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.