Generated Experiences in Video Games

Posted by Castypher on June 15, 2014, 4:24 p.m.

Man, it's like everyone suddenly gets busy during the summer. Everyone was so active before and during 64DSC, so what happened?

Anyway, after watching E3 this week (which was pretty cool I might add), I got this wave of inspiration to work on some of my tougher games. And then I started thinking of ways to improve the player experience through experimentation and replayability. And then I realized that the games with the longest play time or the best replay value are those that are never the same each time the player picks up the game.

First we have Minecraft, which sparked a trend of random generation in games. We have Starbound and No Man's Sky, which take this to a new level, promising no two worlds will ever be the same. A game that doesn't use randomness but still alters the player's experience is Left 4 Dead's AI algorithm. Several games are meant to adapt to the player, thus losing predictability and increasing replay value.

But the question I'd like to ask today is:

If you could generate any element of a video game, what would it be?

Let's not limit this to random generation either. Let's say a game has the power to memorize your playstyle, and alters your experience that way. How would you go about it?

Personally, I love the idea that the game tracks how you play, and alters AI to account for this, so that an overly defensive player may find themselves confronted with enemies designed to break walls. I want to see cases where a game's elements are intelligently altered rather than fully randomized to force you out of your comfort zone and into the fire. I'm attempting to capture this in one of my games now.

How about you guys?


Astryl 9 years, 11 months ago

The kind of generation I'd love to get into at least one of my games in the future is something akin to what the Dwarf Fortress developers do; generate an entire world, seed it with civilizations, and play out a unique history that contains its own story, ecosystem, lore, etc. and present it in a comfortable way (Like Minecraft, perhaps, or even as a 2D ARPG style game).

Man, it's like everyone suddenly gets busy during the summer. Everyone was so active before and during 64DSC, so what happened?
Well, first work happened… and then I recently started getting into practicing a live speedrun of Megaman X (Current time is 56 minutes or thereabouts) for some reason.

colseed 9 years, 11 months ago

If you could generate any element of a video game, what would it be?
Probably artificial intelli-

Personally, I love the idea that the game tracks how you play, and alters AI to account for this
-dammit Kilin.

A while back I did a basic ant sim based on flocking and pheromone algorithms, and have wanted to put complex AI into all the games I've made since. Not that I've ever designed anything more complex than FSMs, but I've always thought some sort of learning algorithm would be cool. I do like the idea of having many individually weak agents though (probably the ant AI background), so maybe if they somehow communicated among themselves while trying to take down the player, even as individual units were killed…hm.

This was one game I saw that did some kind of learning system that turned out decent, anyway.

Quietus 9 years, 11 months ago

first thing that comes to mind is some sort of integrated chatbot which either serves as an aide or voice for the antagonist. or hell, it could be used in variations for any character, but a chatbot in itself (something that can pick up on verbal cues and react sensibly to what you're saying, not trying to pass the Turing test here) would be a pretty hefty project to tackle.

in short, some kind of in-game consciousness.

next that comes to mind is pretty typical stuff, random NPC behavior a la Animal Crossing, level layouts (both visual and structural), weather patterns, random enemies and weapons a la Diablo, etc. Minecraft definitely dominated the random generation niche when it initially came out, by incorporating most of what came before it and stripping away restrictive elements of story-driven games.

If it were possible to make a functional story generator that would be neat, but i think you'd get repeated experiences after enough plays.

this last one may be a stretch… a game where the random elements are within the player. every time you start a new game the main character reacts to the environment differently. they could be have different strengths and weaknesses, treat certain NPCs like heroes and villains differently, etc. and these generated elements would define, then redefine the main character's experience through each play.

Alert Games 9 years, 11 months ago

Its because people have plans around their work schedules during the summer I think. Its nice out.

Anyway, now that I am thinking about it, it would be cool to generate random effects or obstacles for many games, being shooters, FPS, puzzle, or adventure. Some games already do this, but others are pretty static, but make up for it in the challenge of beating it. Usually they have semi-random enemy placement to always mix up the experience a tad and not be exact.

I agree with Steve's point.

As for a new concept, maybe more side-effects to your actions. Usually games are cause and effect, but maybe if a game has a series of cause and effects to a degree to make it unexpected, but not too much so that you have to be too careful. This kinda goes along with the AI idea.

Though btw, the AI idea has been done quite a bit with conquest games like age of empires and the like.

Yaru 9 years, 11 months ago

I think the main reason many story generation algorithms get stale is because they somewhere rely on "atoms", small predefined nonchangeable chunks of text (or chain-of-events). To get around that, one idea could be to set up an ecosystem where actors (in roles like Mook, Friendly NPC, Mischevious NPC, Evil Mysterious Object, and whatever) interact with each other. I've not planned this idea really well, but from the top of my head…

- actors need to have an "adjacency". They can't do stuff unless near other actors. Adjacency comes in two levels: Same Area or In Sight. For instance, a guy on Maui is not necessarily able to talk to anyone on Maui, but is able to get anywhere on Maui within a short timeframe and able to get to Alaska (or any other place) in a LONG timeframe. A guy in the Surfing Shack on Maui is able to interact with anyone in the Surfing Shack.

- actors get some sort of relation points to other actors. This could be either obvious relations (hero and love interest gets lovey-dovey) or stuff like two guys talking or fighting.

- actors use Final Fantasy style ATB gauges between their actions. The main hero could fill his gauge quickly so most stuff happens to him, and the main antagonist could have his gauge start at a large negative value so he doesn't show up in the first chapter.

- To get the plot going, important characters need Objectives. THis could probably be implemented as MacGuffin items, that just have a location (see above) but doesn't ever act. They should be fulfilled in a random, but set, order. Hero and Villain objectives could be intertwined in order to make the plot more reasonable, and when intertwining is done, the order must be respected (if the villain first wants to commit genocide and then build an evil base, the hero must stop the genocide before destroying the evil base).

- To get a comprehensive story you'd probably need to spit out all the generated text and have a human browse through it for the good parts.

aeron 9 years, 11 months ago

First we have Minecraft, which sparked a trend of random generation in games.

Minecraft sure reignited the trend, but it goes back further. For instance, the roguelike genre has been growing since the 80s, and the tabletop RPG's they were based on date back even further. You could say Minecraft was inspired by Dwarf Fortress was inspired by Nethack was inspired by Rogue was inspired by D&D and so on. The genre has its appeals but is notorious for being brutal to newcomers. When you die in a roguelike, you pay the price with the death of your character save. There is no return, you have to start a new game entirely. This mechanic works well with the procedural aspect, as each life is a unique experience.

So Minecraft may have heavily borrowed the procedural aspect of the roguelike genre, but this is nothing new. It left an important impact however, by softening the permadeath penalty to merely dropping your items on death. This left a chance for redemption, making the game more forgiving (Of course it remains an option to start a hardcore world where the death of your character means the death of his world).

I think this is relevant because by making itself more accessible, and also by chance becoming insanely popular, Minecraft helped bring procedural content back into the spotlight. Terraria followed suit with the option to play a character on varying difficulties. And now it's no longer a surprise to see so many Indie games dub themselves "rogue-lites" that mix and match these varying levels of punishment alongside procedural generation for intense replayability.

What's curious about this trend is that it seems to be mostly contained within the indie scene. Only a handful of studios have attempted to adapt the genre to mainstream. Diablo comes to mind as an early example, and the Mystery Dungeon series as a more recent one. What makes it appealing to indies is that it is more feasible for a small time developer to create very deep experiences with randomness than by hand.

On the topic of game stories. This is actually one area that procedural fails to deliver, but only in the literal interpretation. Most rogue-ish type games don't randomly generate plotlines or anything of that nature. They may provide some back story, but for the most part the beginning and end are fixed and everything in between is filled in, not with dialogue or cutscenes, but with the players' actual experiences. If you've played Minecraft, you probably have some fond memories of your own. For instance I always remember this one time RC and I built FSX a house and booby trapped it before we gave it to him. He stepped in and the whole island cratered. It was a blast huehuehue *shot*

It's the same for a single player experience, too. And I think that is also part of procedural's popularity, especially in the grassroots approach of the indie scene. It's very easy to share stories about your experiences which tend to be fairly unique since they are dictated by chaos. There's hardly the same opportunity in a linear game, as they tend to play through similarly every time. People can freely tweet about dying in the woods at night and losing their diamond pickaxe, but they can't always tweet about the epic plot twist in the latest Metal Gear without spoiling it for their friends (and probably leading to lots of unfollows).

I am aware I completely ignored your question.

Castypher 9 years, 11 months ago

Minecraft sure reignited the trend, but it goes back further.
I figured someone might call me out on that, and yeah I'm aware that we had Diablo and even earlier, Rogue, back then, but there was a pretty long period where we didn't see a lot of games with random generation as a core mechanic, and I think Minecraft helped to bring that back in style. And with impressive results, considering that there are entire sites themed around sharing Minecraft worlds that just look awesome, rather than generating a dungeon.. And now we have a flood of games with procedurally generated levels. That's why I mentioned it and not its predecessors.

I've wondered what it might be like to generate game stories and characters (within reason, let's not try to make a novel's worth of content here). I can't imagine it'd be that hard to generate some smaller stories but I wouldn't expect to see any award-winning stories generated by accident. It'd still bring a little variety to the table, I guess, which is the point I was getting at with this blog.

aeron 9 years, 11 months ago

there was a pretty long period where we didn't see a lot of games with random generation as a core mechanic, and I think Minecraft helped to bring that back in style.
I agree, and I loosely hypothesize in my wall of text that Minecraft brought it back at just the right time to spark the next generation of procedural games. Notch proved, particularly to other indie devs, that anyone could make a deep experience with relatively simple parts. In other words it's not a coincidence that he simultaneously popularized indie games, procedural generation, as well as the sandbox attitude in one fell swoop.

Pirate-rob 9 years, 11 months ago

Randomly generated guns (the crazy comical type) and like previous posters, npcs.

I always loved the idea of npcs that act and do reasonable things that you could talk to in games.

twisterghost 9 years, 11 months ago

I think Journey really captured something like this in that, event though you play the same game every time, your experience of playing it with someone else is different.

Most of the time, you don't even know if it is someone's first playthrough or not. Who is helping who? Who is teaching who? It doesn't even matter because you're just experiencing this game with someone else who you will likely never meet again.

It creates something special, really. I encouraged a friend of mine to play the game, and he didn't even realize the person he was playing with wasn't an AI based on how methodical they were. He had a completely different experience playing the game than I did, and that's fantastic.

(For those unfamiliar with Journey, its a minimalistic adventure game that pairs you with other random players. You can't talk to each other or anything, you can only move, jump, or make a sound.)