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How to give Sense of Progression in a procedural generated game?

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Hi guys , I'm developing a procedurally generated top down. My biggest concern right now , is the problem of how to communicate the player a sense of progress. I mean, I pretend that each world that the game creates, be able to communicate on the path the player will have to do to beat the game, for example in Doko Roko each world is a different tower, you beat the game by reaching  the top of the tower;  in Children of Morta, in each world history goes as how the player interacts with his family, that ends up defining the different stages of the game ; and in Downwell, the player simply falls into the depths of the game in search of rescue your cat -that is at the bottom-.

 

So I'm looking for references / ideas of this kind that could be integrated into my game. I am very interested in communicating progress through level structure, but since is a top down,the answer does not come obvious (in a sidescroller you can  go down/ up... but in a top down?)

 

*I can do it via visual narrative - For example, I could make the finals level with a "threatening feel".

 
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Some enjoy the trial and error of procedural games 'is this area safe? is it dangerous? I'll just have to go in and find out' and next time they will know that say, a cave is a place thats to dangerous for a novice, and a castle needs them to really build up their strength, but these locations hold what progresses them in the game/story?

 

Plus many top down games still have the vertical element, like old Roguelikes would have stairs up and down and the higher or deeper you got the harder things got, this would mean having your world generate some areas in different levels though (This could also provide a nice divide of difficulty and hence progress).

Edited by All Names Taken

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You have the basic component of progress - eg passing a level.

 

Now, that in itself doesnt tell the player much. They need a sense of absolute progress (where passing a level is just a relative change).

 

But, tell them theyre now 530 rooms away from the end?

 

 

That still wont do. Its better, but the increment is too small to really feel like progress.

 

You need a hierarchy of subgoals.

 

Maybe the player is now in Room 4/8 of Section 1/16 of the first giant procedural fortress. Then they can be happy when they complete the section. Throw in some special stuff, rewards and ability to upgrade stuff and whatever. Humans will naturally do this kind of hierarchial subdivision (eg if you have a 1000 levels, we might hold every 10th level, 100th level, every level with all same digits, etcetc as special subgoals), but its probably more effective if its a well supported feature with actually meaningful subgoals.

 

This structure of subgoals can be dressed in some interesting story to further give structure and meaning.

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You may want to take a look at Bindings of Isaac and FTL. In my opinion both games communicate progress in very good way. Player has clearly defined target of each session and has to "milk" each "level" the best he can until proceeding further.

 

Every world is relatively small so player is not overwhelmed with available choices or possible exits. Player knows that exit will increase difficulty so he has to prepare instead of rushing. Also premature death can also be satisfying as difficulty increase is so significant and number of total levels / sectors is small enough that it makes difference to player if he died on 3rd or 4th one.

 

Both games also offer small subset of their content on each session so a player will encounter new enemies or events even after many hours of playing (but that's different story :)).

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Procedural generation can easily conform to many types of progression. For example Rogue has a fixed number of levels, each harder than the previous one (nastier monsters etc.) and with fixed features (the amulet on the last level), which produce a satisfying "story" (delving in the dungeon, getting the amulet and returning alive through all levels in reverse),

 

In a RTS in which procedurally generated battles are part of a coherent campaign, changes in environment, enemy types and features and other details can suggest several types of progression: advancement into a certain region (e.g. battlefields with more and more forests, then more and more tundra, approaching the North Pole), trends of troop morale and quality (e.g. this time there are only three knights and officers on donkeys), escalation of deployed forces and resources (e.g. if the player faces the Royal Guard the enemy capital must be about to fall), etc.

Edited by LorenzoGatti

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What if you added companions (maybe temporary, they need to get somewhere and it's on your way; maybe permanent, they're after the exact same thing as you are; maybe a mix) to the game? If you go with permanent companions, maybe they can reveal a little bit more about themselves each level, and by the end of the game (if they survive) you feel like you know a whole complete character. They can also provide indications of progress like "I think we're getting close", as well as adding a sense of detail to the game that would be hard to communicate to the player otherwise ("ick, I stepped in something", "it smells like something died in here") and possibly even add layers of history and backstory that would otherwise have to be communicated with boring cutscenes or plain text. The best part? They can be procedurally generated too (choosing a random branch in a carefully constructed tree).

Edited by nfries88

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Color? The ground and the environmental features (trees, bushes) get continuously more black (or maybe crimson) the closer you come to the Castle of Doom, or continuously more green the closer you come to the happy little kitten which you are searching. Also, you can change the random decorative features. Instead of innocent small rocks, after level 3 or 4, you eventually start coming across single, and then more and more skulls the closer you approach the Hell Gate. Lamps are broken, iron gates rull of rust. Some power-ups that you encounter are smashed and non-working. AI works differently. Normally peaceful "decorative" monsters (chicken, cows) which would just ignore the player instead increasingly avoid the player (or may even attack). And, of course... music.

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Theme is very relevant here.

Some time ago I played inside a star-filled sky. Being procedurally generated it has infinite assets, but still finite content.

In that game, the abilities were quite well designed. Enemies would shoot bullets and the higher the level the higher powerups they got. Longer range, more bullet bounces, more steering capabilities for homing. I'm pretty sure you can do the same for magic spells.

 

The levels are bigger and bigger the more it goes forward. Note the language this game uses is extremely compact.

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Azure Dreams (PS1) is an example of a game where the combat takes place in a roguelike dungeon, but there's a non-generated home base which is the marker of player progress, as the player repeatedly brings back their treasure and improves the home base.  Some other roguelike games have a permadeath/reincarnation system where achievements made during a life unlock bonuses for all future life; player progression is thus shown by the strength and variety of options available when starting a new life.

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