[MUD-Dev] Procedural content (was Re: [Sweng-gamedev] Patent 4, 734, 690) (fwd)

Mike Shaver mike.shaver at gmail.com
Sat Apr 9 05:03:37 New Zealand Standard Time 2005

On Apr 2, 2005 3:00 PM, Eric Random <e_random at yahoo.com> wrote:

> At GDC, I notice that some speeches and discussions are more
> product advertisements than meaningul game development
> discourse. I understood Will Wright's demo of Spore to be more of
> a product advertisement for Maxis.

At GDC, there are indeed a number of sessions (some of them actually
labelled as sponsored sessions) which are thinly-veiled
advertisements.  There are also a number of sessions which try to
spread effective practices within the game development industry,
such as various panels on software engineering, pipeline management,
and even HR policies or contract negotiations.  I think that Will
Wright's demonstration of Spore was first a bit of very welcome
"brain candy" for the attending throng, and second a product
advertisement for procedural content (we all knew it was out there,
like Maxis, but we didn't all know it was viable at that level of
"bake-in" in a AAA title -- at least, I didn't, and I've been
banging the procedural-content drum as long as I can remember).

> Is Will Wright creating a new age of procedural content
> generation?  No.  That has been a part, large and small, of
> commercial game development since, at least, the 80's, and has
> been increasing with complexity since then. Does anyone assume
> that it's -not- going to play a large role in the future?

I believe that he was demonstrating that we are entering a new age
of procedural content generation, to wit one in which
largely-procedural content can compete head-to-head with
artist-generated content in AAA games.  And in areas that have
traditionally very much favoured large teams of artists, such as
creating appealing textures, models, and animations.

His talk was full of references to the history of procedural content
inside and outside of the game industry (most notably in the demo
scene) and I think that, were he permitted to talk about Spore
before E3, he would practically knock you over in his haste to agree
that he did not invent procedural content, just that he was able to
lead a project to solve some challenging technical and "polish"
challenges at a market scale that hadn't been demonstrated before.
I say "just" though I think that completing the last N% to get a
good idea to shippable status at a different scale, even when it's
someone else's idea, is a non-trivial achievement.

> Is Will introducing the game development industry to animation
> through simulation of autonomous behavior? Is this new? Most
> definately not, as there are many CG studios who have spearheaded
> this technology over the years.

Even if the CG world has been doing this for years, it could still
be new to the game development industry.  Bringing known-successful
techniques from other areas of software into game development is
both valuable and often non-trivial.  (Or non-software; Christopher
Alexander's pattern languages work from the field of architecture
were brought in to software to great effect.)

> such technology has been used in digital and animation effects
> studios for many years as evident in some of the most popular CG
> films, for example: flocking behavior, physics effects (such as
> liquid, lighting, gas, and rigid bodies), and animal
> locomotion. Perhaps Will is the first to offer this as a key
> selling point in a game, though.

No, I'm sure he's not even that; for example, there have been
procedural-animation generators as middleware for some time, I
think, usually bundled with AI stuff.

A lot of those CG-house technologies haven't been viable in realtime
applications or on consumer hardware, or been economically viable
for content that not everyone playing the game will see, though, and
I think the productization aspect here is important, and worthy of
attention.  Also, the game development industry is legendarily
resistant to adoption of new techniques, especially "process"
techniques, and in that respect one sexy WIll Wright demo is worth a
thousand papers, extra-industry examples, and minor or indie uses of
games.  I wish it weren't so, and that more game developers had
citeseer in their bookmarks, but it is.  That Will had the, er, will
to spend years investing his time and reputational capital in
refining those techniques is praiseworthy to me, especially as
someone who has had many ideas not quite make it from "the concept
is simple" to "the software is done".

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