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Procedural content generation and me

Posted by Ashaman73, 21 November 2012 · 1,743 views

I love procedural content generation, but I have to admit, that it is not as powerful as I once hoped. Procedural generation in games is quite old reaching back to the days of elite and rogue-like game. Today, atleast two decades later, processing power has increased incredible, but what about procedural generated content ?

When I was a child, I got the idea to write a tool to generate 16x16 , 4 color sprites by randomly generating pixel heaps, reviewing and rejecting sprites manually, which did not look good. The idea is basicly a procedural content generation tool, thought doing some basic math, it was not a very promising idea.

But it is a good comparision of the situation of procedural generation. Back then I would have seen images in randomly generated pixel heaps, much like your brain is able to see figures in clouds. But today we no longer have 16x16, 4 color sprites, we have artistically crafted, huge paintings. Even realistic rendering is really stylized, utilizing many tricks to communicate some important emotions and messages in just every possible detail, and here we are at the point where procedural content breaks.

You can compare it with reading a book and watching a movie. While reading a book you use your imagination to build a living world from some fix points, whereas while watching a movie you are confronted with a given vision, not really able to bring in your own imagination.
Now think about something in between book and movie. No idea, me too, I can't see how it should really work, and I'm not seeing how real procedural content should work in a modern game without abstracting the visualisation.

I have experimented with procedural level generation for more than 3 or 4 years in my game now. The major issue was, that it feels, well generated. I think, that people who play an abstract game (rogue-like or minecraft) stepped already over the suspend-of-disbelieve threshold, therefore accepting to live in a procedural world. But removing the abstraction puts the pattern of generated content in the foreground which results in breaking the suspend-of-disbelieve for many people. Much like the uncanny valley, we have the situation that the improvement of a single aspect (visual) change the awareness of the audience, suddenly seeing flaws in details (generated vs design content) which were not previously an issue.

So, I'm the only one having this trouble ? Besides terrain generation, what game should have procedural generated content and the options and budget to archieve it ? At least diablo 3 should have and indeed they have kind of procedural content in a huge, painterly world. But taking a closer look, you will see that they are only really plugging together template created by some artists, which must not be bad, but which is not really what I would have expected, or hoped for. But I'm sure that the people over at blizzard looked for a way to maximize the content generation while keeping an artistically and lovely art style and environment.

Procedural content, much like art, must be consistent with the rest of your game to work properly and the current state of procedural content generation was not able to keep up with the pace of visual content creation making it really hard to incoperate it in a modern (non-abstract) game.

Therefore my final thought is, that you should consider to utilize the human brain to make sense behind procedural, though abstract, content, instead of making procedures which are able to simulate the human brain to create artistically content. The first worked so far, the latter not.




@solenoidz: There's something wrong with your account. I can't vote you up or click on your account, though I can find it by using the member search tool. I've observed this in my last journal entry too. Try to contact a moderator or admin to check this.


Hmm, I just noticed I can't click on my account too. Never mind, I'm not here to collect positive votes.
I think the ideal scenario for PCG is someone like me. I am just artistically inclined enough to realize that I'll probably never be a great artist or level designer. Whether it's time or talent I lack is irrelevant; the fact is, I can sit down for a couple hours trying to model, say, a mountain and never really get anywhere, what with the false starts the do-overs, etc... and the final result will be sort of meh. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, as they say. However, I can spend the same couple hours (although this is a bit of a misdirection, since it doesn't account for the endless hours I worked on my noise library) throwing some functions together, building a procedural model+texture and achieve a far better mountain using PCG.

Recently for work I've begun doing architectural visualization for a few customers who are home-builders. The first few projects I modeled by hand and it was as tedious as one might expect. But lately I've been using PCG for the task, and it's been going great. I use FreeCAD, which while not finished yet still has pretty decent functionality for boolean operations on primitives. Rather than model each wall of the floor plan, I'll take the plan and construct a set of point or line lists, then feed that data to some custom scripts I wrote to construct the walls, subtract the windows and doors, and so forth. In this way, I utilize the data-amplification aspects of PCG to save myself some modeling. In a similar fashion, I will routinely do the same when i am building isometric wall sets and so forth for Goblinson Crusoe. A few template primitives and some boolean operations go a long way toward providing a base to work from. However, when it comes to the detail work I have to stop relying on PCG, or I end up with something that is obviously PCG.

Never mind, I'm not here to collect positive votes.

I wanted to downvote you...

just kidding Posted Image

I think the ideal scenario for PCG is someone like me. I am just artistically inclined enough to realize that I'll probably never be a great artist or level designer.

This was my thought too, I build a lot of tools to generate skins or models procedurally with some false assumptions about art (e.g. generating dirt, noise and normal maps do not make a good texture), on the other hand I always tried to push my art skills and eventually I must say, that my generation attempts did not outmatch my art skills. Art is not magic and with some practise and research you will make decent art which is enough for many people.
When looking at Goblinson Crusoe, I think that you surpass this stage and your art skills are more than sufficient to create an enjoyable game.


a mountain and never really get anywhere, what with the false starts the do-overs, etc... and the final result will be sort of meh. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, as they say.

I think that rock and stones are really hard to do. It is really hard to grasp the shape and texture of rocky surfaces and looking at art forums like polycount, it seems I'm not the only one. In this case I try to went through the art hell and be happy with some sub-decent art and try to get more structured art into the game (wooden/stone constructions etc.) which are much easier for me.

However,I can spend the same couple hours (although this is a bit of a misdirection, since it doesn't account for the endless hours I worked on my noise library) throwing some functions together, building a procedural model+texture and achieve a far better mountain using PCG.

This is what I mean with noise generation. Everything which is not primary defined by a clear shape (terrain, rock, forest,grass, dirty road) or by a certain architecture and have a high degree of visual noise, is a good candidate for procedural generation (support).

Recently for work I've begun doing architectural visualization for a few customers who are home-builders. The first few projects I modeled by hand and it was as tedious as one might expect. But lately I've been using PCG for the task, and it's been going great. I use FreeCAD, which while not finished yet still has pretty decent functionality for boolean operations on primitives. Rather than model each wall of the floor plan, I'll take the plan and construct a set of point or line lists, then feed that data to some custom scripts I wrote to construct the walls, subtract the windows and doors, and so forth. In this way, I utilize the data-amplification aspects of PCG to save myself some modeling. In a similar fashion, I will routinely do the same when i am building isometric wall sets and so forth for Goblinson Crusoe. A few template primitives and some boolean operations go a long way toward providing a base to work from. However, when it comes to the detail work I have to stop relying on PCG, or I end up with something that is obviously PCG.

I'm currently experimenting with the torchlight/dialbo 3 approach. I use a tile editor to design templates which will generate 3d templates of my dungeons. Then I will use these templates to plug together a randomized dungeon level at run-time. I hope to introduce some recognisable shapes into the dungeons, some sense, traps and mechanism which are incredible hard with PCG.

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