Spacing Out: Procedural Generation Gets Me Hot
Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that there are two words — as well as variations of these words — that get me more excited than almost any other. Those are “procedurally generated”, as well as its cousin, “randomly generated”. I mean, I’ve always loved randomness in games because replayability is a big factor in my enjoyment of a game, but lately this one factor has been even more important than ever. I started thinking of this topic because recently a game I had NO interest in called Don’t Starve shot to the top of my interest meter once I read “Randomly Generated New Worlds” in the list of the game’s features. I don’t even LIKE survival games that much, but randomly generated worlds? Sign me the hell up. This made me begin to wonder both why I love procedural generation so much, and how it figures into the realm of space gaming.
The Beauty of a Randomized Artform
I think the first game in which I really took notice of random generation was either the original X-Com or perhaps Civilization II (never got around to playing the first one). Before those games, I’d mostly been mired in flight simulations (wherein this random thingy didn’t really come into its own until dynamic campaigns came around) and space adventure games, which could be damned open but were mostly built on static maps with linear plots. I don’t even think I realized that the missions in Wing Commander: Privateer were randomly generated into some time during my second playthrough wherein I realized, “Hey, these missions from the mission computer aren’t the same as last time.” I then fell in love with that game just a little bit more. ;) I mean, in games like Privateer and the like, I love missions. LOVE. THEM. I mean sure one can make money trading, and I do a fair bit of that too, but missions are where it’s at as far as I’m concerned. Gimme a place to go and a thing to do and I’m a happy space pilot. Now give me an unlimited amount of things to do and places to go and I’m even happier!
In space gaming, we seem to get more games that lean toward the linear side of things, which is fair. Building a large universe in which to fly around at will or rule an empire is likely a much tougher proposition than building a smaller, more linear set of missions with their own set pieces and self-contained acres of space. Thankfully, this trend seems to be changing, albeit slower than I’d like. One of the biggest donations I made to Kickstarter was for the Limit Theory campaign, as it all looks wonderfully procedurally generated (I mean, it says so right in the title of the Kickstarter!). We also spoke to the developer of Rodina for our most recent podcast (which should be out soon), a procedurally generated space combat game that will be coming out in alpha form, which I am damned excited to try.
The Joys of Unpredictability
What is it about random generation, however, that gets me all hot and bothered? I think, besides the replayability factor is also the unpredictable nature of procedural generation. I mean, there are a lot of linear spacey games I love to play repeatedly (TIE Fighter being a recent example), but with linear games, I feel like I have to wait a while after finishing a playthrough to play it again so I can forget stuff and try to regain that rush of excitement at seeing something that’s seemingly new. Randomly generated games, however, don’t really have that problem (unless you play them soooooo much that even the variations get predictable, but I reckon that would take a while). I think the success of random generation is most apparently in strategy games. I mean, over a decade later, people are still playing the first two Master of Orion games, Master of Magic, the Kohan games and so on because they feature (among their other exceptional gameplay assets) fantastic random map generation. This is also one of the reasons I love Distant Worlds so dang much, because of the amazingly busy and vibrant random galaxies that game can generate.
We’re seeing this even more in non-space gaming, as roguelikes have really been taking off (hurr) of late. I know I’ve just been playing a glut of fun roguelike games, and with the success of FTL, I’m hoping we’ll see even more games like this lifting off for the stars. Thankfully, it also appears as if we’ll be seeing more procedurally generated spacey fun times in the months to come. Besides Limit Theory and Rodina, other games such as Rogue System, Infinite Space 3 and even more will have randomly generated universes and/or campaigns, promising to keep us space game nuts busy for a long time to come.
So. Very. Excited.
I’ve said this before, but I truly think we’re in a second golden age of PC gaming, with indies leading the way. Thankfully many indies are embracing the awesomeness of procedural generation, giving their games a longer lifespan and, to me, a better chance of actually buying the game. This coupled with exceptional gaming tools such as Unity and others are allowing independent game developers to take us to worlds we would have never been able to visit otherwise, and I for one couldn’t be happier.
What, however, do you think? Do you prefer a more scripted experience, or do you love the random nonsense just as I do? I’d love to talk about this more with y’all. Thanks for reading my inane rant for this week (I am soo tired and a bit wibbly right now) and have a great day. :)