As I wait for No Man’s Sky (if I disappear for a week in June, you know why), I’ve been analyzing the game, what it means, and what it tells us about procedural entertainment. Today I’d like to focus on crafting.
I love crafting. I enjoyed the Atelier series of games, finding new alchemical potions. I love Starbound‘s crafting (OK, maybe I’ll vanish in July too). You can guess that Minecraft was a revelation. This all goes back to Demon’s Winter, a vastly underrated DOS game that let you build magic items.
With No Man’s Sky, the huge emphasis on crafting has me intrigued. The thrill of finding elements, the joy of a discovered blueprint, the fun of creating the right components. I love the challenge of building the ideal loadout, and NMS is going to give me that and all of the exploration and resource collecting. I’m looking forward to it.
I will be the guy staying on one crap planet for hours because of a wealth of ruins filled with schematics. Trust me.
No Man’s Sky provides a mixture of real and made-up elements, a nice nod to both recognizability and to the proper sci-fi feel. But as I’ve watched the game, I’ve come to realize there’s another, missed opportunity that other games should take up.
Imagine a game like NMS (or NMS II, which again I feel is possible) that has procedural elements. The joy of discovery is not just felt on finding a new world or a new blueprint, a strange crystal or interesting rock formation could hold an element no one else has seen. There could be elements even the creators hadn’t foreseen, out there, lurking.
Sci-Fi and fantasy is often about strange and unusual materials. Let’s see more of that in games.
Of course to make them useful and understandable, procedural elements would need to be handled in certain ways. here’s my thoughts on it:
Procedural elements would have to work into an existing crafting structure. The elements have to have some recognizable use despite their procedural nature. This would likely mean:
It’d be pretty easy to make procedural elements that seem very samey, so work would have to be done to vary them. The need for variance would depend on how often they’d be encountered, of course (more on that later). But traits may vary along such areas as:
A game that uses procedural elements should have enough variances that they’re actually interesting, unique, ad surprising. Otherwise it might not be worth implementing.
But done right it could be amazing. Imagine traipsing through a fantasy forest to discover a rare gem deposit whose naturally holy traits repel demons and confer charisma. Imagine exploring a distant world to find a fuel source that boosts your hyperdrive beyond capacity – but will wear down your spaceship. Each finding is something unique, wondrous.
I’ve written about the need for procedural games to have pproceduralhistory. Same goes for procedural elements – I can’t say it’s required, but having “more” to the elements than a name and trait may be neat.
Maybe a procedural element in a fantasy game exists because a certain area is irradiated with magic. A procedural element in a SF game may have unusual energy properties because it was formed on a planet near the sun. Add something tomake the elements meaningful.
Or at least give us some flavor text for fun. Something to help us build our own story.
Oh and make sure the names are appropriate. I’d much rather find Chromatic Steel with it’s ability to make swords tht dazzle with rainbow light than a similar element called Furbonanium. Only use nonsense if it fits.
Finally, unless procedural elements are a theme of the game (and it may be), don’t overdo them. If you want these elements to stand out, then they have to stand out.
In any game of reasonable gameplay (20-40 hours) odds should be that only 1 or 2 procedural elements are found unless that’s a core part of the game. An element like this should be fascinating, amazng, perhaps game-changing – and overdoing it reduces the wonder.
That moment you find that rare deposit should be one you remember for the rest of the game.
So that’s my take on where NMS’ offspring should go – and a lesson we can learn from the current development of NMS. If a game focuses on the wonder of discovery and crafting, why not surprise your audience with procedural elements. Give people that unique experience that is personal – and perhaps theirs and theirs alone.
With No Man’s Sky (NMS), the giant procedural space game coming out, I am gladly analyzing as A) I game, and B) I love procedural generation. So let’s turn back all my speculation on what could be and focus on what could go wrong.
As much as I am enthused about it, I can see areas where the game could have problems. I’m going to explore these areas, so we can review how right/wrong I was – which should be useful to measure both my predictive abilities and how the NMS team works!
Now to make this more useful, I’m going to rank the chances these things could go wrong as Red (at least 50% chance), Yellow (50-25%) and Green (under 25%). These are not necessary interest-killers or will make it a bad game – but it would be a problem for enjoying it and experiencing the game.
Now let me get predicting:
High-pressure Survival Grind (Red): NMS is a survival game, but my concern is that the game is going to mix high-pressure survival with tedious grind – you’ll be on the edge of your seat all the time, but the edge is going to feel the same and never end. That’ll get both stressful and boring, and that would be an interest-killer.
Hopscotch (Red): Planets may be procedural and bursting with detail, but I’m also concerned that planets could be clusters of neat stuff separated by not so neat. This means hat exploring a planet is really a game of scanning-and-flying hopscotch that will also turn into a kind of grind. My concern is that this would not be optional but required to really experience the game.
Pacing (Red): You start out with little equipment on a distant world, have to survive, and eventually build your technology and resources. Sounds standard, but unless the game is carefully designed, you could experience highly erratic pacing – most likely a slow start but a surprisingly fast end if you max out equipment (see below). I also see potential pacing issues in different worlds and goals making it extremely hard to predict what one has to do to achieve a goal – because of the procedural generation.
Every Planet Different – And The Same (Yellow): I’m pretty confident the planets themselves will vary interesting, but not quite confident every planet will be different enough to warrant interest in exploring it a lot. I could be wrong (which I why this is yellow), and the NMS team seems to want to avoid this, but I can’t shake the concern. It seems like there’s a lot of impressive math, but what I’ve seen suggests some relatively standardized environments and all planets are single-environment. That can get boring – it’ll be new then quickly seem the same.
Stretches Of Boredom (Yellow): I don’t mind a bit of boredom or peace. But one of my concerns about NMS is that it’ll have uncontrollable stretches of boredom, stuck on dull worlds and sectors of space. Good visuals and environments will alleviate or eliminate this (yes, you spent 30 minutes looking for a mineral but it looks awesome).
Topped Off (Yellow): There’s supposed to be all sorts of ships and blueprints to find, but I’d be concerned the game could have some people max out their equipment and the like too early – loosing challenge and initiative. It’s procedural, so it may be hard to put pacing into the game. This is part of my larger concern about Pacing (above).
The Hunt (Yellow): Certain items, equipment, minerals may be vital for parts of the game, for equipment – but for some players they may be out of reach (again, due to procedural generation). If it’s not something people can find/buy/substitute for in a reasonable amount of time the game may be frustrating.
Same Old Equipment (Yellow): We get various ships, suits, and Omnitools, but from what I see they’re mostly about premade traits and various plugin spaces. Not sure they’re going to be that interesting after awhile. Are you going to go that far to get an Omnitool that moves a plugin space to one grid cell further rightward?
It Doesn’t Hold Together (Green): Though I trust Hello Games on the Lore, I’m concerned that it won’t be experienced enough, in enough context, to keep interest. The game may not need a story, but it’s sense of experience requires Lore. The whole thing could not cohere, have no sense of “there.”
Different, But Not Different Enough (Green): I’m mostly confident Hello Games can deliver varied worlds – but not entirely convinced it’ll be different enough for a whole game. I’m concerned that past a certain point – say about 70% of the way – things will start looking too much alike. I’m aware we’ve only seen a limited subset of worlds, but I’m not totally convinced. Yzheleuz and Phlek do give me some hope. This is one of my lesser concerns, but if planets aren’t different enough from each other and individual planets are large stretch of “same” (above) it’d get boring fast.
So there’s my concerns, roughly boiling down to:
What concerns do you have?