STAC, THE ST ADVENTURE CREATOR by Piper
Do you have a great idea for an adventure, but you can't cope
with the programming? Piper examines a product that separates the
coding from the creativity.
Anyone here remember a program called "The Quill" which
appeared on the Spectrum a few years back? It was a program which
allowed just about anyone to write a working adventure game
without having any previous programming experience, all you
needed was an idea. Lots of people had ideas, lots of Quilled
adventures appeared on the market, a few good, mostly not so
good, one or two great, and all you had to do was mention that
you'd used "The Quill", and you were free to do what you wanted,
no royalties. Well, happy days are here again, and in a big way.
ST owners now have a similar opportunity to let their
imaginations go wild with the ST Adventure Creator, or STAC to
Although STAC was originally meant to be an update of a
previous Sean Ellis program, the 8-bit "Graphic Adventure
Creator", it soon became a completely separate development system
as Mr. Ellis gradually realised the possibilities inherent in a
machine as powerful as the ST. It took some extra time, but the
final result is well worth the wait.
STAC comes with two discs, one containing the program, the
other with demonstrations of what can be done using the system.
The demonstrations include a very impressive slide show and a
150K STAC adventure, Shymer, which has already been compiled to
run as a stand alone program. This disk is Public Domain
(available from the address below), which shows the confidence
that the producers of the package have in their product. Although
the adventure itself isn't up to Infocom or Magnetic Scrolls
standard (what do you expect for nothing?), the capabilities of
STAC are readily apparent.
The 70 page manual which comes with the program is a gem (no
pun intended). Written in a friendly style, it still manages to
be informative and is generally very clear and easy to read. When
things do start to get complicated, it quickly explains them in
simpler terms: For instance, you are provided with a Quick Start
file which has a number of frequently used conditions in it so
that you don't have to start from scratch. These are listed in
the manual so that you know what's going on and why. One of these
conditions is to do with looking around in a room. It reads "If
firstob room then message 9913 list room message 9914".
Immediately this is explained as meaning "If there are any
objects here, list them". Clearer than that you just can't get.
The program itself is extremely simple to use and very
structured. You are presented with a list of options, each
concerning a certain aspect of the adventure. If, for example,
you want to describe a room, you select "Room Descriptions"
(surprise!), give the room a number, then get into the room
description screen. Here you tell the program what other places
your room is connected to, give a long description for the first
time you enter the room or when you want to "Look", a short
description for each subsequent visit, and an associated picture
number, if any. It really is that simple.
Things begin to get a little more complex when you start
deciding on your program's vocabulary. Any word which you want to
use in your adventure has to be entered into the program's
dictionary under the appropriate heading of verb, noun or adverb.
Each word is then given a number, and any words which you want to
have the same meaning are given the same number. Again, an
example: Suppose you have that great favourite of adventurers, a
lamp. If you want to have light, then there are various ways to
ask for it; "light lamp" "turn light on" etc. All of these have
to be entered in the program as equivalent words or expressions.
The more different possibilities you cover, the more friendly
your program is as your player can get on with solving puzzles
rather than trying to find different ways to say the same thing.
Another way of being friendly is to include lots of messages.
STAC allows you to include up to 9999 of these, which should be
enough for just about anyone. 9999 is also the number of rooms
you can have, and the number of pictures which can be used.
Speaking of pictures, which I was, they can be incorporated
from either Neo or Degas format, or you can use the inbuilt
graphics package, a very nice little module with perfectly
adequate tools for most purposes. There is also an inbuilt font
editor to add the final bit of polish to your end product.
It's difficult to try to find any faults at all in this
program, nearly everything has been thought out thoroughly and
taken care of already. There's even a toggle key to switch
between medium and low resolution to make text easier to read for
people with TV's or very small monitors, but in the interests of
preserving my reputation for never being satisfied, I have
managed to come up with two small niggles, both concerning screen
Niggle one is that the program doesn't work in Hi res. Up until
now, adventures have been the salvation of Hi res monitor owners,
since they're one of the few sorts of game that they can actually
play: To leave them out now seems a little mean.
Niggle two concerns the way that the first part of the room
description can go flying off the top off the text area before
you have a chance to read it if it's a little on the long side
and you're in low res mode. The same thing can happen if there's
something going on at the same time as you walk in; the room
description gets pushed up by the event description. Although you
can get around this by writing special conditions, it seems a
shame that there isn't a routine built into the program which
would give a "more" message and wait for you to press a key
before continuing. Still, these really are minor points compared
to all the things that you CAN do with it.
STAC can eliminate a large portion of the development cost of
an adventure, and so could open up the way for a whole stream of
low cost or minority interest adventures. In this context,
"minority interest" could quite easily mean that adventures could
now be economically released in languages other than English. I
already know of one group of people who are trying to use it to
make a tourist guide for Amsterdam ("You are standing in Dam
Square, the Palace is to the west, the red light district to the
east" that sort of thing) and there are probably many other uses
it could be put to with a little imagination.
Doubtless there is going to be a lot of rubbish brought out
under STAC - there's much more to an adventure than just a good
piece of programming - but there's a real possibility of getting
some very talented people writing for the ST who, until now, have
been put off by the technical knowledge required. Who knows, one
of them could be you.
Product: STAC, the ST Adventure Creator
Price: fl. 150 ( £39.95 pounds Sterling)
Value for Money: 9
Points for: Imports from Degas and Neo, allows writers to write
instead of trying to program, friendly and easy.
Points against: No inbuilt "more" routine, doesn't work in hi
Available (and probably cheaper) from:
Cuddly Cactus International
1074 GN Amsterdam
Nederland Tel: 020 - 6644022
and other good retail outlets.