Why Procedural Worlds have More Drama

I’ve always wanted to create a Role Playing Game. Mostly for financial, practical, and sanity reasons it is not going to happen any time soon. You see to make a vibrant, rich, fictional video-game world takes an insane amount of content creation (art, audio,scripts) and that sounds very expensive.  This doesn’t prevent me from fantasizing about the type of RPG I would make, and so I do.

Procedural Goodness

My ideal RPG world would be entirely procedurally created. The story, the characters, and the landscape would all be created by a computer algorithm instead of by a game designer. I don’t know exactly why I think this is a good idea, but I think one of the main reasons is the unpredictability of the world, and the drama that this causes.

oblivionIn normal RPGs, you enter a dungeon, or a boss fight, or an enchanted forest,  and you know you’re going to beat it eventually and receive a reward. Even if you’re not powerful enough now, you know if you level-up enough and you have enough patience you’re going to beat that part of the game one way or another. There is no drama because the end is a foregone conclusion, you will be victorious.

In a Procedural World, there may be a forest, that is so full of tough enemies, that it is literally impossible to beat. The key is that you don’t know if it’s beatable. That’s what makes it interesting. You’re fighting and it’s hard, and in the back of your mind, you might think this is literally impossible. That’s what makes it dramatic when you actually achieve your goal. You could be the first person ever, including the game’s developers, who have ever done what you have done.

Procedural Worlds will have Asymmetrical Rewards

Maybe if you fight through that dungeon w/ 1000 monsters in it there is no treasure at the end. Why did you go in there in the first place? In the real world, danger doesn’t equal treasure. I don’t jump into a river full of Piranhas expecting an extra large pot of gold do be buried at the bottom. This adds more drama of the situation. You don’t know what’s going to happen at the end.

Creating a procedural world that actually works, and is interesting is a mind-boggling, huge, programming task which is why it hasn’t happened yet. But it will happen. It’s already happening on a smaller scale with Indie games like Dwarf Fortress, Minecraft, and Spelunky. As computers become more and more powerful, these types of procedural games will become more common, which is a Good Thing.


Are Single Player Games Going Extinct?

I’ve been a gamer for most of my life. I live, breathe, and even work, games. There’s nothing I like more than coming home from work, firing up my console, and playing a great game to relax. Years ago, one game could last me about a week. Now, one game lasts me two days, tops. Why is this happening?

A lot of studios are starting to turn away from the concept of a single player game and opening up to the possibilities that the Internet provides: online multiplayer and social or mobile games. Sure, it’s the wave of the future, but why do single player games deserve to die because of it? I, personally, don’t think they will completely disappear, but I am worried that less and less attention will be given to the production of them. Already less time is being spent on single player games and more time is being spent on creating content and communities for the multiplayer aspect. With this trend we’re also seeing a reduction in quality and length; single player games rarely top 7 hours nowadays, some of them are buggy, and others aren’t living up to their potential.

I’ve been quiet about my discontent for some time, until I played Warhammer 40K: Space Marines, that is. The game was incredible, but only about 8 hours, tops. This is nothing compared to the RTS versions of the game, (which has also gotten shorter thanks to Dawn of War II). That being said, the game could have been so much longer! Instead, it’s getting a sequel—which is another terrible trend. If you have enough content for two games, why not just make one incredible game and make your fans happy?

When we were first shown teasers a few years back, Warhammer fans around the world were promised a revolutionary game with breathtaking environments, awesome characters, and the ability to shoot or cut up orks at close range. It was going to be completely different than the RTS, and insanely better than the action games that came before it. In a lot of ways, it did live up to it’s promises, but by offering an online mode, did Relic/Games Workshop/THQ truly give us something different? I don’t think so; online multiplayer has always been a feature of the RTS games, and I guess they couldn’t just stick to an offline game. I guess they were afraid that their countless fans would somehow be disappointed without this option. It’s not Black Ops; I didn’t expect it, nor want it.

I think what’s most damaging about this trend is that a lot of players aren’t even touching the single player campaigns if there’s a multiplayer option. I know a lot of people that haven’t even glanced at the single player campaign in Black Ops, for instance. And this is a terrible shame; a lot of work goes into making the story and narrative great and entertaining, and the levels fun and challenging! At the same time, a lot of players are avoiding games because they have multiplayer. Personally, I stopped playing Assassin’s Creed after 2, and I loved those games so very much. But I hardly wanted to continue playing the franchise after so much attention was put into its oh-so-amazing multiplayer mode.

There was a time when the core of a game was its story, but now it seems the core of any game is: how can we make this multiplayer? The bottom line is that single player and multiplayer games are two different games. I think that if a studio wants to create both, they should create them as two separate products, as they’re intended. I also think studios need to realize that not everyone can, or wants to, play online. Not everyone has incredible internet connections, or the courage to face the raucous community, or the patience to respawn endless times when you first get started. There is still a huge audience for single player games, and I sincerely hope studios in the future will realize there’s a potential there to make their games great again—and to justify the $70 price tags. I also hope that  Hitman: Absolution never gets multiplayer, else I will lose all faith in humanity.