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?

The Newbie Quitting Point: A MUD Experiment

Dear Readers,

As you may or may not know, MUDs are often considered the early precursors of our modern day MMOs and exist in a distinctly more diverse variety than the branch (diku) that inspired and spawned the graphical games we play today.

There is also the common perception that MUDs are either dying fossils that few people play today, or very niche games with even tinier communities still clinging on like barnacles – an image which presumably might contribute to that decline in popularity.

A number of people just shrug and say “Oh, nobody plays a text game anymore,” which appears to be used as a handy excuse to do nothing about this state of affairs.

This is in interesting contrast to another genre of text games, the text adventures and choose-your-own-path and interactive fiction corner of the web, whose community, niche though it might be, really tries to promote the hell out of their favourite interactive medium with hobbyist websites and community competitions and active academic research and addressing usability issues with newer and different coding/programming languages and parsers and clients to enable the writing and playing of said genre across different platforms.

A friend of mine and I got into a little debate and discussion the other day about MUDs and their perceived decline.

He’s curious as to whether this is really the case or no, and is driven by this curiosity to do a little research about it.

a) Does the decline exist?

and b) if it does exist, why?

As for myself, I’m rather convinced that most MUDs are very much in decline (with perhaps a very few commercial exceptions really making an effort to market themselves and reach out to new audiences, on new platforms.)

We brainstormed up several possible contributing factors:

  • Is it the fact that most MUDs are pure text, with little to no graphics, making them immediately unappealing or inaccessible?
  • Could it be the control scheme? Typing out commands and navigating in cardinal directions is very much a DOS-like holdover.
  • Is it simply the lack of advertising and marketing, meaning that many people may not even have heard about many MUDs out there, or know how to access them, or what features they may offer over graphical MMOs?
  • Maybe it’s the archaic look of many MUD websites, which look like they were made during 1997 in the Geocities’ heyday?
  • Perhaps it’s problems with the client? These days, Windows doesn’t even come with Telnet. So scratch one mode of access. It’s usually a downloadable client – which may make some people pause – or a web browser client, which may have its own host of issues?
  • Or maybe there are so many small, hobbyist MUDs out there that the population of people who are willing to play a text-based game are all distributed among them and spread out too thinly? That they all feel they owe allegiance to only their one particular MUD and view the rest as competitors, thus presenting a disunited community face to the world?

It may very well be all of them are valid and contribute to the overall problem (though it’ll be interesting to know what the percentages are and what primarily turns many people away.)

While we don’t have access to all MUDs, and thus can’t do an overarching survey, our prior history with one MUD did give us a little insider access to an immortal/developer source, whose game logs and metrics register that on the average, 1-2 new players try this specific MUD out -every- day (a game that tends to lack heavy advertising or promotion, and yet new players do stumble across it), but just as quickly, around level 2-3, they quit, never to log back in again.

Since newbie retention is one end of the funnel that determines whether a game faces growth or decline in population (the other end is veterans dropping off from attrition,) this subject is what we’ve narrowed down to exploring for now.

My particular interest is in how similar or dissimilar this might turn out to be from factors affecting newbie retention in MMOs – we see developers scrambling to provide more guided experiences, as in GW2’s latest New Player Experience, which caused a certain hue and outcry among its veterans, or as Bashiok remarked regarding WoW’s barriers to entry, “Well *I* consider the biggest barrier being it’s a 3D WASD game with a moveable camera,” suggesting the control scheme might be an aspect to consider as well.

Problem is, neither of us are exactly newbies to MUDs, especially not -this- MUD in particular, even if we did stop playing it for a long time.

What we really need are fresh perspectives and new eyes to take a quick gander around and simulate a newbie (even better if you have zero MUD experience) and then share with us the point at which you might quit.

http://www.realmsofdespair.com/play-now

My assumption is that you’ll only spend 5-30 minutes of your time at the most.

Log in, look around and explore, and at the point where you feel that you might close the client and never return, come back here and post a comment as to where that point was, and why it irked you to the point that you might quit.

No obligations. Wherever the stopping point was for you, is what we want to hear about.

You needn’t even have to make it into the game. It could be “I looked at the website and it was butt ugly, so I stopped” or “I couldn’t find one bit of useful info about wtf the game was, or how to even start playing” or whatever gut response made you give up.

Could be “the client didn’t run” or “I couldn’t get a name I wanted” or “there was too much reading I had to do” or “I got lost and didn’t know where I was” or “I didn’t even know how to navigate or move around” or “it was too overwhelming I didn’t have a clear objective as to what to do” or “I wandered somewhere and died” or “I met someone and they scared me away” or “I never even saw anyone to talk to and got bored” or “levelling up was too slow” or whatever it was for you that prompted a quit response.

Maybe you didn’t get such a response and would be perfectly okay playing the game, and/or it was simply lack of time and too many other games on the plate competing for your attention – we’d like to hear about that too.

If you can’t spare even 5 minutes of your time to play a text-based MUD, I would also like to beg one favour from you:

To leave a comment here stating why it did not seem worth your time to even try a MUD out for 5 minutes – whatever it was that ran through your mind, be it “eesh, text games, I don’t play games without graphics” or “I’m already playing X game, I don’t have time to start another” or “I don’t want to download a new client” or “this is just a sneaky way to promote and advertise this MUD and I’m not falling for it!” (full disclosure: I quit this MUD in 2004 and have zero interest in its health or lack thereof, my friend may be a little more fond of it and I’m mostly doing him a favor with this outreach to my supremely limited blog audience) or whatever it was that prevented you from even clicking on the link and cranking the client up.

This isn’t an official academic social research project of any kind, it’s mostly to sate our curiosity and get a small sample from the group of MMO players that also happen to read gaming-related blogs.

The more responses we get, the more we’ll be able to get a grasp on some of the possible issues, so your help and your time is very much appreciated!

GW2: Echoes of the Past One Week In

Whoa...most colorful rabbit hole ever...

charrnobbing

One week in, it’s hard to know what to say about the latest Echoes of the Past update.

Is it good? Yeah.

The storytellers have learned that a great many GW2 players are highly nostalgic and greatly fond of the old lore, and have shoveled it in, in spades.

Speaking of digging implements, there was a slight bug/miscalculation, but benefiting the players this time, of just how cooperative players can be when induced with ‘everyone gets more free loot’ rewards.

I didn’t quite get to partake of the crazy chest farm as much as I’d like, before it got fixed, but I did find the time to stay long enough one night to get 95 champion bags or so, and got two Bonetti’s Rapiers out of it, one of which I kept for my own collection, the other I sold on the TP for 23 gold.

Good enough for me. With my kind of crappy earning power, that’s a pretty significant bonus in my book.

The rest of the time has been spent getting around to finishing up Dragon’s Reach Part 2 achievements, along with the recent Echoes of the Past ones.

It sort of reminds me of playing the original Guild Wars in a way – plenty of things to do, but in your own time, without having to worry that it’ll be gone for good.

The mechanics used in the instances and the new zone have been rather refreshing, and pretty creative. I like the direction, though I do think some of the feedback and signposting can be a little more obvious now and then.

For instance, I ran around attempting the Facet of Darkness achievement more than 3 times, because I plain underestimated the size of the vortex explosion’s effect. I was indulging my tanky instincts, letting the facet walk over close to the vortex before triggering it, and it just wasn’t covering the distance fast enough to kill itself in 15 seconds, leaving me somewhat perplexed.

A bunch of friends who are a lot more open to reading Dulfy than I am, essentially called me an idiot over party chat and said to read Dulfy and AoE all the things. Like with a guardian’s biggest cone attack ever, the lootstick staff.

Sure enough, even with the facet pretty durned far away to my eyes, I just went and lootsticked all the things like blowing up volatile blossoms in TA, and voila, it fell over and achievement done.

Huh.

I guess the size of the boon-stealing AoE white circle had sort of conditioned me into thinking the explosion radius was also going to be around that size. Little did I know it was actually a LOT bigger than that.

A more visible explosion indicating said radius might have helped me read that mechanic better, fer instance.

These are just small nitpicks, though. By and large, much of it seems fairly well designed, with step-wise tutorial mobs of a sort that build up to the final boss.

vines

Playing in the Silverwastes has been moderately fun.

I’m actually keen to play the zone properly, in an organized fashion, but so far I’ve been pretty disappointed at the times I’ve been logging in. Organization has been lacking so far.

Players haven’t really been distributing themselves well to each fort, nor do they seem very inclined or motivated to cooperate or coordinate.

The supply bulls are pretty important to run, but usually only a few to zero heroes will take on the task of escorting them over.

And to make matters even more depressing, even if said sacrificial heroes actually bring the bulls and upgrading the fort’s defences, many of the players hanging by the forts staunchly ignore the fact that they can use siege to help the defence, preferring to autoattack and then promptly fall down and require a rez when something (a terragriff, a wolf, a troll, whatever) charges them.

How hard is it to figure out tactics vs Mordrem mobs?

Terragriff charges – dodge sideways.

Wolf pounces and does nasty damage flanking – face wolf all the time,  have mitigation like blinds, blocks, evades, invulnerables, etc.

Troll throws insect swarms – keep moving, dodge aoes, and if you get the target over your head indicating you’re now the aggro target, guess what, you can actually bring the insect swarms to the troll so that they attack the troll.

I mean, the only thing one may have an excuse on is versus husks, which are high toughness and mostly vulnerable to condition damage, which understandably, one may not have appropriate gear to do so.

Anyway, the playerbase seems too distracted by the prospect of bandit chests or hunting the elusive legendaries to attempt the zone properly for now.

I’m more or less content to wait until things develop to the point where more people are compelled to seek organization.

As I mentioned in a Reddit thread a while back, I can’t help but think that the three straight lanes on the west side of the map, and the glimpse of the strange plant-like thing (not going into more specifics to avoid spoilers) in the Living Story episode, suggests that there may very well be a phase 2 to this zone later on, unlocking in a similar fashion to Dry Top.

If there turns out to be a big raid-like boss (and unique desirable rewards) at the end of this fort defence and breach attack of five champion bosses, well, then -maybe- some groups will eventually be inclined to get together in a map, divide themselves properly to the various forts, dedicate groups of supply escorters, and so on. -That- would be fun to participate in.

In the meantime, I am just gonna waffle around like everyone else, randomly picking a fort (probably an easy one, like amber, where nearly everyone congregates), doing the events there – maybe deigning to bring a bull every now and then so that I can tag more events, and so I can get away from the masses at the fort and indulge my solo preferences – jump into the breach, defeat one boss, and then grin wryly and chuckle as one of the Terragriffs fail to get killed, or the Husk doesn’t die because no condi, or some fort was left bereft of people and so no one went in, or whatever.

Whatever, indeed. It all builds up token rewards anyway.

I think it’s just a matter of time.