[MUD-Dev] Procedural content generation

Brian Hook bwh at wksoftware.com
Wed Oct 10 22:35:02 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


As I've mentioned in the past, I'm doing procedural content
generation for a game I'm working on.  A friend of mine made an
interesting observation:

  "You don't explore procedurally generated universes, you reveal
  them.  And that's a different experience than exploration."

Subtle distinction between the two, but he made a very good point.
His argument against procedurally generated content is that, no
matter how good you make the generator, in the end it's still random
and will feel random.  It won't have the flavor, depth and
cohesiveness of hand-made content.  The individual pieces don't fit
together to form a higher level structure that the player can
identify and relate to.

I would tend to agree, but when making a game with over one million
unique star systems, handmade content isn't an option.  I would
argue, in fact, that for any game where the name of the game is
content consumption, that short of a large team and/or large
monetary/time budget, that handmade content isn't very practical.

One thing I'm now researching, and which I think is going to be the
more viable direction, is to use what I call "keyframed procedural
generation".  Basically, insted of everything being randomly
generated, the "seed" is reset off of key hand made objects.

For example, say you were designing a mythical kingdom.  You could
take several approaches, with differing levels of integration:

  - fully handmade, a la Everquest

  - define high level aspects of the kingdom, along with "key points
  of interest".  These "keyframes" are then used to
  interpolate/generate random data between the points of interest.

  - define the high level aspects of the kingdom, procedurally fill
  in the rest

  - fully procedurally generated content, including all aspects of
  the kingdom, including its name, terrain, politics, etc.

I'm now leaning towards option 2, where there are several key
stellar empires that have their own templates for generation of
worlds.  In addition, designers place a small amount ( ~100) star
systems with manually specified higher level attributes.  The
procedurally generation basically acts as a floodfill between
landmarks, where landmarks influence the algorithmic generators near
them.

This is the "duh" thing to do, but in my first pass I really wanted
to push the procedural generation as far as possible.  I think I've
done that, but now I've been convinced that you can't "explore" a
randomly generated universe -- you're just revealing pieces of it.
I think part of the attributes that makes exploration appealing is
that you are putting together pieces of a larger system; with
randomly generated content, the larger system is, well, random, and
things just aren't tied together very convincingly.

Brian

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