About eight years ago I would guess (what happened to all that great memory stuff I had?) I attended a computer and console games course at a science museum. For the most part the class consisted of playing computer games on old Amigas. Have you ever played ski free? The game we played the most was the ancient predecessor to it. I don't recall the exact title but it involved flying millions of feet into the air to the point where you could see the atmosphere and then performing insanely crazy tricks and trying to land without killing yourself. I've strayed from the topic though.

The only real learning we ever did in that class was using a program called the shoot 'em up creation kit. It was a really simple program that let you design your own sprites and their death sequences, enemies, scenes, static objects, und so weiter. It was really a cool program. It was probably the first user friendly way to make a game without huge knowledge of coding and program structure. Most of the games I ever saw that came from this were pretty lame and generic, but someone with a great imagination made a game where you tried to dodge flying trash on a windy day with your umbrella. Now if that's not creativity and making the best of a fairly limited program, then I don't know what is. Anyways, I stray again.

After weeks of work we turned out some fairly decent games for elemtary school kids and tested them out. Perhaps some people will complain about clipping and the fact that most of the games took place in a featureless black field and was remarkably linear and really predictable (is that redundant?), but god it was great seeing something we'd created come to life and entertain us even if just for a second. This probably much the same feeling all of those mad men at BSI must feel.

Title: Shoot Em Up Construction Kit
Developer: Outlaw Productions
Publisher: Sensible Softwares
Year: 1987
Platforms: Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST
Genre: Construction kit
Players: One or Two Player games can be made

The Shoot-'Em-Up Construction Kit, AKA SEUCK, was a program released on the Commodore 64 and Amiga that let you create your own Shoot-'Em-Ups. I've only used the C64 version, so that's what I'll talk about here.

The user interface was so simple that you didn't ever have to touch the keyboard if you didn't want to; all the menus and screens could be navigated entirely with a joystick.

A simple menu let you change almost any aspect of the game you wanted to create. It had the following options:

Edit sprites

This let you edit up to 127 sprites. Each sprite was a grid, 12 pixels across and and 21 high, consisting of 4 colours (including transparent).

Edit Objects

There were 58 objects, which were basically certain sprites you chose animating in a certain order. So bullets were normally objects consisting of single sprites, whereas most enemies consisted of several sprites which either animated or changed depending on which direction they were facing.

Edit Background

This is where it got fun: chars were 4x8 grids of pixels, also consisting of 4 colours, just like smaller sprites. Anyone who used to use 8-bit computers will recognise these as background characters. Blocks were 5x5 grids of chars, and maps were 8 blocks across and could be many screens long. This meant that that reasonably interesting, albeit very repetitive, backgrounds could be drawn.

Edit SFX

This potentially complex task was made as simple as using the joystick to navigate 8 slider bars. One let you select the waveform (noise, square, ramp or triangle), then the others let you change the attack, decay, pitch, rise speed, rise time, fall speed and fall time.

Edit player limitations

This is where you could set the number of lives each player had, their speed, the number of bullets they could have on the screen at any given time, their bullets' speed, whether their bullets went in the direction they were facing or just straight up, the duration of their bullets, whether touching certain characters caused them to stop or die, whether they got an extra life every 10,000 points, their playing field and their start position. Whew!

Edit Attack Waves

The positioning and movements of enemies were stored here. You could even tell an enemy to follow another one at a certain offset position, which was handy for making enemies of more than one sprite.

Edit levels

Each level was made up of a certain part of the map, and your game could have up to 22 levels. Each one could scroll (at a speed of 1 or 2), be pushed by the user nudging the top of of their playing field, or just stay still for a certain number of seconds.

Edit front end

You could edit the 8x8 pixel bitmapped font here, type in your title screen message (OK, so you had to use the keyboard once...) and change the colour of the font (which was actually the colour of the background, an inverted font taking advantage of the nifty raster interrupt routine, making the background change colour every scanline but making it look like the font was actually doing this instead. Not being an assembly programmer to an extent grater than a laughably simple program that simply output text to the screen, I may have got the terminology wrong here, but the point is the text looked nice!)

Test game

This should be pretty self explanatory. You could either play the game properly or have infinite lives.

Storage

You could save any of the data (sprites, backgrounds, etc) independently or all together in this screen. By far the best feature, though, was the ability to save the finished game. This saved your game as a standalone executable program, so anyone else could play it without having the construction kit or even knowing that's what you made it with.

Phew, that's the end of my far-too-lengthy write-up about something that, in all likelihood, hardly anyone cares about. For what it's worth, though, never has making a game been so simple (with the possible exception of the Boulder Dash construction kit, but, being only a level editor for a single game, that's a bit more specific with the rules of the game and doesn't really count). Now that C64s have all been discarded in favour of PCs, never again will your best friend visit you, 5.25" floppy disk in hand, to show you their latest fun game. These days, you buy games, you don't make them or share them with your friends...

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