Yes, we know it's not really a game. But it's got a game in it, and it can be used to create games without any programming knowledge. So we've reviewed it anyway.
3D Construction Kit
If you're acquainted with Incentive's series of 3D games, which started with Driller, Total Eclipse and Castle Master and shows no sign of coming to an end, you'll be familiar with their Freescape graphics system. Good, isn't it? And wouldn't it be nice if you could have a crack at designing your own Freescape games, but without having to worry about all the mechanics behind 3D filled polygons? Well, now you can!
3D Construction Kit is basically the package Incentive used to churn out (if that's the right word) all the games listed above, with a few bells and whistles tacked on to turn it into a commercial product. (There's even a "free" sample game in here so you can see roughly the sort of thing that you're aiming at.) It contains everything that you'll need to design 3D objects, colour them in, move them around a bit and eventually turn them into a fully playable game which can be severed from the main package and given/sold to whoever you like (as long as you give the 3D Construction Kit a mention in it somewhere). The only limit, as the free tutorial video stresses, is your imagination. (It also keeps going on about "a world inside your computer", and is best taped over as soon as possible!)
After loading the software you're presented with a huge, empty box called an 'area'. By clicking on the appropriate icons you'll be able to slowly fill it with buildings, furniture, baddies or whatever you fancy to create your 'world'. This is actually quite a laborious process - don't let any tutorial video tell you otherwise - but pretty soon you'll have quite a convincing landscape which you can explore to your heart's content. But that isn't the end of the story.
You'll probably want to bung in a few more 'areas'. Eh? Well, let's pretend that your first area (Area 1) contains a building. It's probably got a door on the front, hasn't it? The trouble is, when you walk into the door it makes a sort of 'clunk' sound and you bounce off. You could always pretend the door's locked or something, but your audience will expect more. So instead, create a new, empty area (Area 2) and then attach a command to the door in Area 1 so that when you walk into it it'll whisk you to Area 2. You can then bung lots of furniture and stuff into Area 2 and turn it into a room - a hallway, say. And you can then have lots more areas leading off from it. You could also have spooky doors that take you into one room when you go through them in one direction, and a completely different room when you go back in the other direction. Or you could have a weird 'Tardis' effect where you go into a tiny building and inside are lots of huge rooms. We're getting back onto this "only limit is your imagination" sort of business again.
Once you've set up your world, you'll probably want to turn it into a game. Facilities are included to enable objects to be shot or collected. You can even add sound effects, timers, energy levels and scoring systems. The trouble is that, to achieve all this, you'll have to delve into the Freescape Command Language, which is a far cry from the cushy icons and things you'll have used up to now. A lot of work will have to be put in on this, and a bit of programming experience would help a great deal. It's very flexible, though, so once you've worked out what's going on it should theoretically be possible to program just about anything!
3D Construction Kit isn't perfect. The 3D graphics engine used to display everything isn't the most sophisticated system in the world - Cybercon 3 would dip it in Flash and wipe the floor with it! - so things can slow down a fair amount if there's a lot on screen. We're talking about one frame per second for the 'house' detailed below. And the manual doesn't attempt to explain any of the terms it uses, so once again your imagination is called upon to do much of the work. Finally, and perhaps most ominously, there's the price. It's a lot to pay for anything, even as complex as this, so you'll have to think pretty hard before reaching into your pocket.These reservations aside, 3D Construction Kit is a pretty potent piece of software. Anyone with a reasonably large brain should be able to construct a marketable game without too much trouble at all. People with slightly smaller brains will have plenty of fun constructing things and then exploring them. And people with really tiny brains could just sit and watch the video. There's something for everyone really. If you're into it, it's an investment that'll really pay off in terms of enjoyment per pound, and which may even make you a bit of cash on the side.
Raw Building Materials
Everything in 3D Construction Kit is knocked up from a collection of basic building blocks. There are two 3D ones - the cube and the pyramid - and a selection of 2D ones which are mainly used for decoration (doors, windows and so on). Oh, and a 1D one - the line. The other two are group, which is a method for selecting more than one object at a time, and sensor, which can be used as a gun or a, um, sensor.
Creating Yourself A Nice Home From Home
So, um, there's a big empty space in front of you and a limitless supply of cubes and pyramids. But what are you going to construct? How about designing a house? Okay, let's take this one step at a time shall we? (It can't be too hard, after all)
- Having acquired planning permission you'll need to concrete over a suitable area of turf to provide some sort of foundations. A large, grey two-dimensional rectangle should do the trick. It's been placed on the ground in the centre of the huge empty 'room' that you start off with.
- Next the walls go up. They're actually made up of two cubes, but the top and bottom have are 'invisible' to save the program from re-drawing them (once the roof's gone on, you won't be able to see them). The exterior have been rendered in various shades to give an impression of light and shade.
- The roof is created and lowered into place. Well, actually, that's a bit of a lie. It's easier to place a pyramid on top of the walls and then stretch it into shape. The top's been painted red (as you can see) and the underneath's black so it looks like it's in shadow.
- A door might be handy. Red, I think. What do you think of the little roofy bit just above it? It's a pyramid again, coloured to match the roof. I've also put in a prop to hold up the corner of the roof (it was looking a bit precarious) made out of a long, thin cube.
- With the basic structure in place, we can start on the luxury extras. A swimming pool is a bit of a 'must', so we'll have one of those. It's a big, blue rectangle with a diving board made out of a couple of long, flat cubes.
- Windows - one, two, three, four. And a few more. They're rectangles, of course, black on one side and 'invisible' on the other. You could put in some sort of frame if you want, using lines, but I couldn't be bothered. The trick here is do one window and then duplicate it lots of times.
- The garden looked a bit bare, so I've planted a few trees. They're got long, thin, brown cubes as trunks with big green pyramids on top. Pretty convincing, eh? And, rather cunningly, I did one tree, created a 'group' containing its two components and then duplicated that a few times instead of shifting bits around separately.
- Time to add the finishing touches. A home's not a home without those little extra things. That's better. Having laced a gorgeous babe by the side of the pool, the scene's complete. Better give Pickfords a ring. See - using 3D Construction Kit is dead easy (ish).
Techie Construction Kit
While icons and coloured blocks are all very well, there's a darker side to the Kit - the Freescape Command Language, which is going to foce you into doing some real programming...
This is what lets you add animation, sound, shooting, game beginnings and ends, entrances and exits and all manner of other bits and pieces to your creation, turning it from a mere 3D thingy into a complete game. It's a complete programming language, and that means dirtying your hands with a hideous array of technical, erm, technicalities. All very well if you've dabbled with a bit of Basic a bit before, but a whole new world for your average punter.
Each area (or room) and object in the game can have a 'program' assigned to it, and you can write a general program which is executed each frame. These programs can contain assignments, conditionals and loops. There are 256 variables available, 30 of which are used to hold things like the player's position, the area he's in and so on, and the rest are free to be mucked about with.
For example, you might attach the following program to an object so it disappears if it gets shot:
THEN INVIS (o)
Or this would move object number two across the screen a little bit:
As you may have gathered, getting a decent game on the road is going to be a nightmare.
The Bottom Line
Uppers: Everything you need to build your own 3D game. If the finished product is crap, you've only got yourself to blame. A free game thrown in.
Downers: The manual is inadequate, especially at this price. And that's another thing...
If you're fed up with playing other people's games this could be the answer. It's not for the faint-hearted (or the faint-walleted) but it achieves what it sets out to do very well.