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Gnoblins - Development journal of an indie game

Procedural content generation and me

Posted by , 21 November 2012 - - - - - - · 2,494 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.

Some random thoughts about the future of the game industry

Posted by , 15 November 2012 - - - - - - · 1,555 views

Some random thoughts about the future of the game industry and where it will go in the future.
The truth is, I don't know, nobody knows, but I fear that the current game industry heading towards a very large bubble, which might eventuelly burst.

There are many reasons, one is for sure, that the industry invest incredible amounts of money in top AAA games, but on the other hand it is often heard of, that many games don't break the even. We talk about normal games which are so expensive, that they need atleast 1-2 mio. sold copies to break even.

The result is logical: don't change a running system (aka cash cow), so make sequel XXIII instead and polish it like hell.

All who now think , that this is the day of indie need to consider, that we are talking about a spoiled generation of gamers. They expect to get AAA visuals,story and gameplay for free, so I fear that indies will have a very hard time too.

What about MMORPGs, the virtual grail of making endless money ? Well, how many MMORPG developers trying to archieve the sucess of WoW, but eventually herding into F2P seeing no other option to survive. The only really working concept seems to be Guild Wars, instead of counting on a subscription system, they counted on only selling the game once (+ add ons) and take the money to keep up a persistence world for some time.This resulted in a quite clever client-server architecture and a clever business model.

The game industry is still young, yet it already had a crash, maybe the bubble is ready to burst again, maybe it is even necessary, who knows.

I'm curious if the next generation of consoles will take off. Current gen games are already looking amazing, to top this you need really big budgets and the major titles will for sure be amazing, but what about the rest. If a studio can't compete with this budgets, it will need to tone down the game it develops, but toning down means that it could look although good on older hardware, or even tablets ?

Both, blizzard and valve, two really great video game studios, heading away from hi-demand hardware, smaller studios follow (e.g. torchlight) with success. There will be not many studios left over which are able to create games, which are really not feasible on the current gen consoles.

The trouble of the last console generation (to go DVD or not to go, harddisk) were tiny compared to the really complex situation now (consoles vs tablets, casual vs core, publisher vs kickstarter, F2P vs subscription, DRM vs free, retail vs digital distribution, PC vs cloud gaming).
The budget of gamers is limited, especially in time of a financal crisis, but there are just too many parties which need a lot of money to survive, therefore someone needs to fall by the wayside, hopefully not the whole game industry.