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Following procedure

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Kylotan

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In my current bid to create several small proofs-of-concept, I'm mainly focusing on interesting applications of algorithms to game development. I want to do a few more examples of procedurally generated content, and any interesting suggestions for my next such project would be welcomed. On that note...

Anyone who's seen me post in the Game Design forum over the last few years will probably have noticed me make at least one comment on procedurally generated content, and in particular my support for it. For those unfamiliar with the term, or at least the way in which I use it, procedurally generated content is basically any element of the game's design or world which is created, partially or wholly, by an algorithm rather than by a designer. There are 2 basic reasons why I believe this is the way forward:

1) The cost of game development is ever rising. A large part of development cost comes from content creation. And with game engines and libraries becoming more widespread, costs there are coming down whereas content costs are presumably not. Procedurally generated content can be created at almost no cost once the initial algorithms are completed.

2) The storage and processing capacities of our gaming machines are ever increasing and are not always put to good use. We see this when shooters like Deus Ex 2 require frequent loading sequences, or when we find a game world is so tiny that it doesn't feel realistic. Procedurally generated content can take advantage of free CPU time to generate content without needing to load it from the disk, or make use of free disk space to create a massive and detailed world that a designer would take forever to create.

There is some opposition to P.C.G. - in particular, designers and writers sometimes dislike the idea for one of the following reasons:
- it might put them out of a job
- it'll never have the same depth or quality as hand-made content
- it probably requires a joint programmer-designer since there is less of a firm divide between the program and the content

In response, I would say this:
- there will always be a need for good designers and writers, although maybe the quantity needed will drop. Or it might just be the case that the same number of designers can now produce more games in a certain period of time than before.
- the depth and quality of the content may not be as high as hand-crafted content, but it can be augmented with spots of higher-quality where needed. As an analogy, you wouldn't paint your house with a 1/4" paintbrush, even though that brush is a little more accurate than a paint roller.
- lastly, with the general movement towards using scripting languages, I think most high-level designers are going to re-embrace the programming side of development in the future anyway.

Once upon a time, when humans first started making powered machines, it would have been far-fetched to consider that one day we could make machines that create other machines for us. Yet, that day came and is now a common part of our lives. Surely the day will come in game development where writing a program to generate the content is the norm and expecting a human to fill in all these details will be considered unusual.
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When looking at proceduarlly generated content, are you looking at macro- or micro-level content? I can imagine that certain macro environments (cities, countries, landscapes, etc) would be perfect for procedure generated content. However, when you filter these down into the micro level it will become generic (as you noted). I suppose what you'll be talking about is a form of multi-layered algorithm that can generate large environments yet still be capable of creating the micro environments within them. The question that instantly springs to mind here is this, how can you be sure that the procedure will generate the exact same content on each run? Persumably you won't be saving the content to disk once generated (it would be pointless).

For the macroenvironments, you could probably get away with having minor innacuracies in the generated contents, but as you filter in you have to start approaching zero error algorithms, at this point - is it beneficial to be creating the content procedurally?

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There are no errors or random factors in the algorithms. All the numbers you get from the generators are entirely deterministic so you can be guaranteed of getting the same result every time.

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I'm all for Procedural content creation. Games nowdays use far more disk space than they should, and take way too long to make content for. Perhaps game companies need to hire more democoders.

Have you seen the game kkreiger? It's a 3D FPS game in less than 100k. Admittedly it's a bit extreme in terms of procedurally generated stuff, but the procedural content creation skills learned from creating such a program would serve well to create some good fast content creation in comercial games.

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