3D Construction Kit 2 logo

The much-talked about, new version of the most ambitious games creator ever. But can you write your own 3D games without real programming?

Have you ever wanted to design your very own 3D world.? Well that's precisely what this product is all about, 3D Construction Kit (the first time around) was widely received as an ideal armchair artist's program - an awful lot of people bought the original, but not many people released their own creations to a hostile world.

To be honest, the kind of 3D environments you can create with this program are not that amazing compared to current commercial standards. The clever bit, though, is that you don't need to know a lot about the Amiga or computers in general to use 3D Construction Kit. In fact, the graphics capabilities of version 2 are not radically different - but the ease of use and general flexibility of the program are.

Here's the general gist of what makes the program tick. You start off with a blank landscape - sky is up, ground is down. On this landscape you can position 3D objects to give the impression of buildings, vehicles, and people. You can add general scenery (stuff like trees) to give a bit more realism to the scenes.

You are not limited to just one landscape, or 'area' as the program calls them. You can create different areas and link them together with entrances and exits - details like the ground and sky colur can be easily changed. What 3DCK2 is very good at, though, is if you want to create a 3D game without having to learn how to program first.

A few years ago Incentive Software create a name for themselves with their 'Freescape' adventures. 3DCK2 is a direct descendant of those games, except that the programmers prefers to call the 3D system 'Superscape' because it's so different in detail if not in concept. For instance, things like spheres and teleporters were missing from the originals, because the propular home computers back then were the rather slow Spectrum, CPC, and C64 (not that C64s aren't popular even now).

On an Amiga with a standard 68000, this program is still pretty slow, because of all the slow but nice extras. One other factor involving speed is that 3dCK2 fully multitasks, as do the games and worlds it produces. Ok, so the program is slower as a result - but the nice thing is that it works all right on the A1200, where it runs at a usable speed.

It's an important consideration. You're sitting there, all fired up to start clicking madly and the program takes a while to catch up. Testing different features can be a pain, until you get used to which function does what.

Bonus levels
But there are three bundled features to help you get started. One is a tutorial video, which wasn't included in the review sample so I can't comment on it. Two is a disk full of predefined objects. This is extremely useful, because if a preset object isn't quite what you had in mind, you can edit it to your heart's content. Three is the manual, which is not very technical at all for the most part. Instead it concentrates more on a hands-on tutorial approach, using simple language to describe what's going on.

There are two different talents you need to use this program. The first part is the actual 3D design, and to be honest this is where I had problems getting my head around some of the concepts. It's all down to time, and creating simple shapes like cubes, blocks and pyramids is not a problem. The art is in learning how to make more complex objects without using so many shapes that the program grinds to a halt trying to update it.

The other half of learning in 3DCK2 is the Freescape Command Language (FCL). While you don't need an intimate knowledge of this to get results, the better you are with FCL the more complex and deep your 3D worlds will be. For instance, you could get a simple FCL control that wouldn't let the player leave a given area until some task had been completed.

Editing FCL is like any other programming language - you type in conditions about objects and variables, with a result happening when a variable gets so big or an object changes. The standard way of manipulating objects in Freescape games is to shoot them, and if you're prepared to stick with that convention then you should get on fine.

There's a lot of cute extras to this package. You get a sound sample editor (which I never did work out how to use), you can alter the backdrops and control panels of the finished games, and change things like the font used. The idea is that 3DCK2 can produce more individual games than its predecessor.

To a certain extent it does, but I can't help feeling the Freescape concept is in danger of going the way of text adventures - becoming old hat rather than the in thing. What finished the text adventure was a flood of games written with games designers, all of which looked and felt the same and were not a patch on the original commercial games.

Ever since, commercial developers have had a jaundiced view of programs which enable novices to 'have a go' at writing games without learning a lot of backgrounds programming knowledge first. Personally, I'm all for making games more accessible to design.

It remains to be seen whether any individual is talented enough to write a commercial success with 3DCK2. It's a tall order, as you would have to create an individual 'look and feel' to the game with FCL while making the 3D views distinctive and attractive.

Using 3DCK2 is quicker and cheaper than building 3D worlds using Lego, but it takes some time before you start to become creative; learning what primitives work best together to form the right shapes. Don't believe the hype about it being to write a commercial-quality game with it, because it ain't. Easier than machine code or C, but not easy in general terms.

3D Construction Kit 2 logo

Laut Hersteller steht dem User nun das Tor zur "Virtual Reality" offen, doch Schlagwörter sind geduldig - in der Praxis muß man sich auch bei der zweiten Auflage des Programms noch mit 3D-Landschaften begnügen, wie man sie aus "Freescape"-Spielen à la "Castle Master" kennt...

Dazu gilt es, zunächst eine "Spielweise" zu definieren, auf der dann beliebige Objekte platziert werden, die man aus simplen geometrischen Körpern zusammensetzt. Ein Haus besteht z.B. aus einem Quader, das dazugehörige Dach aus je zwei Drei- und Vierecken. So läßt sich nahezu jedes vorstellbare Objekt kreieren, man kann es einfärben, dehnen und rotieren, bis man mit dem Ergebnis zufrieden ist.

Der Clou daran ist, daß sich nahezu jedes vorstellbare Objekt kreieren, man kann es einfärben, dehnen und rotieren, bis man mit dem Ergebnis zufrieden ist. Der Clou daran ist, daß jedem Eigenbau eine spezielle Eigenschaft zugeordnet werden darf: so können sich z.B. Palmen im Wind wiegen, während eine Steckdose bei Berührung tödlich wirkt.

Dementsprechend funktionieren auch Türöffner, Schalter, Schubladen und ähnliche Dinge. Mit Hilfe der eingebauten Programmiersprache bestimmt man abschließend, ob ein Game mehrere solcher Spielfelder enthält, ob sich dort Gegner tummeln etc. - vom grübellastigen Adventure bis hin zum turbulenten 3D-Ballergame ist theoretisch also alles drin.

Bloß, das war beim Vorgänger eigentlich nicht anders, was hat sich denn nun Revolutionäres getan? Recht wenig! Wirklich nützlich ist bloß die neue Clip Art-Disk mit über 100 Beispielobjecten: der Sound-Edtior mit seinen Hall- und Echoeffekten erscheint uns dagegen fast überflüssig wie die Videorekorder-Funktion im Stil von "Indy 500".

Statt solche Gimmicks einzubauen, hätte man lieber die Vektorgrafik beschleunigen sollen, die nun fast langsamer dahinkriecht als vor zwei Jahren. Auch die Bedienung erscheint trotz Maus-Menüs nicht mehr ganz zeitgemäß und die Ladezeiten sind ohne Festplatte (oder wenigstends Zweitfloppy) praktisch unerträglich.

Besitzer des Vorgängers können sich die Investition von 140 Mäusen also getrost sparen, alle anderen dürfen durchaus zuschlagen - sofern sie sich darüber im klaren sind, daß die Herstellung eines ordentlichen 3D-Games auch mit diesem Baukasten noch viel Zeit und Mühe kostet.

3D Construction Kit 2 logo

All right, so it is not a game, we admit it. But you can use it to create 3D games.

Quite who this review is addressed to, I am not sure. If you are interested in writing 3D games without actually writing them, the chances are you will already have found out about 3D Construction Kit and tracked down a copy. And, if that is the case, you will have been informed about this new version through the user club, perused its list of improvements, and quite possibly sent off for an upgrade. So, er... hello? Is anyone listening?

3D Construction Kit II is more of a utility than a game. (But what the heck, eh?). With it you can build a 3D world by sticking together lots of cubes and pyramids and colouring them in, and then wander around the results to your heart's content. Those of sufficiently robust constitution can go a step further, using the terrifying Freescape Programming Language to add animation, room-to-room movement and puzzles, to turn their 3D world into a 3D game.

But you could do all that with 3D Construction Kit, the program's forerunner, which was reviewed in issue 2 of AMIGA POWER. (By me, funnily enough). How does the sequel improve on it?

It is a lot more serious than your average game

Well, basically by tacking on lots of new features. There is now a comprehensive and very serviceable sample editor for adding sound effects to your games. There is a facility for moving around your game on autopilot, a bit like playing a video.

The horribly complicated programming side of things has been made even more horrible and complicated, which will come as good news to people who know what parameter types, objects manipulation and structured programming are. You can now put spheres into your games, as well as cubes and pyramids.

And you also get a disk full of clip art - ready-made objects like pianos and buses for you to play around with. There are countless minor additions too, but you will forgive me if I do not list them all. (They are, after all, countless).

My review of the original 3D Construction Kit was pretty favourable. I gave the package 80%, on the grounds that it achieved exactly what it set out to do, and that I had lots of fun playing around with it. I did have three main reservations, however: the sluggishness of the graphics, which made the process of creating a game more and more painful as you add more bits to it; the price; and the useless manual.

Unfortunately, only the last of these problems seems to have been rectified in the new version: the manual is now all rightish, with some good jokes (although the early copy I saw did not have an index - tch). That means the package still costs £50, which is enough to deter everyone but the most serious McAlpine wannabe.

And the graphics are still horribly slow. I realise there are limits to what the Amiga can do, but I do not think two or three frames per second (at best) and two or three seconds per frame (at worst) even begins to approach them. If I was working on a sequel to 3D Construction Kit I would have streamlined the guts of the thing first, and left the extra bits and pieces till later.

And now for the tricky bit. Coming up with a mark to stick at the end of a game review is a rpetty arbitrary process, mostly based on gut feeling, a comparison with existing rivals, and a quick poll of the rest of the team. But 3D Construction Kit II is a lot more serious (and expensive) than your average game, it has no rivals, and the AMIGA POWER team have made it quite clear that I am on my own with this one.

So I will try to be scientific about it. I will start with the 80% I gave the original. I will add on 8% for the extra stuff that has been included, and the improved manual. I will knock off 5% to allow for the ravages of time, bearing in mind that what is underneath is basically the same thing I was looking at eighteen months ago. And a nominal 3% can go as a protest for the refinements that could have been made, but weren't. Does that sound fair?

3D Construction Kit 2 logo

Does Incentive's new tool build on the success of its forerunner? Tony Horgan dons hard hat to find out.

Way back in the mists of computer gaming history, Incentive developed Freescape, a solid 3D system that was to be used for a series of arcade adventures. After flogging their once-healthy horse into an early grave, Incentive decided to let the public have a go at designing their own 3D adventures, by releasing a more user-friendly version of their own game creation utility.

Now, just when you thought the Freescape stallion had been put out to pasture, along comes 3D Construction Kit II.

As before, the idea with 3D Kit II is that you can create a whole new world, or even a series of worlds, which can then be explored on foot or by air. As well as passive objects, such as buildings, monuments and natural scenery, you can also create 'live' objects. These could take any form you like, and it's these that introduce the game element. After all, what 3D adventure would be complete without its quota of Daleks, trip-wires and trap doors?

It all begins with an empty world, so the first thing to do is get an object up on screen. You can choose one from the list of basic cuboids, cones and spheres, or load up one of the more complex objects included on the second disk. Fortunately, any object can be edited on the 3D view, so there's none of that confusing top, plan and side view editing that's common in 3D rendering packages.

Using the icons along the bottom of the screen, you cycle through the points, pulling any of them in any direction. You can also stretch the whole object along any axis. As a result, it is possible to create just about any shape you can imagine, so long as it's constructed of straight flat edges or spheres.

By joining simple blocks together, some extremely detailed constructions are possible. All the time you're editing your objects, you're free to walk or fly around them, using the same controls that you'd have in the finished game. Once that's done, it's on to the next object.

What elevates this from a 3D design package to a 3D game creator, is the programming language that governs the movements, actions and reactions of all the game objects. This has been expanded to include twice as many commands as in the first 3D Kit. Using the language, which is akin to a cut-down form of BASIC, you can define time limits, tell the program what to do if a certain object is shot, and so on.

It's here that 3D Kit II begins to veer off from its novice-friendly track. If you've never had any programming experience, this could be quite a stumbling block, but anyone who's dabbled in coding shouldn't have much trouble getting the hang of it.

The up-side of this, is that it allows you to get a lot more flexibility out of the system. You are able to come up with completely original games, so long as you've got the imagination and the time to realise it.

One other thing you'll need is patience. Because everything is done in realtime solid 3D, it can be rather slow. Sluggish response when clicking on icons and menus can be a pain in the neck. It doesn't help that most of the icons have no visual response, so if nothing appears to be happening, you often can't tell if your mouse buttons are up the spout, if the program simply hasn't registered your lick, or if it has registered and is getting on with the job.

Rather like AMOS, 3D Kit II uses sample banks for its sound effects. To help you compile these banks, there's a separate program on the first disk called 3D Sound. This new addition to the package doubles as a sample editor and a bank creator, and includes a number of effects including chorus, reverb and echo, which can be used to process your samples.

The trouble with most game creators, such as Shoot 'em up Construction Kit, is that they're only really capable of producing one game. If you've played one SEUCK game you've played them all. While anything you write with 3D Kit is always going to look like a 3D Kit game, there's still quite a lot of scope for different types of game.

The player's input is limited to walking or flying around, and destroying, activating or picking up objects by shooting them. Even so, with some imagination, some quite diverse and in-depth adventures can be achieved. The main thing to remember is that you're not stuck with the same old space scenario. Wy not try basing the game around the film The Great Escape, or Fantastic Voyage? You could even have it set in drab old 20th Century London, with all your favourite landmarks in glorious 3D.

Just how complex your games are is down to you. You could go on adding objects and details to a scene indefinitely, but it looks just the same to me: quite slow even with simple objects on screen and very slow when it gets busy.

Considering this is a version 2 release, I would have expected quite a lot more in the way of improvements. With the exception of the expanded command language, the differences between this and the original program are mostly rather superficial and insignificant.

Now you can rotate to an accuracy of one degree, animate the borders, and include dials in the score panels. I can't see that lot getting many 3D Kit 1 users foaming at the mouth with anticipation. Where's the appreciable increase in speed, the exterior views, the improved interface and so on?

There's no doubting that 3D Kit II is a very powerful program, as was the first version. The trouble is that it's not as impressive as when it was first released, and there's very little to persuade owners of 3D Kit 1 to upgrade.

Registered 3D Construction Kit members will be able to upgrade for a discounted sum which, as we go to press, is still to be set. If solid 3D is your thing, and you're looking for something to get you through those long winter nights, then give it a shot, but seasoned 3D Kitters may well be disappointed.

Here's a brief summary of the main new features.
  • Command language now twice the size
  • Supports sphere and 'flexicubes'
  • New distance-fading fuction
  • 100 clips-art objects
  • Dials available for control panels
  • Separate sound editing module
  • Debugging utility
  • Improved rotation resolution (1 degree minimum)
  • Animated borders
  • Multiple borders