I’m hyped for No Man’s Sky, the space exploration game that uses math to give us a procedural universe – since it’s all constructed from equations, the game has quintillions of possible world to explore. On the rare time two people find the same world, it would be the same for both due to – math.
But as I’ve read and watched the news on NMS, there’s also talk of the lore of the game. The story, the meaning. The developer Hello Games has been very cagey on it, for obvious reasons – they don’t want to spoil the “story” in the game.
This lore, however, is already designed as far as we know. That brings up something I think it a potential disadvantage in NMS – and in many procedural/random games. A lot of the “story” is disconnected from the way the setting is made. The lore is set, and at best sets the stage for the generation of the world – or at worst isn’t just connected anyway.
This means in many cases the randomness of the world is sort of meaningless even if there’s some meaning in the components. There’s no history, just algorithms. Why is the dungeon built the way it is? Why are these artifacts on this world? I see little to no attention paid to not just generating a setting but the meaning behind it – the history – in many a game.
Like it or not, a lot of these procedural games are about making something that seems “right” but doesn’t have much real history. Now I love procedural games, I can get into them, but I admit this flaw, and I think the art is limited by this disconnection. There’s no “real history,” just a shadow play of numbers.
But this also gives us an insight into what future procedural games could be.
What if large chunks of their history, their backstory, are generated? What if, in turn this history affects the generated environments. What if this history is part of the lore characters find, from the names of places to the powers of procedurally generated items? Perhaps the characters themselves are connected to some procedurally generated lore.
Procedural history is procedural meaning, and that brings the game further to life.
Maybe NMS will inspire enough people to do even more procedural work, some will look at procedural history for their games.
Many, many years ago, I noticed American politics often boiled down to blaming things on God, Darwin, Or History. Later it came to me that, in some ways, worldbuilders did this as well.
These are three crutches we use rather poorly in our worldbuilding. Three excuses that let us hand-wave good worldbuilding and thinking, and shovel torpes in. We may not even realize we do it.
(Though if you think about it you’re probably being a bit lazy. It’s OK, everyone is now and then.)
Let’s look at how these excuses get us lazy – and make poor worldbuilding. (more…)