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Wavinator

Time-based Content Generation

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The space game I'm working on depends on the player being able to explore a wide amount of procedurally generated environments (planets and solar systems). In theory I plan to have two sources of mission-related activity-- traditional quest givers and random events whose probabilities are spawned by past player actions. But one thought of late has been whether or not I should try to structure content around play time itself. My plan is to divide the game universe into a slowly expanding "Known Space" and a slowly shrinking unexplored frontier. Known Space, because it's settled, will contain the first two types of content-- specific groups that want things done, and random events (such as the chance of encounter bounty hunters after the player for past crimes). Unknown space, however, will be huge in comparison and rather than relying on the chance that players will find the content I've planned I've wondered about generating it near them based on how long it's been since they've discovered or encountered something. Would it detract from the experience of exploration to know that the game universe is not fixed, but instead dependent on how long it's been since something interesting happened? What impact would it have on how meaningful your choices were? After all it might mean that you were neither lucky nor smart about finding things, but that the game just wanted to make sure you weren't bored.

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If players can't tell the difference, it will make no difference, correct? And if the unexplored rule makes the game more interesting, how could it not be a plus?

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Yeah I agree, you are probably better off not explaining the details of how it works.

If people don't understand where the "walls" of your universe are, they might think it's infinitely large somehow (or something like that)

mystery is good, players fill in the details with their own imaginings (:

A lil off topic, i think this is why old games like zelda 1 and metroid were so fun. They didnt explain anything, you appeared in a world of unknown size and unknown possibilities and "went to it", figuring it out as you went, never knowing when the next new thing would come around and open up whole new places to explore.

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Original post by Wavinator
Unknown space, however, will be huge in comparison and rather than relying on the chance that players will find the content I've planned I've wondered about generating it near them based on how long it's been since they've discovered or encountered something.
In my degree, we had to build this kind of sim using a poisson distribution to determine the amount of time until the next event. It worked very well and is tweakable.
Quote:
Would it detract from the experience of exploration to know that the game universe is not fixed, but instead dependent on how long it's been since something interesting happened? What impact would it have on how meaningful your choices were? After all it might mean that you were neither lucky nor smart about finding things, but that the game just wanted to make sure you weren't bored.
Maybe it would detract, knowing you could go in any direction and still have the same 'discovery' - so just don't tell people that you're using probability!
But anyway, there should be some interesting game-play that occurs once the 'discovery' has been made, making the random-event just the catalyst for a series of interesting decisions.

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Would it detract from the experience of exploration to know that the game universe is not fixed, but instead dependent on how long it's been since something interesting happened? What impact would it have on how meaningful your choices were? After all it might mean that you were neither lucky nor smart about finding things, but that the game just wanted to make sure you weren't bored.

Not at all. Your idea is brilliant. Have you never been in a situation were you felt "I just want to go out today, but don't know where", and then you get outside your door and think "left or right?". And it really doesn't matter if you go left or right, you just want to get out of your safety zone. The decision of which direction you leave the known universe is not a matter of skill. If they find a new planet based on how long they have been traveling, and the new planet is made persistent from then on, then they will be more than happy. It's pretty much procedural generation too.

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I support the idea. Everyone is right about keeping the details a secret though. After taking games more seriously I've started to really look into how they work. For me its really taken a lot of the fun away from games in general.

If I could go back to the not knowing and just enjoying I would ^^

If your game is tracking 'play time' will there be scripted events between random time frames? Example being say between 10-15 hours of total play time a scripted event plays out but how something happens depends on what you've accomplished within that time.

One scripted event could have multiple branches and because everyone plays differently would offer a different game experience for each, they also offer replay value. I'm just curious ^^

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The main danger I see is if the reward system provides a net benefit to avoid exploring. If your system chooses interesting events to be the discovery of useful planet types, for example, then it would be prudent to game the system. If I'm wanting to scout out mining deposits and I know that a rich mineral planet crops up far more frequently every half hour, I might as well go and do something else while the timer ticks down then go find a series of boring useless planets, increasing the distance my ships have to fly than if I wait and create the next juicy planet the next system across.

Play balancing would counter that, however. I could see it working well if you had separate pools of events for exploring and those on a timer for "interesting events". Things like bounty hunter attacks are far more suited to timers, while finding "special planets" are not.

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If I'm wanting to scout out mining deposits and I know that a rich mineral planet crops up far more frequently every half hour, I might as well go and do something else while the timer ticks down then go find a series of boring useless planets, increasing the distance my ships have to fly than if I wait and create the next juicy planet the next system across.

The event "finding a new planet" should always keep space in the equation. It would be a function of the known area and number of planets in a radius around your ship, AND time. Once you have cruised an area, it's no longer unknown, and the probability of finding something is a lot less the next time you pass the same area.
Otherwise, as you said, I would just explore in circles, around my homeworld, creating planet after planet on top of each other.

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You might want to consider having this system generate exploration quests. The actual area to explore is static but the trigger for the quest to be given (a simple NPC wants something over thattaway perhaps) could be generated based on time.

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Why not make the border regions have both fixed and time-variable encounters? It should help some way in disguising the time dependency of time-variable encounters. It also more easily creates peaks and lows in the encounter rate during exploration, where sometimes the time-variable encounters coincide with the fixed encounters, giving the possibility to create an idea that some parts are more densely traversed or populated than others. If most encounters in border space are depending on time alone, with perhaps a longer and longer duration the farther you go from certain hubs, people will probably notice this and become encouraged to explore certain regions.

By placing some fixed locations with more fleshed out and complex missions you strengthen the spirit of exploration and a feeling of diversity. A time dependent could do this as well by simply having missions which differ in complexity and such pop up, but a fixed situation creates more of an anchorage for you and lets you tie it in with other fixed quests.

What should be avoided is that the time dependent encounters become a drudge, a task the player feels required or commanded to do. Either you end up with somewhat generic variable missions that will repeat themselves, or the player will simply run out of them after a certain time. If you have fixed encounters the player is ensured to encounter new and creative situations, while you can space the time variable encounters out over a longer time making them less repetitive if repetitive, or last for a longer time if depletive and non-repetitive.

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