Procedural Generation is the Future of Open World Games

By   /   Jan 8, 2016
Procedural Generation

With more and more games focusing on larger worlds and tons of locations to explore, the whole process of game development is starting to ask too much from the people making them. In conventional game making, the bigger a game is, the heavier it will weigh. This is where procedural generation comes in to save the day; but why is it not an integral part of almost every game already?

We’ll look into that in a while.

Let me first introduce what on earth procedural generation is so that the technologically unlearned among us can benefit from my google skills. There are two types of content generation when you are looking at game development; one is where pre-rendered artwork is included in the files that are run every time the game is played, this is called manual generation. On the other hand we have algorithmically generated content created by the host computer, this one is procedural form of content generation.

Now that we have got that out of the way; the first and the most important thing that this does is to allow the users create worlds much larger than they would even imagine. Nothing could be a better example of that than No Man’s Sky; 18 quintillion planets and each one of them has an ecosystem of its own. No developer could have even dreamed of making a world that big had it not been for procedural generation.

However, the technique is not new. It has been around for decades, in fact one of the first notable games to have used the technique was Rogue – a genre defining title for the Atari 8-bit in the 1980 that actually coined the term “roguelike games.”

Flash forward to present day and we have got the multi-million dollar mega project Star Citizen which also uses the same technique to present the in-game planets. They even showed it off in a video recently, and boy does it look amazing.

Anyhow, the whole point is that unless you are going to stick with non-open world, directed gameplay focused titles like Uncharted 4 – which is nonetheless going to be blast – there is going to come a time when the fans as well as the developers are going to want to go bigger. Open world games are definitely here to stay (and poising to pick up unparalleled demand in the future) and the race for bigger worlds is going to need this.

Another interesting advantage provided by procedurally generated games is the ability to regenerate each game to give a completely new experience every time you try it. Imagine going to a said location twice in a said horror game with your VR headset on, and realizing that nothing is the same; imagine the re-playability factor, imagine the unpredictability and the unique experiences it could generate. Every time you play, you will have something new to discover, somewhere new to explore.

From a developer’s point of view, this is giving you the chance to skip writing long pieces of codes that would have to be loaded every time a player visits a given area in the game. Moreover, creating new levels would be easier than ever and the choices will be all but unlimited.

As opposed to this, manual generation requires intensive toiling whenever, say, a developer wants to make considerable changes to the terrain of an area. Needless to say, each map and each level needs to be stored manually in this case just as the game requires an extensive loading system – all this can be skipped with procedural content generation.

So all in all, procedural generation, as of now, is the most viable option for all the open world game developers that are looking to go bigger in the future – especially if they want to achieve that while giving the users an experience that would have the potential of being new almost every time. Until we get a better technique, that is.

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