Tuesday 15 January 2008

The Death of the Level Designer: Procedural Content Generation in Games - Part Four

(You'll want to read parts one, two and three first)

It's January 2013. The Christmas games embargo that the Clinton administration put in place to ensure you saw friends and family over the holiday season has been lifted, and you excitedly unwrap the plastic from your lastest purchase: Dream Park 2.0. You've already heard about the great mods created by international players working on behalf of Gamers Now United (Stallman's reorganisation of the former Open Source movement once he finally succumbed to playing World of Warcraft), and you download a pre-recommended pack from your Facebook game reputation system.

The game fires up, and you click through the menus making a few choices and letting the RNG choose the rest. Medieval. Clockpunk instead of magic. Moderate size continent. You see a few of the random choices flash in front of you: the game has generated four civilisations, distinguished by Ionic, Doric, Corithinian and Tuscan architecture, and the first mod kicks in. FastGen reduces the elabourate character generation options down to the choice of three key phrases: you choose Rugged, Handsome and Prankster on a whim, and end up with a boyishly good looking peasant standing at the edge of a mud-hovelled village amidst a crowd of on-lookers.

The king of the Ionic civilisaton (Hrepathous) is visiting the local barony and come down to the village to demonstrate his gift of healing and attend to the villagers' ailments. As you grow bored of the Baron's speeches and begin to look elsewhere, your lover whispers 'the pigsty' in your ear and with a shy smile slips out of your grasp and towards the romantic rendevous. You follow at a short distance, but come up abruptly against the squat figure of her father.

'Where are you going?' he asks threatening. You stammer something and are forced to divert your course to around the back of the building the king sits in.

In the shadows, stand two assassins, in Doric dress, cradling weapons you have never seen before. They've cut a hole in the adobe and are preparing to slip through.

One sees you, and raises his weapon. Just then your lover runs out, between you and your attacker. She is cut down in a hail of projectiles, and your heart beats and time seems to slow.

Do you run or fight? Your decision is made for you, as the screams of the villagers signal that more armed men have appeared in the fields around you. You run.

The hectic pursuit, between huts and over fences, watching your fellow villagers gunned down and slaughtered, comes to a climax. Trapped in a dead end, amidst the rutting pigs where you had intended an altogether different purpose, you are caught by your pursuers. One, cruel looking and with a milky blindness in one eye, and a clockwork hand, steps forward. He raises his mechanical arm and laughs at you. It is the last thing you see.

The You Only Live Once mod kicks in, working in conjunction with the AI plot director. Instead of restarting from an earlier checkpoint, you awaken again, this time as a Corinthian merchant in a larger town. Rumours of war between the civilisations are spreading...

(You'll want to read part five next).


Mikolaj said...

Nice. But I couldn't quite tell what were my choices, my actions as the player in what you describe. It could me mistaken for a movie or a mildly interactive one, which is not much fun.

Gareth LovesTha Pye said...

I would guess the following being decision points:
To listen or tune out of King
To follow your girl to the pig sty
How to get around her father
(probably a short window to react to the assassins before your girl jumps out, her jumping out was just a scripted way to not let you have too much time to react to a situation)
Which way to try and run away

What I suspect would be hardest to engineer about a game as dynamic and random as this would be logical consequences to actions. When you don't have any correlation between actions and consequences it wouldn't feel like you had a way to win.

Andrew Doull said...

I think you'll find the point of this is that none of it was scripted - every player action was dynamically reacted to by various components of the PCG systems used to build the game.

Just as the AI director in Left4Dead chooses when to attack you with lots of zombies and when to leave it quiet - the plot AI director chose to have a 'loses loved one' plot event, a 'leader is murdered' plot event and so on...

Gareth LovesTha Pye said...

sorry poor choice of words :)

Andrew Doull said...

You're right about ensuring the logical connection between action and consequences. It's not so much that they're not there - it's making sure the player sees them.

No one says this'll be easy... I just think it'll be inevitable.

Unknown said...

"Don't worry, kid. I'm not just a rogueish handsome face; I've got a killer prank that'll get us out of this situation. Stand back! When I give the word, you press the buton on this pocketwatch."

graspee said...

January 2013? That was optimistic at the time. It's pretty impossible now...

Tommy Hanusa said...

I think this didn't happen for several reasons.Basically the current game environment is indie, mobile/casual, and block-buster triple-A. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but none of them coincide with making an epic procedural game.

Indie is super innovative and totally down for making this. but indie is burdened with no resources to accomplish this goal; however there is mine-craft...

mobile-casual has large teams and makes decent money; but they are fragmented. they run multiple projects, they focus on consumers who just aren't interested in this stuff and they are burdened by the lower software capabilities of phones and tablets. They can't/wont.

Blockbuster Tripple-A has huge teams, lots of money, and... is publicly traded. Tripple-A has shown itself to be sequel driven and risk averse (like hollywood). Everything you want to do here screams 'risk' so no producer would ever touch it. but then again... Skyrim was kinda close to what you are talking about and the mod community was definitively there. Maybe this happens from a mod community..

Who knows. Maybe there is some programmer who is silently, secretly working away on "some project" that's gonna blow our minds.

I do want to see this happen, it's gonna change everything, and I think the backlash against procedural content will be awesome to watch as more auteur games get developed. If this happens, only good will come out of this (well for the players at-least).

Guess we have to keep waiting...