They Exist... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tadrith (557354) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:16PM (#3896634) Homepage
    I think the "Construction Set" aspect still exists in many games, but it's taken new form. With the rise of First Person shooters and RTS as the more popular forms of entertainment, I think that sort of thing has moved into customizing the game. It takes quite a bit of talent to build really good levels, or brand new campaigns, and also quite a bit of devotion.

    I see your problem though. Those sorts of activities are very much confined to the geek. Level design and game mods take quite a bit of computer expertise, and I get the feeling you were thinking along different lines. Games like The Incredible Machine come to mind. I'd be hard pressed to give you references, but one "Construction Set" games comes to mind. If you're interested in the game of pinball, I recommend Visual Pinball [randydavis.com]. It's a complete pinball game construction program, and it works beautifully. Much to the dismay of most of the Slashdot crowd, though, it's main drive is VBScript. Very fun and easy to use, however. The programming is basic enough that I think a beginner could learn to use it very easily.

    Other than that, there's lots of software out there for music creation and whatnot. It may not be presented in game form, but if you have an itch to do it, I'm sure those would serve just as well!
  • by SirSlud (67381) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:17PM (#3896646) Homepage
    > ... commercials are more interested in pushing the latest licensed crap ...

    Which one is more profitable?

    A license agnostic computer game where the value is in the interactivity .. high replay value, no need to go back to the store for a few years?

    Or the uber-franchisable, horizontal-marketing-up-the-ying-yang licensed toy that does so little, you're practically forced into buying the next toy, which does a tiny bit more (now you can move his head! now you can move his foot! now he talks! buy this .. now he talks more!)

    This is so obvious, its probably taught verbatim in business or marketing schools.
  • Legos are still alive and well, but I don't see as much evidence on these types of toys in today's TV commercials.

    Im 34 and I dont remember them being prevelent when I was growing up either, so this is nothing new, why market a toy to a child that they can be creative with and use for years when you can market a toy to a child that will be obsolete in 6 months... can you say Stretch Armstrong?
  • RPG Maker 2000 (Score:2, Informative)

    by alek202 (462912)
    Altough the title of that application (Windows-based of course) sounded a bit strange, it's a solid application to create (but not limited to) RPG games. There are also some nice games. I'm now thinking about pulling my old (cancelled) Phantasy Star V project out of my shoes and looking for some guys who help me. When I started the project back in 1997, I cancelled it half a year later since nobody really wanted to contribute.
  • I don't recall that Music Construction Set could make stand-alone music executables. Maybe I've got it wrong.

    The other biggie, Adventure Construction Set, I believe also required an original disk to play.

    Not that these were hard to come by. I owned originals of both, but they were trivial to copy and distribute, i.e. pirate.

    The exception that I'm aware of is Garry Kitchen's Gamemaker (by one of the Kitchen brothers of Activision fame). This could be used to create stand-alone games and it was really a pretty freaking intricate design system that they came up with. It had scripting, sprite editing, background design, music design, and sound effects. Out of the box, you could create a fully functional reproduction of Pitfall! and use that as a basis to learn the system. Amazing stuff for the time.

    Incidentally, all of the above is based on my recollection of the C=64 world. Other platforms may have had different limitations, but I recall ACS and Gamemaker as both being C=64 only. Perhaps I'm forgetting details in my old age. ;^)
    • Incidentally, all of the above is based on my recollection of the C=64 world. Other platforms may have had different limitations, but I recall ACS and Gamemaker as both being C=64 only

      Naw, the Apple ][ had them both too.
      • Naw, the Apple ][ had them both too.
        Ah, good to know. I really liked the Apple ][ but we just couldn't afford one. Even when I got a C=64, it was a hand-me-down from my dad's office equipment.
  • by JTFritz (15573) <jeffreytfritz AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:20PM (#3896688) Homepage Journal
    Two words:
    ROBO CODE [robocode.net]

    You can learn java, and you can beat the crap out of some IBM engineer at the same time! What more do you need?!

  • vast conspiracy? (Score:3, Informative)

    by MiTEG (234467) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:21PM (#3896694) Homepage Journal
    Maybe it's some vast conspiracy by the game publishing companies to force consumers to pay $59.99 for the latest piece of entermainment? Hm.. probably not.

    The best thing I could think of was Hypercard for the Macintosh, it allowed games like The Manhole [useit.com] to be created with very little programming. Sure, it needed a significant amount of computer knowledge to create something enteretaining, but it was nothing like programming a game like Quake III in C.

    My all-time favorite game construction kit was the Pinball Construction Kit [mobygames.com]. It came out in 1985, and it allowed for the creation of personalized pinball tables inside the game. The only problem is that the game required to play any pinball table you design.

    Try searching google for game creation kit [google.com]. It came up with a ton of results, and this one [madmonkey.net] looks promising.

    • Re:vast conspiracy? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Zathrus (232140) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:44PM (#3896890) Homepage
      Pinball Construction Set did not require the game to play the pinball tables. I know - I released a half dozen or so pinball games out into the BBS scene of the time and you could download them and play them without PCS. I even saw them listed on shareware/freeware disk compendiums a couple years later (which was cool for a 10 year old...)

      They're unplayable now -- ignoring the CGA graphics, it was one of those old games that didn't properly handle increased clock rates. Run it on a 386 and you lost the ball instantly because it was running too fast.

      There's a modern version available now... Visual Pinball [randydavis.com], which seems pretty good. Much more complicated, of course, but we're comparing CGA and 4.77 MHz to SVGA and 400 MHz.
    • I loved Pinball Construction Kit. Something about it, however, struck me as disturbing some years later...in the early '90's, I ran a small computer lab at a non-profit kid's organization. The kids (around 5-12 years of age) would come in for their computer time, race for a copy of Pinball Construction Kit, and then proceed to build a simple machine--just a pinball surrounded by bumpers. So, in effect, there was no way for this ball to escape the surrounding bumpers, and it would just continually bounce around and rack up points. No hole, no flippers, nothing else. Then they would activate the pinball machine and watch the score crank up for the next 30 mintues or so, until their turn at the computer was over. When I'd ask the kids if maybe they might like to build a machine with a real challenge (you know, one that actually had flippers and perhaps a hole so you might actually lose the occaisional ball), they would almost universally respond by looking at me as if I was crazy, and say, "No way. Look at all the points I'm getting this way. I'm winning."

      To this day, I shake my head over this.
  • My little sister... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Liora (565268) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:21PM (#3896700) Journal

    I am happy to say that my little sister is four and she plays with legos. She is mostly into building cars so they roll the fastest across the floor in my dad's kitchen, but like I said, she's four. I think that proof that this has stimulated her creatively because the other day she was telling me that she had designed and then her mom had helped her cut out all of these pieces to put together to make a 3D basket. It's just a basket, I know. But it seemed amazing to me that a kid so young was designing things in 2D to be put together in 3D.

    I can only hope that there are still toys like that available when I have my own kids. I don't have my legos anymore (my mom sold them when I was away for a summer), but maybe I can convince her to keep hers so that the next generation has all of those neat little pieces that always seem so scarce when you really need them... like the ones that transfer the block stack from up/down to right/left. And the pulleys. Must have pulleys.

  • Thinking in terms of Music Construction Set...SimTunes was a great, if somewhat obscure game. Maxis rebranded version of "Musical Bugs" by Japanese artist Toshio Iwai. (demo here? [kidsdomain.com]). The idea was you had a big blank grid, that you could paint with colored blocks. 4 "bugs" would walk over the grid, and when they passed a color would play the pitch (or percussionish noise, if that was the type of voice you set the bug to) corresponding to that color. Other blocks would warp or otherwise redirect the bugs. You could focus on making a cool picture, a cool sound (it really could be used as a 'poor man's sequencer') or both. Very powerful, with "kiddy" and "advanced" (but still pretty friendly) interface settings.

    They released this 5 or 6 years ago, recently rereleased in a pack of Kid-oriented Sim games. The original was fairly cranky in its need for certain DirectX drivers (windows of course), I bought the rerelease but haven't yet installed it to see if they improved the driver situation.

    A great creative musical toy...maybe better for kids/teens/adults with a smattering of musical experience. (They have some cool music theory embedded in there, like you can constrain the notes to the blues or other scale...)
  • by dalassa (204012)
    You can't get any cool chemicals in them today because of safety concerns. What is the point of a chemistry set if you can't take off your eyebrows?

    All that aside, my favorite toy when I was young was my handed down set of wooden blocks. I had enough of them that I could build massive structures, and I learned enough of basic enginerring that they didn't colapse on me. I couldn't choke on them and as long as my mother kept half an eye on me while I was young I never got more than a small bruise from the colapses.
    All of my children will have old fashioned block sets. Simple toys that don't force play in one direction are the best.
  • I spent HOURS+ making a multitude of pinball games with that software for the Apple 2.

    You could wire flippers, bumpers, everything with your own point system. PBCS would also let you 'paint' your selected parts any of 5± colors including 'erasing' the part. Using 'invisible' bumpers was quite entertaining.

    It was also possible to adjust gravity, bounce, and friction of the ball, IIRC.

    The coolest feature of all is that you could take your finished game and 'compile' it to run stand-alone! Trading pinball games was great...ah, Apple 2 memories....I also had a program for the Apple 2 called Gamemaker. It let you create simple games like 2600 Pitfall clones and the like. Never got the hang of it....

    The best 'Constructon Set' in recent memory was the level editor in Crack Dot Com's sidescroller, 'Abuse'. It used a lisp driven engine to allow you to make levels easier than anything I recall at the time. Just like wiring a simple circuit. (Much like PBCS!)

    What's Bill Budge doing these days?

    • by DeadMeat (TM) (233768) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @04:22PM (#3897184) Homepage
      You might want to check out the heir apparent to PBCK, Visual Pinball [randydavis.com]. It's not quite as easy to get a grasp on (for the really fun stuff you need to do some scripting) but it's much more powerful than PBCK. Plus, the price is right.

      One of the more interesting projects done with VP is to recreate arcade pinball machines; you can even hook up a special embedded version of MAME to emulate the LED display.

    • Have you played Visual Pinball? It is a modern equivalent of Pinball Construction Set, with a 3-D table appearance, supporting ramps and multiple levels and such. It uses VBS (gasp) as the scripting language... the first non-viral use of VBS that I've ever seen!

      Unfortunately there is no way to make a standalone player yet. It is a free program (closed source), but it runs only on Windows, and the author has plans to take it commercial someday so get it while you can.

      http://www.randydavis.com/vp/ [randydavis.com]
      http://www.vpforums.com/ [vpforums.com]

      I loved Pinball Construction Set, and made several Apple ][ disks full of games. Bill Budge recently did a very wonderful thing: he declared all of his past Apple ][ games to be in the public domain! A great thing, and I wish more authors of classic software would do the same.

  • Legos are still alive and well
    Is LEGO ("please refer to our products as LEGO toys or bricks, not 'Legos'...") really still alive and well? Back when I used to extort hundreds of dollars out of my parents to buy new LEGO sets, the name of the game was building things. You want a knight on horseback? OK, we'll give you the knight, but you have to build the horse. You want a spaceship? OK, that's going to take about an hour.

    These days it seems like LEGO has become little more than a lame re-working of Playmobil, with barely a nod given to the idea that these things are meant to be built, not just looked at. They seem to be more interested in competing with action figures and other more "mainstream" toys than in making products like the LEGO I used to know -- Mindstorms being perhaps the only exception. I'm the first to admit that if I had Star Wars LEGO when I was a kid, I never would have left the house. These days, though, I just see more corporate branding tie-ins from a company that markets products to kids. This doesn't seem like the LEGO I grew up with.

    • true to the Lego legacy (legocy?) they still show alternate conformations on the box. I bought the "Luke, Vader, and the Emperor" small set as a decoration for my desk at home and it showed several other things you could make with the bricks.

      I think your criticism of Lego may be slightly unfounded. Looking at the "themes" drop down at lego.com I see 2 out of 20 themes that are licensed (Harry Potter and Star Wars) the rest, while they may be inspired by movies (e.g. the Dinosaurs theme or Jack Stone) all seem to carry on the Lego tradition of giving you sets and letting you build whatever you want. The store also lets you buy whatever bricks you want in whatever color.

  • by kisrael (134664) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:27PM (#3896747) Homepage
    Another thing that has been lost is that computers no longer boot into BASIC...ok, stop laughing, I'm a little bit serious here. Home computers booting into BASIC, plus hobbyist magazines (some oriented at kids) I think were a great boon to budding programmers/designers in the early 1980s. While the Web has a huge host of new opportunites, it doesn't provide the ramp up the learning curve that BASIC did...it's relatively tough to make a decent graphical game with javascript/DHTML, and other languages are even more obscure for the total newbie.
    • Another thing that has been lost is that computers no longer boot into BASIC...ok, stop laughing, I'm a little bit serious here. Home computers booting into BASIC, plus hobbyist magazines (some oriented at kids) I think were a great boon to budding programmers/designers in the early 1980s.
      I'm following you ... BASIC definitely changed my life. One of my favorite games on the Apple ][, in fact, was a public domain package called Eamon. It let you create Dungeons & Dragons style text adventure games complete with character development, and you could make any mods tot he gaming engine you wanted using BASIC.

      On the other hand, I suspect I'd be able to get a lot further these days using Perl than I could have back then using BASIC. Perl has:

      • Copious free documentation
      • Plenty of tutorials available online
      • Libraries available to take care of all the weird little things you might want to do -- no need to invent things if you don't want to
      • A superior programming environment -- just being able to use a windowing text editor to write my code instead of typing it into the BASIC shell was a revelation to me when I got into C
      • Good structured programming if you want it, an intro to object oriented programming if you want it -- tools that will let you transition more smoothly into more powerful languages when you're ready
      And of course, you could insert Python or PHP or Ruby in here instead of Perl... Perl is just the one I learned first and felt most comfortable with.

      Maybe the most significant thing about BASIC vs. using a scripting language today is that most young people will have grown up on a GUI and won't be particularly interested in the kind of text-only programs we used to bash out in BASIC, even though it would probably be much easier to create more powerful ones today.

      • Yeah, but Perl's not installed outta the box (well it is for Linux I suppose...but even then you don't boot into it), support for graphics is (relatively) obscure-- and I only did a bit of "bashing out text-only programs", I mostly loved the C=64, Apple II, and Atari 800XL for the graphics I could do, charcter or bitmap. And don't get me started on Perl's bless-ed excuse for OO...(ok, I probably have C++/Java concentric notions)

        VB (I used to tool around on VB3, a nice balance of power and GUI simplicity) isn't a bad bet, maybe DarkBASIC as well? I dunno. Still, they ain't uniquitous like old school BASIC was. And you can learn to get past the need for line numbers (it blew my mind when I saw a magazine with AmigaBasic type-ins that had no line numbers! How could it work???)

        A friend of mine has a kid who is way into 3D modelling software, seemed a pretty cool entry as well.
  • by Masem (1171) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:28PM (#3896761)
    While there's been a recent glut of something Tycoon, there's a few titles that stand out partically because they are just simply better written, and also allow you to build something fun. Roller Coaster Tycoon has been on the best seller list since it's release ~3 years ago, with a recent "Gold Ticket" version that includes the 2 expansion sets; RCT allows you to make roller coasters bounded only by the limits of your imagination, and other aspects of a theme park. Others have taken upon them to recreate famous theme parks around the world or specific rides. Others are playing around with the save game format, writing trainers and one impressive project to 3d-ify the game. RCT 2 is scheduled for release later this fall with even more features.

    Then there's Sid Meyer's SimGolf. You can build a (non-mini) golf course, and watch the Sims play on it, but you can also play the course with your in-game avatar golf-pro. Others can save their courses and there's a big course repository including real world courses at the official site, much less other non-official ones. The golf game is not like links, but it can be somewhat challenging and makes this an interesting mix of sim and sport.

    Of course, prior to SimGolf there was the Sims. Build a family and a home, and then play with them. While currently you can't easily transfer families to other people, the online version due out soon is expected to be a huge seller, allowing people to pit their constructed families against others.

    Another example, outside of PC gaming, is the PS2 game Frequency. It's similar in nature to DDR, save that you only use the shoulder or right pad buttons to hit notes as they pass, but one of the features is a remix mode, where you can take any of the ingame tech/industrial/electronica songs and play around with their arrangements to some extent. Once you've created a new remix, you can save it, and by swapping cards, allow another player to attempt your new track. The same can be said for many of the eXtreme sports games (THPS3, etc) that allow you to create a skate-type park that you can save and let others play on.

  • The MTV Music Generator [gamerankings.com] series seemed to fit the bill for a music construction kit. As an added bonus, it was released for the PSX and PC, and the sequel was released for the PS2.

    Remember: Before you Ask Slashdot, Ask Google.
  • What happened to games like The Incredible Machine or Lemmings? I remember not being able to remember many long hours spent enthralled by those two puzzle games specifically.

    Not only were they good puzzle games but they were fun too. I've played quite a few edutainment games that were more painfull than fun but what happened to the fun puzzle games. Is this a lost art?
  • Baseball (Score:2, Interesting)

    by EvilBudMan (588716)
    Yea, kids need to get out more and play real baseball and get hit in the head a few times. This teaches physics lessons (Newton's third law) better than any simulation can.

    C'mon MAN MOD me up. or NOT, oh well....sigh
  • Art? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by motha_chucker (592192)
    Although not a game, for many painting or another form of art can be just as fun as a game but, more importantly, it can stimulate the mind very well. I believe it meets the criteria, you can save it, no programming required, it can be very hands on, it stimulates the mind, you don't need the original software to view it should you use a computer.
  • My favorites: (Score:3, Informative)

    by CrazyBrett (233858) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:32PM (#3896789)
    For the builders at heart, check out MindRover [mindrover.com] by CogniToy. Given a set of parts, you build a little robotic vehicle to compete in various sporting and dueling activities. At the core of the game is modern AI and robotics theory, layered with some idealized virtual hardware to smooth over the "unfun" aspects of building a real robot. It's tons of fun to have competitions with your friends' robots!
  • by lingqi (577227)
    1) lego mind-storm (no-brainer)
    2) electronic experiment kit (radio-shack)
    3) in Fry's electronics -- i found a fuel-cell experiment model car kit, pretty cool stuff.
    4) any RC car will have you tinkering for hours
    5) build your own kite / balsa airplane together

    i mean... sadly enough -- people look for toys nowadays to keep the child busy, and the "nicer" parents try to find toys that keep the child busy while "stimulates their mind". i am sorry, but the best way to stimulate their mind is to *SPEND TIME WITH YOUR KID*! if you are willing to give some effort to spending time with them, then anything around you can become a mind-stimulating adventure; gardens are eco-systems full of knowledge to be discovered. a swing at the playground has many physics wonders. salt chrystalizing on the beach is a marvel of chemistry.

    with all due respect -- trying to find toys to keep kids busy vs. finding mindless TV shows to babysit your offspring rates about the same level in my book -- toys that are stimulating or otherwise.
  • Ok maybe I've been in a cave for a while, but when I was a mere child I *loved* my legos and enjoyed constructing various projects, but nowadays it seems that most lego products come in these specialized kits (ie Star Wars, Dinosaurs, Pirate stuff, etc), and if you visit the Lego webstore [lego.com] you can't even get a simple kit of legos, I'm talking nothing but plain old blocks and basic parts...and the only way to get these are buy buying them individually,....and same goes with stores, on a whim I visited Toys R Us and same deal, no kit with JUST basic blocks.......whats going on?!
  • I learned to program way back in third grade with apple basic and logowriter. Basic is gone, unless you can find an old Apple II lying around, but logowriter still exists [terrapinlogo.com]
  • Changes in childhood (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ChuckDivine (221595)

    I never played computer games when I was a kid. The few computers that existed back in the 40s and 50s were reserved for governments and major corporations. :-) The only toys I had were things like Erector Sets (Meccano in Europe), electric trains, chemistry sets, games, toy guns, etc.

    Children's play seems much more organized today -- with a concomitant loss of freedom for children. Play dates, T ball, organized sports even for small children. Some time ago in the Washington Post magazine I read an account by a mother who had taken a half time job in order to spend more time with her kids. I felt sorry for everyone -- their schedules basically precluded free time, the chance to explore on one's own, etc.

    I don't necessarily blame computer games -- the games in many ways reflect our current society. My recreational computer use reflects my life -- some art, some facilitation of my athletic, social and political endeavors. Others' use of computers I expect reflects their lives. But still, I consider these developments to be less than healthy for our society and for us as individuals.

  • I have a 12 year old brother who loves messing around with the level editor this comes with.

    He made a "pokey the penguin" (www.yellow5.com) level.

    He basically made a large map divided by a large stream with a bridge in the middle.

    On one side was a race of penguins that only say "Yes!" and their king is named Pokey, who asks you to retreive the Arctic Circle Candy stolen by the italians.

    Across the drawbridge of course is a bunch of stereotypical italians named tony, guido, etc and they all say things like "That's a-one spicy meat-a-ball"... Anyway, after confronting the italian king about the arctic circle candy he attacks you, and once you kill him you can pillage the arctic circle candy off of his corpse.

    Once you return the arctic cirlce candy to pokey, he rewards you with "The Biff Guantlet" then it ends.

    I was amused to say the least. I wish I had something like this instead of legos when I was 12.

  • I believe you're asking about Worlcraft [valve-erc.com].

    Back in the day, though, I spent so much time with the Pinball Construction Set [mobygames.com] I grew flippers.

  • I think in general, computer games have become both more intense and realistic, and much less entertaining.

    Like Hollywood, the industry has found a formula and an accompanying demographic that translates into optimum profit when marketed correctly, and they will "sing that note" until it stops making them money.

    BTW, I remember a great little game for the 6502-based PC's (C-64, Atari 800, etc.) called "Racing Car Destruction Set"--what a blast!

  • Don't forget Pontifex by Chronic Logic [chroniclogic.com].
  • If you're in Waltham, Mass and in the mood for real hands-on construction toys be sure to check out The Construction Site [constructiontoys.com], the only toy store I know dedicated to such things. Who knows, they might even have software, I didn't look.
  • RPG Maker for PS and PS2 [ebgames.com]

    The original has been out for a while. It's similar to Adventure Construction Set.
  • by Dr_LHA (30754) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @03:47PM (#3896923) Homepage
    Back in the golden age of Construction set games - the 80s (I remember fondly The Quill, The Graphic Adventure Creator, HURG and The Shoot-em-up Construction Set) computer users were a different breed. Most people who bought computers first started doing funny things like "Learning BASIC" and programming the computer. That's how computers worked - and why you bought them, they were a hobbyist activity. So it's not surprising that the sort of computer owner who dabbles in BASIC (but is not a hardcore programmer) would like these sorts of creative games.

    These days computers are pretty much an appliance like a fridge or TV to most people. Email arrives, they look at porn by clicking an icon, they accept whatever Mr Gates feeds them. It's not surprising that the creative aspect of gaming has all but been lost.

    Recent exceptions to this rule I can remember is "RPG Maker" for the Playstation - and I think there's a sequel coming for the PS2. Neverwinter Nights also has a nice campaign builder utility.
  • Well, there's Advent [freshmeat.net], which is an open-source adventure game construction kit.
  • Simply put, kids are brought up in a fast track environment. Our culture as a whole craves instant gratification, which is something you can't get from a construction set. Kids can still create and invent, but the elements are much more structured now.

    Lots of posts talk about LEGOs- complaints of the "juniorization" or dumbing-down of kits are commonplace in the LEGO building community. In the "good old days", a basic set of blocks was plenty, and your imagination was the tool for buidling. Now the tool is the instructions that come with the kit. How many children do you see play with the elements of the set in their own way, and not the stock finished product?
  • Progamming Logo (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zoftie (195518)
    Programming logo or basic was offered in most schools I have attended on euro-asian continent, nevermind speed of the machines. Programming can be like lego or other, if simple enough blocks are used. Main thing is to teach students a self reward system, for programming. Get stuff done,
    fast enough that it will bring gratification for cool things, like moving turtle across the screen.

    Anyway that trend, lack of those games etc, can be seen on different areas, schooling, daily entertainment. Everything is being wired closer to reaction level, advertisement, movies. Not to logical level...
    just my 2c.
  • ...is breaking them. Young kids won't find as much enjoyment with computerized construction toys as they will their real-life counterparts for a few reasons, but the primary reason is the inability to break them. I remember the sick joy I got from breaking my Lego creations and smashing my Lincoln Log houses like I was Godzilla.

    Maybe I'm just sick. Who knows...but man loves to destroy. It gives us a sense of control. Until we can tap all that sick perverted pleasure with a computer program, even I won't be making anything in the imaginary world of 1's and 0's. I like to see plastic fly, woodchips soar, and smell the spoils of my personal, private wars.

    Give me a magnifying glass, some army men, Lego's, and some beer and I'll have a jolly good time!
  • Bridge Building (Score:2, Interesting)

    by flogger (524072)
    I stumbled across a Bridge building game a few years ago. Pontifex! (you can grab the demo at the site [chroniclogic.com]. It is a great game that lets you construct a bridge by using light weight material/ heavy weight material/ cable/ and decks. while having to stay within a simple materials budget. Each type of constuction equipment had advantage and disadvantages (weight/strength/cost/ etc.)
    The best part about this is that it is REALLY EASY to use and understand.
    My 7 year old daughter plays with it, and it is not suprising to hear her make comments (I made a bride with the same kind of triangles) or hear her ask questions about a bridge ( Why isn't this bridge too tall with the supports as wide as they are?).
    This game is great. I reccomend it.

    flogger
  • My favorite (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SushiFugu (593444)
    My favorite, although probably not up there with Legos or Lincoln Logs, would be the good old "Incredible Machines" series of PC games by Jeff Tunnell [the-underdogs.org]. A great mix of wacky puzzle games and classic construction-style building. It's got something in it for everyone, from the tediously easy beginner levels to the mind wobbling insanely complex expert levels, not to mention a built in editor to come up with your own puzzles. Maybe not a true "classic", but sure something to pass the hours away with (I still play it on a weekly basis ;).
  • Racing Destruction Set!

    Here [planetflibble.com] is some guy that is attempting to rewrite it for the PC. I assume he means Windows.

    Here [emuunlim.com] is a review of the classic C64 version.

    My brother and I spent many hours creating impossible track and then racing around them.

    As an answer to the question of "Why are there no more construction set games?" I think that many of those games were somewhat limited in what you could do. I actually spend more time twiddling with games that I have written than playing other games.

  • dark basic (Score:4, Informative)

    by digidave (259925) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @04:16PM (#3897136)
    DarkBasic [darkbasic.com] is a programming language and dev environment that lets users with little or no programming experience create 3D games.

    The great thing about DarkBasic is that it acts as a very good introduction to both programming and 3D programming (which can be a nightmare if starting with something like DirectX).
  • by MrIcee (550834) on Tuesday July 16, 2002 @04:39PM (#3897300) Homepage
    The game tranquility (TQworld.com [tqworld.com]) has, among many other things, a TQworld Builder option that allows you to create your own TQ levels.

    The game let's you build not only personal levels for yourself and to share with friends, but also allows you to post your favorite personal levels into a TQ Universe where other members can play your games as well.

    Additionally, TQworld has begun to open up the internal language (the forum on the TQworld site has this information beginning to appear). Since the games are stored on your hard drive in clear-text format, you can tweak them (or completely rewrite/design new ones) in your favorite editor.

    • The game tranquility (TQworld.com [tqworld.com]) has, among many other things, a TQworld Builder option that allows you to create your own TQ levels.

      Man, you just made my day! I used to absolutely love playing 'tq' on my old SGI, but finally gave up on finding a port from IRIX. I had no idea that anyone had continued its development...

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