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.


2 thoughts on “Why Procedural Worlds have More Drama

  1. I’ve always found myself playing games to ‘beat the designer’, even when I was a kid and before I really knew what games design involved. Making sure you collect very powerup, so you can be ahead of the progress curve the designer thought the average player would hold, meaning you’d find the next section easier.

    A procedurally-created world doesn’t have this constraint and this contrived setup, so I wonder how my game-playing habits would be affected?

    • I think that’s the big promise with procedural worlds, is that the game would be much more unpredictable and full of surprises, and let players just play instead of trying to figure out what the designer was thinking.

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