So today, EA has won out over companies like Bank of America and Comcast to win the “Golden Poo” award at the Consumerist for making it through the voting hurdles as the worst company in America. It’s pretty amusing to think that a game company that didn’t have anything to do with, say, the TARP bailout or the Great Recession in general gets the honors, but it’s also eye opening to see the kind of perception that a lot of people have for EA in general. A lot of people had to cast their votes for EA to bubble up to the top.
EA did have kind of had an easy go of it within its bracket, though, by going up against softballs like Best Buy and Sony.
Still, even with a few winning games under its belt, it’s clear that EA’s rep is somewhere in the crapper. But they weren’t so reviled in the distant past. They were even, dare I say it, respectable game publishers and developers that had led the industry in creativity and with tools that empowered gamers to do more than just play what was shoved at them on store shelves. A good example of this was the Adventure Construction Set in ’85.
This was an incredible sandbox of simple-to-use tools that had everything on a 5.25″ floppy. Sprite editor, stat editor, text tools for writing your masterpieces of dialogue, a music and sound system for cuing your favorite effects, an area editor for creating anything from castles to wide open wastes, and plenty of samples to start with or modify to fit your needs. Sci-fi, medieval fantasy, or Sumerian mythology – it didn’t matter what you wanted to make.
It certainly had its limitations, yet at the same time, its simplicity was also part of the attraction. You didn’t need months to make something using this. Creating a simple adventure could take only a few minutes on a lazy afternoon. This kicked down the barriers of creation for the curious without asking them to write lines of code, or even know what BASIC or Assembly were.
The adventures churned out were top-down, tile-based games. Combat was a simple, turn-based affair, and monsters could be anything that you wanted within the limits of the toolset. It didn’t create “adventure” style games as it did lightweight action RPGs which was just fine for someone who wanted to flex their imaginative juices. It was a stunningly powerful box of toys that promised endless adventures for as long as you could make them.
Today, if you told this to someone, you might get weird stares back. “This can’t be the same EA” might be the response. And in a way, they’re right. The Adventure Construction Set is only a piece of what EA used to be in the distant past, but as I had mentioned with an earlier ad from EA, this was a very different time in development. Crews were smaller, budgets weren’t monstrously huge, and Metacritic wasn’t around to dictate the studio survival. EA might never quite get back to those days, but at least we’ll have these little reminders of where they had come from.
EA had even gone so far as to offer up a reward of $1000 for a winning adventure in the promotion below which showed off what it could do with an array of screenies. Today, Epic does relatively the same thing through its “Make Something Unreal” contest which keeps the same spirit alive to encourage would-be designers of tomorrow to take the first steps.
Then you also have Bethesda’s tools for their Elder Scrolls series like Oblivion and Skyrim. There’s also BioWare’s Neverwinter Nights and its own toolset allowing dungeon masters around the world to do the same thing. GK Radiant, WolfED…all of those broke down the same barriers that the Adventure Construction Set did, forging straight into the heart of the creative process making it accessible to anyone with enough patience to figure them out.
While it can be argued that putting that creative power into the hands of players was inevitable because of the open nature of the PC, EA’s Adventure Construction Set is one of those early examples of when a big company had offered up a toolbox on its own dime. At least one that didn’t require you to know any kind of programming whatsoever. Like I said, things were simpler then.
EA didn’t spark this whole player-empowered creation thing, but they certainly were a part of it at one time. Maybe it’s something they might want to try again.