Postcards from Procedurally Generated Worlds

Syp from Bio Break is asking this about procedural generation:

“If it’s a bunch of cobbled together randomness, then why do I want to explore it? None of it is connected to a special narrative, so it exists without purpose, without meaning.”

I would like to counter with a few things.

Firstly, I wonder if we’ve lost the true meaning of exploration after being taught by Wildstar and GW2 that it’s about getting to points on a map and then having an achievement ding.

Or even after being taught by WoW and Skyrim (and Wildstar and GW2) that it’s about going to someplace and having a handcrafted scripted scene or story play out for you.

That seems to me like going for a tour or a guided experience, rather than exploration per se.

(That’s not to say that it’s bad.

The linearity of The Wolf Among Us and the elegant way its aesthetics told a story with a beginning, middle and end made for a wonderfully -immersive- experience…

…but it’s a bit of a stretch to say that one was -exploring- the game, unless one really sat down to map out every last possible branch of story, or even dabbled with exploration by rewinding a chapter or two to see how the story or characters might change.)

Here’s Google’s definition of exploration:

exploration

The highlights are mine, because I think they rather succintly answer Syp’s question.

You can want to explore something because it’s unfamiliar, because it’s new, because it’s novel. Because you’re checking it out to see if you can find any purpose or meaning in a locale previously unknown to you.

(Many games, when they are new and all their systems and geography unknown, draw explorers like magnets. And once everything is laid out in guides and on third party websites, when all the novelty is lost and everything predictable, that’s where explorers start to get really bored.)

The search for resources or information or knowledge that other people don’t know about is a big deal to explorers. It’s one of the things Bartle checks you out for, before labeling you an explorer.

Many sandbox games dangle resources as the bait for the WHY someone would go out and explore what could be merely a bunch of rocks and sand. Eve Online, A Tale in the Desert, Minecraft, Terraria, Don’t Starve, a ton of other games in the survival crafting genres, need I really go on?

And sometimes you just explore because it’s -there-, because you want to be thorough and make sure you’ve seen its every nook and cranny, because the mountain was there to be climbed, and because the maze or puzzle was there to be figured out and solved.

Not every game has to be played for story and narrative.

Not every player expects a game designer to serve each person the same scripted experience.

Part of the fun in a procedurally generated game is that you yourself may not encounter the exact same thing twice. That your next playthrough can be different. That it can be unpredictable, forcing you to react in a different way.

Others have chimed in with additional points, such as:

  • Purpose and meaning being in the eye of the beholder and that it can be up to each player to create that purpose, meaning and narrative for themselves in a procedurally generated game,
  • that player interactions often form the meat and potatoes of story and narrative in such a game and the very fact that they are unique one-off events that will never quite happen again in the same way can be super-appealing for some people,
  • and that designers can actually use procedural generation in a sensible way and layer set pieces or handcrafted content over other layers that were procedurally generated so that the results look a lot better than what Daggerfall produced in 1996.

But rather than quote the entire Wikipedia article on procedural generation which highlights games like Dwarf Fortress and Left 4 Dead and plenty of other games that use it in interesting ways, I’ll just leave these here:

Minecraft - Wanderlust Reloaded modpack - seed: Bio Break

Minecraft – Wanderlust Reloaded modpack w Biomes of Plenty – seed: Bio Break

Minecraft - Wanderlust Reloaded modpack - seed: Procedural Generation

Minecraft – Wanderlust Reloaded modpack w Biomes of Plenty – seed: Procedural Generation

Minecraft - Wanderlust Reloaded modpack - seed: Bio Break

Minecraft – Running Red 2 modpack – seed: Bio Break

6-2

Minecraft – Test Pack Please Ignore modpack – seed: Bio Break

Your Loss, Syp

Minecraft – Wanderlust Reloaded modpack w Biomes of Plenty – seed: Your Loss, Syp

Minecraft - Wanderlust Reloaded modpack - seed: Bio Break

Minecraft – Wanderlust Reloaded modpack w Biomes of Plenty – seed: Why I Explore

I barely moved from the spawn location to snap these shots.

I rolled these up simply for the purposes of this post.

And I don’t know about you, but there’s at least one seed I’ll be revisiting again that just -cries- out for a story of a survivor shipwrecked onto a mostly desert island with some jungle in the distance.

What does the rest of the continent hold, pray tell?

Paraphrased Quote of the Day

From a comment by MMOjuggler over at Keen and Graev‘s, slightly paraphrased by moi:

“One person’s entitlement is someone else’s customer preference.”

So…

…how much are you willing to pay again, in order to not have to share your game with others of a different playstyle preference?

According to Crowfall’s Kickstarter, the answer is a very rough average of $100 per person (specifically for Crowfall’s potential playerbase anyway, though I wonder how much they’ll balk if asked for more money later.)

I also wonder if it’s really a good thing to have zero conflict of player preferences in a game. Where everyone is of the same mind all the time? Does that a community make, or just a cult of groupthink?

Will a constant dose of always good and always happy feelings become boring and stagnant, without an occasional influx of the bad to offer contrast and subsequent renewed appreciation of the good when it does happen? A slot machine is most attractive with unpredictable staggered rewards, after all.

Perhaps this is why we see many MMO devs adapting their game to a form where there are many different activities appealing to different playstyles, where little mini-communities can form around each activity.

Except that this produces a new problem, in the shape of potential insular silos that may develop and proceed to chase other players (and worse, -new- players) away from the activity they are zealously guarding.

So maybe the next angle of attack is… how can one encourage the naturally forming little communities to interact with each other, communicate and share information, and even intermix or intermingle sufficiently to the point where folks don’t feel hostile towards another group?