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"Generated" Storyline - theoretical


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#1 MisterFuzzy   Banned   -  Reputation: 161

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 02:40 PM

In the gaming world, almost every story follows a fairly straightforward storyboard: The player immediately knows who the villain is, quests are neatly lined up for them, and the player's abilities are described in intensive detail via a pre-game tutorial run (Of course, there are a few weirdo games like Minecraft that don't really have a story, but let's not drag them into this discussion). Looking about ten to fifteen years ago, it was considered alien if the game had even one level to "hold your hand" through the basics. Anyway, I've been thinking about not only how to make a game fun, but how to also KEEP it fun, and this concept of an automatically "generated" storyline has been an item of much deliberation lately. I'm not saying that it generates an absurd plot like the Video Game Name Generator, but rather begins with no plot whatsoever, but upon interacting with other world entities a rising action builds, and depending upon how the player responds to said rising action more quests are generated and the plot is developed further. The problem is, I can't think of any way to do this other than assigning predetermined quests after the player has reached a certain point within the game. Sure, large quests will need to be predetermined, but small quests should be totally random. Is such a game viable?

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#2 bvanevery   Members   -  Reputation: 174

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 03:54 PM

Such a game is not viable if you try to solve a generalized, abstract problem. For instance, see Chris Crawford's pain and suffering for 20 years. Now he's working on a new version of Balance of the Planet, so that he can make some short term money to keep himself afloat before returning to the generalized abstract problem again.

If you can decide specifically what's going to "rise," then you do stand a chance of making some kind of plot generator. So, what do you want to rise?

I hope it's not "your feelings of affection for some other character," because I've seen that done before, and personally, it just bores the heck out of me. But that's my personal feeling about games driven by "emotional counters." You and other people may feel differently, and all that really matters is who will pay.
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#3 cronocr   Members   -  Reputation: 752

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 04:10 PM

Well, it's an idea you should try to implement, but it might or might not be fun. One problem is that many missions are specially designed to fit a given NPC. For example if the game has a witch and a farmer, the witch could request several tasks related to gathering ingredients, and the farmers could have missions to do chores and maybe recover a lost cow. If you randomize those, the player will have to save the witch's cow, and you will receive a flying broom from the farmer. You might find a way to make sense of this, but will be so generic that might be boring.

That's the reason I'm exploring the idea of a player that makes his own role, in the other thread that you commented (thanks!). But in my case the player will avoid missions, and live his own adventure in the wild.
 

 


#4 slicer4ever   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3704

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 05:08 PM

The problem with designing such a system, is where to actually start, how do you evaluate an action?, how do you evaluate interactions? and finally how do you create a goal out of those evaluations?

imo for achieving a good result, you need a mechanism of supply/demand which can evaluate an individual npc against it's demands, and evaluate potential ways to achieve those demands, then create a "quest" for the player based on fulfilling their wants.

so

for example, a farmer has a herd of animals, so long as his herd is fine, he has food/water to feed the herd, he has no demand. an hungry scavenger decides the farmer's herd is easy prey for food, and kills one of the animals for food. the farmer now has demand for help, as such, he puts in a request for assistance finding out who is killing/eating his animals.

another example:
a logger has cut down the last piece of log, or is coming close to exhausting his supply, he wants to log in another particular location, but the owner does not want to sell, so it's up to the player to create a demand for selling his property, or negotiate for a way to sell it to the logger.

their are plenty of story's that could be created with such a system, but the design overhead for evaluating the entire world's resources, and ecomomy, and discovering what is needed might not be feasible on today's technology.
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#5 kseh   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2012

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 05:13 PM

I wouldn't look at it as a matter of creating a story for a player to work through as much as presenting them with a world where things are happening and the player finds his place in it. Food is being produced by farmers, other resources are being harvested by workers, products are being created by artisans. If you have two societies competing for the same resources, particularly if those resources are non-renewable or scarce, then conflicts can erupt and maybe those conflicts can be the source of both large and small quests.

That might be over simplifying it a bit as you would need to have something running in the background to simulate the societies.

#6 aattss   Members   -  Reputation: 383

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 06:14 PM

It's not impossible. Games like Cult: Awakening of the Old Ones plan on using procedurally generated narrative.

Here's an example of how it might be done. Let's consider a random village/town generator. I would first select the size and type of village (such as military, food, defense, etc. etc.) I would then place residential buildings and buildings that need resources, as well as any mandatory buildings like town halls. I would also have walls as well. I would then see if any of the structures are blocked, in which case I would move or maybe remove one of the structures. I would then see how many resources should be generated per resident depending on the type of village. I would then create the required buildings (i.e. farms, towers, bars) randomly, although some buildings like gates shouldn't be placed as randomly. Then, for some buildings, I would generate npcs with that job. They would also have a bunch of random qualities (i.e. looks, skills, social status, personality). I would then generate random problems, such as there being a nearby evil bandit outpost, or a famine. Npcs of the related problem would give quests that would result in a decrease of that problem (i.e. destroy X bandits), although at their quests would become more radical (i.e. attack the outpost itself).

However, further systems would need to be created for making actual kingdoms (i.e. towns interracting with eachother) which would be helpful. For example, the capital wouldn't have any farms because it could just buy some. In other words, the key is to think abstractly and be able to come up with your own solution for every problem you meet.

Edited by aattss, 10 August 2012 - 06:15 PM.


#7 s.Mason   Members   -  Reputation: 110

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 07:37 PM

Action -> consequence -> Action... and so on. Never ending loop. You'd have to have filters that could log just about every action a player takes and things they say; to whom? when? how?... etc. Then you'd need to give NPCs actions to take based on consequences and not necessarily from actions taken by just the player.
Not to over simplify such an extensive topic, but you'd probably end up doing more programming for such a game then you would for an MMORPG. You'd be creating some of the smartest A.I. that has yet to be seen, almost to the point where it might feel like its an actual player.... There would also be a lot pf processing involved. Large amounts of data being processed by each NPC. On top of that you'd have to have a persistent world, else it would be useless.
That's why a game of this sort has yet to be done. Some MMORPGs like EVE online, depend on their player base for such random events and evolving missions/quests. They just simply put the tools out there and thanks to players things that were never even coded into the game happen (ex. massive fleet wars, or like in their commercial intro trailer, " a lone wolf faring accross space comes accross a helpless miner who is being attacked by pirates. The lone wolf could just mind his own business or help the miner. The lone wolf helps the miner and soon after a group of reinforcements arrive to help the miner. They thank the lone wolf for helping out and ask him if he'd like to tag along. The not so lone wolf now is part of a group that is part of a bigger squad, that is part of a wing, that is part of a fleet, that is part of a corporation which is part of an alliance of corporation fighting another chain of corporation in an all out galactic war. AND YOU (lone wolf) just that got caught in the middle of it. And none of it was coded into the game.
Think about how much code it would take to abstractly make something like that happen, you'd need to have A.I. as closely as intuitive, learning-capable, analytic as human beings.
Lastly, I'll finish this with that its been done to small scale in games that usually have multiple endings. Like the fallout series. Such as when you kill townees/villagers (action) and the whole town turns at you and remain pissed at you for a while (consequence). Something like that is just amazing and immerses the gamer that much into the game. So its definitely something that game developer should tackle more at. But at this point, it takes some serious resources. And no game has yet to be made where it fully depends on such mechanism.

#8 Trapper Zoid   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1370

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 10:14 PM

Something like this was my dream goal back when I first joined GameDev.net, and I'd like to do something with it again some day. I made a monster post sometime in the first year I was here listing all the research I had done on the topic. It's several years out of date now but might be worth digging up.
Edit:Ths appears to be it: http://www.gamedev.n...-plot-in-games/
Unfortunately the move to the new forum format appears to have really screwed up the formatting in my first post.

From what I remember, nearly every attempt combines the sorts of approaches that I think from your post you've probably considered:
  • represent characters with a bunch of attibute labels and characteristic variables which determines which actions they take from the set provided from them (i.e. Bob is a Knight, aggresiveness = 60%, chivalry = 70%, etc.)
  • logic-based planning towards goals for the set of actions available (wants to achieve goal X, so find a chain of A -> B -> ... -> X that meets that goal). This can be done on the character level (Bob wants goal X) or the meta-story level (story needs a dramatic pinch point at the 2/3 mark)
  • template based story patterns along the line of (hopefully more sensible) Mad Libs: (<ANTAGONIST> takes <VALUED ITEM/PERSON> from <PROTAGONIST> leading to recovery/rescue attempt).
The problem with all of these is that they all tend to result in very mechanical and formulaic story events that are obviously machine generated. It takes a lot of care and clever artistry to pick exactly the right attributes, symbols, rules and templates to work for each story. I don't think there isn't going to be a universal approach - every designer will need to handcraft their own based on what type of game and stories they want to tell.

But it's certainly achievable. I don't see any reason why you couldn't, for example, build a RTS or flight/space sim that builds the next mission from templates using the variables from the end state of the previous mission, building to a campaign arc shaped on the actions of the player. An RPG is slightly more complex in my mind, but could still be roughly equivalent.

Edited by Trapper Zoid, 10 August 2012 - 10:20 PM.


#9 slicer4ever   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3704

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Posted 11 August 2012 - 03:45 AM

also, I forgot to toss out one other thing that causes a serious problem with this system:
the more interactive, the more content creation overhead to tell the player what the npc's problem is. which means either, every possible action/goal is scripted in some way. or you have a way of creating the procedural voice/text content. text is potentially possible, and by extension, voice mechanism's as well, but more elaborate mission's means more elaborate explanations. so chaining together the info in a manner that conveys the procedurally generated quest could be an entire huge task in it's own.

Edited by slicer4ever, 11 August 2012 - 03:45 AM.

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#10 MisterFuzzy   Banned   -  Reputation: 161

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Posted 12 August 2012 - 12:15 PM

I hope it's not "your feelings of affection for some other character,"

Goodness, no. I guess I could have been a bit more specific about what I am looking for in a game generator.

I am not looking to add randomized WORLDS, but rather alter the way the NPCs interact with the player based upon past interactions (Much like Fallout's response system), but in a way that simulates a "generated" plot line. My game has no need for dialogue, so super-intuitive AIs will not be necessary. Yes, I have considered the complexity of such a system, but I'm not rewriting GLaDOS here... My system only needs a few things: Should I attack? Should I assist? Should I run away? Should I follow? Base interactions. If the player saves a villager, and nearly kills himself/herself in the process, there should be some form of "sympathy" between the entities, and perhaps the villager would bring the player back to full health. Maybe you watch as the village chief's daughter is eaten by a vicious dragon, and the villagers resent you for not doing anything (and players are then less likely to receive any assistance from them). Perhaps you awaken a monster in a cave, and it runs away. Nothing happens initially, but then villagers start to go missing: Then the player would have to hunt down the monster, and once the monster is dead, all villages that had members go missing would consider the player a "hero," because they have no idea that the player released the monster in the first place! If you wait too long to find it, though, the villagers investigate and find evidence that the player released the foul creature.

The more I ramble, the more this sounds like predefined events...

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#11 bvanevery   Members   -  Reputation: 174

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Posted 12 August 2012 - 04:15 PM

If the player saves a villager, and nearly kills himself/herself in the process, there should be some form of "sympathy" between the entities, and perhaps the villager would bring the player back to full health.


Is that interesting? Is that a good plot point, a story that gets the reader's attention? Or is it just a bit of simulation typical of so many games that it's just "there" ? Are you really trying to achieve story and plot with your generator, or just simulate a bunch of stuff? If the latter, it's an easier exercise and you might as well just get on with it. If the former, you should be asking questions about assumptions between characters, what makes drama, and which way events could go.

Maybe you watch as the village chief's daughter is eaten by a vicious dragon, and the villagers resent you for not doing anything (and players are then less likely to receive any assistance from them).


Maybe they're glad the Chief's daughter is dead, and that's a more interesting story. The meme of the Hero is very tiring. Everyone is always asking you to "save" someone or something. It's like having a job where you don't even make minimum wage.

What's your authorial voice for this procedurally generated story? Are you as snarky as I am? :-) You don't have to be, but you need to answer these fundamental questions of authorship. What themes are you trying to explore? How does that translate into an algorithm?

Perhaps you awaken a monster in a cave, and it runs away. Nothing happens initially, but then villagers start to go missing: Then the player would have to hunt down the monster, and once the monster is dead, all villages that had members go missing would consider the player a "hero," because they have no idea that the player released the monster in the first place! If you wait too long to find it, though, the villagers investigate and find evidence that the player released the foul creature.


A reversal is a potentially more interesting plot, as long as it doesn't take too long to happen. Some of the themes I offered above are inversions.

The more I ramble, the more this sounds like predefined events...


Yep, because you're boring yourself with everything that's in every other game, and not really writing. Use your creativity!
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#12 Caldenfor   Members   -  Reputation: 323

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Posted 12 August 2012 - 07:04 PM

My plan is to have a world history played through with some events being triggered/handled by the development team on their own schedule while players can advance/alter the history of the main world by their actions. Thus it will play out differently depending on player action, but it won't be generated autonomously. Develop with a future in mind, not an ever present... present.

Working title, Reclamation.

Edited by Caldenfor, 12 August 2012 - 07:05 PM.


#13 TechnoGoth   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2735

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Posted 13 August 2012 - 07:39 AM

I’ve been work on and off for the last year on a content generation system I’ve called False Prophet at the core of which is an entity and planner framework that supports partial planning. One of things I’m looking to do with it is generate “story lines”. The way it works is that it generates the next piece of content based on based events and actions. This done through a combination of hangers, meta stories, resolutions, set pieces and mining the entity web.
For example:
While out exploring the wasteland you discover a key card on the body of a dead researcher (hanger). Later on you pick up a some encrypted transmissions(hanger), Later still you find the charred and bullet ridden remains of store with the word “Prometheus” written in blood on the wall(hanger).
Now while the player is exploring the abstract dungeon warehouse the engine comes to generate the next obstacle one of the ways is does that is be checking unused hangers in this case it picks 2 the key card and transmission and creates an high security door leading to hidden lab complex. The promethus hanger might never get used in a play through or it might become part of the current story line.
The idea is that larger story lines are generated from small bits and pieces to give the illusion that the larger story existed in the first place. There is no forward planning instead the next content is always generated when needed.

An example of metastory is something like this:
Character takes revenge on player for the death of [loved one] at [import place to both] by kidnapping and threatening to kill [player loved one]
A best fit process is then used to fill in those bits of information from the character information. This is also one place where the partial planning also takes effect in that it can create relationships to fit the purpose when needed. So if the player let Jayne die and didn’t know she was seeing anyone then the engine can determine the appropriate character that she was have the secret relationship with or generate a new character entirely.

I won’t go too much in the technical but I think gives a rough idea of how it works

#14 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 8319

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Posted 13 August 2012 - 07:55 AM

(Of course, there are a few weirdo games like Minecraft that don't really have a story, but let's not drag them into this discussion).

Erhm...
Shall I spoil you then?
There is indeed a story, and an end of game credits roll if you do kill the dragon in "the Endworld"...

but upon interacting with other world entities a rising action builds, and depending upon how the player responds to said rising action more quests are generated and the plot is developed further.

Aside from the fact that the content is not generated, Skyrim comes pretty close to achieving this. A series of otherwise accidental events leads you into one or many of the main quest lines which are optional. Skyrim developers were however kind enough to provide a "main questline" as a fallback/tutorial.

The problem is, I can't think of any way to do this other than assigning predetermined quests after the player has reached a certain point within the game.

What worries me if not the procedural portion of your idea. To a certain extent, progress quest managed to do this fairly well, even though it was absurd.
The real challenge comes from taking into account previous quest to determine the following quests.Narrative plays a big part in getting events lined-up.

To put it simply, you need to emulate a tree of the different outcomes without knowing how to even begin or end any of the branches. I would recommend the use of advanced metrics. While a game like Ultima has nothing to do with this, the idea of virtues, and how you scale against each of them could be a start to determine where you're headed.

You could plant a few "non-generated quests" in the starting whereabouts of the game, and check against the player actions (much like the player must answer initial questions). This would determine what they are good at, and what they suck at, and you could either focus on their strengths as this would probably define their playstyle, or challenge the player by introducing his weaknesses (preferably, you'd do both). Your approach to define each quest should have parameters that would take into account certain threshold.

Example of the top of my head
Metrics:
- Courage (Would you fight or run, where a positive value is fight, negative is run)
- Piety/Sacrifice (Are you self-sacrificing, where positive is taking the blame or hit for someone else, and negative is taking care of self first)
Here's how they can play with one another or against:
- You encounter an enemy who is stronger than you (fight: courage+, run, courage-)
- You encounter a man that is up against a troll (fight: courage+, Piety+, run: courage-, piety-)
- A tribunal made of your pairs has found you guilty, do you fight them off? (fight: courage+, piety-, Run: courage-, piety+).
etc.

Now, assuming the player is good at courage, but sucks at piety, you'll try to put him in situations that challenge him from time to time by using the piety drawback against him or by bringing larger-than-real threats that he'll have to consider escaping. Also, because the player has clearly determined that he wants to fight, you'll put him more often than not in belligerent quests.
You can easily scale this by adding metrics, especially those that have common ground but that can also be turned against one another by the nature of the setting.

This wouldn't make a great story, but players are good at tying the knots.
The real downfall to such a system is that it would feel like a sandbox game, and ultimately, people resent that. When you figure out there's no "greater plan" and you're just toying with mechanics that are interacting in a complex but nearly predictable way, it tends to all fade.
I would recommend the inclusion of a final boss, and perhaps a final questline that has very little optional/custom content. When the time comes, whatever you metric is (say, "player_level==50", you can activate this questline and the player now has the option to complete the game. Alternatively, you could activate it at the very start, and let the player know what the endgame is, but that the journey is entirely up to them.

Which comes to show my last point: open up many paths. The big advantage of this system is that you are not confined to the intricate narrative of a regular game. Capitalize on this, open up more than one path. This will allow the player to express themselves, which in turn will refine your metrics, and will allow you to feedback even better quests.

Your initial issue is that you need information in order to tie the knots, and metrics help you achieve that. They even allow you to calibrate gameplay via your players' expressions.

#15 Malabyte   Members   -  Reputation: 589

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Posted 13 August 2012 - 07:56 AM

I may be slightly off-topic here, but I've never liked the idea of being told a story in a game. It's nice in some cases, but generally I prefer to be the one making the story as I go along. After all, the player is supposed to be the hero, not just some bystander who just happen to play an important part. It's like being told what to do, sure it's a good way to direct the player through the experience, but hold his hand too much and he's likely just gonna quit the game.

Just look at how brutal Minecraft is to the player (I know, but these games do matter to the discussion because they're not as weird as you might think), in terms of leaving him/her to figure out what the game is all about and what they need to do. A similar paradigm can be found in Demons' Souls and Dark Souls too, and I don't see a lot of players complaining over those games to.


But to redeem my comment in terms of topicity:
A random/generated story can be really nice, I think, if it's general enough and doesn't tell too much. I thought the random quests in Daggerfall, for instance, where awesome - even though their syntax repeated themselves all the time with just a minor change to names and objectives.

The bottom line is this, IMO: Plot and story is important to a game, but telling a story isn't just about explicitly telling it through language. Just seeing a monster in a world, for instance, can tell a story onto itself - the demography in this world, biology, history, you name it. But because it's not explicit, it also provides a sense of mystery too - which I think is superior to any dialogue-based storytelling device.

Edited by DrMadolite, 13 August 2012 - 08:09 AM.

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#16 Caldenfor   Members   -  Reputation: 323

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Posted 13 August 2012 - 08:32 AM

I may be slightly off-topic here, but I've never liked the idea of being told a story in a game. It's nice in some cases, but generally I prefer to be the one making the story as I go along. After all, the player is supposed to be the hero, not just some bystander who just happen to play an important part. It's like being told what to do, sure it's a good way to direct the player through the experience, but hold his hand too much and he's likely just gonna quit the game.

Just look at how brutal Minecraft is to the player (I know, but these games do matter to the discussion because they're not as weird as you might think), in terms of leaving him/her to figure out what the game is all about and what they need to do. A similar paradigm can be found in Demons' Souls and Dark Souls too, and I don't see a lot of players complaining over those games to.


But to redeem my comment in terms of topicity:
A random/generated story can be really nice, I think, if it's general enough and doesn't tell too much. I thought the random quests in Daggerfall, for instance, where awesome - even though their syntax repeated themselves all the time with just a minor change to names and objectives.

The bottom line is this, IMO: Plot and story is important to a game, but telling a story isn't just about explicitly telling it through language. Just seeing a monster in a world, for instance, can tell a story onto itself - the demography in this world, biology, history, you name it. But because it's not explicit, it also provides a sense of mystery too - which I think is superior to any dialogue-based storytelling device.


In writing you are almost always told, "Show, don't tell." Which is exactly what you are saying to do. Don't tell the player what to do, let them do their own thing and have the story just happen around them as they go. If they miss out on some things, it was meant to be that way, and you can always funnel them towards a certain location by providing them the desire to go there. Don't tell them, show them why to go there.

#17 Heath   Members   -  Reputation: 344

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Posted 17 August 2012 - 03:07 AM

I guess I go the other way on this. Oh well, an opinion's an opinion.

I don't really think games are a great way to tell a story in the first place, precisely because video games are very self-centered as a medium, and a really good story can have a lot of mundane things. I've never felt that I was being "dragged" through a good story, only through a stupid, pointless one. A good story, crafted by a human being, also has a point, and the best ones always have to be digested more than once, and enjoyed almost every time. A good story also usually has multiple roles, and even the main character's role can be pretty "mundane" compared to what you'd expect in a video game. (For example, Michael Corleone only kills 2 people himself in the Godfather, and the most hot-headed Corleone who gets the most action, Sonny, also gets murdered half-way into the story in a very big way. So neither character would be very fun to play. It's also funny how this generally self-centered medium usually requires a love of violence to be interesting.)

I've also been told that an interactive story puts more importance on me and puts me in the story and it's all me me me. (A recent ad for Halo 4 that I saw in a movie theater (!) was similarly egregious about this.) So? Why would I want that? I'm not all that interesting, and it's not like I'm going to save a fictional world anyway, or even enjoy wrecking it.

Yes, data can be generated. That's no surprise. But in the history of all randomly generated data, it's always been pretty easy to tell that it was generated, because the data repeats after a while whatever you do. You still need to hire artists and writers to fill in the blanks and give the algorithms something to work with, and at some point, you might say to yourself, "Boy, I wish there was an easier way to do all of this..."

#18 Acharis   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3596

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Posted 22 August 2012 - 12:48 PM

Check "GearHead", it's the only generated storyline game ever created that actually works (if you know any other examples, please post). I'm not sure how it was created there, because it is not my kind of game, unfortunatelly, but it got quite a lot of praise when it comes to the storyline generator.

Also, check rec.comp.games.dev.roguelikes usenet group (I probably wrote it wrong, but it's easy to find), it has this discussion about random story generators going on for like 20 years already :) Might find some clues there (or get depressed after seeing for how long people were trying to make something like that with such low success :D).

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#19 LorenzoGatti   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2671

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 01:35 AM

Yes, data can be generated. That's no surprise. But in the history of all randomly generated data, it's always been pretty easy to tell that it was generated, because the data repeats after a while whatever you do. You still need to hire artists and writers to fill in the blanks and give the algorithms something to work with, and at some point, you might say to yourself, "Boy, I wish there was an easier way to do all of this..."

Data repeats, but not in a bad way; playing skills and expectations are simply shifted and abstracted from "play this particular content" to "play any of countless possible combinations and contingencies of content".

Regarding story vs procedural content generation, on one side there are "emergent" stories that the player infers or creates with his own actions, like in roleplaying games, and on the other side there are complex and coherent plot elements like those in GearHead which are only a less tangible upper tier of procedural generated content that the player has to deal with; maybe a way to describe a setting by defining what sort of things happen there, but not a way to tell a specific story.
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